- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Sometimes you can't get within 20 feet of a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papillo rutulus).
Sometimes it's a matter of inches.
That was the case this morning at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, when a lone Western tiger swallowtail took a liking to the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia).
The spectacular butterfly, one of the most recognizable of all butterflies, glided to the patch of Mexican sunflowers (so named because they originate from Mexico and Central America) sipped a little nectar, and then fluttered away, only to return again.
Not once, but dozens of times.
The haven, a half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the main campus, features ornamentals, vegetables, fruits and nuts (almonds), as well as art work from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. It's open from dawn to dusk; admission is free.
The Mexican sunflowers, family Asteraceae, grow a towering eight feet, and are as orange as the jerseys of the San Francisco Giants. Today they attracted scores of honey bees, sunflower bees, hover flies, sweat bees, and yes, a spotted cucumber beetle (pest).
However, the "tiger" in the Tithonia stole the show.