Summer is fading and the temperatures are dropping, too.
You're more likely to see Vanessa.
That would be Vanessa annabella, one of the Painted Lady butterflies.
The West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella), is seen more often in cool seasons, says UC Davis butterfly expert, Arthur Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution.
The West Coast Lady is a member of the Brush-Footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae) and the subfamily, True Brushfoots.
On a recent trip to Tomales, we spotted the West Coast Lady and a honey bee sharing the same plant, a Salvia uliginosa (a tall sage that can reach six to seven feet).
The wings of the orange-brown butterfly and the transparent wings of the honey bee glowed in the sunlight as the insects nectared the sky-blue blossoms. The two have at least one thing in common: they love a good sage.
Shapiro, a lepidopterist extraordinaire, covers more than 130 species in his colorful book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, published by the University of California Press. The guide also offers tips on gardening and photography.
Look for the fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) in your garden. It's likely sharing your catmint, lavender and sage with honey bees and other pollinators.
It's the only one holding a "fighter-jet" position.
Says UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro: "The folded-wing skippers have a characteristic posture when they land: the forewings are held at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the body while the hindwing is held open and flat. This gives them a 'fighter-jet' like appearance."
These skippers are largely orange and tawny, he says, "and many have whitish chevrons on the ventral hindwing, although some genera are dark brown."
Skippers are a worldwide family of about 3500 species that appear to be "sister" to the rest of the "true butterflies," Shapiro says. The clubs on the tips of the antennae are usually hooked. In California, skippers fall into two or three subfamilies: the spread-wing skippers (Pyrginae), the folded-wing skippers (Hesperiinae), and the Heteropterinae.
His excellent Web site offers more information on fiery skippers and other butterflies.
Seen any cabbage whites lately?
If you capture one before UC Davis professor Arthur Shapiro does, he'll trade you a beer for your butterfly. Actually, a pitcher of beer or its cash equivalent.
Yes, it's time for Shapiro's 38th annual Butterfly-for-Beer contest. The "state-of-the-Art" rules are easy: the first person to find and capture a live cabbage white butterfly outdoors in California's Central Valley (Sacramento, Solano or Yolo counties) after the first of the year, will win a pitcher of beer. You get the beer, he gets the butterfly. He gets the data, you get the recognition.
Shapiro, a noted lepidopterest equally renowned for his heavily accessed UC Davis butterfly site and field guide about butterflies in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions, almost always finds the first cabbage white of the year. It's tough to beat him because he knows where to look. Most likely the cabbage white will be in a vacant lot or by a roadside where wild mustards grow. It probably won't be in your backyard garden or neighborhood park.
The cabbage white is the Pieris rapae, a white or buff-colored butterfly about 1-1/4 inches long. It sports a black spot or spots near its wing base. The underside of its hindwing is yellow with a grayish cast.
The cabbage white is emerging about a week earlier than it did 30 years ago, Shapiro says. When was the first specimen found in 2008? Jan. 19.
Entries should be delivered to the receptionist in the Evolution and Ecology office, 2320 Storer Hall. Be sure to include when (time and date) you found it and where you found it. If it's on the weekend, when the UC Davis office is closed, store it live for a few days in your refrigerator.
Here's a photo I captured of two cabbage whites in Vacaville, Solano County on Sept. 7, 2008--about eight months too late for Shapiro's competition.
And no beer.
Well, it's not really a Halloween butterfly, but it is orange.
The Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) visits us more than the politicians do at Election Time. Last Sunday we spotted four Skippers in our backyard. Only two politicians skipped to our front door.
The Fierry Skipper nectars our sage, adding a decidedly orange glow to the purple flowers.
UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro says this one (below) is a male. It's California's "most urban" butterfly, he says, adding that it's almost limited to places where people mow lawns.
Its range extends to Argentina and Chile. The oldest Bay Area record of the Fiery Skipper dates back to 1937.
Its caterpillar hosts include Bermuda grass, crabgrass, St. Augustine grass and other grasses. Well, that counts us out. We have none of those, just a bee friendly garden. No lawn. No grass. No weeds. Just a big burst of flowers.
And Fiery Skippers.
Beauty isn't skin deep. It's wing deep.
The Anise Swallowtail butterfly dazzles you with its yellow stripes and blue dots. If it were a painting, it would be a Michelangelo. If it were music, it would be Vivaldi's "Spring." If it were a car, it would be a sleek Lamborghini.
But there it was, a bit of beauty in the otherwise-drab
“Papilio zelicaon, female,” he said.
Just like that.
Shapiro is the author of the newly published “Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley Regions,” illustrated by Tim Manolis.
The book is as awesome as his Web site, his own butterfly world. His Web site spans more than three decades of research and observations.
So what about my little ol’ Anise Swallowtail?
Glad you asked.
When you were in school, you may have reared it in your classroom. It’s easy to rear, Shapiro said, but don’t provoke it. The caterpillar has “an eversible scent gland (the osmeterium) behind the head. It's yellow or orange and shaped like the letter 'Y' and if the beast is provoked, it releases a mist of butyric acid--rancid butter smell--which will hang in the air many minutes.”
The caterpillar can be a pest in cultivated citrus, but a minor pest.
The caterpillar can be a pest in cultivated citrus, but a minor pest.
The Anise Swallowtail is found in most of the western states. Its main hosts are members of the carrot family, Apiaceae. It also feeds on the rue family, Rutacease.
The carrot family includes anise, fennel, dill, celery, parsley, parsnips (I hate parsnips—I’m glad something likes them!) and Queen Anne’s lace. The Anise Swallowtail even eats the extremely poisonous water hemlock (Cicuta) and poison hemlock (Conium) “without ill effects,” said Shapiro. “When Socrates drinks, everybody drinks,” he quipped.
This little ol’ butterfly is also a famous “hilltopper,” Shapiro said. “In rugged topography, males and virgin females assemble on rocky unforested hilltops to mate--it's a butterfly 'singles bar.' The females do not return once mated, but the males come back day after day looking for action."
If you want to know more about butterflies, then Art Shapiro’s “Field Guide” is a must-have for your collection.
And if you find an Anise Swallowtail in the