We first saw her at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2017.
She was eating. That's what monarch caterpillars do best. They eat. A lot.
"Where have you been?" I asked. "Where have you been hiding? Your siblings have long gone. Your buddies passed through here in late August and September on their way to their overwintering sites in Santa Cruz and beyond."
How could I have missed her? This one was a fifth in-star and almost ready to pupate.
"Let's see. When your mama laid the egg, you hatched in about three to four days. You'll be a caterpillar for 10 to 14 days. Then you'll be in the pupa stage for 10 to 14 days. But that's all under normal conditions, summer conditions. This is fall, not normal conditions, little buddy."
The chubby black, yellow and white monarch caterpillar kept eating. "YOU could have been eaten, little buddy," I told her, glancing at the hungry California scrub jays vocalizing in the cherry laurels. True, milkweed contains a poisonous toxin that protects monarchs from predators, but birds do eat them. "Just not as much," says Louie Yang, associate professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Then there are the other deadly encounters. Tachinid flies and braconid wasps parasitize the caterpillars and chrysalids. And some fall victim to that dreaded disease, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, caused by an obligate, protozoan parasite.
Give her a chance, just a chance...
So, awed by her unexpected appearance, we prepared the indoor butterfly habitat for its last tenant of the season. Our monarch-rearing kit features a Patron tequila bottle; the narrow neck prevents the 'cats from drowning, and the broad, heavy base assures stability (this is one bottle that doesn't get tipsy!). Just add water, milkweed stems and the caterpillar, and center the bottle in the zippered habitat. Then you wait for the caterpillar to create a silk button and form a J. And then a chrysalis. And then an adult ready to generate more generations.
This November tenant, however, chose the most fragile, overhanging milkweed stem in the bottle to pupate. No mesh ceiling for her!
When the jade-green chrysalis formed on Nov. 4, it looked like a jeweled ornament dangling from a Christmas tree. Or a mid-life chrysalis.
Now, "hurry up and wait." In ideal conditions, a monarch ecloses in 10 to 14 days. In ideal conditions.
Nothing happened for 10 days. Then 12. Then 14. Then 18.
On Day 19, Nov. 22 (the day before Thanksgiving), the chrysalis darkened, revealing the orange, black and white wings in all its transparency. The chrysalis bulged, throbbed and swayed. Out slipped the butterfly, wings flat, wings pumping. She clung to the pupal case as her wings expanded. A big, strong and healthy girl.
On Thanksgiving Day, four adults, two dogs and one butterfly celebrated in Casa de la Garvey. At least we think the butterfly celebrated. She dropped to the floor of her habitat and sipped orange juice and a honey/water mixture. Then, sustained, she fluttered up to her perch, and began searching for an opening, an escape.
She. Wanted. Out.
Hmm...No way would she be able to fly three hours to the overwintering site in Santa Cruz in the cold and rain. And then there are those hungry California scrub jays hanging out in the cherry laurels...Just waiting...
It just so happened that a friend and pollinator advocate, Rita LeRoy, the self-described "farm keeper" at the Vallejo School District's Loma Vista Farm, Vallejo, was heading to Santa Cruz on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to show her out-of-town relatives the overwintering migratory butterfly sanctuary at the Natural Bridges State Beach Park. That's about a 100-mile trip from Vallejo.
Could Ms. Monarch hitch a ride?
She could. And she did.
Rita, who delights in showing area schoolchildren the monarchs that frequent Loma Vista Farm--she's also a Monarch Mom who rears and releases monarchs and is active in the Bay Area Pollinator Posse--unzipped the mesh habitat at the butterfly sanctuary.
Her sister-in-law captured an image of Miss Monarch in freedom's hands.
Wow! Just wow! From a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult. And there she was! In Rita's hands. In Santa Cruz. In the migratory butterfly sanctuary. With her buddies. Or soon-to-be buddies.
"She flew so fast that we didn't get a picture of her flying away," Rita lamented. "She was anxious to join her new friends."
"It was a beautiful day," Rita said, adding "Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of setting her free. I was so sad that my last ones (monarchs) didn't survive. It was really nice to have this happy experience."
Once upon a monarch...thanks to Rita, the ending could not have been better...
You notice an egg on your milkweed plant, and watch its life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. Aha, you think, soon I'll be able to see an adult monarch eclose from that chrysalis.
Not so fast.
If a tachinid fly lays eggs in that caterpillar or chrysalis, you'll get several tachinid flies, not a monarch. The fly larvae will eat the host--the caterpillar or chrysalis--from the inside out.
The tachinid fly is a parasitoid, and you can learn all about this parasitoid and many others at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house, Parasitoid Palooza, set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 18 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, UC Davis campus. It's free and open to the public and family friendly. A family craft activity is planned.
What's a parasitoid?
"An insect parasitoid is a species whose immatures live off of an insect host, often eating it from the inside out," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "It is part of their life cycle and the host generally dies."
Among the presentations or topics:
- Bohart Museum senior museum scientist Steve Heydon, a world authority on Pteromalids, or jewel wasps, a group of tiny parasitoids.
- Entomology PhD student Jessica Gillung who researches the Acroceridae family "a remarkable group of endoparasitoids of spiders."
- Family craft activity is a pop-up card, featuring a monarch chrysalis and a fly, suitable for mailing to friends and family during the holiday season.
There are some 3,450 described species of Pteromalids, found throughout the world and in virtually all habitats. Many are important as biological control agents.
Members of the Acroceridae are "rare and elusive flies lay the eggs on the ground or vegetation, and the little larva is in charge of finding itself a suitable host," Gillung said. "Upon finding the host, the larva enters its body and feeds inside until it's mature to come outside and pupate. They eat everything from the spider; nothing is wasted."
Her dissertation involves "the evolution and systematics of Acroceridae, focusing on understanding host usage patterns and trends in morphological variation."
Tachinid flies, which lay their eggs in caterpillars and chrysalids, will be on display, along with the remains of its hosts. It is used as a biological control agent for some pests. But those who rear monarch butterflies consider it their enemy when it lays eggs in their caterpillars and chrysalids.
The late UC Davis entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) researched Strepsiptera, or twisted-wing parasites, for his doctorate in 1938. Both the Bohart Museum and an entire family of Strepsiptera, the Bohartillidae, are named in honor of Professor Bohart.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold some of the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum holds special open houses throughout the academic year. Its 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.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com or Tabatha Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Horticulture experts at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden will join forces with the Yolo County Master Gardeners on Sunday, Sept. 24 to present a free workshop on "Pollinator Gardening."
The event takes place from 10 a.m. to noon in the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, UC Davis campus.
They'll tell you how to enrich your environment with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.
They offer these points on their UC Davis Arboretum website:
- Learn why creating pollinator-friendly habitats in your home landscape is of the utmost environmental importance
- Gain knowledge about the top, locally-appropriate plants for attracting hummingbirds, bees and butterflies
- Find information specific to native pollinators and attracting certain species to your garden
- Tour the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's newest pollinator-friendly gardens
- Get the latest landscape water conservation tips, news and more from the City of Davis
- Take a pre-sale nursery tour courtesy of Nursery Manager Taylor Lewis (Actual plant sales will not be taking place until our first plant sale event on October 7.)
- Prep your shopping list for the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's upcoming fall plant sales
To those, we'd like to add three more reasons:
- It's a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. It's about the passion, persistence and poetry of nature.
- It's exciting to see how many pollinators visit--or reside in--your garden. Plant 'em and they will come!
- It's indeed challenging, but highly rewarding to capture images of the pollinators (see below). It's also highly addictive.
"We'd be a shadow of what we are without Jeff," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomoogy at UC Davis. The museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, which includes more than 400,000 butterflies and moths. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. The museum is named for the late Richard M.Bohart (1913-2007), noted UC Davis professor of entomology.
The cake, decorated with a monarch butterfly motif created by a local bakery, drew Smith's attention and enthusiasm. When asked to identify it, he smiled and said: "It's an iconic monarch."
Smith won a 2015 Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his volunteer service. See news story.
Kimsey, who nominated him for the award, noted at the time that Smith "has saved the museum some $160,000 over a 27-year period for his volunteer service."
“You could not ask for a better friend than Jeff Smith,” she said, mentioning that he has “brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills (he creates the finely crafted specimen drawers.) This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey, who has directed the museum since 1989, remembers when Smith joined the museum. “When Jeff was working for Univar Environmental Services, a 35-year career until his retirement in 2013, he would spend some of his vacation days at the museum. Over the years Jeff took over more and more of the curation of the butterfly and moth collection. He took home literally thousands of field pinned specimens and spread their wings at home, bringing them back to the museum perfectly mounted. To date (2015) he has spread the wings on more than 200,000 butterflies and moths. This translates into something like 33,000 hours of work!”
Now, it's much more than that, but who's counting?
Not Jeff Smith.
"Entomology is my passion," he says, "and the Bohart Museum is my cause."
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, will host an open house, "Bark Beetles and Trees, Forest Health in California," on Sunday, Aug 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. The Bohart Museum will turn into Bark Beetle Forest Central. Planning the open house is Steve Seybold, a research entomologist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and a lecturer with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “As of last winter, bark beetles had killed 102 million trees in California during the last drought period," Seybold said. “Tree mortality in the western USA over the past 15 years caused by native bark beetles exceeded 21 million hectares, which surpasses all other disturbances, including fire." The open house is free and open to the public. Parking is also free.)
The National Geographic just ran a piece titled "Without Bugs, We Might All Be Dead."
"There are 1.4 billion insects for each one of us," wrote Simon Worrall in reviewing the book, Bugged: The Insects Who Rule and the World and the People Obsessed with Them by journalist David MacNeal.
Some you need a microscope to see, but insects are the 'lever pullers of the world,'" MacNeal insists.
And many are extinct, and many more will be. For example, the butterfly, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) is no more. But you can see it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis.
"Bug extinction is one of the most extensive extinctions on the planet," MacNeal told her in the interview published Aug. 6. "It's scary because you don't notice it until it's too late. Migration patterns are shifting due to climate, and insects offer a great way of looking at that. A collector went to the Antioch Dunes in California, in the 1960s, and caught a range of bugs. When scientists returned decades later, they found many species were gone, and the host plants with them. These creatures rely on plants and certain weather patterns and temperatures, an adaptive power they've gained over the past 400 million years."
"Twenty years ago you could have seen one billion monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico. The latest count is 56.5 million. To combat the decline, the Obama Administration, working with Fish & Wildlife, enacted this migration highway running from Texas to Minnesota. They planted milkweed along the way, which is the host plant for monarch butterflies, hoping to quadruple that 56.5 million by 2020. I am an optimistic cynic, so I feel that insects will outlive us, if we haven't totally screwed the planet."
When's the last time you saw a monarch flutter through your yard? Are you planting their host plant, milkweed? Are you providing nectar by growing such monarch favorites as the butterfly bush (genus Buddleja), Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia) and lantana (genus Lantana)?
Think about it: "There are 1.4 billion insects for each one of us."
Make mine the monarch. Well, I like the Western tiger swallowtails and anise swallowtails, too. And the honey bees, sweat bees, longhorn bees, bumble bees, European wool carder bees, dragonflies, and yes, praying mantids...and...wait, there's not enough room to list them all!