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."
Talk about a tiger by the tail.
That would be the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
It's returned to the Davis area after a 15-year hiatus.
Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Western Tiger, one of the largest and showiest of butterflies, “was relatively common in Davis until the early 1990s, when it suddenly disappeared.”
"Since then there have been no sightings at all--or at most one or two per year--until this year. Now it looks like it's back as if nothing had happened!"
Since March 26, Shapiro has tallied about 100 sightings in the Davis/Vacaville area. "It's still flying today," he says.
The butterfly, with a wingspan of three to four inches, has bright yellow wings edged with a black border. Four diagonal stripes grace the top of the wings, and blue and orange spots on the hind wings, near its tail. Its normal range covers much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. It nectars from many flowers including thistles, abelia, California buckeye, zinnia, and yerba santa.
Florian Altermatt, a visitor from Switzerland, spotted the first Western Tiger March 26 near the Memorial Union, UC Davis campus. He had no idea the species had "disappeared.”
Shapiro saw the next one on April 12. Between then and June 4, six more sightings occurred: on campus, in central Davis, and in both east and west Davis.
“The second generation was first spotted on campus on June 24 and in the next five days there were eight more sightings--on campus and in central Davis,” Shapiro said. “There's no doubt the Western Tiger is breeding here again. The mystery is why it ever went away."
Naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas has seen the Western Tiger in Davis “consistently” since the last week in June. “It’s an incredible phenomenon,” he said. “I have lived in Davis since 1972 and this is the most I have ever seen. In the last 18 years of ‘Davis record keeping,’ I’ve been averaging about one Davis sighting a year. This year, I have been seeing about one a day for the last seven weeks. My data is only for my yard in east Davis. So this year is unparalleled.”
And Vacaville? "They are just as common in Vacaville as they are here in Davis this year,” he said. “In Vacaville, they never went away.”
“I set a site-specific day record for me with 22 at Gates Canyon (Vacaville) on July 7, and another with eight in the Suisun Marsh on Aug. 9,” Shapiro said.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said the Bohart Museum “has a large collection of these butterflies, in part due to the efforts of Art Shapiro and his students. The collection is important because it archives where the swallowtails have been found in the past, and changes in their distribution over time.”
Shapiro, author of the 359-page Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, maintains a Web site covering more than three decades of collected data.
So, if you see the Western Tiger in the Davis area, e-mail Shapiro at email@example.com.
He's glad "the tiger" is back.
The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) looks like a Lady in White when she perches on catmint.
The colors are striking: A long, flowing white gown nestled among the rich lavender blossoms and earthy green leaves.
UC Davis Butterfly expert Art Shapiro says this insect flies an average of 44 weeks of the year in the Davis-Sacramento area. It seems to particularly love the catmint in our garden.
Last night, however, it was flying in our kitchen.
There is no catmint in the kitchen.
There is only a cat.
The confused butterfly probably entered the kitchen through an open door--or the cat door.
My mission: Rescue the butterfly bouncing around in the kitchen and let it go before the cat, aka Xena the Warrior Princess, developed a culinary interest in it.
Back to the catmint it went. I did not take it to Shapiro and ask "Did I win?"
You see, every year Shapiro sponsors a cabbage white contest in the Davis-Sacramento area. The first person who delivers a cabbage white to him, starting the first of the year, wins a pitcher of beer. The contest always ends in January or February.
"Almost every year," he says, "someone brings one in May or June and asks 'Did I win?'"
No losers this time, though. The Lady in White won.
She won the how-to-get-out-of-the-kitchen-unscathed-and-back-to-the-catmint contest.
The painted ladies are back.
No, not the Victorian and Edwardian homes painted in three colors. No, not women wearing excessive amounts of makeup and pounding the sidewalk with their stiletto heels.
These are BUTTERFLIES.
"Another Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) migration is occurring in north-central
Why hints of overwintering and breeding? Because the insects "were in good condition and did not appear to have migrated long distances," Shapiro says. "They also did not show the usual color-and-pattern signs of having been generated in the desert, but they were not produced locally in the Davis-Sacramento region and were seemingly confined to the west side of the Valley."
Shapiro reports that the first wave from the desert showed up in mid-March. "We received reports of significant numbers migrating through the Sierra at
We saw them last weekend passing through parts of Solano and Yolo counties. They were moving fast and flying low.
"These butterflies are powered by yellow fat carried over from the caterpillar stage and fly like 'bats out of hell' from the Southeast to the Northwest a few feet off the ground, not stopping for food or sex until their fat reserves become depleted," Shaparo. He spotted a few feeding and one female was laying eggs.
Shapiro is updating the migration on the home page of his Web site. It's a must-read. You can learn more about Painted Ladies inside his Web site. See also pages 48-51 and 195-200 of his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (
Got a migration report or a video to offer him for his Web site? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, those Painted Ladies are absolutely gorgeous. We've heard far too much about ballistic bailouts, burgeoning bonuses and mortage meltdowns--and not enough about the Painted Ladies.
Bring 'em on!/st1:placename>/st1:placetype>/st1:place>/st1:placetype>/st1:placename>/o:p>/st1:personname>/st1:state>/st1:place>/em>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:smarttagtype>/o:p>/o:smarttagtype>
He did it.
I knew he would
Hardly anyone can beat University of California, Davis professor
For the past 38 years, he's been hosting a "Beer-for-Butterfly" contest. If you're the first to find a cabbage white butterfly (from a three-county area: Yolo, Solano or
He won his own contest.
For that, he wins his own pitcher of beer. Bottoms up!
Shapiro immediately credited President Barack Obama for inspiring the early emergence of the cabbage white.
The professor found the butterfly, a male, at 12:57 p.m. on the south-facing embankment of the
I figured he’d find it there. I spotted him walking along the embankment last week and thought "Ah, ha! There goes lepidopterist Art Shapiro searching for the first cabbage white of the year."
He earlier offered this hint: Most likely the cabbage white will be in a vacant lot or by a roadside where wild mustards grow.
The Pieris rapae is a white or buff-colored butterfly about 1-1/4 inches long. It spots a black spot or spots near its wing base. The underside of its hindwing is yellow with a grayish cast.
Shapiro said he couldn’t speculate on whether his butterfly was a Democrat or a Republican, but he said that “as a symbol of beauty and good cheer…if I were a butterfly I’d want to hatch on Inauguration Day! Wouldn’t you?”