One of Buck Owens' signature songs that never failed to please his fan base was "I Got a Tiger by the Tail."
The Country-Hall-of-Fame singer, who died in 2006 at age 76, said the lyrics came to him after he noticed a gas station sign advertising "Put a tiger in your tank." (Source: Wikipedia)
"I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see," sang Buck Owens. "I won't be much when you get through with me..."
Well, he's not the only one with a "tiger by the tail."
We recently spotted male longhorn bees, probably Melissodes agilis, targeting Western tiger swallowtails, Papilio rutulus, in our family's pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. The butterflies were trying to sip nectar from the 8 to 10-foot-high Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia).
Who knew that sipping nectar could be so difficult? The extremely territorial male longhorn bees kept trying to push the "tigers" off the Tithonia by dive-bombing them, slamming into them, and then regrouping for more aerial assaults. Their goal: to save the resources for their own species.
And then it happened. A longhorn bee slid through a tiger's tail.
A tiger by the tail.
Talk about a butterfly ballet...
A large Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, with a wingspan of about four inches, flutters into the Vacaville, Calif. pollinator garden and lands on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). It proceeds to nectar, unaware that the patch "belongs" to a male territorial longhorn bee. The bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, is saving it for the female of the species, not for "intruders."
The bee targets the brightly colored yellow and black butterfly. It buzzes the wings, returns, executes a barrel roll and dive-bombs the butterfly. Again. Again. And again. From all sides.
What to do? Continue sipping nectar or flee?
The Western tiger swallowtail takes flight, but just heads to another Tithonia blossom where the aerial assault continues.
It's the Fourth of July, and amid our celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago on July 4, 1776 and our glorious nation, we celebrate the red, white and blue--the colors of our flag.
But in the insect world, we can also celebrate the red, white and blue:
The red: The firecracker red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, a common dragonfly of the family Libellulidae, native to western North America. We love to see it perched on a bamboo stake in our pollinator garden.
The white: The delicate, petticoated cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, common throughout much of the world, including North and South America, Europe, Great Britain, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Beauty? Yes. It absolutely glows in the late afternoon sun. Beast? Yes. The caterpillar or larva is a serious pest of our cole crops, including cabbage, kale and mustard.
The blue: The blue spots in the tail of the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, a common swallowtail butterfly of North America. Its range stretches from much of North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south, according to Wikipedia.
We've never been able to capture an image of a flameskimmer, cabbage white butterfly or Western tiger swallowtail in the same photo, but they don't need to be. Individually, their colors are strong and independent, just like our forefathers who signed the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago.
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.
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!