She came, she saw, she oviposited, she nectared and she left.
That's the extent of our sole monarch sighting in our Vacaville pollinator garden this year. This occurred Oct. 9.
But the good news is that more monarchs are gathering on the overwintering sites along the California coast than this time last year. And this is occurring during a major drought year.
In an article, Monarch Butterflies Return to Pacific Grove. And the Drought May Be the Reason for Their Rebound, published yesterday (Oct. 21) in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tara Duggan wrote:
"For once there is some promising news for western monarch butterflies: Around 2,600 of the migratory insects were counted at Pacific Grove Thursday, after zero were observed at the famed Monterey County sanctuary last year. And overall, conservationists estimate the current population that has arrived in its annual wintertime migration to the California coast to be around 10,000 compared to 1,900 last year.
"One possible reason for the rebound: this year's drought, since warm and dry conditions in early spring can help with their migration."
Many others haves noticed the uptick, too. On Oct. 14, entomologist David James of Washington State University wrote on his Monarchs Butterflies of the Pacific Coast Facebook page: "Another exciting and encouraging update on monarch arrivals at the California overwintering sites. Combining all the reports I've received over the past few days there are an estimated 1500 butterflies at 5 overwintering sites from Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach. And still the butterflies are arriving... The highest number at one site is about 700 at a site in the Pismo beach area. This exceeds the highest number seen at one site in 2020 (550 at Natural Bridges). Pacific Grove is reported to have about 200 butterflies. This is especially notable since none were recorded at this site in 2020. Inbound migration will continue for a few more weeks yet but even at this early stage we are close to exceeding the entire population counted at overwintering sites in 2020. Good news, indeed!"
Volunteers counted only 1900 on the overwintering sites along the California coast in 2020, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Compare that to approximately 29,000 in 2019 and almost 200,000 in 2017.
"But on Wednesday (Oct. 20) volunteers counted 8,000 of the butterflies at two groves in Pismo Beach, compared to 300 last year," wrote Duggan.
Scientists, including Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, say the main reasons for the decline of the monarchs are habitat loss and pesticides.
Plant milkweed, plant nectar sources and lose the pesticides.
(Editor's Note: Due to UC ANR server issues, images aren't visible. Click on the icon to see the image)
It's the work of museum associate Christine Melvin, who received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis. It will soon be a beautiful banner that will grace the Bohart.
The Bohart folks ask: "Can you identify all the animals and plants?" The flora and the fauna? Is your favorite insect there? Or maybe your favorite number? 75?
Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, the Bohart Museum houses nearly 8 million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect museum in North America. It is also home to a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. A gift shop (now online) is stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, books, candy, collecting equipment, and more.
Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum scientists are seeking donations for their traveling insect specimen displays. They aim to raise $5000 by 11:59 p.m., Oct. 31 for their UC Davis CrowdFund project to purchase traveling display boxes for their specimens, which include bees, butterflies and beetles. These are portable glass-topped display boxes that travel throughout Northern California to school classrooms, youth group meetings, festivals, events, museums, hospitals--and more--to help people learn about the exciting world of insect science.
“When COVID halted our in-person outreach programs, we were still able to safely loan these educational materials to teachers,” said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. “Now that UC Davis is open again to students we have all these bright, students on campus with fresh and diverse perspectives. We want to support their talent, so the funds we are raising will go to students for the creation of new traveling displays. This fleet of new educational drawers will expand and update what we can offer. Some of our current displays were created 15 years ago! One can only imagine all the places these drawers have been and all the people who have been inspired."
Like to donate $5? $10? $25? $50? $100? Or more?
You can do so in memory of someone, a place, or your favorite insect! Here's to the bees, the butterflies and the beetles! (And maybe a dragonfly, a syrphid fly or a praying mantis?) Access the donation page and map at https://bit.ly/3v4MoaJ
If you're a member of the Bohart Museum Society--that's "the friends" arm of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis--you're probably looking forward to the upcoming pre-Halloween party (invitation only).
Or if you love science, you're probably looking forward to when the museum opens to the public. It's temporarily closed, you know, to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions. Admission when it does open? It's free. It's always been free.
But if you want to join the Bohart Museum Society, there are scores of membership benefits:
- Subscription to the Bohart Museum Society newsletter--mailed to you quarterly, as well as the electronic news emailed to you periodically
- Invitation only special events and programs member discounts on gift shop merchandise
- Members' Halloween Open House
- Access to the collections, and free information and identification services from staff
- Museum library use
Memberships are $25 for an individual; $15 for a student; $40 for a family; and $100 for a patron. And, endowment donations are gratefully received. See more information here.
75th Anniversary. The Bohart Museum, now celebrating its 75th year, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. It is currently open only to UC Davis and research communities. As it says on its website: "We are currently open to members of the UC Davis and research communities who are vaccinated and/or have had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours per UC Davis policy. We need to focus on training our new interns and safely greeting the new UC Davis students first before we can open to the general public. Our store is on-line and items can be shipped or picked up curbside on Friday mornings. Please contact us by email at email@example.com."
The Bohart Museum, the seventh largest insect collection in North America, houses nearly eight million insect specimens, collected from around the world. It also is home to a live "petting zoo" comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas, as well as an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed jewelry, clothing, books, posters and other items.
Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, serves as the director of the Bohart Museum, which is named for its founder, noted entomologist Richard 'Doc' Bohart, 1913-2007, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty for more than 50 years. Kimsey was one of his last graduate students.
Kimsey writes about him: "He led an outstanding career in entomology both as a scientist and teacher. Dr. Bohart ("Doc") began his career at Davis in 1946. He became well-known for the courses he taught on general entomology, insect systematics and a summer field course in insect identification. He served as chair of the Department of Entomology from 1963 to 1967. His scientific research on insect taxonomy and systematics is unparalleled. His publications include three of the most important books on the systematics of the Hymenoptera, including the well-used volume Sphecid Wasps of the World. His journal publications total over 200 articles. He revised many groups of insects, discovered new host-associations or geographic ranges, and described many new species."
"The collections made by him and his students during field courses form the basis for the Bohart Museum's unrivalled collection of the insect fauna of the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains," Kimsey points out. "He and his wife Margaret also contributed many specimens from their collecting trips around the world. He also provided generous personal financial support to the collection." Kimsey interviewed him in 1996 and you can access the one-hour video on this Aggie Video link.
Fundraising Project End Oct. 31. Meanwhile, the Bohart Museum is seeking donations for its traveling insect specimen displays. It has launched a CrowdFund project to raise $5000 by 11:59 p.m., Oct 31 to purchase traveling display boxes for their specimens, which include bees, butterflies and beetles. These are portable glass-topped display boxes that travel throughout Northern California to school classrooms, youth group meetings, festivals, events, museums, hospitals--and more--to help people learn about the exciting world of insect science.
“When COVID halted our in-person outreach programs, we were still able to safely loan these educational materials to teachers,” said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. “Now that UC Davis is open again to students we have all these bright, students on campus with fresh and diverse perspectives,” she said. “We want to support their talent, so the funds we are raising will go to students for the creation of new traveling displays. This fleet of new educational drawers will expand and update what we can offer. Some of our current displays were created 15 years ago! One can only imagine all the places these drawers have been and all the people who have been inspired."
The minimum donation is $5, Yang said. "You can donate in honor or in memory of someone, a place, or an organism, too! There is a map (states and countries) that lights up donor locations. Those of you with a fondness in your hearts for insects, college student experiences, science education, and/or museums, please donate to light up our map!" Access the donation page and map at https://bit.ly/3v4MoaJ
Aggie Pride Week. As part of Aggie Pride Week or Spirit Week, the Bohart Museum hosted a mini-outdoor open house on Saturday, Oct. 16. "This was the Cal Aggie Alumni Association's fall parent weekend for students, parents and alumni," said Yang. See some of the images below.
Gotta love those spiders.
We recently saw an adorable jumping spider (aren't all jumping spiders adorable?) huddled or cuddled (your preference) within a layer of yellow rose petals. It didn't look like a poster child for Halloween. It looked right at home.
It's still there.
In a March 2019 Bug Squad blog, we posted five good reasons to like spiders, compliments of Professor Jason Bond of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a newly selected co-editor-in-chief of the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity (ISD), published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA).
“Spiders have been around for 400 million years and are cunning, skillful predators," Professor Bond says. They are "an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered."
The five good reasons to like spiders?
- Spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey, mostly insects, each year. Humans consume somewhere around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.
- Spider silk is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. Spider silk is stronger than steel, stronger and more stretchy than Kevlar; a pencil thick strand of spider silk could be used to stop a Boeing 747 in flight.
- Some spiders are incredibly fast – able to run up to 70 body lengths per second (10X faster than Usain Bolt).
- Although nearly all 47,000-plus spider species have venom used to kill their insect prey, very few actually have venom that is harmful to humans.
- Some spiders are really good parents –wolf spider moms carry their young on their backs until they are ready to strike out on their own; female trapdoor spiders keep their broods safe inside their burrows often longer than one year, and some female jumping spiders even nurse their spiderlings with a protein rich substance comparable to milk.
When Professor Bond spoke at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, “Eight-Legged Wonders,” on March 9, 2019, showcasing spiders, he drew scores of questions. Following his talk, the visitors participated in interactive activities, including “How to Eat Like a Spider,” “How to Assemble an Arachnid,” "How to Catch a Moth," "Create a Chelicerate" and others. So educational and entertaining and let's hope another one will be on the calendar in the near future! The Bohart Museum, currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 precautions, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, and also a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and an online insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, and collecting equipment.
Meanwhile, Herman or Hermanina, is basking in the sun, getting ready to substantiate Professor Bond's excellent description: "a cunning, skillful predator."
Hey, wait, take me with you!
No, leave me alone! Let me go!
Have you ever seen insects struggling to free themselves from the reproductive chamber of a milkweed blossom?
Instead of producing loose pollen grains, milkweeds produce pollinia, a waxy, sticky packet of golden pollen grains originating from a single anther. When bees and other insects forage for nectar in the "nectar troughs," where the pollinia are, they emerge with wishbone-shaped pollinia on their feet or other body parts. That is, if they emerge at all. Sometimes they die there; the reproductive chamber becomes a floral death trap.
What may seem like nature's appalling act of cruelty is actually a unique case of floral pollination, the transfer of pollina from one blossom to another.
"Milkweed flowers bloom in umbels which are clusters of individual flowers on stems that emerge from a common point," explains Eric Eldredge in an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Flowers of different species of milkweed differ in size, color, and fragrance, but all produce their pollen in waxy sacs called pollinia. The pollinia are located in two anther pouches adjacent to vertical stigmatic slits of the flowers. Pairs of adjacent pollinia are connected to each other by translator arms from a clamp located in the middle, called the corpusculum (Bookman, 1981). The complete structure is called a pollinarium."
"Insects that visit a flower to drink nectar struggle to grasp the slippery surfaces and may accidentally slip their leg, tarsus, mouthpart, or other appendage into the opening at the bottom of the stigmatic slit. This slit is formed by guide rails, which are lined with bristles that prevent the insect moving its appendage any direction but up. The top of the slit leads into the opening of the corpusculum, which has hard, sharp inside edges that taper together at the top. The corpusculum clamps firmly to the insect by pinching onto the insect's appendage. In its struggles to escape, if the insect is large enough, it can withdraw the paired pollinia from the anther pouches and fly away."
We've seen dead honey bees trapped in the milkweed blossoms while other bees forage around their carcasses. And then we've seen the frantic struggles (below). Fortunately this bee in the first three photos escaped. Another bee did not.