The buck stops here.
Whether it's doing the fandago on the plantago, the can-can on the lantana or the waltz on the sedum, it's easy to spot.
That's because of its large eyelike circles on its wings. That's enough to scare any predator--and distinguish it from other butterflies.
On his butterfly-monitoring website, noted lepitdopterist Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that the "male buckeyes are territorial perchers, usually on bare ground. Both sexes visit a great variety of flowers, from Heliotrope and Lippia to California buckeye and rabbitbrush! They often swarm over coyotebrush (Baccharis) in autumn, especially the male plants."
Lately we've seen the buckeye on Sedum (a genus in the family Crassulaceae) and Lantana (genus in the family Verbenaceae).
If you’re interested in the butterflies of the San Francisco and Sacramento areas, be sure to check out Shapiro’s Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. Illustrated by Timothy Manolis, it's published by the University of California Press.
No doubt many of them did.
The award-winning book, published in 1969, traces the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly, from an egg to a larva (caterpillar) to a pupa (chrsyalis) to an adult.
If you've ever seen a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine, you've seen The Very Hungry Caterpillar in action.
We planted a passion flower vine two months ago in our yard. The plant hasn't yet bloomed, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) found it. Thankfully! We planted it for them.
Within what seemed like a matter of days, the passion flower vine (the host plant of the Gulf Frits), went from no caterpillars--zero, zilch, nada--to five.
We've seen the showy orange-reddish butterflies fluttering around the plant looking for places to lay their eggs, but haven't seen them actually do it.
But the evidence is there!
"As a spiny orange-and-black caterpillar, it feeds only on passion flower leaves, eating many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
The butterfly, he says, can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood.
Let there be a critical mass!
Ah, the Gulf Fritillary...
We spotted this orange-reddish butterfly nectaring lantana last Saturday near downtown Vacaville. In fact, the patch of lantana (family Verbenaceae) drew assorted butterflies, including buckeyes, alfalfa, monarchs, and painted ladies. A few honey bees and native bees tried to get their share.
Lantana and Gulf Frits. These multi-colored blossoms and the multi-colored butterfly, both found in the tropics and subtropics, are a study in brilliance.
On his website, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae) was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said.
Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
Now it appears to be thriving in some areas, at least where its adopted host plant, the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora), grows. If you have a passion flower vine in your yard, you may very well see the spiny orange-and-black caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And if you have lantana or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in your yard, don't be surprised if a few adults drop by for a sip of nectar.
No wonder that commercial companies mass-rear these exotic-looking butterflies for release at weddings, garden parties and other social events.
Some folks enjoy a doughnut, bagel, muffin or fruit for breakfast--and maybe some cream cheese on the bagel and honey on the muffin.
Not so the praying mantis.
If he were in a restaurant, he'd tell the waiter "I'd like a bee for breakfast, please."
Or maybe he would leave off the "please" and tell the waiter "Hurry, I'm hungry. Move it, will ya?"
A bee for breakfast is not only perfectly fine for him, but also a bee for lunch, and a bee for dinner.
This young bee (below) was nectaring some salvia (sage) near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, when a cunning praying mantis, lying in wait, nailed her. He grabbed her in his spiked forelegs and swoosh, it was all over. No more buzzing around the salvia. No more sipping the sweet nectar. No more sharing with her colony back at the hive.
Every time this happens--when a mantid nails a honey bee--I want to say outloud: "Why don't you go after a fly? Or a spotted cucumber beetle? Or an aphid?"
Indeed, dear mantid, why not have a nutritious fly for breakfast and a colorful spotted cucumber beetle for lunch? And maybe a succulent aphid for dinner?
Alas, you cannot tell a mantid what to stalk and what to eat.
It was bee for breakfast.
You may have noticed this little floral visitor in your garden.
It might appear to be a bee, a common mistake to the untrained eye or those who think that all floral visitors are bees.
But it's a fly, and flies are pollinators, too!
This fly, from the genus Eristalis, family Syrphidae (hover flies), order Diptera, is probably Eristalis stipator, says fly expert Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In its larval form, Eristalis, found in aquatic habitats, is known as a rat-tailed maggot, due to its appendage that resembles a snorkel.
Next time you see this little fly on a flower, you can tell your friends "In its larval stage, it's a rat-tailed maggot."
As they widen their eyes and raise their eyebrows, you can add: "But in its adult stage, it's a pollinator."