What a treat to see the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutullus) gliding into a patch of ookow (Dichelostemma congestum), also known as wild hyacinth.
A recent outing to Healdsburg, Sonoma County, found the tiger on the ookow.
The colors were perfect: the bright yellow butterfly bordered in black visiting the delicate purple flower with light yellow stamens.
Fortunately, the Western Tiger Swallowtail cooperated with the photographer by lingering in the flowers. He perched, wings open, then fluttered away.
Him? Yes. UC Davis butterfly expert Art Shapiro knows his butterflies.
He also knows his "hims" and "hers."
Butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs and honey bees.
What exists in nature is replicated in art.
We sculpt them, draw them and paint them. We create their images on everything from clothing and jewelry to quilts and stepping stones. We never tire of their shapes, colors, textures and the extensive variety.
Many replicas find their way into exhibits at county fairs.
We saw more than a dozen "insects" today in McCormack Hall at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo. A butterfly morphs into a quilt. Another butterfly yields its shape for a stepping stone. A honey bee transforms into a keychain. Dragonfly and ladybug decorations glide and crawl among the exhibits.
The 60th annual event, set July 22-26, is themed "Raisin' Steaks" but it's also raising awareness of nature.
And why not?
Insects reign supreme in sheer variety and abundance. Scientists have recorded some million insects to date. Millions of others await identification. In total volume, there could be as many as 200 million insects for every human on the planet. They're all around us.
Interesting that we seek beneficial insects for our gardens, but the "revolting ones" we set aside for horror movies.
There they sat, a row of jack o'lanterns ready for a light.
Undergraduate students at the University of California, Davis, created them for the "Happy Halloween" open house, held Oct. 23 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge, UC Davis.
All that the oranges globes needed: someone with a match.
Outreach education program coordinator Brian Turner obliged, lighting the three jack o'lanterns: a butterfly, a dragonfly and a bee. (Me thinks the honey-bee jack o'lantern was really a jill o'lantern.)
Honey bees--the queen bee, workers and drones--drew eager interest at the open house. Visitors admired a honey bee observation hive, learned about bees, and tasted honey. Even royal jelly. So, what does royal jelly taste like, this food of queen bees? It tastes like you want another taste of clover honey. Quick.
Visitors also checked out the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, giant New Guinea walking sticks and assorted spiders as they sampled chicken wings, shrimp, fruit and cookies.
The museum, named for prominent entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007), was founded in 1946. Directed by Lynn Kimsey (who also serves as chair of the Department of Entomology), the museum is known for having the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It houses some seven million insect specimens.
And now, three jack o'lanterns.
Our cat is an entomologist.
She has no formal training in the science of insects, but she can catch insects with the best of 'em. Plus, her credentials include a butterfly mark on her leg.
Xena the Warrior Princess is a rescue cat. We first spotted her outside a Costco store in the winter of 2000, the same year our son headed off to college to study computer science and mathematics.
A sign proclaimed "Free kitten!"
Not wanting a kitten, free or not (we already owned an adventuresome calico named Indiana Joan), we started to walk away.
But she was calling my name, this scrawny kitten dressed unabashedly in the same tuxedo colors our son wore while playing double bass for the Sacramento Youth Symphony's Premier Orchestra.
Coincidence? Probably. Fate? Perhaps. Serendipity? Certainly.
I thought about naming her "Free," but husband Jim didn't think that would be such a great idea. You just can't step out on the front porch and yell "Free! Free! Free!"
So Xena the Warrior Princess she became: half-warrior, half-princess, and all kitten. At first, Xena repeatedly performed sofa-to-chair leaps in the family room--antics that prompted friend Marilyn to observe: "I think her mother had an affair with a flying squirrel."
Then came the insects. The butterflies, the beetles (not the kind that play music) the honey bees, the sunflower bees, the carpenter bees and the moths.
(We will not talk about the roof rat and the flicker. They are not insects.)
Every night, or so it seems, our feline entomologist snares a hornworm moth and eagerly shares it with us. UC Davis entomologist (and apiculturist) Eric Mussen says the mangled specimen (below) is either a tomato hornworm or tobacco hornworm.
At least it's not a flying squirrel.
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