Our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., usually draws dozens of them in the summer as they flutter around, sip nectar from the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lay their eggs on their host plant, milkweed.
Then in late summer and fall, the migratory monarchs from the Pacific Northwest pass through on their way to their overwintering sites in coastal California, including Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.
Something is happening this year, and it's not good.
As a "monarch mom," I reared and released more than 60 in 2016. This year so far: zero, zip, zilch. In fact, I never saw a single monarch in our pollinator garden this year until Monday, Aug. 13, and then again today (Friday, Aug. 30) when a male fluttered in and hung around for several hours.
This time last year and in 2016? Often five to seven sightings a day.
"What's going on with the monarchs?" I asked butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored the butterfly population in central California for more than four decades and maintains a research website. "All I have on our milkweed are aphids and milkweed bugs, and occasional bees and hover flies."
I also haven't seen a single monarch on the UC Davis campus. Neither have fellow photographers and naturalists who keep an eye out for them.
Background: Shapiro has been surveying fixed routes at 10 sites at approximately two-week intervals since 1972. They range from "the Sacramento River delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin." As he says on his website, "the sites represent the great biological, geological, and climatological diversity of central California." As of the end of 2006, he has logged "5476 site-visits and tallied approximately 83,000 individual records of 159 butterfly species and subspecies. This major effort is continuing and represents the world's largest dataset of intensive site-specific data on butterfly populations collected by one person under a strict protocol. We have also collated monthly climate records for the entire study period from weather stations along the transect."
So, what's going on with the monarchs?
"You are not alone (in not sighting them)," he related in an email yesterday. "I have seen one adult monarch in the Valley in the past five weeks (and about 6 in the Sierra, migrating westward). I have not seen a single wild larva in 2018. Anywhere! Everybody's talking about it. We know there was some breeding at Fallon, Nev., but only a couple of adults have been seen in Reno. Either they are breeding in recondite places, which is possible, or the population is in serious collapse. We will know which by early November when we see what shows up at the overwintering sites. One thing is certain: it's not due to milkweed shortage!"
The statistics on his Looking Backward section of his website indicate these monarch sightings:
- 2015: 100
- 2016: 64
- 2017: 54
- 2018: 20
Note that this is the time of year when citizen scientists in entomologist David James' migratory monarch research program at Washington State University (my alma mater) tag and release them throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. (See Bug Squad)
They should be passing through our area soon. In fact, the third anniversary of "The WSU Traveler" is rapidly approaching: On Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, one of the tagged butterflies from James' citizen scientist program in Ashland, Ore., fluttered into our yard (see above photograph). The monarch, a male, hung around for five hours, sipping nectaring and circling around.
The background: Citizen scientist Steven Johnson of Ashland tagged and released the male, No. A6093, on Sunday, Aug. 28. It "flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," James told us. "Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now. Clearly this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
Maybe we'll see another tagged one this year? The odds do not look good.
As the WSU Facebook page, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest, related today:
"While the migration from the PNW (Pacific Northwest) to California has been underway for about 2 weeks, September is when it really ramps up. Unlike the migration in eastern USA this year, our migration is subtle and comprised of much smaller numbers of butterflies. In fact there will be very few Monarchs migrating south from British Columbia, Washington and northern Idaho because we simply did not have significant summer populations in these areas this year. However, our research-based WSU breeding/tagging program will result in hundreds of tagged Monarchs migrating from various parts of Washington State. Apart from the celebrated Washington State Penitentiary tagging program, this year we also have more than 30 members of Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (Yakima) and the Washington Butterfly Association (Seattle, Spokane) each rearing and tagging small numbers of Monarchs. The first tagged Monarchs from this program were released yesterday (August 30) so watch out for them as they head south! And please be ready to capture an image on your phone that you can email to us."
So, if you see a tagged monarch butterfly from the WSU program, kindly photograph it and send the information to David James and his fellow researchers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every sighting helps.
Ever seen the male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) protecting its turf?
It's "no-holds barred" on our blue spike sage (Salvia uliginosa) and frankly, it's a delight to see and photograph.
The highly territorial male body-slams all floral visitors, including honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees and butterflies that are trying to seek a little nectar, too.
The wool carder bee (so named because the female scrapes or cards leaf fuzz for her nest) is an Old World bee belonging to the family Megachilidae (which also includes leafcutter and mason bees, among others). Accidentally introduced into the United States from Europe, this pollinator was first discovered in New York State in 1963, and then spread across the continent. Scientists found it in Davis, Calif. in 2007.
In size, wool carder bees are comparable to honey bees. They're readily distinguished, however, by their striking yellow markings on their black abdomens, and yellow faces. Males are considerably larger than females, and have a spine on either side of the last two abdominal segments and three spines on the last segment, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis. Those spines have been mistaken for stingers, but only females have stingers.
One thing's for sure: their highly aggressive behavior tends to make honey bees forage faster! They don't want to get bonked! (Davis insect photographer Allan Jones aptly calls them "bonker bees.")
In our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., European wool carder bees seem to prefer blue flowers, especially our blue spike sage.
In fact, noted entomologist George Eickwort, writing in 1980 in the journal Psyche, observed that they seem to prefer "blue flowers with a relatively long throat."
We've seen the male carder bees protect patches of lamb's ear, foxgloves, catmint, oregano, cosmos, African blue basil, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
However, they seem to go "bonkers" over bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) and blue spike sage (Salvia uliginosa).
A blue plate special...
So here's this male longhorned bee (Svastra) sipping a little nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
As the late Mr. Rogers (1928-2003), star of the TV show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," so often proclaimed: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."
And here I "bee," admiring and photographing the bees on the reddish-orange blossoms on July 13 in our little pollinator garden.
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Could you be mine?
Would you be mine?
Yes, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but wait--what's that?
Another male longhorned bee, fast as the proverbial speeding bullet, dive-bombs my little buddy. Both are male Svastra--territorial males--as identified by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. He's the co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (along with UC-affiliated colleagues Gordon Frankie, Rollin E. Coville and Barbara Ertter), a must for everyone who wants to learn about bees and blooms. A noted authority on bees, Thorp annually teaches at The Bee Course, a nine-day intensive workshop affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Ariz. To be held Aug. 20-30, it is offered "for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees." He's served as one of the instructors since 2002.
So, what happened to the male Svastra occupying the blossom?
Nothing. The occupier kept occupying and the dive-bomber quit dive-bombing.
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you
(This image was taken with a Nikon D500, with a 105mm macro lens and a fast shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second. Other settings: f-stop, 7.1, and ISO 1600.)
And she's beautiful!
It all began with finding two anise swallowtail chrysalids clinging last July to the fennel stems in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
To protect them from predators and the elements, we tucked them inside a zippered net butterfly habitat and placed “the prized package” in the corner of a laundry room to await the spring of 2018--and eclosure.
The first day of spring, March 20, came and went. Then 288 days slipped by. The chrysalids remained intact. Were they viable?
We showed images of the chrysalids to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who's been researching the butterfly population of central California for more than four decades.
“They both look OK—the intersegmental membranes are not showing,” he said. “Stick them in the refrigerator for a month and try again. If they are a coast range population, some may diapause up to 5 years. If a valley population, multiyear diapause is very unusual.”
Shapiro advised that we “put them in a lidded container” to prevent their drying out. “Diapausing pupae only breathe once or twice a day.”
So, on June 5, in the refrigerator they went, joining assorted cups of yogurt, bags of fruits and vegetables, jars of peanut butter, cartons of fat-free milk and what-have-you.
What a life!
Then on July 4, Independence Day (but with no fanfare, ceremony or celebration) out they came. (The yogurt, fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, milk and what-have-you stayed behind.)
We placed the (probably) thoroughly confused chrysalids back in the butterfly habitat, but this time, outdoors, and right next to their host plant, fennel. Daytime temperatures climbed to 100 degrees and night temperatures dropped into the 50s.
Nothing happened. Nothing.
Just as we were wondering if they were still viable, we saw a winged burst of yellow, black and blue on Sunday night, July 14. A long-awaited eclosure!
It's a girl! (as identified by Professor Shapiro). (Read more about the anise swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, on his website.)
Early Monday morning, we dipped a fennel blossom into a mixture of 10 parts water and one part honey. Food! She drank heartily. Then we placed her atop the towering fennel so she could warm her flight muscles.
Two hours later, Ms. Anise Swallowtail became part of the Wonderful World of Butterflies. She circled the house, returned to nectar on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), and left. No fanfare, no ceremony, no celebration. This is her world now.
The other chrysalis? It remains intact. Fingers crossed that it, too, will survive.
It doesn't get much better than this--in a world where kindness matters. It always has.
Well, no, they don't.
Some folks scream, smash them, or sprint away from them.
Other folks--including yours truly--sprint toward them, not unlike firefighters racing into a burning building while everyone else is dashing out.
So it's gratifying to see that Feedspot.com has just published a list of the top 25 entomology blogs worldwide. All in one place. Bug lovers, unite!
Founder Anuj Agarwal says the blogs are ranked based on the following criteria:
- Google reputation and Google search ranking
- Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
- Quality and consistency of posts.
- Feedspot's editorial team and expert review
"The best entomology blogs," Agarwal told us, "are from thousands of entomology blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We've carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."
Feedspot, based in the United States, is a "News and blog reader used by over one million users," Agarwal related. "Globally. it's a place where users can read all their favorite websites in one place." The Feedspot editorial team "extensively searched on Google and social media websites to find the best entomology blogs and ranked them," based on several factors such as:
- Blog content quality
- Post consistency
- Age of the blog
- Average number of shares on social sites for your blog posts
- Traffic of your blog and more.
This blog, Bug Squad, which I've written for 10 years every night, Monday through Friday on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) website, landed on the list as No. 12. Wasn't expecting that! (As an aside, I've never missed a night of posting, even on holidays and vacations.)
Which blog is No. 1? Entomology Today, published by the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.
Note that Feedspot Entomology currently lists the top 24 entomology blogs instead of the top 25, which is why this (list) below is missing one.
The list, along with the links:
- Entomology Today The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines
- What's That Bug? - Are we experts yet? In this blog you can send entries for bug identification. Get information about various kinds of bug around the world and more in this blog
- Catalogue of Organisms An entomologist and taxonomist, currently based in Perth, Western Australia
- Bug of the Week Written by "The Bug Guy," Michael J. Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland
- Bug Eric Get all information about insects, spiders, and other arthropods, focusing on North America north of Mexico. This is by Eric Eaton, principal author of Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.
- Reddit | Entomology Find the latest news and information about entomology from Reddit.
- Reddit | Bug identification! Find information about all your bug identification needs, whether that be insects, spiders, crustaceans, or whatnot!
- The Jentsch Lab Find information about insect biology, ecology, and management in hudson valley agricultural commodities in this blog. The Jentsch is Peter Jentsch, senior Extension associate
- What's Crawling in the Lab? | Insect Diagnostic Lab | Department of Entomology Patrick (PJ) Liesch, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab, gives information about the ecology of bees and other pollinators, and the mechanisms by which they provide the invaluable service of pollination.
- Angler's Entomology Podcast A podcast about re-discovering fly fishing entomology. "We will review the major groups of aquatic insects - both relevant facts for fly fshing, but also interesting twists that make these critters fascinating."
- Blogs from the Natural History Museum | Entomology Blogs from the Natural History Museum | Entomology
- Bug Squad | Agriculture and Natural Resources Blogs This is a blog that appears on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources website. It's about the wonderful world of insects and the people who study them. (Text and photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of California, Davis)
- Ask an Entomologist In this blog, "you can ask any questions related to entomology or bugs or insects, together we tackle your hardest questions about insects, their biology, ecology, physiology, or whatever else your beautiful and curious mind wants to know."
- Pensoft blog | Entomology Find information about entomology from this blog
- Buglife Buglife is billed as "the only organization in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates everything from bees to beetles, and spiders to snails."
- MYRMECOS – Little Things Matter A personal blog by entomologist and photographer Alex Wild (Alex Wild is the curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin, and holds a doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis, where he studied with Phil Ward)
- Wild About Ants Roberta Gibson is an entomologist and writer/blogger. She holds a master's degree in Entomology from Cornell University where she studied carpenter ants.
Beetles In The Bush Get all information about experiences and reflections of a Missouri entomologist
- Entomological Society of Canada The Entomological Society of Canada promotes research and disseminates knowledge about insects. Its flagship journal is The Canadian Entomologist (TCE).
- The Academy of Natural Sciences | Entomology Find information about entomology or insects from this blog.
- MObugs Get updates about Missouri entomology or insects and more by Shelly Cox.
FOCUS on Entomology Get all news about agricultural entomology from the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Lubbock.
- Insects Unlocked Insects Unlocked (directed by Alex Wild) is a public domain project from The University of Texas at Austin's Insect Collection. Background: "In 2015, our team of student and community volunteers crowd-funded a campaign to create thousands of open, copyright-free images. From more than 200 small contributions, we built an insect photography field kit and photo studio. This website holds discussions of the small animals we encounter, updates from the project, and other entomological miscellanea."
- Mastering Entomology | Big Ideas About Little Things This site is run by the Entomology and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) students at Harper Adams University. "Get ideas about bugs or insects and more from this blog."
- (Currently not listed)