Nature isn't perfect, but neither are we!
Today we watched a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) laying eggs on her host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) and another Gulf Fritillary nectaring on the nearby Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber). Ms. Gulf Frit looked quite discolored; she wasn't that showy orange butterfly that we're accustomed to seeing, but she was a good egg layer. She deposited eggs all over the Passiflora within a five-minute time spanm and then returned to lay more eggs.
A warm springlike day. A perfect day. A not-so-perfect butterfly.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who has studied the butterfly population in Central California for more than four decades (see his website) says that the discoloration is "probably developmental rather than genetic."
"Rear some eggs," he says, and "see if anything odd results. These depigmentized bugs are seldom so symmetrical. Under a scope the depigmentized scales may be curly."
Time to rear some eggs and see what develops!
(Editor's Note: The UC Food Observer blog today featured Bug Squad. We are humbled!)
The Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) is the kind of butterfly that combines steel with silk.
It's a tough critter. Often you'll see it with its wings clipped by a predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis.
Then when you see it glide around, landing on Jupiter's beard, it's the epitome of grace.
The magnificent butterfly is found throughout much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. We've seen it nectaring not only on Jacob's beard, but zinnias, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), California buckeye but thistles, too.
Kite makers, dress makers and tattoo artists mimic this colorful yellow-winged butterfly with its bold black stripes and ll orange and blue spots on its swallow tail.
This one favored Jupiter's beard on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville, but if you look closely you'll see that a predator tried to give it a clean shave.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, monitors butterfly populations throughout the Central Valley, including Gates Canyon, Vacaville, Solano County.
Gates Canyon is one of his "stomping" grounds, or "monitoring" grounds.
And that's where we saw about half-a-dozen butterflies fluttering on Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber), also known as Red Valerian. The perennial is native to the Mediterranean region.
The pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is what Shapiro calls "the signature riparion butterfly of our region (Northern California), occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere its only host plant, California pipevine or Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs."
"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," Shapiro says on his website. "It derives its protection from the toxic aristolochic acids produced by the host, which it sequesters; females even pass these along to the eggs, which are also protected (and are brick red, laid in bunches of up to 20, and quite conspicuous).
Brick-red eggs? That must be a sight and a delight to see!
You can read more about the pipevine swallowtail on his website.
The first time we ever saw a pipevine swallowtail, it was in the clutches of a hungry praying mantis. (See photo on my Flickr site.)
So it's good to see it "whole."