The monarch caterpillar feasting on the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in Vacaville, Calif., kept doing what monarch 'cats do best--eat.
She insisted on devouring the leaves as if there were no tomorrow--and today would end soon.
How did we know her gender? Our Danaus plexippus pupated, formed a chrysalis, and emerged. Oh, you beautiful gal!
Folks who comment that someone is "eating like a pig" or "eating like a horse" or "wolfing it down," have probably never seen a monarch caterpillar chow down, scarf it up or shovel it in.
One minute our little 'cat is stretched out on a leaf, binge eating. The next minute the leaf is gone and she's porking out on a second leaf. And scouting for a third.
Eric Carle titled his classic children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," quite well. His little 'cat ate everything in sight: gobbling, guzzling, gorging and gulping down everything from fruits and vegetables to junk food.
Remember the story? First, the little 'cat ate an apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, and five oranges but was still hungry. Famished, really. So he ate a piece of chocolate cake, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie and a cupcake...and more...and he wasn't little anymore.
Many folks sheltering at home during the COVID-19 crisis can certainly identify with the snatch-and-grab menu of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Did someone say "chocolate cake?"
(Editor's Note: Those planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Vacaville,Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.)
What's for dinner?
If you're a praying mantis nymph, Stagmomantis limbata, perched on a sunflower, sometimes it can be a long wait. Breakfast fades into lunch, lunch fades into dinner...
First you scout out your territory and spread out (hey, look at me)!. Then you lurk in the shadows (don't look at me; I am not here)!
Where, oh, where is the prey?
And then it happens. Drama on a sunflower blossom.
This little nymph managed to snag what appeared to be a green bottle fly, or that's what it looked like at the onset. Toward the end it was as unrecognizable as whirled black-eyed peas and pureed ham hocks.
A fly might not be as tasty as a honey bee or a longhorned bee, but dinner is served. Bon Appétit!
Picture this during National Pollinator Week: five monarch caterpillars and assorted honey bees sharing tropical milkweed.
It was love at first bite. Or love at first sip.
The 'cats kept munching and the bees kept foraging. Neither species seemed interested in the other.
But the adult monarchs definitely showed more interest in the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a non-native, than the other two species, both natives, that we planted: the narrow leaf (A. fascicularis) and showy milkweed (A. speciosa).
They laid eggs only on the tropical milkweed, and so far, have produced five caterpillars.
The score to date:
Tropical milkweed: 5 caterpillars
Narrow leaf milkweed: 0
Showy milkweed: 0
Reminder: Folks planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Vacaville,Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Yes, indeed. But meanwhile, we're witnessing untold sharing on the wildly popular tropical milkweed by not only monarch caterpillars but honey bees, syrphid flies, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees.
We gardeners and photographers are also drawn to the spectacular red, orange and yellow flowers that add both beauty and color to a cherished pollinator patch in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic...and National Pollinator Week.
She didn't know it was National Pollinator Week.
If she had, she would have paid it no mind.
She just knew that this was some fine pollen as she struggled to fit inside the strawberry blossom.
The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is like that: determined, decisive, and mission-bound.
And they do love strawberries.
How much? In investigating the foraging behavior of bees in agricultural landscapes, a research team from the Universities of Göttingen, Sussex and Würzburg found that dance of the honey bee (waggle dance) indicated a fondness for strawberry fields over oilseed rape fields. They published their study in January 2020 in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. (See EurekAlert).
As we all know, honey bees dance to communicate the direction, distance and quality of the food source they have visited. These scientists video-recorded the dances and decoded them.
Berry, berry fine!
California growers--and we the consumers--reap the benefits of this bee love. Our state grows about 88 percent of the U.S.-grown strawberries on approximately 34,000 acres, according to the California Strawberry Commission. "Statewide fresh strawberry production averages 50,000 pounds per acre each season." The approximately 300 strawberry growers hail from five distinct areas: Watsonville/Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Orange County/San Diego, and the Central Valley.
The honey bee we saw foraging on a single strawberry blossom in our yard did so for about five minutes. She seemed to know that this was some fine pollen.
Some fine pollen, indeed.
She paused midway to clean the pollen from her proboscis (tongue).
Together they won a total of seven communication awards in a competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography;
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won two silvers for her writing and photography;
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
Ricardo Vela, Miguel Sanchez and Norma de la Vega of UC ANR's News and Information Outreach in Spanish won a bronze award for a video:
- Diversity 6, Electronic Media and Audio for Targeted Audiences, bronze award for Breakfast - Desayuno de Campeones - English and Spanish videos
The awards will be presented Wednesday, June 24 during ACE's virtual conference, which opened June 22 and continues through June 25.
ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.