It's sort of like watching the grass grow, or the paint dry, but there's much more drama.
These, as children's book author Eric Carle writes in the children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillars," are very hungry caterpillars.
They're famished. They're ravenous. They could eat a horse (except they don't eat horses). And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.
If they're allowed to, these caterpillars will decimate the leaves, spin cocoons and eventually turn into spectacular reddish-orange butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
So, you're sitting there watching the caterpillars eat. And out of the shadows, something else appears.
You think you're the only ones watching them eat? Think again.
This would include mustards, clover and buckwheat, plants that honey bees love.
Kellison, the executive director of the Santa Rosa-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination, will speak Thursday, Aug. 8 at the 13th annual Sustainable Winegrowing Field Day, to be held at the Shone Farm at 7350 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.
The field day is sponsored by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, Santa Rosa Junior College Agriculture/Natural Resources Department and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
Kellison, to speak at 11:30 a.m., will cover bee-friendly farming, agricultural practices to improve bee health, and why it’s important to plant bee friendly landscapes, including bee gardens. "One major factor in the decline of all bees is the lack of food plants," she says.
Wine growers and beekeepers can work together to make better bee nutrition a reality, Kellison says.
Natural forage and nutrition are essential to good honey bee health and to their ability to cope with pests, pathogens and other stressors, she points out. "Special consideration must be given to encouraging plantings of late summer and fall blooming plants to help hives survive through the winter to the next blooming season."
Among the half-dozen speakers at the field day will be Doug Gubler of UC Davis, who will discuss “Fungicide Resistance Management and Prevention for Grapevine Diseases." Lucia Varela, UC Cooperative Extension pest advisor, will provide a display on how to identify the adult Virginia creeper leafhopper.
Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PSP), founded in 2007, aims to work with farmers and beekeepers to improve the health of honey bees and support native pollinators. "We foster awareness and support for providing increased availability of flowering plants to honey bees and native pollinators," Kellison says.
Partners include local conservation districts, growers, beekeeping and farm groups, and other stakeholders.
One of the PSP advisors is Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) is a butterfly magnet.
In our yard, it draws gulf fritillaries, Western tiger swallowtails, cabbage whites, and fiery skippers.
Lately, fiery skippers (Hylephila phyleus) are the main draw. It's a delight to see them fluttering over the blossoms and then touching down for a sip of nectar.
Or chasing one another.
This species is California's most urban butterfly, says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis. It's "almost limited to places where people mow lawns," he says on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World.
"Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937."
The fiery skipper is attracted to lantana, verbena, zinnias, marigolds, and "in the wild seems quite happy with yellow starthistle," Shapiro says.
The butterfly breeds mostly on bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), native to the Mediterranan region, according to Shapiro.
Last weekend we noticed a courtship in the lantana. A female landed on a blossom and seconds later, a male.
"The male butts her tail with his head," Shapiro told us. One of his master's students described the courtship some 40 years ago.
Soon, more fiery skippers!
Robbin Thorp saw it first.
Talk about an eagle eye.
Thorp, a native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, was monitoring the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, on July 23 when something caught his eye.
The California buckwheat was waving at him.
"While looking closely at the California buckwheat flower heads, I noticed a piece of one waving but there was no wind," recalled Thorp. "I watched a linear group of florets march across to another head. I tried to get a close-up on a flower head as background, but could not get the focus right."
So he placed the "unusual life form" on his finger to capture a better image. He captured it all right: a larva covered with buckwheat florets.
Later insect photographer Allan Jones of Davis, a regular visitor at the haven, obtained a spectacular photo of the camouflage.
Thorp identified the "unusual life form" as the larva of an emerald moth Synchlora (see http://bugguide.net/node/view/747823/bgimage). "The larva pupates with its camouflage still on then turns into a delicate green geometrid adult," he said. (See http://bugguide.net/node/view/316178/bgimage for the life cycle: caterpillar to moth).
Maybe it was serendipity, but Thorp found the larva during National Moth Week, July 23-29.
“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days--three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain,” wrote John Keats in Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne.
"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne
An Irish blessing reads:
"May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond."
From time immortal, we humans have depicted butterflies in our art. There's something about the ballet of butterflies that soothes our mind, brightens our spirit, and captures our soul.
So it is with the talented artists exhibiting their work at McCormack Hall during the five-day Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. The fair opens Wednesday, July 31 and ends Sunday, Aug. 4.
Vallejo resident Yoko Warncke cross-stitched butterflies for her needlework exhibit. Another Vallejo resident, Tina Waycie, crafted a paper butterfly and flowers.
Trudy Molina of Fairfield depicted "The Hungry Caterpillar" in a baby quilt. It's a quilt sure to be treasured. It reminds us of the quote by Richard Buckminster Fuller: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
Vallejoan LaQuita Tummings quilted a beautiful bee, dragonfly and ladybug, so spectacular that you just want to sit and study it.
We watched Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of the McCormack Hall building and her adult and youth assistants hang many of the displays. They're involved in the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, throughout the year, but in the summer when the Solano County Fair rolls around, they're at McCormack Hall accepting entries, recording results and displaying the work.
Insect art is just a small part of the displays in McCormack Hall. You'll see photography, collections, table settings, clothing, baked goods, jams and jellies, and even some farm equipment.
It all ties in with the fair theme, "Home Grown Fun."