Goodbye, 2013. Hello, 2014.
If you're a beginning driver--or you remember being a beginning driver--your instructor may have admonished: "Look where you're going; not where you've been."
But sometimes, especially at the end of a year, it's good to know where you've been.
Or, in the case of arthropod photography, where the insects and spiders hung out.
If you're like me, you like to prowl their habitats. Sometimes I walk softly and carry a big stick (tripod) but most of the time, I just walk softly.
I focus on their eyes. Their eyes. Their eyes look back at me. Predator or prey? Ignore or confront? Fight or flee?
Not to worry. I am a visitor in their home. I don't poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em.
Thankfully, our bee friendly garden in our backyard is not only friendly to bees, but flies, such as robber flies, bee flies and syrphids. The bees? Honey bees, carpenter bees, leafcutting bees, blue orchard bees, sweat bees and European wool carder bees. We see scores of other insects, too, including lady beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, praying mantids, lacewings, and the like. We also welcome arachnids, such as crab spiders, cellar spiders and jumping spiders. We all live together, sometimes not so peacefully. Sometimes not at all. Nature is what it is. And we are what we are. (See some of Bug Squad's favorite images of 2013.)
If you love insect photography, you'll love entomologist/insect photographer Alex Wild's blog, Compound Eye, on scientificamerican.com. (Every time I think of Scientific American, my mind fades back to my high school science project selected for the Pacific Northwest Science Fair at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It won a year's subscription to the magazine. Memories...)
We at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology know Alex Wild as not only an amazing photographer, specializing in ants, but an alumnus. He received his doctorate here, studying with Professor Phil Ward, a noted ant specialist.
The Compound Eye blog describes him this way: "Alex Wild is an Illinois-based biologist who studies insect evolution. He picked up photography a decade ago to better illustrate his technical presentations, and shortly thereafter found himself running a business supplying books, magazines, and museum exhibits with close-up images of insects and other micro-wildlife. Alex holds a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California at Davis and currently teaches and conducts research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His scientific work includes descriptions of new insect species, annotations of insect genomes, and monographs on the evolution of various groups of wasps, beetles, and ants. Compound Eye is Alex's exploration of science photography's challenges and the role images play in science communication. Alex's galleries are available at http://www.alexanderwild.com." (He also writes the Myrmecos blog and co-teaches the BugShot photography workshops.)
Wild's Compound Eye blog today (Dec. 31) showcases some of the work of noted nature and science photographers. He asked them for links to their "best Nature & Science images from the past year, and wow--you did not disappoint!"
While you're toasting the New Year, offer a toast to these images!
You will be awestruck! Best of all, maybe you'll pick up a camera and start photographing insects, too...
And it’s all in the name of science.
If you collect the first cabbage white butterfly of 2014 in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano or Sacramento, you’ll collect a pitcher of beer or its cash-prize equivalent from Professor Shapiro of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology.
It’s all part of Shapiro’s 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He launched the annual contest in 1972 to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight.
“It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter,” he says. “Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.”
The cabbage white butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. The male has white wings; the female may be slightly buffy. The underside of the hindwing and of the tip of the forewing is distinctly yellow and the hindwing is more or less overscaled with gray below. The black markings on the upperside, except the black at the bases of the wings near the body, tend to be faint or even to disappear early in the season.
The butterfly must be collected outdoors in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento counties and must be delivered live to the office of the Department of Evolution and Ecology in 2320 Storer Hall, during work hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. All entries must list the exact time, date and location of the capture and the collector’s name, address, phone number and email.
“The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it,” Shapiro said. “If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, hold it your refrigerator but do not freeze it. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.”
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, usually wins the contest. He has been defeated only three times since 1972. Those winners were all his graduate students, whom he calls “my fiercest competitors.” Adam Porter won the beer in 1983, and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s. When Shapiro wins, he shares the reward with his graduate students and their significant others.
All in all, the cabbage white butterfly contest “helps us understand biological responses to climate change,” Shapiro said. “The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here.”
Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He has surveyed fixed routes at 10 sites since as early as 1972. They range from the Sacramento River Delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin. The sites, he said, represent the great biological, geological and climatological diversity of Central California.
Shapiro and biologist/writer/photographer Tim Manolis co-authored A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
A distinguished professor, Shapiro is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences.
For more information on the beer-for-a-butterfly contest, contact Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-2176.
Several honey bees and at least one lady beetle (ladybug), also discovered the "hot spot" in the garden as the temperatures climbed to 52 degrees.
A bumble bee in Benicia? On Christmas Day? Who would have thought?
This bumble bee species, identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is one of only 250 species worldwide in the genus Bombus. It's native to North America.
Thorp is one of four co-authors of the newly published and long-awaited Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide (Princeton University Press). The book is billed as "the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century." It allows us to identify all the 46 bumble bee species found in North America, and also to learn about "evolutionary relationships, geographical distributions and ecological roles."
Lead author is Paul H. Williams, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. In addition to Thorp, other co-authors are Leif L. Richardson, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College; and Sheila R. Colla, postdoctoral fellow at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a project leader at Wildlife Preservation Canada.
Meanwhile, back to Benicia. Like North America's bumble bees, the Benicia Capitol has a rich history. Erected in 1852 and located at 115 West G St., it served as California's third seat of government. Legislators convened there from Feb. 4, 1853 (the year the honey bee was introduced to California) to Feb. 25, 1854.
Today, 160 years later, the Benicia State Capitol is the only surviving pre-Sacramento capitol. Let's hope we can still say that about bumble bees 160 years from now--and the years to come.
It's what I've always wanted to see on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, we rarely see any insects--probably because we aren't looking for them. But a butterfly? And a butterfly laying an egg?
I took an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) laying an egg in west Vacaville (Solano County) on Christmas Day. She fluttered around a frost-bitten, caterpillar-eaten passionflower vine (Passiflora) as the temperature held steady at 65 degrees.
Then the butterfly dropped down, extended her abdomen, and laid an egg. A tiny yellowish egg, right in the middle of dozens of caterpillars and chrysalids. Somehow or another, these immature stages managed to survive our extended frost, when the mercury dipped to 22 degrees.
I told butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, about the egg-laying butterfly. Not so coincidentally, he was searching for adult butterflies in Vacaville today (temperature, 70 degrees), but didn't see any.
Shapiro, who monitors the butterflies of Central California and posts information on his website, sounded the alarm about the comeback of these spectacular orange-red butterflies several ago. It was in September 2009 that he excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit after its four-decade absence in the Sacramento metropolitan area, and its three-decade absence in the Davis area.
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."
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. 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 said. 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 it "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, a Davis resident since 1971.
Now we know that at least some Gulf Frits survived the freezing temperatures--just when a setback threatened the comeback.
Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as "red pollen."
Like people, pollen comes in many colors and all are beautiful. All.
The floral source determines the color of the pollen. Just as nectar is a carbohydrate source, pollen is a protein source. Honey bees need both to rear the brood.
One of my favorite bee images is a photo I took in my backyard of a honey bee sipping nectar from lavender. "What's that red stuff on her?" non-bee folks ask.
Pollen. Red pollen.
Bee folks question its origin. It's from the nearby rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). This honey bee, after gathering protein from the rock purslane, buzzed over to the lavender for some carbo loading. A little fuel for her flight back to the hive.
Bees gather red pollen from many floral sources, including not only rock purslane--a succulent--but horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), pear (Pyrus communis), and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).
When I see red pollen, I think of the beauty of a delicate flower transferred over to a hard-working bee. I don't think of the color's negative connotations: red tape, red-eye flight, red herring, and caught red-handed.
"Red pollen" is "Christmas red" or "holiday red."
Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! And the best of the new year!