An anise swallowtail fluttered in and out of the tall anise bordering the banks of the Benicia Marina.
A beautiful sight.
The female butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), as identified by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was probably laying eggs, he told us.
The butterfly is often confused with a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Their coloring does indeed look similar.
As for the anise butterflies, "they have several generations (late February or March-October) and breed very largely on sweet fennel ("anise"), Foeniculum vulgare, and (in the first half of the season) poison hemlock, Conium maculatum," Shapiro writes on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World. "Both of these are naturalized European weeds."
The larvae of the anise swallowtail use fennel as a food plant. Something else about anise: If you crush the leaves, they smell like licorice.
While we were watching the anise swallowtail, something else was watching her: an European paper wasp.
Wasps eat butterfly eggs.
It's worth a pitcher of beer or the equivalent if you win Arthur Shapiro's 40th annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition, which begins Jan. 1, 2011.
Shapiro (right), a noted butterfly expert and a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology (EVE) at the University of California, Davis, sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight.
Why does he do this? "I am doing long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate," he said. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The Cabbage White is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, enlists public involvement "because I have that much more confidence that I am tracking the actual seasonality of this common 'bug.'"
The butterfly must be turned in alive to the receptionist in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during the business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The receptionist will certify that it is alive and then notify Shapiro, who will confirm the identification.
Collectors must include the precise location and time of their find (such as corner of Buck Avenue and West Street, Vacaville, Solano County, 7:44 a.m., Jan, 2, 2011) and provide their name and contact information (e-mail and/ or telephone).
"First flight dates in the past have varied between Jan.1 and Feb. 22," Shapiro said. "The first record in 2010 was on Jan. 27. Sight records without a capture are interesting but not eligible to win since the species cannot be verified."
"If you capture a Cabbage White on a weekend or holiday when the EVE office is closed, or cannot deliver it the day you catch it, refrigerate it; do not freeze it," he said. "It will keep up to a few days that way. Again, it must be alive when turned in to be eligible. If no receptionist is on duty when you arrive, ask any member of the EVE office staff to take care of it."
Oh, if you win a pitcher of beer, it's your choice of the brand. If you don't drink or you're a minor, not to worry. You'll get the equivalent in cash.
For more information, contact Shapiro at email@example.com, phone (530) 752-2176, or fax him at (530) 752-1449.
It's a big year for buckeyes, says noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He counts between "30 and 85 a day" in West Sacramento and North Sacramento.
The common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is not only distinctive, but quite attractive, especially when it lands on a red zinnia.
Its large eye spots on the wings (probably meant to scare off predators) draw you to its world of color and drama.
We saw this buckeye (below) in Napa, just off the Napa-St. Helena Highway. However, buckeyes are found all over the United States, except in parts of the northwest.
Maybe the northwest, too! An image of the buckeye appeared on a 24-cent U. S. postage stamp issued in 2006.
This intriguing member of the Nymphalidae family also appears on a popular poster available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology gift shop. The insect museum, at 1124 Academic Surge, UC Davis campus, also counts this butterfly as among its seven million mounted specimens.
Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
Such was the case today with the Mournful or Sad Dusky-Wing, Erynnis tristis (Hesperiidae).
UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, describes it as "Common below 2000, including the Sacramento Valley; the only Erynnis routinely found in cities. A strong flier but not a very dedicated puddler, it is multiple-brooded, from March to October. This is the only common Dusky-Wing with a white fringe (compare E. funeralis)."
Shapiro says the Mournful Dusky-Wing visits tall blue verbena, yerba santa, California buckeye and a variety of garden flowers, including the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).
Today it was visiting lavender, both purple and white lavender. It lingered long enough to be admired.
But they are fleeting butterflies.
For the past 35 years, noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro (top right), UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, has documented the prevalence--or absence--of 159 species twice a month at 10 sites from the Suisun Marsh to the Sierras. His massive database, unprecedented among lepitopterists, is part of his popular butterfly Web site.
Last week his database and the plight of the butterflies received international attention via a paper published by lead author Matt Forister in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study showed that climate change and land development are taking their toll on butterflies.Forister (lower right) who studied with Shapiro at UC Davis and received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004, is now an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Reno, Nev. (You can watch his Webcast on butterflies given last November at a noonhour seminar in the UC Davis Department of Entomology.)
In many respects, butterflies are to the environment what canaries are to coal mines.
Titled "Compounded Effects of Climate Change and Habitat Alteration Shift Patterns of Butterfly Diversity" and the work of eight authors, the research paper documents the disastrous effects of habitat loss and climate changes.
Shapiro, author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, says what shocks him is the decline of once common species in the flatlands.
Indeed, prospects for some alpine butterflies, including the Small Wood Nympth and Nevada Skipper, he says, look bleak, too. As he told Contra Costa Times reporter Suzanne Bohan, in her Jan. 19th news article:
"There is nowhere to go except heaven."