If you think people don't care about monarch butterflies, think again.
A recent survey published in Conservation Letters showed that Americans are willing to spend at least $4.78 billion to help conserve monarchs (Danaus plexippus), one of the most recognizable of all insects. Indeed, what is more spectacular than the multigenerational migration of monarchs heading from their breeding grounds in northern United States and southern Canada to their wintering grounds in central Mexico and coastal California?
The study of 2,289 U.S. households, led by Jay Diffendorfer of the U.S. Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Denver, found that we Americans love monarchs so much that we're more than willing to plant milkweed, their larval host plant, to save them.
The article, published Oct. 28 and titled National Valuation of Monarch Butterflies Indicates an Untapped Potential for Incentive-Based Conservation, calls attention to the destruction of the monarch's habitat and the importance of conservation.
"Since 1999, the size of the overwintering colonies in Mexico and California have declined, and the 2012 survey in Mexico showed the lowest colony size yet recorded, which prompted wide-scale media reports," the authors wrote. "Habitat loss in the overwintering sites in Mexico and California is well-documented, although no direct empirical link between declining overwintering habitat and monarch numbers exists. In addition, the growing use of glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified crops has reduced larval host plant (milkweed, Asclepias spp) abundances in farm fields across United States and Canada. Increasing acreage of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans are negatively correlated to monarch numbers, with the area of milkweed in farm fields in the United States declining from an estimated 213,000 to 40,300 ha."
Biologist Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is among those studying their migration. (Read his quotes in the National Geographic cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations," published in November 2010. Dingle is now working on a much-anticipated book on migration from his headquarters in the Sharon Lawler lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, monitors butterflies in Central California. Here's what he has to say about monarchs on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
Meanwhile, a day before Conservation Letters published the survey, a lone monarch butterfly fluttered into our backyard to sip nectar from lantana. It lingered for 10 minutes.
What a treat to see!
Orange zinnias not only brighten our autumn days but glorify our gardens.
And when there's a bug on the zinnias, all the better.
This insect, identified by Senior Insect Biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is a fenale Eristalis hirta, aka hover fly or flower fly. It belongs to the family Syrphidae, order Diptera and is one of about 99 species in the genus.
Look for them on a flower near you. And oh, yes, they're pollinators, pollinating such fruits as apples, pears, blackberries and raspberries.
And speaking of plants and insects, if you're around UC Davis on Wednesday, Nov. 6, don't miss the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar by Patrick Abbot, an associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, Nashville. He'll speak on “Cooperation and Conflict at the Plant/Insect Interface” from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs. Plans are to record the seminar for later posting on UCTV.
One of the most prominent and distant--as in far away--visitors to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, was Mark Leech of Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.
Leech visited the garden several years ago to research his book, Bee Friendly: A Planting Guide for European Honeybees and Australia Native Pollinators for the Australian Rural Industries R&D Corp (RIRDC).
"The book," he told us, "is to encourage planting for bee forage across the landscape from urban to the rural environment and all climate zones."
Leech recently provided us with a copy of the finished work, which is absolutely magnificent. It's informative, educational and colorful and is bound to make a difference.
On Page 1, he writes: "The world has become aware of the plight of the honeybee. The reported collapse of honeybee population in North America and Europe, and the fear of a food crisis, have led people around the world to become concerned. Shrinking resources, increased urbanization, ever expanding corporate agriculture with its push for monoculture, greater use of insecticides and herbicides, changes to grazing practices, a global warning trend and climatic chare are all placing pressure on honeybee and native pollinator population. It is in this context that this book was produced, to guide planting decisions in favour of plants theat benefit honeybees and native pollinatiors."
He devotes one page to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which was planted in the fall of 2009 and is operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "In response to colony collapse and threats to the US apiary industry, Häagen-Dazs, a well-known ice cream brand, launched the Häagen-Dazs Loves HoneyBees' campaign in February 2008, committing significant funding to both the University of California, Davis and Pennsylvania State University for honeybee research. Its contribution to UC Davis resulted in a bee garden as a demonstration, education and research tool."
"The purpose of the Honeybee Haven garden is to provide a year-round food source for honeybees," Leech continued. "One of the design criteria in the competition that was held was that the Honeybee Haven should inspire the development of honeybee garens in a variety of settings, including backyards, public gardens, agricultural easements, urban rooftoops and other urban species."
For the front and back covers of the book, Leech chose an mage of a bee foraging on a pink zinnia (a photo taken by yours truly in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven).
His species pages contain 193 species, native and exotic, "that were chosen to represent a selection of useful bee forage. Many of the plants are known as top producers of both pollen and nectar, a few are nectar only, and some are pollen only."
Among those contributing to the book from the United States: Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture; bee scientist Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota; and Kathy Kellison, executive director of Partners for Sustainable Pollination.
It's a book well worth reading. You can download a free PDF of the book from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation website at http://www.rirdc.gov.au/. Go to publications and look under honeybees. You can also order a bound copy through Mark Leech at email@example.com.
The society's annual Halloween party in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, showcased a combination of insects and costumes.
A skull shared the habitat of the giant cave cockroach (Blaberus gigante), native to tropical Central America and northern South America. This cockroach is considered one of the largest cockroaches in the world, according to Wikipedia, with the male reaching lengths of 7.5 cm and the female, 10 cm. Its diet consists of everything from decaying plant material, fruits and seeds to dead insects and bat guano.
The partygoers? Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon came dressed as a witch.
Kate Brown, a third-year student at the UC Davis School of Medicine, donned Monarch butterfly wings.
Meanwhile, the Bohart Society members checked out the assorted insects, ranging from praying mantids to Madagascar hissing cockraoches to walking sticks. Entomologist Leia Matern of Woodland, who is studying for her master's degree at UC Davis, answered questions about a bug display to her curious daughter, Tilly.
The Bohart Museum Society is a campus and community support organization dedicated to supporting the mission of the museum, according to director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. The museum, which houses neearly eight million insect specimens, and the Bohart Museum Society are dedicated to teaching, research and public service. "Our current growth is financed by memberships and your contributions," Kimsey said. (See membership benefits)
Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum is gearing up for its next Nov. 23rd open house. The theme: "Beauty and Beetles." It will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane. See schedule of weekend open houses. The museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays.
Ophthalmologist and professor Ivan Schwab of the UC Davis Health System says that spiders “get a bad rap. Few would harm you, and only rarely are spiders aggressive towards humans. Most will defend themselves if threatened, of course, and a few are venomous. Most spiders, however, would prefer to ignore humans and be ignored by us.”
At his UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Oct. 23 in Briggs Hall, Dr. Schwab told the crowd that jumping spiders have the “best acuity of all spiders.” They are ambush spiders, lying in wait for prey.
If you visit your garden or a neighborhood park, you may see a jumping spider looking back at you. Last Sunday we spotted a jumping spider lurking beneath the petals of a yellow rose. Meanwhile, a honey bee foraged above it.
That reminded us of what Dr. Schwab said about spiders and how they see.
Background: Dr. Schwab directs the Cornea and External Disease Service and serves as the medical advisor of the eye bank, as well as professor of ophthalmology in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science. He’s the author of five books, including the highly acclaimed Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved, published in November 2011. He describes the eye as "evolution's greatest gift and its greatest triumph."
The UC Davis ophthalmologist writes an informative blog, Evolution’s Witness, and recently penned one, with amazing detail, on jumping spiders. “Jumping spiders are positively charming creatures, and you will know that to be true if you have ever watched one closely. These are common spiders and range from approximately 3 to 17 mm in length and will watch you closely as you approach them. They have four pairs of eyes, with the large anterior median (AM) set the most obvious. These circular eyes provide an ‘attentive child’ appearance because they are fixed and are relatively large based on body size, but are tiny on an absolute scale. These placid eyes belie the organized complexity and evolutionary genius that lies beneath the carapace.”
Dr. Schwab goes on to describe the AM eyes as "Galilean telescopes with a corneal lens fixed to the carapace, and a second 'lens' at the end of a small tube immediately in front of the retina."
"This compact telephoto lens system combined with the tiered retina," he says, "achieves excellent acuity, but only a very tiny field of vision. So, to increase this field of acute vision, this optical marvel moves the tube housing the retina with six muscles per eye by mostly scanning movements. This is akin to a raster scan similar to those seen on a TV or computer screen. Jumping spiders scan their world much like painting a wall with a fine brush although the retina is not linear, but shaped more like a boomerang. The other pairs of eyes do not scan and are principally used as motion detectors to find other animals for the AM eyes to decipher."
"With the AM eyes, jumping spiders have the finest discrimination of all arthropods, and probably all invertebrates as they are visual hunters, whereas most other spiders use the tools of silk."
Dr. Schwab marvels at how a jumping spider is able to see so well and ambush its prey. "If the spider moves, it may frighten the prey, so the spider needs another mechanism." Read Dr. Schwab's column for the details on that mechanism. After you do, you'll come away with a greater appreciation of jumping spiders and that most amazing organ, the eye.
By the way, this visual hunter (below) didn't nab the honey bee Sunday afternoon....but it may have later.