So there they were, the bride and groom, culminating their vows.
We spotted them in Vacaville, Calif., clinging to a passion flower vine (Passiflora), their host plant--just the two of them, the female Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the male.
Two's company? Not for long.
Soon other Gulf Frits descended on them.
Two's company, three's a crowd. Where did all those uninvited guests come from? They're everywhere!
All went well, though. The guests fluttered off, leaving the couple alone and allowing the photographer to engage in insect wedding photography.
Gulf Frits are incredibly beautiful, what with their bright orange wings with black markings, and underside, their elongated silver iridescence spots. A touch of the tropics!
Gulf Frits have been around a long time in the Bay Area--more than a century, according to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s," Shapiro writes on his website. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield, where, however, it is not established."
"There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
Shapiro says that in the Bay Area "this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough."
Thankfully, that's not all they do.
Coming soon to a passion flower vine near you--eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, and then those gorgeous butterflies!
It's National Pollinator Week!
Do you know where your pollinators are?
Or better yet, do you know how to attract them and protect them?
Pollinator Partnership has announced that June 19-25 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Talk about alliteration: pollinators can be bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. (And many other species, including flies.)
We stepped into our pollinator garden this morning (before the heat shot up to 107 degrees) to check for butterfly diversity.
- A Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, flutter over to the pink mallow.
- A mournful duskywing, Erynnis tristis,warm itself on the butterfly bush.
- And a cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, linger on the lavender.
They're all pollinators.
Of course, the larvae of the cabbage white is considered a pest (see UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management website), but the adult looks like a lady in white.
The adult cabbage white butterfly can yield you a prize--a pitcher of beer or its equivalent--if you collect the first one of the year in the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest, hosted by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. The bug must be collected in the three-county area of Solano, Yolo or Sacramento.
Shapiro, who has studied butterflies of Central California for more than four decades and posts research information on his website, usually wins. Read why he sponsors the contest and where he found the first one of 2017 on Bug Squad.
Erected in 1852, this historic building was ostensibly intended for Benicia City Hall. Offered as the state capitol and promptly accepted, it had that honor from February 4, 1853 to February 25, 1854. Deeded to the state in 1951, it was one of the four locations of the 'Capitol on Wheels.' California Registered Historical Landmark No. 153.
Another sign informs us: "This historic state capitol building dedicated to TRUTH - LIBERTY-TOLERATION by the Native Sons of the Golden West, March 5, 1958."
Still another sign pays tribute to Joseph Fischer of Switzerland who immigrated to New York in 1845, and to Benicia in 1849 "and purchased this lot on July 1, 1858." His home, now known as the Fischer-Hanlon House, is a California Registered Historical Landmark.
Visitors stop to read the signs and see the signs of life: the flora and the fauna...from a double-blossom pomegranate tree to the fluttering butterflies.
Today, on June 14, Flag Day, a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) spread its wings on a bush, and a Gulf Fritilliary (Agraulis vanillae) nectared on lantana.
Our California legislators probably enjoyed the flora and fauna, too.
The conversation usually starts like this:
"I saw this huge, huge bumble bee with yellow on its back. It was buzzing like crazy."
Often it's not a bumble bee, but the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, that's been foraging on the blooms of the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The yellow "markings?" Tiny yellow grains of pollen.
Valley carpenter bees are passionate about the passionflower vine, a robust climbing vine that's the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae).
The Valley carpenter bees are large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are solid black, while the males are golden/buff-colored with green eyes. If you're lucky, you'll see both on your passionflower vine.
Planting Passiflora will usually result in a diversity of visiting species, from butterflies to honey bees to carpenter bees. You'll see Gulf Frits laying their eggs on the leaves and tendrils.
Yes, the vine will cover your fence, but not for long. The Gulf Frit caterpillars will skeletonize the plant. (And that's why we plant ours--for the Gulf Frits.)
Well, also for the other insects, too!
When you're capturing images of butterflies, seconds count.
They're unpredictable. They move from fluttering to fleeting. And just when you're focused on where they are, they aren't there anymore. Where'd they go? Oh, over there!
Take the case of the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), aka the passion butterfly. Gulf Frits lay their eggs on their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). So it makes sense that males will patrol the vine. It's where the girls are.
And where the camera usually isn't.
And if you happen upon a mating pair, and hordes of other Gulf Frit males are disrupting the "passion," they'll take off, intertwined, for another spot. A little seclusion in "the bedroom," please, and then it's off to "the kitchen," where the nectar-producing flowers are.
This pair (below) found one another on the passionflower vine as other males bombarded them. They lumberingly headed for another spot, and the rest is history. Or her-story. Soon the female will be back laying eggs on the Passiflora, and the cycle of egg, caterpillar, chrysalid and adult will begin all over again.
These images were taken with a Nikon D800 equipped with the macro zoom lens, 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D ED. Settings: ISO 800, f-stop, 13; and shutter speed, 1/640 of a second.
Seconds count. No, not just seconds. Fractions of a second!