If I were in charge of a praying mantis' daily diet, I would enforce one stringent rule: "Please don't eat the pollinators! Do not, I repeat, target the bees or butterflies. Leave them alone!"
The mundane menu would include flies, gnats, stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, yellowjackets, grasshoppers, leaffooted bugs and not much else.
But since I'm not likely to be employed as the chef of a praying mantis' diet, these predators can--and do--eat what they want.
This morning I encountered a praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden. He saw me. He swiveled his head about 180 degrees as he followed me with his five keen eyes--two large compound eyes and three smaller simple eyes. Hmm, not potential prey. He went about "praying"--bending his front legs and "assuming the position."
Okay, I thought. "Go catch a fly, gnat, stink bug, aphid, mosquito, yellowjacket, grasshopper or leaffooted bug."
So, what did he catch? A beautiful Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which made the fatal mistake of landing on his flower.
Yes, a praying mantis has to eat. Yes, he was hungry. Yes, it's nature. But why not a stink bug?
He polished off a butterfly.
"Yummy!" declared a colleague.
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.
That's when butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, will be speak at the Northern California Entomology Society meeting, to be held at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
The meeting will begin at 9:15 a.m. with registration for club members and guests, and conclude at approximately 2:30 p.m. The group, which meets three times a year, is comprised of university faculty, researchers, pest abatement professionals, students and other interested persons.
Shapiro will lead off the program at 9:45 a.m. with his talk on “History of the Sacramento Valley Butterfly Fauna.” A noted butterfly expert, he has monitored butterflies for more than 35 years in the Central Valley and maintains Art's Butterfly World website.
Chemical ecologist Steve Seybold of the USDA Forest Service, Davis, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, will speak on “Goldspotted Oak Borer in California” at 10:30 a.m.
Following the lunch from noon to 1 p.m., Jason Leathers of Pest Detection/Emergency Projects, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), will cover “Pest Control Approaches and Evaluations on Success of 2012 Insect Eradication Programs in California.”
At 1:45 p.m., Stephen Brown, CDFA, and Anthony Jackson, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA, will discuss “California and Federal Regulations Concerning Importing Living Plant Pests.”
The society meets three times a year: the first Thursday of February at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), Sacramento; the first Thursday of May, at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis; and the first Thursday of November in the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District conference room, Concord.
Membership is open to the public; dues are only $10 year. President is Robert Dowell, a staff environmental scientist at CDFA.
More information about the meeting is available from Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Serving as the society’s treasurer, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by (530) 752-0472.
Don't look now, but a garden spider almost grabbed a tiger by the tail.
The tiger? That would be the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus.
The ragged wings of the butterfly (below) show signs of a close encounter with a predator--maybe another spider, a praying mantis or a bird.
The Western tiger swallowtails are drop-dead gorgeous. Sporting a yellow-and-black wingspan of 2.75 to 4 inches (when not tattered by a predator!), these butterflies attract attention as they glide around gardens and parks and in riparian forests.
This is one of the butterflies that distinguished scientist Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis studies. Check out his amazing butterfly website.
LiveScience, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, recently showcased him in a feature story, "Passion for Butterflies Becomes a Study in Climate Change Impact."
You'll want to read how Shapiro first became involved in the wonderful world of butterflies, and how that passion led to a massive butterfly data collection he launched more than 40 years ago.
Despite "the high altitudes, rigorous walks and over cooperative weather, he's still going strong, exploring mountains across central California, pen and notebook in hand," wrote Ayesha Monga Kravtz of the National Science Foundation.
"Through phylogeography, Shapiro is trying to reconstruct the history of the high-mountain butterfly faunas both on the West coast of North America and in the southern parts of South America, such as Argentina and Chile," Kravtz wrote. "By reconstructing the history of these faunas, where they came from, how they moved and when, scientists and researchers can make predictions as to how the fauna will respond to climate change in the future."
And, as Shapiro told Kravtz: "The past is the key to the future."
Indeed it is. And that would include the comings and goings of the Western tiger swallowtail.
Tame that tiger.
Wilton beekeeper Brian Fishback, president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, stopped Friday at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and a friendly Western tiger swallowtail greeted him.
At least, it seemed quite friendly.
Fishback and Laidlaw staff research associate Elizabeth “Liz” Frost paused to watch the butterfly (Papilio rutulus) glide in and out of the flower garden in front of the facility.
Fishback held out his hand. The butterfly obliged and touched down for just a moment.
This year is a good year for Western tiger swallowtails.
There’s an outbreak--or an elevated population--in the area, says noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. “I’ve seen as many as 11 a day in Davis recently, and the outbreak ranges from as far west as Vallejo and as far east as Reno.”
This is the second year for elevated populations of the tiger, Shapiro says. The epicenter seems to be Davis.The colorful butterfly visits a variety of hosts, including California yerba santa, milkweed, lilies, lilacs, coyote mint, California buckeye, sycamore, privet and sweet gum.
It doesn't mind being around the 6 million honey bees (from 110 hives) in the apiary at the Laidlaw facility, either.