Just as all lady bugs aren't ladies, all widow skimmer dragonflies aren't female.
A mature male Libellula luctuosa, aka “Widow Skimmer," (as identified by Bohart Museum of Entomology associate and dragonfly expert Greg Kareofelas), recently delighted us with a visit to our Vacaville pollinator garden. He perched on a bamboo stake and appeared to be considering his fast-food menu--leafcutter bees, sweat bees, hover flies, mosquitoes. Hmm...decisions, decisions!
Mr. Widow Skimmer was probably not expecting the unexpected--a strong gust of wind flapped his wings over his head! Talk about having bad hair day...
What drew us to him--besides the wind!--was his steel blue coloring and his broad wing bands. Look closely and you can see his three pairs of black legs. They catch prey with their legs and then use their "fangs" to raise it to their mouth.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," observes BugGuide.Net. They're "found across most of the United States except the Rocky Mountain region. The range continues southward across the Mexican border. The widow skimmer has been reported from four Canadian provinces: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia."
How did Kareofelas know it was a mature male, recently mated? Well, when they reproduce, they form a wheel or heart shape (the process of reproduction is known as "in tandem"). Kareofelas saw the marks on the male's abdomen where the female clasped the male.
"Mature male," he said.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday night, July 22, promises to be a fun and educational event. It's free and open to the public.
The open house, celebrating National Moth Week, will take place from 8 to 11 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, and also outside, where two blacklight traps will be set up to collect moths and other insects. The event is free and open to the public and is family friendly.
A $75,000 scanning electron microscope, on loan from Hitachi Corp. for research and outreach, will be available for visitors to see moth scales and other insect parts.
Bohart Museum senior scientist Steve Heydon and two Bohart associates "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis will set up the light traps and answer questions. Bohart associate Jeff Smith of Sacramento, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, will field questions about moths and butterflies and show specimens from around the world.
The family craft activity will be to make a moth-shaped window ornament resembling stained glass, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. Free refreshments--hot chocolate, herbal tea and cookies--will be served. Common Grounds of Davis is donating part of the refreshments.
On permanent display is the Trump moth, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a relatively new species that Bohart Museum scientists collected at Algodones Dunes, bordering Arizona and the Mexican state of Baja California. Evolutionary biologist and systematist Vazrick Nazari of Canada named it donaldtrumpi because the yellow scales on the tiny moth's head reminded him of the hairstyle of Donald Trump, then president-elect. The orange-yellow moth has a wingspan of less than one centimeter.
Nazari published the piece on the Trump moth Jan. 17, 2016 in the journal Zookeys and explained the name: “The reason for this choice of names is to bring wider public attention to the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the U.S. that still contain many undescribed species." The Neopalpa donaldtrumpi belongs to the family, Gelechiidae of the Lepitoptera order.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, houses nearly eight million specimens; a year-around gift shop; and a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and orchid praing mantis and tarantulas.
For more information on the open house, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 752-0493.
Most of the time, I see red.
Occasionally, I see spots.
Red? The flameskimmer dragonflies (Libellula saturata) that hang out in our pollinator garden.
Spots? The 12-spot dragonfly, Libellula pulchella.
On Sunday, July 16 a male Libellula pulchella (as identified by Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum of Entomology associate) zigzagged into our pollinator garden in Vacaville and assumed the position--on a bamboo stake. He was there to feast on a few insects.
BugGuide.net says of the 12-spot dragonfly:
"Once upon a time, this was the Ten-spot(ted) Skimmer, and formerly appeared in most books under that common name. To make it so, the basal spot of opposite wings was counted as one spot crossing the thorax (and so it appears at a glance, especially when they are flying or seen from a distance). Some authors rationalize it as counting the cloudy white spots on the wings, but that's only good for mature males, and it often doesn't work (there are often only eight white spots, the two at the base of the hind wing either missing or having been rubbed off)."
It's one of about 25 to 30 species, and most are North American, according to BugGuide.Net. How can you distinguish males from females? "Mature males have twelve brown wing spots, as well as eight white wing spots. The basal area of the hind wing is also whitish. Females and immature males have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots. Their abdomens are brown with a yellow stripe along each side."
Check out BugGuide.net for more information and beautiful photos!
The California dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, and its Auburn habitat will be featured on KVIE Public Television's "Rob on the Road" show at various times throughout the week. The piece is on prime time at 7:55 p.m. on Thursday, July 13 (in between Antiques Roadshow and Huell Howser's California's Gold). It is also online at http://vids.kvie.org/video/3002661342/
Found only in California, the dogface butterfly thrives at the Shutamul Bear River Preserve near Auburn, Placer County. The 40-acre preserve, part of the Placer Land Trust, is closed to the public except for specially arranged tours.
The butterfly is there because its larval host plant--false indigo, Amorpha californica--is there. The plant is difficult to grow outside this habitat, according to Placer Land Trust manager Justin Wages. Perhaps, he says, it's the unique geography and soil near the Bear River.
The dogface butterfly, so named because of the poodle-like silhouette on the wings of the male, was adopted as the official California insect on July 28, 1972, but entomologists had selected it as the state insect as early as 1929. Their choice appears in the California Blue Book, published by the State Legislature in 1929. (Read more on how the butterfly became the state insect under the Ronald Reagan administration.)
It flies high and it flies fast, Shapiro points out. "Both sexes routinely fly 15-20 feet off the ground," he writes on his website. "They dip down to visit such flowers as California Buckeye, thistles, tall blue verbena, etc. but seldom linger long."
The California dogface butterfly made the news several years ago when UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology associates Greg Kareofelas and Fran Keller and former UC Davis student Laine Bauer, teamed to publish a 35-page children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly. The trio visited the Auburn site for their research, and Kareofelas also reared and photographed a dogface butterfly at his home in Davis. The author, Fran Keller, is an entomologist and is now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College. (She received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart and professor of entomology). Both Kareofelas provided photos for the book, and Bauer, the drawings, including depictions of the life cycle of the butterfly reared by Kareofelas.
As for the book, it's favored by adults and children and is a classroom treasure. "The ecology, life cycle, taxonomy and conservation issues presented are relevant to grades K-6 that can be used in classroom curriculum,” Keller says. It also includes a glossary.
Kareofelas, who has served for several years as a volunteer docent for the Placer Land Trust's dogface butterfly tours, helped guide the recent tour that included Rob Stewart of "Rob on the Road" and UC Master Gardeners.
He and Keller, along with others, answered questions about the biology and history of the colorful butterfly, also known as "the flying pansy."
Recent dogface sightings elsewhere? Shapiro saw one this year on July 4 at Willow Slough, Yolo County. Kareofelas recently saw one in his backyard, where he is growing a false indigo. And Shapiro remembers seeing one in his driveway in Davis in 1972.
However, the dogface butterfly is more prevalent at the Shutamul Bear River Preserve than anywhere else, and Rob Stewart of "Rob on the Road" and the UC Master Gardeners were delighted to see it.
Fact is, although few have seen the dogface butterfly in the wild, all of us with California driver's licenses have seen it--but probably never noticed it. Look on your driver's license--right beneath your signature--and there it is!
California's state insect, the California dogface butterfly.
Despite other major attractions--including the gorgeous spring day and the March Madness basketball tournament--nearly 300 people visited the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology last Saturday during its three-hour open house, themed "Eggs to Wings: Backyard Butterfly Gardening."
They conferred with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis; Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and a number of Bohart associates, including entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the moth and butterfly display; naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a butterfly and dragonfly enthusiast; entomologists Jessica Gillung and Ziad Khouri, doctoral candidates; Nicole Tam, junior specialist; and Joel Hernandez and Alex Nguyen, recent entomology graduates.
"Hungry, hungry caterpillars!" read one poster, illustrated with photos of the monarch, gulf fritillary and pipevine swallowtail caterpillars and their adult stages. "Having a garden full of flowers provides nectar, an important food source for adult butterflies, but what about their hungry, hungry caterpillars? It seems counterintuitive to grow plants that yu want insects to eat, but that is exactly what butterflies need when they are larvae."
Jeff Smith kept busy showing visitors the drawers of butterfly specimens, including blue morphos, monarchs and swallowtails. As he opened one drawer, he explained that "this drawer contains several species of South American rainforest butterflies, Preponas, in the genus Archaeoprepona." He described them as "extremely strong and fast fliers, but they love to settle on baits such as fermenting fruit on the ground. We (Bohart team) caught several in the ongoing Belize biodiversity work this past year."
Robbin Thorp showed live male Valley carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, green-eyed blond bees that are also known as "teddy bear" bees. "Boy bees can't sting," Thorp said, reassuring a few leary visitors. The female of the species is solid black. (Following the open house, Thorp returned the bees to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road.)
The bottle is tucked inside a zipped, meshed butterfly habitat and placed indoors or in a screened patio to prevent tachinid flies and wasps from laying their eggs in the caterpillars or chrysalids. Once the monarchs pupate and eclose, they are released to start another generation. This is a small-scale conservation project.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Special open houses take place throughout the academic year. The next open house takes place during the annual campuswide Picnic Day on April 22.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com. The website is http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/