The Brower quote appears in a newly published book authored by two renowned scientists who research butterflies. The book, an introduction to butterflies of the world, is a “must-have” on your bookshelf.
The publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: (U.S.) Jan. 9, 2024.
This 288-page book includes eight chapters: Introduction, Life Histories, Habitats and Resources, Butterfly Populations, Butterfly Seasonality, Defense and Natural Enemies, and Threats and Conservation. The close-up images, many by James, spring to life and really confirm their description of butterflies as the "colorful ambassadors of the world."
This is an easy-to-read, fascinating book, complete with a glossary, a list of butterfly families and resources, and, of course, an index.
Some tidbits. Did you know that:
- To date, scientists have described some 19,500 species of butterflies throughout the world?
- Scales give butterflies their color? “The colors of each butterfly have evolved to promote protection to the species from predators and to enable the sexes to find and recognize each other,” they write.
- Butterflies are classified into seven families based on their evolutionary history? And that each family shares physical, behavioral, and ecological features, including body structure, wing characteristics (venation, patterning, and color), host plants, and flight?
- The survival rate of eggs, caterpillars, pupae (chrysalids) is less than 10 percent? What you see are the survivors who have “escaped predation, parasitism, disease and death from unfavorable environmental conditions, including excessive heat, drought, cold, storms, and food shortages,” they relate.
Butterflies, it seems, are also the equivalent of the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” an early warning of danger in the ecosystem. Take the issue of the declining population of monarchs. Quoting statistics from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, James and Lohman point out that monarchs have declined by 80 to 90 percent during the past two decades. The decline, they write, "is caused by a combination of habitat loss, pesticide use, and a warming climate.”
If you live in California, you're not allowed to collect or rear monarchs without a scientific permit.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: "A Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) is required to handle wild monarchs in California including for educational purposes. It is unlawful to collect, remove from the wild and/or captively rear monarchs in California without an SCP, per California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 14, section 650.
But the metamorphosis of a butterfly--from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult--is nothing short of magical. As the authors so succinctly point out: "...our children are the future and it is they who will determine the future of butterflies. If a child finds a caterpillar, let them keep it, feed it, and watch it metamorphose.They will remember the experience for the rest of their life, and it will instill in them a love and appreciation for lives smaller than their own."
They add: “It is important that we do not try to excessively regulate to conserve butterfly populations. We need people to be part of the process and be the power on the ground behind conservation programs.”
The book could have easily been called "The Joy of Butterflies." Butterflies fluttering around the garden on a sunburst day, sipping nectar, and then laying eggs on their host plant, bring us great joy. We marvel at the magic, the miracle of it all.
This book is a great introduction to the lives of butterflies. You'll learn more about their life histories, their habitats, their seasonality, their defensive mechanisms, and what we can do to conserve "the colorful ambassadors of the insect world."
About the authors. James also co-authored Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies and served as a consultant editor on The Book of Caterpillars. He completed his doctorate on the winter biology of Monarch butterflies and has published more than 200 scientific papers "on a wide range of entomological subjects," the publisher notes. Lohman, in addition to being a professor and department chair, the City College of New York, is a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, and a research associate at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and at the National Museum of Natural History in Manila. His research focuses on butterflies in Southeast Asia and the ecology, evolution, and conservation of biodiversity.
Their passion for butterflies, coupled with their exemplary research, shows.
Dillman, professor and chair of the UCR Department of Nematology, will share his research in a presentation titled "Nematode Parasitism of Insects with Toxic Cardenolides," hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology at 4:10 p.m., Monday, Jan. 8.
His seminar will be in Room 122 of Briggs Hall and also will be on Zoom. The Zoom link: https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/95882849672. Associate professor and nematologist Shahid Siddique of the Department of Entomology and Nematology is the host.
Dillman holds a bachelor's degree in microbiology from Brigham Young University (2006) and a doctorate in genetics (2013) from the California Institute of Technology.
Known as an excellent investigator and teacher, Dillman won the 2022 UCR Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement; the 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Society of Nematologists, and a 2020 Outstanding Investigator Award, Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA).
Check out his lab page that details his research and his guest spot on an episode on the podcast Something Offbeat. He he discussed a scientific article on a case of Ophidascaris robertsi infection in a human brain.
Seminar coordinator is Brian Johnson, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For Zoom technical issues, he may be reached at email@example.com. The complete list of winter seminars will be posted soon.
It's New Year's Day and it's common for folks to turn over a new leaf.
What about the old leaves?
Sometimes if you turn over an old leaf this time of year in Solano and Yolo counties, you might find a monarch caterpillar. As of today, we have two monarchs munching away in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. They've survived through freezing temperatures, heavy winds and steady rain.
Back in the late summer and early fall, monarchs fluttered into our gardem to lay their eggs. We provide four species of milkweed. Every fall we cut back the milkweed, but not until all the 'cats are gone. This year the 'cats "weren't gone."
Monarchs surprise us. Some of our December/January sightings:
- A monarch in flight on Dec. 16, 2023 in west Vacaville
- A monarch in flight on Jan. 3, 2023 near Vacaville High School
- A monarch caterpillar munching Jan. 23, 2021 in our garden.
We remember UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro (now emeritus) of the Department of Evolution and Ecology telling us that he recorded a monarch in flight on Jan. 19, 2020 in Sacramento, but even earlier than that--UC Davis professor Louie Yang of the Department of Entomology and Nematology spotted one flying Jan. 8, 2012 in east Davis.
Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly populations of Central California since 1972, maintains esearch website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/. His 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. It's the largest and oldest database in North America, and was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
The monarch Shapiro saw on Jan. 29, 2020, however, wasn't in his research project. As he told it in an email to his posse: "We had a visitor today--a British journalist--who wanted to go on a site walk. Rancho Cordova was next up. We went in his rental car. We were on US 50, just passing the Tower Theater in Sacramento heading eastbound, when, at 10.30 a.m. (temperature in mid-upper 50s, light North wind, mostly sunny), a Monarch, sex unknown, flew across the freeway in front of us, 20-22' up, from SW to NE. There is no possibility of error, unless I am having visual hallucinations."
And the monarch caterpillar we saw in our garden on Jan. 23, 2021? "Evidence of inland winter breeding," Shapiro told us. "Nothing surprises me any more..."
Whiteman, UC Berkeley professor of genetics, genomics, evolution and development, and director of the Essig Museum of Entomology, writes with a passion bestowed on him by his late father, a naturalist. “....he was a used car salesman, and later, a furniture salesman, but in his heart, he was a naturalist.”
The 336-page book is captivating, transparent, and fascinating--an “I-didn't-know-that-tell-me-more!” read.
Whiteman recalls a scene from his childhood. He and his father are in a patch of milkweed. His father tears a leaf in half. As "white latex" drips from the leaf, his father tells him: "That's why they call it milkweed. Don't ever eat it. Heart poisons are in that sap.”
The toxins are terpenoids called cardiac glycosides. “One of the principal toxins in the common milkweeds that my dad and I encountered is aspecioside,” Whiteman wrote. "The monarchs obtained these heart poisons during their caterpillar stage. But the caterpillars did something even more extraordinary—they concentrated the toxin to levels even high than those found in the milkweed itself.”
“The butterflies were poisonous, my dad explained, because as caterpillars, they had eaten toxins from the milkweed leaves. The insects then stored the toxins in their bodies all the way through metamorphosis, from a zebra-striped caterpillar to a chrysalis encircled at the top by a golden diadem, to the familiar brightly colored butterfly.”
Whiteman points out that monarch butterflies "evolved to become brightly colored to warn predatory birds and other predators of the bitter and emetic cardiac glycosides within." When a bird eats a monarch, it vomits, associating "the butterfly with danger, just as Pavlov's dogs learned to associate the ring of a bell with food.”
That led Whiteman to the question “How do animals that sequester these toxins, as the monarch does, resist them?”
Whiteman researched cardiac glycosides with evolutionary ecologist Anurag Agrawal of Cornell University, who received his doctorate in population biology in 1999 from UC Davis, studying with major professor Richard "Rick" Karban, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
You'll have to read Chapter 4, "Dogbane and Digitalis," to learn what Whiteman, Agrawal and their colleagues discovered.
All 13 chapters of “Most Delicious Poison” are deliciously intriguing and inviting, from “Deadly Daisies,” “Hijacked Hormones,” “Caffeine and Nicotine” to “Devil's Breath and Silent Death” to “Opicoid Overloads” to “The Spice of Life.” And more.
His father's death in 2017 from a substance use disorder (alcohol) pushed him to write the book. "His long struggle with nature's toxins came to a head just as my collaborators and I uncovered how the monarch butterfly caterpillar resists the deadly toxins made by the milkweed host plant.”
Toxins are why the monarch can migrate thousands of miles to overwintering spots without getting eaten by predatory birds.
Nature's chemicals are not a side show, as Whiteside emphasizes. They're "the main event."
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, displayed Whiteman's book at its Nov. 4th open house on monarchs. Whiteman plans to deliver a presentation on the UC Davis campus sometime next spring.)
Where do Western monarchs go after leaving their overwintering sites along coastal California in February?
An observation: They didn't stop in the spring or summer to deposit eggs on any of our four species of milkweed in our Vacaville pollinator garden.
Spring? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Summer? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Why not spring and summer? Did the monarchs passing through Vacaville opt for "a better habitat" in the cooler Pacific Northwest and beyond (British Columbia)?
"I wish I knew," commented UC Davis distinguished professor emeritus Art Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly populations of Central California since 1972 and maintains a research website, Art's Butterfly World.
Beginning in September, as many five monarchs a day began fluttering into our garden. Some laid eggs.
To date, we've spotted some 20 eggs and caterpillars.
"This is generally consistent with the pattern we've seen in previous years," said UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology professor Louie Yang, who researches monarchs. "Even in Davis, we've been seeing more caterpillars in the late summer/fall. I think this is probably because some are stopping to lay eggs on the return migration, and the fall population is much larger than the spring migration population. Looking very carefully, we did also see eggs in the spring each year, but very few of them developed into large caterpillars." See the Louie Yang et al, research paper, "Different Factors Limit Early- and Late-Season Windows of Opportunity for Monarch Development," published in July 2022 in the journal, Evolution and Ecology.
The availability of food resources, such as tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) that can overwinter in warmer climates, doesn't deter them from migrating, said UC Davis emeritus professor Hugh Dingle of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. Dingle, an internationally known expert on animal migration who has studied monarchs for more than two decades, said: "Migration and the diapause that accompanies it in the fall are determined by shortening photoperiod and temperature (warm temps can override short days hence the issue with climate change)."
Said UC Davis professor Elizabeth Crone of the Department of Evolution and Ecology: "Monarchs may behave similarly in spring, but the spring population is probably much smaller than the fall one, so they are less likely to happen across your garden. Our estimate is that the population increases 2-3x each generation (so it's about 100-200x larger in Fall than Spring), then resets each year due to mortality during Fall migration and overwintering. There is some research from Sonia Altizer's lab in Georgia showing that monarch butterflies that encounter milkweeds during fall migration will leave reproductive diapause and breed. It is unknown whether these monarchs are effectively lost from the migratory population, or whether they or their offspring (the caterpillars in your yard) will continue on to the overwintering sites."
"The egg-laying females you are seeing now are likely migrants that have eschewed reproductive dormancy for reproduction," says entomologist David James, an associate professor at Washington State University who researches migratory monarchs. "This has probably always happened to some extent but is likely more significant now because of warmer falls."
"The lack of activity in summer in Vacaville was probably a function of most of the population having dispersed further east and north, maybe more than usual? They surely did pass through Vacaville in spring on their way north but clearly didn't stop to use your milkweeds. It does seem that some years they are more prone to frequent stopping/oviposition on their way north and east, yet in others they just keep flying. There's evidence that the latter was the case this year... with as many migrants making it to BC as to Washington... Normally they stop in Washington and only a handful make it to BC."
"The many mysteries of monarchs," James added.
James is the author of a newly published book, The Lives of Butterflies: A Natural History of Our Planet's Butterfly Life (Princeton University) with colleague David Lohman of the City College of New York. The book, released in the UK on Oct. 3, 2023, will be available in the United States starting Jan. 9, 2024.
Irish scientist Éanna Ní Lamhna recently interviewed the WSU entomologist in a podcast on RTÉ, or Raidió Teilifís Éireann. The book, she said, "showcases extraordinary diversity of world's butterflies, while exploring their life histories, behavior, conservation and other aspects of these most fascinating and beguiling insects." (See Bug Squad blog)
Listen to the butterfly podcast here: https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22294525/
Meanwhile, are you seeing fall breeding and egg-laying in your garden? We have for more than a decade, with some monarchs eclosing in November and December.