If Cinderella were a moth, what species would she be? Maybe this tiny, shimmering one.
When we spotted this visitor during National Moth Week on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in our pollinator garden, we asked our Bohart Museum of Entomology associates for identification.
John "Moth Man" De Benedictis and Greg Kareofelas said it appears to be a Cadra figulilella, the raisin moth, family Pyralidae.
How did the raisin moth get its name? Most likely because it was first identified on Muscat raisins in Fresno County in 1928, according to Wikipedia. It's a pest in its larval stage, feeding on such dried fruits as raisins and dates. "The larvae in particular are herbivorous and prefer to feed on dry fruits on the ground or still on the plant. In particular they feed on fallen figs, ripe carob pods, grapes, cottonseed cake, cacao beans, prunes, peaches, apricots, pears, and more." This species is found throughout much of the world, including California, Florida, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and some parts of Australia, South America, and Africa.
Remember the Cinderella story? After her father died, Cinderella lived with her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and two evil stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, who forced her to work as their maid. When Cinderella received Prince Charming's ball invitation, she wanted to wear her deceased mother's party dress but her jealous stepsisters destroyed it. Like magic, her Fairy Godmother appeared and gifted her with a a silver shimmering gown and tiny glass slippers. Bottom line, Cinderella loses a slipper at the ball, when the Fairy Godmother's magic vanishes. Prince Charming learns it belongs to Cinderella, and they marry and live happily ever after.
Not sure if this moth lived happily ever after, but poof, it vanished shortly after I took this image.
Happy National Moth Week...
Are you tired of the triple-digit temperatures? Wish someone would throw a breeze your way and provide a little shade?
A honey bee foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifola) probably felt a slight breeze when a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) fluttered down and landed next to her.
This is a two-insect blossom now.
Butterfly: "Bee, what are you doing?"
Bee: "Sipping some nectar, same as you."
Butterfly: "Bee, don't get any closer."
Bee, edging closer. "But I was here first. The nectar is excellent."
Butterfly: "Go away."
Butterfly: "Then I will." The butterfly lifts off.
Bee: "Thanks for the shade. You make a good umbrella, Madam Butterfly. Come back anytime."
Gotta love that Gray Hairstreak.
If you don't like putting "gray" and "hair" in the same sentence, not to worry.
This is the butterfly, Strymon melinus.
When the it's hanging around a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, the orange spots on its tail accent the color of the flower.
"Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated," writes Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology on his website. "They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
"This is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known, recorded on host plants in many families. Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
The Gray Hairstreak is considered a weedy butterfly. "Weedy," as Shapiro explains on his web site, "is a general term for organisms that are typically associated with habitats that are disturbed by human activities or are dominated by non-native, invasive plants."
At first glance, you don't know "which end is up"--which makes it all the better for the butterfly to escape predators.
This one allowed me to get quite close. It was more interested in the nectar than the slow movement of the long lens.
Throughout the year, we haven't been seeing this species, Pieris rapae, much--and neither has Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has been monitoring all the butterfly populations of the Central Valley since 1972. Usually, cabbage whites are quite prevalent. (See his research website.) As you may remember, he sponsors the annual "Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest." The first person to collect the first cabbage white of the year--in Yolo, Sacramento or Solano counties--receives a pitcher of beer or its equivalent. It's all for scientific research; he's studying the first flights of this species.
But back to the two cabbage whites fluttering in our garden. One seemed quite interested in the other. A suitor?
In one image (below), they both raised their abdomens.
The cabbage white butterfly is also known as the European cabbage butterfly. Shapiro provides interesting information on his website about this species:
"Our only introduced butterfly--from the Old World--this is also one of our weediest, occurring in disturbed habitats from sea level to about 8000.' It even invades riparian woodland and montane coniferous forest habitats in summer. We are not certain how or when it reached our area. We know the species was introduced in southern Canada in the 1850s; the great Lepidopterist Samuel H. Scudder traced its spread, but was unable to resolve the history on the West Coast. It was not in San Francisco in the early 1880s, but was abundant by the time of the earthquake (1906). There is a mysterious specimen sent by the early collector Lorquin to Tryon Reakirt in Philadelphia, which may have been collected at Yreka in Gold Rush days. Was there an early introduction by the Spanish during the Mission Period?"
"In a typical year, after overwinter mortality, numbers of this species rise rapidly to a peak in late spring, exploiting almost unlimited quantities of host plants (weedy mustards). Then all the annual hosts (Brassica and Raphanus) die off by the 4th of July, and the butterfly is forced to contract down to local pockets of hosts that remain green in summer--cultivated Crucifers and Nasturtiums, the perennial mustard Hirschfeldia incana, and the aggressive weed Tall White-Top or Perennial Peppergrass, Lepidium latifolium. This last plant has invaded the western Great Basin, producing virtual monocultures along the Truckee River and other watercourses, and spreading the butterfly into areas where it had been rare or absent not so long ago."
Agriculturists probably wish the cabbage white butterflies would be more absent, as the larvae, known as "imported cabbageworms," are pests of crucifer crops such as cabbage, kale, bok choy and broccoli. (See the Pest Management Guidelines on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management website.)
As for the two in our garden this week, the female lingered for a little more nectar. The male butterfly fluttered silently away.
Rejection. Rejection in the butterfly world.
Ready or not, here I come!
"Wait, can you slow down a bit?" I ask. "I can't focus when you move so fast!"
No, sorry! I'm in a hurry!
Anthophora urbana, a solitary, ground-nesting bee, frequents our garden to forage on the catmint (Nepeta) and lavender (Lavandula). This bee is also called an urbane digger bee (see BugGuide.net).
This one encountered a honey bee, partly obscured by the foliage, but neither seemed bothered.
California is home to more than 1600 wild bees, including A. urbana, according to the University of California-authored book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). They "populate and pollinate our gardens, fields, and urban green spaces," the authors say.
That they do. And there's a very good reason why this bee is photographed more often on flowers than in flight.
Sorry, I'm in a hurry!