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?”
Folk singer Pete Seeger asked "Where have all the flowers gone?"
UC Davis butterfly expert Art Shapiro wants to know "Where are all the Monarchs?"
In the current edition of the Bohart Museum Society newsletter, Shapiro notes that California populations of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) "are notoriously unstable, fluctuating wildly in numbers."
"Because the Monarch is just about everyone's favorite butterfly, certainly the best known, the public is interested in how it is doing," he wrote. "This year it is doing very poorly indeed, at least in the Sacramento Valley."
See, Shapiro tracks Monarchs (and other butteflies) throughout much of Northern California. He's been doing that since 1972, using "a combination of fixed study sites visited every two weeks and more casual 'at large' observations."
His permanent sites include the Suisun Marsh and Gates Canyon (near Vacaville), both in Solano County; West Sacramento, Yolo County; and North Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County. "Monarchs have been present at all of these sites every year, and bred at most of them nearly every year, until 2008," Shapiro wrote.
"As of Sept. 10, no Monarchs in any life stage have been seen at West Sacramento, North Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, or anywhere else in the Davis-Sacramento area. This has never happened before. I've spent just over 60 days at these three field sites this year, and my eyes have been open every day. So this is significant."
Personally, I don't see Monarchs, either. The last Monarch I spotted was along the Mendocino Coast, near Timber Cove, and that was on Oct. 19, 2007.
It looked drenched from the rain.
I photographed it. The next morning, I looked for it and it was gone.
(Note: For more information on butterflies, see Shapiro's book, "Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions.")
"Omigosh, what's that? A gray hairstreak?"
If it's in your hair, you consult a mirror, your favorite salon, or just ignore it.
If you're an entomologist or a lepidopterist, a gray hairstreak is delightful. "Omigosh, check that out! A gray hairstreak!"
A gray hairsteak is a butterfly (Strymon melinus). It’s basically gray with a large orange spot near its tail. It probably derives its name from the fine gray hairlike markings that cross the undersurface of the hind wings. If you look closely, you’ll see threadlike tail projections, resembling antennae.
It’s not a beautiful butterfly, as butterflies go, and oh, do they go! Fast and low-flying, it is difficult to photograph. If you catch it nectaring, that’s your best shot.
In its caterpillar stage, it damages bean, corn and cotton crops.
Renowned butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, who maintains an excellent butterfly Web site, says hairstreaks belong to the subfamily (Theclinae) and the gossamer-wing butterfly family (Lycaenidae).
"The gossamer-wings are a very diverse and complex family with at least 4750 species worldwide," he says. "In California, they can be grouped into the coppers (subfamily Lycaeninae), the blues (subfamily Polyommatinae), and the hairstreaks (subfamily Theclinae)."
The gray hairstreak is considered a weedy butterfly. "Weedy," as Shapiro explains on his Web site, "is a general term for organisms that are typically associated with habitats that are disturbed by human activities or are dominated by non-native, invasive plants."
Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated, says Shapiro. Indeed, the gray hairstreak is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known; it feeds on scores of different flowering plants.
In our bee friendly garden, a male gray hairstreak nectared last weekend on sage, sharing it with assorted honey bees.
Then like a streak, he was gone.