If you traveled to the Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz this fall or to any of the other overwintering monarch sites along coastal California to see these iconic butterflies, did you see very many?
The Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation today announced "disturbingly low numbers" of monarch butterflies sightings.
"The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count (WMTC) has been done annually for the last two decades," wrote Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. "We're still completing the count for this year, but preliminary results show disturbingly low numbers of monarch butterflies overwintering in California."
"The count results that we have from 97 sites show only 20,456 monarchs. In case you're thinking--'Wait, why say anything now before you have all the data?'--it's worth noting that the sites already reported include many of the most important overwintering groves and combined host the majority of monarchs overwintering in California. In 2017, these sites hosted approximately 148,000 butterflies, more than three quarters of the total monarch overwintering population. The 2018 numbers represents an 86% decline from last year—which was already a low population year."
"We were not expecting this to be a great year because we knew it had been a rough season in the breeding and migratory range, but it's looking worse than anyone had expected," Shepherd related. "If the rest of the Thanksgiving Count data show the same trend as these sites, we anticipate seeing less than 30,000 butterflies overwintering in California this winter. In comparison, last year there were more than 192,000 butterflies counted; in 1997, it was estimated that more than 1 million overwintered; and research suggest that there were at least 4.5 million monarchs overwintering in California in the 1980s."
To read more about the count and what may be causing this abrupt decline in numbers, access the Xerces blog, Early Thanksgiving Counts Show a Critically Low Monarch Population in California.
The Facebook page, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest, affiliated with the migratory monarch research projects of Washington State University entomologist David James, knows the situation well.
On Nov. 27, the administrators posted: "This time last year we had found almost 50 of our PNW-tagged Monarchs in California! This year is a very different story with just 10 tag recoveries so far in California. The tenth recovery occurred on November 19 at the Moran Lake overwintering site in Santa Cruz. E5363 was spotted and photographed by John Dayton. This male was reared by Belinda Vos and released in Talent, Oregon on August 17 into extremely smoky skies. Regardless, E5363 flew 367 miles across the landscape to get to Santa Cruz."
And on Nov. 19, the PNW administrators posted:
"Good survival of our small overwintering populations is even more important this year, if we are to see a rebound in numbers next breeding season. However, we may get a boost from the eastern US population which unlike the west had an excellent breeding season in 2018. Back in 1994, the western Monarch population crashed to 'nothingness' then bounced back the next year. The late and revered Monarch researcher, Lincoln Brower connected this remarkable recovery with a likely westward shift of spring migrating Monarchs from the Mexican overwintering sites. He theorized that the western population may be subject to periodic declines from drought and climate cycles and depends on refreshment from Mexico. We will get the opportunity to see if this occurs in spring 2019. If the large summer population of monarchs in the eastern US translates into a large overwintering population, any 'leakage' to west of the Rockies could be significant. Let's keep our fingers crossed!"
And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted this on its Facebook page yesterday: "The California overwintering monarch population has been reduced to less than 0.5% of its historical size and has declined by 86% compared to 2017."
Want to help them? Here are a few things you can do, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
- Observe and report monarch sightings: https://www.monarchmilkweedmapper.org/
- Plant nectar resources and native plants
- Reduce pesticide use
Meanwhile, brace yourself for a dreary monarch season next year.
Ticks can do that to you.
I never think about ticks during the holiday season, but a news release from the University of Cincinnati about how “Hungry Ticks Work Harder to Find You” piqued my interest--and memories of the day our family inadvertently “collected” a total of 14 ticks.
But first, the news release about this fascinating research...
UC writer Michael Miller described ticks as “hardy little brutes that can go as long as a year without a meal,” and that “the hungrier ticks are, the harder they try to find you or other hosts.”
Biologist Andrew Rosendale, lead author of the study and UC adjunct assistant professor of biology, said that starved ticks are more likely to look for a host and they're more likely to attach to the host longer “which provides a greater opportunity to transmit diseases.”
Ticks, as you know, feed on blood. They feed on blood as larvae, nymphs and adults. Ticks "spend most of their lives on the ground in tall grass, patiently biding their time for a victim and presumably ignoring their rumbling stomachs,” Miller wrote in his news story.
Fact is, ticks are very good at waiting, waiting to ambush you. They can reach near starvation because their metabolism slows. “In the absence of any host cues, they go into a dormant state where they don't move around a lot,” UC biology professor Joshua Benoit related.
Then there's "questing."
Miller explained that “In the wild, adult ticks explore the undergrowth and climb tall grass. They reach out with the claws on their forelegs, a behavior called questing, to snag an animal's fur or your denim jeans. Then they burrow into their hosts with mouthparts shaped like ratchets that keep them in place....In the lab, UC researchers stimulated the ticks' questing behavior by breathing into identical glass cylinders. (Ticks can sense carbon dioxide so they know when a possible meal is close at hand.) Biologists recorded differences in activity between just-fed ticks and starving ones. They found that starved ticks had higher activity levels and increased questing behavior than recently fed ones.”
Miller also pointed out that “after three months without food, a tick's metabolism actually increases significantly--by as much as 100 percent--and remains at this higher rate for weeks in association with its increased activity.”
“Likewise, UC biologists found that genes related to immunity were activated by starvation, which could be another survival mechanism," Miller wrote. "Animals that feed on blood must have a immune system capable of fighting bacteria and other microorganisms. By activating genes associated with immunity, ticks might be preparing for an imminent meal.”
Another discovery: the UC biologists found that genes associated with a starved tick's salivary glands activated those glands. “Saliva is known to help ticks drink more blood more quickly, a useful ability when you're clinging precariously to a moving animal in thick brush," Miller wrote. "The sticky saliva also helps cement the tick to the host."
Added Rosendale: “The more they were starved, the more they were priming themselves for that next blood meal.”
And about our family's “tick-collecting trip?”
It was April 14, and the two of us and two dogs were walking through a tall grassy area in Sonoma, enjoying the poppies, fresh vegetation and the springlike weather. When we returned home, we found a total of 14 ticks: 13 either in or on our hair, skin or clothing, and one attached to our Chihuahua mix.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified them as Dermacentor occidentalis (Pacific Coast tick). Thankfully, this species does not transmit Lyme disease.
We never thought about wearing a repellent that day, but a spokesperson at the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District's booth at UC Davis Picnic Day last April said she sprays her clothing with "Off" before she dons the clothing and ventures out into tall grass or brushy areas--or where ticks are likely to be.
She handed out brochures, but you can also read more about ticks (and lyme disease) on the Sac-Yolo website at https://www.fightthebite.net/ticks-and-lyme-disease/ or download the brochure at https://www.fightthebite.net/download/brochures/Ticks.pdf
The brochure indicates that "Ticks do not fly, jump, or fall out of trees! They are usually found in grassy areas, in brush, or in a wooded area. They wait on the tips of vegetation for a human or other animal host to pass by. As the host brushes against it, the tick makes contact, looks for a suitable location, and begins the feeding process."
And "contrary to popular belief, ticks DO NOT embed their heads in skin. Ticks are equipped with mouthparts adapted to penetrate and hold fast in the skin of its host. Additionally, they secrete a cement-like material that helps them stay attached to their host."
Yes, they do. One tick embedded itself in my ear.
I think it must have been one of near-starvation ticks with ultra sticky saliva...
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?"
The late folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger (1919-2014) sounded many alarms, but a recent article in the New York Times Magazine struck a different but somewhat similar chord: the declining population of insects worldwide.
Brooke Jarvis's piece on "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here," published Nov. 27, should be required reading.
Basically: Where have all the insects gone? What does it mean? Why haven't we noticed? And what are we going to do about it?
Well, butterfly guru/entomologist Art Shapiro, distinguished emeritus professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has noticed. Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 46 years and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. Shapiro visits his sites every two weeks "to record what's out" from spring to fall. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
In her article, Jarvis related: "In October, an entomologist sent me an email with the subject line, “Holy [expletive]!” and an attachment: a study just out from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he labeled, “Krefeld comes to Puerto Rico.” (See news article on Krefeld's "Insect Armageddon.")
That entomologist was Art Shapiro.
Pesticides, loss of habitat, diseases, climate change, and human encroachment--and more--are some of the reasons why our global population of insects is dwindling.
Shapiro, who engaged in a 90-minute conversation with author Jarvis (and suggested topics and interviews for the piece), is quoted as having one of the few long-term data sets about insect abundance in the United States.
"In 1972, he began walking transects in the Central Valley and the Sierras, counting butterflies," Jarvis wrote. "He planned to do a study on how short-term weather variations affected butterfly populations. But the longer he sampled, the more valuable his data became, offering a signal through the noise of seasonal ups and downs. 'And so here I am in Year 46,' he said, nearly half a century of spending five days a week, from late spring to the end of autumn, observing butterflies. In that time he has watched overall numbers decline and seen some species that used to be everywhere — even species that 'everyone regarded as a junk species' only a few decades ago — all but disappear. Shapiro believes that Krefeld-level declines are likely to be happening all over the globe. 'But, of course, I don't cover the entire globe,' he added. 'I cover I-80.'"
Jarvis quotes plant ecologist Hans de Kroon of Radboud University, the Netherlands, as characterizing the life of many modern insects as trying to survive from one dwindling oasis to the next but with “a desert in between, and at worst it's a poisonous desert.”
Why should we care? As Jarvis succinctly points out: "Insects are the vital pollinators and recyclers of ecosystems and the base of food webs everywhere."
Now the concern should not only be "Where have all the insects gone?" but "What are we going to do about it?"
However, bed bugs, carpet beetles and pantry pests got into the act and competed mightily for the spotlight.
The occasion: The UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, held Sunday afternoon, Nov. 18. The theme: "Urban Entomology."
The three-hour event starred a cockroach--well, a human dressed as a cockroach.
Karey Windbiel-Rojas of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM)--she's the associate director for Urban and Community IPM who serves as the area urban IPM advisor for Yolo, Sacramento and Solano counties--donned her cockroach costume and joined Bohart scientists in fielding questions about urban pests.
The pests the UC IPM scientist has been dealing with lately include carpet beetles, bed bugs and pantry pests. She handed out two newly published Quick Tips on carpet beetles and pantry pests, as well as information on other pests. What are some of the other pests? Check out UC IPM's Quick Tips library at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/index.html.
UC IPM offers a wealth of information on its website, including
- home, garden, turf and landscape pests
- agricultural pests
- natural environment pests, and
- exotic and invasive pests
But when a cockroach is scurrying about (that was Karey's Halloween costume, by the way), the mind focuses on the "ins" and "outs" of cockroaches. Mostly the "outs."
As in: Stay. Out. Never. Ever. Come. Back. In.
"There are six species of cockroaches in California that can become pests: German cockroach, brownbanded cockroach, oriental cockroach, smokybrown cockroach, American cockroach, and Turkestan cockroach. A seventh species, the field cockroach, is not really a pest. It is usually found outdoors, but sometimes comes indoors when it is hot or dry and is often mistaken for the German cockroach. Of these seven species, the one that has the greatest potential for becoming persistent and troublesome is the German cockroach, which prefers indoor locations. Oriental and American cockroaches occasionally pose problems in moist, humid areas."--Excerpt from UC IPM Pest Note on Cockroaches.
As the UC IPM website indicates, cockroaches "may become pests in homes, schools, restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices, and virtually in any structure that has food preparation or storage areas. They contaminate food and eating utensils, destroy fabric and paper products, and impart stains and unpleasant odors to surfaces they contact."
Cockroaches can definitely give you a difficult time.
And speaking of giving, today (Tuesday) is Giving Tuesday, and UC IPM Director Jim Farrar has committed to eating a pest if at least 20 people make a donation of $10 or more to UC IPM.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) spokesperson Pamela Kan-Rice, assistant director of News and Information Outreach, informed us: "With your donation and Jim's appetite, there will be one less pest to deal with! Spread the word to colleagues, family and friends to help UC IPM meet this goal. All UC IPM donors will be invited to the special pest eating event which will take place in the afternoon on Wednesday, Nov 28 in the UC ANR building." The dining experience is expected to begin at 4 p.m.
Here's where to donate before midnight tonight: https://donate.ucanr.edu/pages/integrated-pest-management.
We asked Karey if the pest to be consumed could possibly be a cockroach. Or a garden-variety pest, such as a dandelion.
"To my knowledge he will not be eating a cockroach or a dandelion," she commented in an email. "I don't want to give away what he might be eating (so I don't actually know for sure)."
That would be a definite "no" on the roach!
(Update: Director Farrar ate corn smut, grasshoppers and live mealworms.)
The 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation launched "Giving Tuesday" in 2012 in response to the troubling commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season (think Black Friday and Cyber Monday).
A very worthy benefactor on "Giving Tuesday" is the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on the UC Davis campus.
Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, the insect museum is named for its founder, noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), a professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology). He founded the museum in 1946.
When you think of the Bohart Museum, you think of excellence: excellent scientists, staff and volunteers. The insect museum houses
- nearly eight million insect specimens collected worldwide
- the seventh largest insect collection in North America
- the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity
- a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids; and
- a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy
Another key part of the Bohart Museum outreach efforts: they host open houses at scheduled times on weekends throughout the academic year. On the campuswide Picnic Day, the Bohart draws as many as 4000 visitors. Thousands also attend the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. (See video on YouTube).
Scientists throughout the world study the insect collection.
What does the Bohart need?
"Support for our outreach programs," said Kimsey. "I would love to get another photograph like the Biss one we have in the hall."
That would be like the newly acquired 5x6-foot photographic image or "microsculpture" of a cuckoo or emerald wasp, the work of noted British photographer Levon Biss. The “cuckoo” name refers to the fact that the female lays her eggs in the nests of unsuspecting hosts, including the sand wasp. The larvae of the cuckoo wasp then consume the host eggs, larvae and the stored food. The wasp is found throughout Europe but not in the United States.
Biss's intricate work, titled "Ruby-Tailed Wasp" (Parnopes grandior), encompasses more than 8,000 separate images, Kimsey said. “We chose it partly to honor the work that ‘Doc' Bohart did." Bohart spent much of his career studying chrysidid wasps or parasitoid wasps.
Biss, based in London, works across many genres, including news, sports, portraiture and insects. He credits his son, Sebastian, for developing his interest in insects. Sebastian found a ground beetle in their backyard and Dad photographed it. That led to a collaboration with the Oxford Museum of Natural History, where Biss gained access to the museum's historical collection of insects, including some collected by Charles Darwin.
Biss now creates micro-scale images for what he calls his Microsculpture series. Over a two-year period, he photographed 37 insects from the Oxford collection. To create the final insect portraits, he composites thousands of images using multiple lighting setups. Biss says he photographed most of them in about 30 sections, “each section lit differently with strobe lights to accentuate the microsculpture of that particular area of the body.”
In October 2017, Biss drew rave reviews for his TED talk, Mind-Blowing Magnified Portraits of Insects. That led to a world gallery tour of his images; his show is now at the Houston (Texas) Museum of Natural Science, July 13, 2018 through Jan. 13, 2019.
Unlike many insect museums, the Bohart Museum is open to the general public four days a week: Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free.
Interested in helping out the Bohart Museum on #GivingTuesday? Checks may be made out to the "Bohart Museum Society" and mailed to:
Bohart Museum of Entomology
Room 1124, Academic Surge Building
University of California, Davis
Davis, Calif. 95616.