Gulf Fritillaries in November?
Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are still active here in Solano County, on those warm, sunny afternoons that defy the season.
They're still hanging around their host plant, Passiflora (passionflower vine), "looking for love" (thank you, Johnny Lee). And in all the RIGHT places.
The orange-reddish butterfly, with its silver-spangled underwings, was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution an ecology. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he says. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
In our pollinator garden, the Gulf Frits usually skeletonize the plant. They eat the leaves, flowers, the fruit, and then start in on the bark.
Not so this year. What's different? More predators, including California scrub jays, wasps and a resident praying mantis.
The resident mantis perished a month after depositing her egg case. The wasps vanished. And the California scrub jays, eyed by circling hawks, are nowhere to be seen.
Just the Gulf Fritillaries--their eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults--remain.
Gulf Fritillaries in November? Yes.
Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.
The lady beetle, aka ladybug, scurried up the lion's tail plant, Leonotis leonurus.
Up one stem and down another, she went. Apparently, she didn't find what she was looking for--aphids or other small bodied-insects--and took flight.
If you haven't planted this in your pollinator garden, you should. A native of South Africa, it is cherished for its dazzling orange spiked blossoms, reminiscent of a lion's tail. The plant is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which means it has square stems.
Other attributes include: drought resistant, deer resistant, and basically disease-free and pest-free. It attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. And our little buddies, the lady beetles. You can never get enough of them!
Note also that the lion's tail is known for its medicinal properties. "The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is claimed to be leonurine, even though leonurine has never been found in the plant using chemical analysis," according to Wikipedia. "Like other plants in the mint family, it also contains marrubiin. The name 'wild dagga' links it closely to cannabis as 'dagga' derived from the Khoikhoi 'dachab' is an indigenous South African name for cannabis species. This name may be a misnomer, as no part of the plant is used as a hallucinogen."
Wikipedia adds: "The infusions made from flowers and seeds, leaves or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The leaves, roots and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, bee and scorpion stings. The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drunk for 'blood impurity' in some places of South Africa."
We just like the calming effect it has in the pollinator garden.
That's the gist of what ecologist Richard Karban, professor of entomology in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, told us back in July 22, 2015 on the publication of his landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
Our news article, on the department website, covered his research and his 240-page book.
Karban's book is “the first comprehensive overview of what is known about how plants perceive their environments, communicate those perceptions, and learn," said Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews, UK, co-author of Experimental Design for the Life Sciences and Plant-Animal Communication."
It is “the first comprehensive overview of what is known about how plants perceive their environments, communicate those perceptions, and learn," Ruxton said. "Facing many of the same challenges as animals, plants have developed many similar capabilities: they sense light, chemicals, mechanical stimulation, temperature, electricity, and sound. Moreover, prior experiences have lasting impacts on sensitivity and response to cues; plants, in essence, have memory.". Facing many of the same challenges as animals, plants have developed many similar capabilities: they sense light, chemicals, mechanical stimulation, temperature, electricity, and sound. Moreover, prior experiences have lasting impacts on sensitivity and response to cues; plants, in essence, have memory."
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
A lot has happened since then. Karban continues his 40-year research, and it's continuing to draw widespread interest.
This week writer Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities?
Schlanger followed him to his field study area in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. It's part of a 156-acre reserve owned by UC Santa Barbara. She described him as "a lithe beanpole of a man with arrow-straight posture and a tuft of white hair."
"In the past 15 years or so, thanks to advances in plant genetics and a new openness toward plant research once considered fringe, botanists such as Karban have found that plants produce and respond to complex chemical signals," Schlanger wrote. "They can detect the slightest touch. They know when they're shaded by a cloud or a fellow plant, and whether that plant is related to them. Several species can recognize can recognize their genetic kin and rearrange their bodies to avoid competing with siblings. They can manipulate predators to do their bidding and transmit electrical signals among their roots."
Read more of Schlanger's article at https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/do-plants-have-personalities-this-botanist-is-looking-to-prove-they-do.
Karban, a fellow of the Ecological Society of America, is the go-to person regarding plant sensing and communication.
We remember asking Karban: "What are 10 things to know about plant sensing and communication?" He answered:
- Plants sense their environments and respond.
- Although they lack central nervous systems, they process information and appear to "behave intelligently."
- They sense the position of competitors and "forage" for light.
- They sense the availability of water and nutrients in the soil and "forage" for these resources.
- Their decisions are influenced by past experiences, akin to memory.
- The respond to reliable cues that predict future events, allowing them to "anticipate."
- Plants respond differently to cues that they themselves produce, allowing them to distinguish self from non-self.
- They respond differently to close relatives and strangers.
- Plants that are prevented from sensing or responding experience reduced fitness.
- By understanding the "language" of plant responses, we can grow healthier and more productive plants.
So the next time you see monarch caterpillars chowing down on narrow-leafed milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), or Gulf Fritillary caterpillars skeletonizing their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora), think about that. And ponder: Do plants have personalities?
The UC Davis winners are Erin Taylor Kelly of the Geoffrey Attardo lab, Hyoseok Lee of the Christian Nansen lab, Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, Lacie Newton of the Jason Bond lab, and Clara Stuligross of the Neal Williams lab.
- Kelly won first place for her poster, “Metabolic Snapshot: Using Metabolomics to Compare Near-Wild and Colonized Aedes aegypti,” in the Physiology, Biochemistry and Ecology Section.
- Lee won first place for his entry, “Predicting Spring Migration of Beet Leafhoppers, Circulifer tenellus (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) from Natural Overwintering Sites into Tomato fields in California" in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category of the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Behavioral Ecology Section
- Oberski won first place for her entry, “Why Do Museum Collections Matter?” in the Graduate Infographics category, Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section.
- Newton won second place for her entry, “Integrative Species Delimitation Reveals Cryptic Diversity in the Southern Appalachian Antrodiaetus unicolor (Araneae: Antrodiaetidae) Species Complex,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, Genomics.
- Stuligross won second place for her entry, "Larval Pesticide Exposure Reduces Adult Wild Bee Reproduction,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Pollinators 2 Section.
The first-place winners received a $75 cash prize, a one-year membership in ESA and a certificate, while the second-place winners won a year's membership and a certificate.
One that is drawing a lot of attention--and rightfully so--is the Oberski poster, "Why Do Museum Collections Matter?" (See below.) The Bohart Museum of Entomology, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is one of the many outstanding insect museums in the world. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor and former department chair, the Bohart houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens.
As Oberski writes: "Cabinets of curiosity and natural history museums are the original basis of our knowledge of global biodiversity. Such collections, however, are more than just well-organized dead organisms. Museums are enormous libraries of identified species, localities, and dates, constantly updated and reorganized based on the best new information. These data inform countless fields of research, and can even answer future questions no one has yet thought to ask. Most importantly, they preserve irreplaceable type specimens, which are a crucial part of species description. Now that many of these insect collections are being digitized and accessed from around the globe, why is it necessary to maintain them as physical materials? While many datasets do lend themselves well to digitization, insect specimens experience significant data loss. Most commonly, photographs are taken of the specimens, but photos are usually inadequate for discerning taxonomic features. Even high-resolution 3D scans are no substitute for direct observations. Finally, museums are centers of education and public outreach. Through collections, biology students and communities can physically experience global insect biodiversity they might not otherwise see, regardless of location or mobility. The “wow” factor of magnificent specimens is most powerful in person. As our lives become increasingly computer-oriented, we must recognize that to enjoy and study nature, no digital replacement will suffice."
Oberski, who joined the Ward lab in 2017, holds a bachelor of arts degree, cum laude, from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., where she majored in biology and German studies.
The Entomological Society of America, headquartered in Annapolis, Md., and founded in 1889, is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. They include educators, extension personnel, consultants, students, researchers, and scientists from agricultural departments, health agencies, private industries, colleges and universities, and state and federal governments. It is a scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org.
(See in-depth piece on the four other UC Davis recipients on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)