Something was wrong.
The Anise Swallowtail (Papillo zelicaon) that fluttered into our bee garden last weekend and began nectaring on zinnia wasn't quite herself.
Her yellow and black coloring and the striking blue spot on the rear left wing looked fine. But the blue spot was MIA on the rear right wing. In fact, a huge chunk of that wing was MIA.
Its missing parts told part of the story: It had managed to escape a predator, probably a bird, praying mantis or spider.
"Good thing she survived," said butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis who monitors the butterflies of Central California. "It's a gravid female." (Distended with or full of eggs.)
"They have several generations (late February or March-October)," he writes on his website, Art's Butterfly World. The Anise Swallowtails breed largely on fennel or anise (Foeniculum vulgare) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both, he says, are naturalized European weeds.
The butterfly's usual range, according Wikipedia, "extends from British Columbia and North Dakota at its northern extreme, south to the Baja California peninsula and other parts of Mexico. It is occasionally reported from the southeastern United States, but its normal range does not extend east of New Mexico. In all the more northerly parts of the range, the chrysalis hibernates."
The Anise Swallowtail is commonly found in fairly open country, Wikipedia says, and "is most likely to be seen" on bare hills or mountains, in fields or along roadsides. "It is often seen in towns, in gardens or vacant lots."
We've seen P. zelicaon on plants from A to Z: anise along roadsides and zinnias in our garden.
Zelicaon on a zinnia...
There's something about seeing a butterfly that makes your eyes light up, your smile widen, and your feet feel like skipping.
So when I was over at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville last Tuesday, I rejoiced at seeing a magnificent anise swallowtail, Papilo zelicaon, fluttering around the lantana flower beds near the entrance.
The butterfly flashed its brilliant yellow and black colors in the morning sun as it glided around the flower bed, touching down occasionally for a sip of nectar.
Such a beautiful, awe-inspiring, glorious creature.
So I did what comes naturally—I pulled the camera out of my bag—somewhat like pulling the rabbit out of a hat because you never know what kind of magic may--or may not--happen. Assuming my best "non-predator posture," I slowly trailed it from blossom to blossom, dropping down to capture its image.
It was then that I noticed a woman sitting on a nearby bench, smiling, as she watched the photographer follow the butterfly.
“I love butterflies," she said. "I collect butterflies—jewelry. I would never collect the real thing. They're too beautiful.”
“Me, either,” I said. “I try not to disturb them—I just photograph them.”
Half an hour later, I returned to the area only to observe a stricken look on the woman's face.
“You have the last photo of that beautiful butterfly," she said. "A bird ate it."
And right in front of the managed health care facility.
It's a joy to see the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) fluttering around in community gardens, bee gardens and parks.
Last weekend in a Benicia community garden, we spotted this sunny butterfly, as identified by Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who monitors Central California butterflies and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
Its distinctive yellow, blue and blue colors remind us of the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
Unlike the Western tiger swallowtail, however, the anise swallowtail has large patches of black on the front portion of its forewing.
You'll see the anise swallowtail around its host plant, fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, a weed with a licorice aroma. Anise swallowtails breed on the anise and poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, Shapiro says.
Last weekend in Benicia, the anise swallowtail took an interest in wild radish.
Check out the beautiful photos of the anise swallowtail on BugGuide.net, which says it was first described in 1852 by Hippolyte Lucas as Papilio zelicaon. That was during California's Gold Rush Days and a year later, in 1853, settlers introduced the European or Western honey bee to California.
An anise swallowtail fluttered in and out of the tall anise bordering the banks of the Benicia Marina.
A beautiful sight.
The female butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), as identified by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was probably laying eggs, he told us.
The butterfly is often confused with a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Their coloring does indeed look similar.
As for the anise butterflies, "they have several generations (late February or March-October) and breed very largely on sweet fennel ("anise"), Foeniculum vulgare, and (in the first half of the season) poison hemlock, Conium maculatum," Shapiro writes on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World. "Both of these are naturalized European weeds."
The larvae of the anise swallowtail use fennel as a food plant. Something else about anise: If you crush the leaves, they smell like licorice.
While we were watching the anise swallowtail, something else was watching her: an European paper wasp.
Wasps eat butterfly eggs.
It's called a complete metamorphosis--from an egg to a larva to a pupa to an adult.
Metamorphosis--Greek for "transformation" or "change in shape" is spectacular.
And it's particularly spectacular when the subject is the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon).
Adult butterflies recently laid their eggs on anise (Pimpinella anisum), also known as fennel, in a friend's backyard in Fairfield. The eggs transformed into larvae (caterpillars) with coloring reminiscent of the adults.
We didn't see the first stage, the eggs, but did see the second stage, caterpillar and remnants of the third stage, an empty chrysalis.
One more butterfly flying around in Fairfield...