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.
And they did.
But this event wasn't "winged"; it was well planned and rooted in educational information.
Wings? A reference to the flutter of the ever decreasing butterfly wings. The occasion? The inaugural "Wing It" Butterfly Summit, held last Saturday, March 25 at Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond.
A panel of butterfly experts fielded questions focused on "What can we do to help the declining monarch population, as well as other struggling butterfly populations?" Among the speakers were Mia Monroe of the Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse and Suzanne Clark of the UC Master Gardeners, Sonoma County.
The speakers advocated that we garden for butterflies by planting their host plants (where adult butterflies lay their eggs and where the offspring subsist) and by planting nectar plants (food source of adult butterflies). Other points: We must preserve their habitats; help establish food-embellished migratory corridors for monarchs heading to overwintering sites; avoid the use of pesticides; and support research.
The Pollinator Posse, geared toward protecting pollinators and creating habitat, also urged that we all get involved in conservation efforts, including rearing monarchs--bringing in the eggs and caterpillars from the outdoors to protect them from predators. Many "Monarch Moms" and "Monarch Dads" use zippered meshed containers, keeping the offspring safe from tachinid flies and wasps that lay their eggs in caterpillars and chrysalids.
Facilitator Mia Monroe, volunteer with the Xerces Society, coordinator of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, and Muir Woods Park Ranger, pointed out the alarming monarch statistics:
In less than 20 years, the number of monarchs at overwintering sites in California has declined by 74 percent, a figure comparable to what's happening to the overwintering population in Mexico.
Among the other speakers:
- Amber Hasselbring, executive director of San Francisco's Nature in the City, who is establishing Green Hairstreak corridors in San Francisco neighborhoods.
- Andy Liu, landscape architect and garden designer specializing in butterfly habitat
- Sal Levinson, author, entomologist and noted speaker on butterfly habitats. She authored Butterfly Papercrafts Butterfly Papercrafts: 21 Indoor Projects for Outdoor Learning, a book geared for youngsters ages 5-12 and described as a key educational resource for teachers.
- Suzanne Clarke, UC Master Gardener from Sonoma County, who urged the participants to plant milkweed for monarchs: “Milkweed: If you plant it, they will come.” She sported a yellow t-shirt lettered with just that and a monarch image.
- Tim Wong, aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Science, and Barbara Deutsch who are involved in repopulating pipevine swallowtails in the San Francisco area
The summit drew some 250 to 300 people, who listened to the talks, visited the educational booths, learned about the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, and what to plant to attract butterflies. Vendors offered books, posters, T-shirts, plants and butterfly habitats.
- Aesculus californica (California buckeye): Host plant of Echo Spring Azure butterfly
- Angelica tomentosa (woolly angelica) and A. archangelica: Anise Swallowtail
- Anisodontea sp. 'Strybing Beauty" (cape mallow): Vanessids, such as Vanessa atalanta, the Red Admiral
- Antirrhinums (snapdragons): Common Buckeye
- Asclepias (milkweed): Monarchs
- Asters: Field Cresentspot
- Ceanothus (all species): California Tortoiseshell, Echo Spring Azure, Gray Hairstreak
- Daucus carota (wild carrot, Queen Anne's lace): Anise Swallowtail
- Eriogonums (California buckwheat): Gray Hairstreak, Acmon Blue
- Foeniculum vulgare (fennel): Anise Swallowtail
- Grasses (California native Boutelouas, Festucas, Melicas, Muhlenbergias, Nassellas): Skippers
- Hollyhocks: Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, Common Checkered Skipper, Gray Hairstreak
- Keckiellas: Checkerspots, Common Buckeye
- Lathyrus (perennial natives, such as sweet pea): Silvery Blues
- Lavatera assurgentiflora (malvia): West Coast Lady
- Lippia repens (mat grass): Common Buckeye
- Lotus crassifolus variety otayensis (also known as Otay Mountain lotus): Acmon Blue
- Lupines (native perennial lupines like albifrons, arboreus, latifolius parishii, polyphyllus, propinquus, sericatus); Acmon Blue, some hairstreaks
- Mimulus aurantiacus (sticky monkey flower): Checkerspots, Common Buckeye
- Nasturtiums: Cabbage White
- Passiflora caerulea and some others (avoid bright red varies as they may be toxic): Gulf Fritillaries
- Penstemons: Checkerspots, Common Buckeye
- Sidalceas (checkered mallow): Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, Common Checkered Skipper, Gray Hairsteak
- Sphaeralceas (mallow): Gray Hairstreak, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, Common Checkered Skipper
Good Bay Area nectar plants for butterflies, according to the Butterfly Summit, include California buckeye, brodiaecas (cluster lilies), milkweed, asters, butterfly bush (Buddlejas), cosmos, coreopsis, echiums, blanketflower (Gaillardia), dahlias, mint, rosemary, lavenders, marigolds, rosemary, phacelias, sunflowers, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), Salvia clevelandii, Gilia capitata, Suromgas (lilac), verbenas, and zinnias.
Monarchs are especially fond of these nectar sources: butterfly bush (Buddleja), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), asters, Echiums (Echium fastuosum or Pride of Madeira), and verbenas.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says that "providing milkweeds and other nectar-rich flowers that bloom where and when monarchs need them is one of the most significant actions you can take to support monarch butterfly populations."--Monarch Nectar Plants, Inland California.
NWF also urges everyone to plant natives: "Although monarchs use a variety of nectar plant species, including exotic invasives such as ice plant and cape ivy, we recommend planting native species. Native plants are often more beneficial to ecoystems, are adapted to local soils and climates, and help promote biological diversity. They can also be easier to maintain in the landscape, once established."
You gotta love those 'cats.
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars (Agraulis vanillae) are always hungry. They're as hungry as teenagers returning home from a marathon swimming meet or from a double-overtime basketball game. As soon as they step in the front door, it's off to the refrigerator. What's to eat? I'm starving! When's dinner?
Gulf Frit caterpillars are like starving teens. The 'cats will eat everything in sight--the leaves, buds, flowers and stems of their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). "Host plant" is a good word--you be the host, Passiflora, and we, the Gulf Frits, will eat it all. Everything.
In fact, Gulf Frit caterpillars will compete for food and knock one another around. When food is scare, they'll engage in a little cannibalism.
If you have a healthy passionflower vine and a good supply of Gulf Frits, chances are your plant will be skeletonized by the end of the season. The 'cats will eat heartily, form a "J," spin into a chrysalis, and voila! An adult butterfly will eclose. That's what butterflies do.
In a previous Bug Squad, we mentioned that the Gulf Frits are found in many parts of the world and arrived in California (San Diego) in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. They spread through Southern California in urban settings and were first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908, Shapiro says. They "became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says the Gulf Frits “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Some folks don't like Gulf Frits skeletonizing their passionflower vines. They grow them for the passion fruit and for their floral beauty. And when the Gulf Frits take over and decimate the plants? "We look like bad gardeners," lamented one UC Master Gardener.
Bad gardeners? Well, no. Good butterfly conservationists? Yes!