The showy reddish-orange butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is making a comeback in the Sacramento-Davis area. In the early 1970s, it was considered extinct in that area.
“It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Shapiro describes the Gulf Fritillary as “one of the most widespread weedy butterflies in the Americas." However, he points out, it has no “native host plant in California."
Those who want to attract the Gulf Frit can do so by planting its host plant, passion flower vine (tropical genus Passiflora). The butterflies lay their eggs on the plant and voila! Leaf-munching caterpillars. Shapiro points out that the Gulf Frit caterpillars "will not eat all of the Passiflora in cultivation in California." They can be particular.
One of the Gulf Frit's favorite nectar sources is lantana (genus Lantana, family Verbenaceae.)
The Gulf Frit "has no diapause and is subject to killing out by hard freezes; in my experience, 22F is completely lethal to all stages," Shapiro says. "It has been bred for release at weddings, garden parties and the like, but there is no direct evidence linking its return in this region to such activities. If gardeners find it a pest on their Passifloras it is easily controlled by hand-picking or BT (Dipel), but it seems, to judge by my email, that most people are thrilled and delighted to have it in the garden."
Shapiro and two co-authors recently published a paper in the Journal of Biogeography (J. Biogeog.39: 382-396, 2012) on the pylogeography (geography of molecular-genetic variation) of widespread Western Hemisphere human-associated butterflies. The reearch is the work of Erik Runquist, UC Davs Department of Evolution and Ecology; Matthew Forister of the Department of Biology, University of Nevada; and Shapiro.
"We had suspected the Gulf Frit might be introduced in the United States but the genetics show not only that it is not, but that it is apparently two species--one entirely South American and one North American--but we have made no move to name anything!"
It's interesting that another host specialist butterfly, Cacyreus marshallili, a native of South Africa, is becoming a pest of garden geraniums (Pelargonium) in Europe, where "there are no native Pelargoniums," Shapiro says. "The butterfly (known as the Geranium Bronze) is becoming a real threat to the tradition of having geraniums in window boxes. Some European butterfly folks like its presence--unless they grow geraniums."
Let's talk butterfly eggs. Have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg in the wild?
The Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae), one of the showiest of all butterflies, is a flash of orange-red as it flutters toward its host plant (genus Passiflora) to lay its eggs. If you're lucky--that is, if you're in the right spot at the right time--you may actually see it laying an egg.
Our story began two months ago when we planted a passion flower vine in our yard to attract Gulf Frits. The vine, about two feet tall, was a thin, scraggly little thing yet to bloom. It still hasn't.
Well, about two weeks ago, the Gulf Frit butterflies discovered it and began laying eggs on the leaves. Soon, bristly-looking red, orange and black caterpillars appeared.
That's exactly what we wanted. Caterpillars. Lots of 'em. However, these little critters were not only hungry, they were famished! In a matter of a day or so, they denuded it.
The result: a pathetic-looking Passiflora that reminded us of Charlie Brown's scraggly little Christmas tree, a tree that nobody wanted and everyone ridiculed. In fact, when I showed a cell-phone photo of the sticklike plant to scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, they laughed. Uproariously.
"THAT is a plant?"
What to do? Find another passion flower vine. A quick trip last Saturday morning to a Sacramento nursery yielded a five-gallon Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar, hailing from Ecuador.
We temporarily placed Linda Escobar right next to Charlie Brown. That very day, both the caterpillars and adults gravitated toward Linda. Sorry, Charlie.
On Sunday I captured several images of a Gulf Frit laying a egg on Linda.
What does an egg look like? It's about the size of a pin head and emerges the color of pure gold (it will darken later).
Does life get any better than this?
Not in the butterfly world.
It's good to see UC Davis research entomologist William "Bill" Reisen named the recipient of the coveted Harry Hoogstraal Medal, to be awarded Nov. 11 in Atlanta, Ga. at the 61st annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).
Interestingly enough, Reisen actually met parasitologist-entomologist Hoogstraal (1917-1986), in Cairo in the early 1980s. Hoogstraal was a global authority on ticks and tick-borne diseases, while Reisen is internationally renowned for his comprehensive research on mosquitoes, especially those that transmit encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Reisen, who directs the Center for Vectorborne Diseases (CVEC) on the UC Davis campus, wears many hats. He's an Academic Federation research entomologist in CVEC; an adjunct professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI); and a graduate student advisor with the UC Davis Entomology, Microbiology, Epidemiology and Comparative Pathology Graduate Groups.
It's quite an honor to be named the recipient of the Harry Hoogstraal Medal. Reisen is the seventh University of California medical entomologist to receive the award since it was first presented in 1987. Other are: Bruce Eldridge, UC Davis, 2007; Robert Washino, UC Davis, 2005; John Edman, UC Davis, 2004; A. Ralph Barr of UCLA, 1995; Thomas H. G. Aitken, UCLA, 1993; and William C. Reeves, UC Berkeley, 1987.
Reisen's current research targets the population ecology of Culex tarsalis and other mosquitoes and their vertebrate hosts in relation to the epidemiology, surveillance and control of arboviruses in California.
The news media can always count on Reisen for his mosquito expertise, his dedication, his down-to-earth manner, and his well-honed sense of humor.
His mosquito research has drawn him all over the world. As a captain in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a vector-borne disease surveillance and control officer based in Manila and then Clark Air Base, the Philippines, and conducted disease and vector surveys in Korea, Okinawa, Thailand, and Guam.
Following his military service and graduation from the University of Oklahoma, Reisen worked as a an assistant professor of international medicine at the University of Maryland's International Center for Medical Research and Training at Lahore, Pakistan where he conducted research on the bloodfeeding behavior of anopheline mosquitoes (which transmit malaria) and took part in experiments using sterilized male mosquitoes released as a control mechanism as well as studies on mosquito population ecology in relation to pathogen transmission.
Highly honored for his work, Reisen received the American Mosquito Control Association's 2006 John N. Belkin Award for Excellence in Vector Ecology, the 2006 Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Vector Ecology (SOVE), and the 2001 Lifetime Award for Achievement in Medical Entomology from the SOVE International Congress. He was selected a fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in 2003. His awards also include the 2004 UC Davis Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research.
The award nominators noted that "Bill Reisen's career epitomizes the description of this award, spanning over forty years during which he has published over 260 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in the field of medical entomology, served on countless research grant review committees focusing on medically important arthropod vectors and/or disease agents, and served extensively on medical entomology editorial boards. He has also received many competitive research awards himself from national and international research funding agencies. He has also guided the careers of a number of MS and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows. We cannot think of any individual who would qualify more as having made an outstanding contribution to the field of medical entomology."
If you want to read more about his spectacular career that spans more than four decades, check out the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
As an aside, it's also quite fitting that this Air Force veteran will be honored with the Harry Hoogstraal Medal on Nov. 11, Veterans' Day.
When the Onward California tour rolls into Davis next week, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility will share the limelight.
First of all, the tour of 10 campuses and their adjoining communities is a campaign to draw attention and support for the University of California in these tough economic times.
Or, as Dan Dooley, UC senior vice president for External Relations, told Dateline, UC Davis: "This tour brings the University to Californians in their own communities and gives them the opportunities to engage with UC in a new and unexpected way. We hope that building understanding of how UC contributes to the daily lives of all Californians will further strengthen public appreciation and support for the mission of public higher education in the state."
So, how does the honey bee fit in?
Naia's 10 UC gelato flavors show the value of what UC delivers to California through higher education--"in agriculture and nutrition; health and brain science; astronomy, computers and energy; and sustainability and the arts," Jones wrote.
Which brings us to the flavor selected for UC Davis: "Bar Gelato Honey Bee."
The label indicates that "UC Davis' honey bee research facility is the largest and most comprehensive state-supported apiculture facility in North America and the only one in California."
So the spotlight next week is on the bee scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology's Laidlaw facility; the 80 research hives they maintain; and the honey bees.
And the free bar of gelato? That's one honey of a deal.
Here's where you can get yours:
Wednesday, Oct. 3: Davis Farmers' Market, Central Park, 3rd and C streets, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 4: UC Davis campus on the East Quad from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Onward California tour will share the site with the Davis Chamber of Commerce; this is the annual day that Davis businesses meet and greet the students.
On that note, if you want to know more about what UC is doing for us and how you can get involved, be sure to read Jones' article, "UC's Statewide Tour Heads to Davis--City and Campus." in Dateline and access the Onward California website.
And if you're the curious type and want to know the gelato flavor selected for each of the 10 campuses (okay, who got the chocolate and why?), you'll have to read Jones' sidebar, "A Honey of a Treat Just for UC Davis."
Oh, the life of a praying mantis...
You can hang upside down like an acrobat, shading yourself from the sun while waiting for prey and avoiding predators. You can crawl beneath dense leaves, the better to ambush, snatch and eat an unsuspecting bee. And you can mate with a fine-looking specimen like yourself and produce some more fine-looking specimens.
Life doesn't get any better than this if you're a praying mantis. (Unless, of course, you're a male mantid and the female practices sexual cannibalism. Or, if you're a newly emerged offspring and your brothers and sisters are feasting on one another and then...eyeing you.)
Finding praying mantids is not so easy. Sometimes the slightest movement in the leaves will reveal their location. Sometimes when you water a plant, they'll emerge, looking quite irritated--if mantids can look irritated. Other times they're blatantly perched on top of a blossom or lurking beneath it.
Up until recently, we'd never actually seen them mating. But there they were that warm midsummer day on Sept. 17 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven doing just that. See, the praying mantids like to hang out in the bee garden because that's where the bees are. The half-acre garden is located next to bee research hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Ah, we thought, a "lover-ly" photo to add to the educational collection of Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
So, we took a few photos, being careful not to interrupt them.
If this were a documentary being filmed about the birds 'n the bees, can't you just hear it? The Cole Porter hit, "Let's Do It," softly playing in the background:
...And that's why birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
All the while, the Cleveland or blue sage (Clevelandi salvia) stirs with life. A hummingbird, honey bees and carpenter bees drop down to investigate the blossoms and sip a little nectar. A garden spider patrols its sticky web. A scared lizard darts into the shadows.
Ants lumber by with their heavy loads. No sign of any "educated fleas," though.