The California Buckeye (Junonia coenia), with its bold eyespots and white bars, is an easily recognizable butterfly.
The problem: getting close enough for a photo and then patiently waiting for it to open its wings. At the first indication of danger, it flutters away.
The eyespots are supposed to scare away predators, but they certainly don't scare away a praying mantis.
Kristen Kolb, master gardener extraordinaire who helps tend the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, recently spotted a ripped-apart Buckeye in the sedum.
We suspect a praying mantis grabbed it and feasted on the head, thorax and abdomen, leaving behind the wings.
The wings with the bold eyespots.
In the big, beautiful butterfly world, the Fiery Skipper stands out as the most common urban butterfly in California.
It may not be as showy as the Monarch, the Gulf Fritilliary and the Painted Lady, but the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) holds its own.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, describes it as "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean."
"Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937," he writes on his butterfly website. "At any rate, it is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October."
It breeds mostly on Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Shapiro says.
We've seen the adults nectaring on sedum, lantana, zinnias and Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) at the half-acre bee friendly garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It's like their favorite restaurant where they can order nectar (take-out, please!) from sedum, zinnias, catmint and those glorious Mexican sunflowers.
Since the Fiery Skippers don't take kindly to cold winters, let's enjoy them while we can.
The Gulf Frit is definitely back.
Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina.
The Gulf Frit is a beautiful butterfly with bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanillae feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shapiro says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
No one knows exactly when the first Gulf Frit first arrived in California, but "it was already in the San Diego area by about 1875, Shapiro says, and it was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971.
The butterfly can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood," he told us back in 2009.
Well, there's a thriving passion flower vine behind a west Vacaville residence that makes one think: "Critical mass!"
On one recent sunny afternoon, we spotted about 10 to 12 Gulf Frits breeding on the vine. Squadrons of brightly colored orange and black caterpillars munched on the leaves.
Yes, the Gulf Frit is alive and well.
Very alive and very well.
So if you have a passion for the Gulf Frit, plant Passiflora.
Plant it and they may come.
The folks who devote their entire lives to honey bees--how do they begin?
Well, if you're Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturst at the University of California, Davis, it begins in childhood with a fascination for insects and the walks in the woods with your grandfather, who explains the flora and fauna to you.
Then when you graduate from college and attend graduate school, your mentor makes sure you're stung by a bee before you can join his research team.
M.E.A. "Mea" McNeil tells the story of Eric Mussen in a fascinating two-part series in recent editions of the American Bee Journal.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, a fixture in the Department of Entomology since 1976, will do just about anything to help the bees and the beekeeping industry. He fields calls from his Briggs Hall office from commercial beekeepers, small-scale beekeepers, hobbyists, beginning beekeepers, 4-H'ers, pest control advisors, growers, assorted industry representatives, legislators, news media and the general public.
And that's just to name a few. Fact is, he'll answer any question from the simple to the complicated.
One of my favorite photos of Eric Mussen is really of a bee stinging him at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. At the time, we were doing a hive check and an irritated bee landed on his wrist.
"It's going to sting me," he said, alerting me to a pending "photo opportunity." He knew my macro lens was ready to go. Eight frames a second.
One of them is below.
I told him he could be my "hit man" any time.
If you want to read more about "the bee guy," check out the news story posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website, which links to McNeil's two articles in the American Bee Journal.
Pro bee, all the way.
The times, they change. Standard textbook knowledge, that can change, too.
It did today.
For several decades, few people challenged "the hump-shaped model" developed in the early 1970s by British ecologist Philip Grime who proposed that the number of species rises, then declines with increasing productivity.
Today an international team of 58 ecologists announced that habitat productivity does not predict the diversity of plant species, as previously assumed for several decades.
The groundbreaking research, to be published Sept. 23 in the journal Science (the embargo lifted today at 2 p.m., Eastern Standard Time) shows “no clear relationship between productivity and the number of plant species in small study plots,” said Utah State University plant ecologist Peter Adler, lead author of the paper.
The ecologists sampled 48 diverse grassland sites on five continents in an innovative, unprecedented project partially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
For more than 30 years, the relationship between net primary productivity and species richness has generated intense debate in ecology about the processes regulating local diversity. The original view, which is still widely accepted, holds that the relationship is hump-shaped, with richness first rising and then declining with increasing productivity. Although recent meta-analyses questioned the generality of hump-shaped patterns, these syntheses have been criticized for failing to account for methodological differences among studies. We addressed such concerns by conducting standardized sampling in 48 herbaceous-dominated plant communities on five continents. We found no clear relationship between productivity and fine-scale richness within sites, within regions, or across the globe. Ecologists should focus on fresh, mechanistic approaches to understanding the multivariate links between productivity and richness.
The paper in Science is one of the first to emerge from the research, launched five years ago when the ecologists formed the Nutrient Network or “NutNet,” a cooperative research initiative dedicated to investigating biodiversity and ecosystem processes in global grasslands.
University of Minnesota researchers Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom received funding from NSF to coordinate the network research. NSF also funds an annual meeting workshop in Minneapolis, where the researchers gather to analyze data.
Among the 58 ecologists participating: Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis.
When asked about the research, Yang commented: “It’s a really innovative approach to ecology. We conducted a coordinated study in diverse grasslands at the 48 sites and we pooled our data together to address some persistent issues in the field. In this paper, we show that plant diversity is not predicted by productivity in any general or simple way; instead, it looks like patterns of plant diversity result from more complex processes which are variable at local, regional and global scales.”
Yang’s research contributions to the network came from a field site at the Sagehen Creek Field Station, located near Truckee in Nevada County. He and Dan Gruner of the University of Maryland have managed a montane or highland meadows site (elevation 6500 feet) since 2007 for their research.
And how did the ecologists measure productivity? Yang talks about this on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. You'll also want to read what Michael Willig of the University of Connecticut has to say about the paper: Perspective on Biodiversity and Productivity.
Willig begins with: "Researchers predict that human activities—especially landscape modification and climate change—will have a considerable impact on the distribution and abundance of species at local, regional, and global scales in the 21st century."
Meanwhile, we're anxiously awaiting more published research from the Nutrient Network.