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.
Have you seen me? Can you identify me?
No, you're a skipper, but which one are you?
The colorful brown skipper butterfly that touched down on our Jupiter's Beard in Vacaville, Calif., on May 17 puzzled us. First skipper we've seen this year in our pollinator garden, but what was it?
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has studied butterflies for more than four decades--and who posts his research and observations on his Art's Butterfly World website--identified it as Poanes (Paratrytone) melane, the Umber Skipper.
"It's having a HUGE year," Shapiro told us today. "It was extinct in Davis for over 30 years! But it came back a few years ago."
The Umber Skipper is also recorded on his website. "Although common in parts of the Bay Area where it is an urban 'lawn skipper,'" on our transect this is entirely a species of riparian forest and is generally uncommon or even rare. It perches in dappled light and shade along streamsides, generally well off the ground...In Berkeley it breeds happily on Bermuda Grass, which seems to have not discovered farther inland."
The Poanes melane adults visit Yerba Santa, dogbane, milkweed, thistles, yellowstar thistle, California buckeye, and coyote bush, among others.
The larvae of this skipper feed on the leaves of various grasses. Wikipedia describes the wings as "umber brown, the forewing with a darker disc and pale spots and the hindwing with a light yellow-brown band."
Quick research indicates that J. B. Heppener of the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology wrote about its 1941 spread in San Diego County in a piece published in 1972 in the Journal of Research on the Lepitoptera. He mentioned that when it spread into San Diego County in 1941 it "was sudden and well noted by resident collectors due to its previous absence from the county."
San Diego residents reportedly first encountered it in August 1941. "F. T. Thorne was one of the first collectors to encounter melane and he vividly recounts his excitement upon realizing what was being caught," Heppener wrote.
We know that feeling...that excitement!
So there we were, on Mother's Day, looking at the yet-to-bloom English lavender in our yard.
And there it was, something golden staring back at us.
It was showing a face that "only a mother could love"--or an entomologist or an insect enthusiast.
Scathophaga stercoraria, the golden dung fly. A red-eyed blond fly.
It's a beneficial insect. The larvae are often found in the feces of large animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, deer and wild boar, where the insect breeds. (Note: We have no horses, cattle, sheep, deer or wild boar near us!) The larvae eat the dung, making this insect important to natural decomposition.
The adult is a predator, it hunts for flies and other small insects. The adults also sip nectar, just like honey bees and other pollinators. Nearby was another golden dung fly, dead. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, looked at its swollen belly and said it died "from entomophagous fungus--perhaps the same one that 'glues' houseflies to window panes."
For more information on these fascinating insects, check out the BugGuide.Net entry on the golden dung fly. The insect was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus as Musca stercoraria, according to BugGuide.Net.
Like a ballerina on the dance floor of life, a newly eclosed Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, flutters from its host plant, a sycamore tree, to a crape myrtle.
The yellow-and-black butterfly spreads its wings, warming its flight muscles.
It lingers longer than it should (predators abound), but it is in no hurry and neither are we. It folds its wings, looks at the near-cloudless blue sky, and just pauses.
This tiger has no paws, but it knows how to pause.
"The Western tiger swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse," he writes on his website. "Spring individuals are smaller and usually paler than summer. Low-elevation hosts include sycamore (Platanus), ash (Fraxinus), cherry and other stone fruits (Prunus), willow (Salix), privet (Ligustrum), lilac (Syringa) and (in Sacramento County) sweet gum (Liquidambar)."
Soon the Western tiger swallowtail will head for a nectar floral source and find a mate--not necessarily in that order.
Have a safe flight!
You're on a winning streak when you spot a gray hairstreak.
No, not the streak in Grandpa's hair--the streak on Grandma's flowers.
It's the gray hairstreak butterfly, Strymon mellinus, also known as the common hairstreak.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the gray hairstreak does well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. "It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter," he says on his website. "Early spring specimens are small and very dark with reduced red markings; "albinos," with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Lately we've been seeing the gray hairstreak on our Spanish lavender, although it also frequents mallows, white clover, alfalfa and other plants.
If you're into hairstreaks, be sure to check out the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival, a Nature-in-the-City event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at the Hoover Middle School, 2290 14th Ave., San Francisco.
We're assured that the Green Hairstreak Butterfly Festival has landed. Or maybe fluttered down...
"Spring is back and so is our local butterfly, the green hairstreak," festival organizers said. "In 2006, the community of District 7 came together to save this butterfly from disappearing. Habitat restoration and community stewardship were our main tools. Now we have a robust corridor, or butterfly highway, where we can find this nickel-sized, brightly green butterfly flying from Hawk Hill to Rocky Outcrop to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps!"
It's a family event. Plans call for an outdoor classroom "to teach you about the butterfly, how to find it, and how to help maintain its unique habitat for all local pollinators. In addition, there will be contests, prizes, artwork, hands-on activities, access to local nature groups and plants, baked goods and crafts to take home." (Read about the Green Hairstreak corridor.)
The gray hairstreak, Strymon mellinus, and the green hairstreak, Callophrys viridis, belong to the same family Lycaenidae, which includes more than 6000 species worldwide or about 30 percent of the known butterfly species, according to Wikipedia.
Strymon, the genus name, is derived from the Strymon River in Bulgaria and Greece; the species name, melinus, means gray in Greek. The green hairstreak? Its genus name, Callophyrs, is Greek for "beautiful eyebrows" and its species name, viridis, is Latin for green.
Check out Shapiro's web page on Lycaenidae, to see other gossamer-wing family members in the Central Valley...and maybe boost your winning streak./span>