Where are you, Gulf Fritillaries?
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) population seems to be diminishing this year around Solano and Yolo counties.
A few here, a few there, but not in the large numbers of last year.
Last summer the Gulf Frits overwhelmed our passionflower vine (Passiflora), their host plant, and skeletonized it.
Which is what we want them to do. We plant Passiflora for them, not for the fruit or the blossoms. On a good year, they eat it all--blossoms, fruit, leaves and stems--and look for more.
The history of the butterfly in California is as striking as its silver-spangled, reddish-orange coloring.
“It first appeared in California in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro, who has monitored butterflies in central California since 1972 and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, says the Gulf Frit “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
It's making a comeback, but this year it doesn't seem to be "coming back" so much.
Want to attract the Gulf Frit? Plant its host plant and some of its favorite nectar plants. In our pollinator garden in Vacaville, their favorite nectar sources include the butterfly bush (Buddleia), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lantana (genus Lantana.)
Plant them and they will come--if they're around!
Honey bees own the flower beds at the Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo.
But bees and other insects claim the exhibit halls, as well. They're depicted on everything from quilts and photos to graphic arts displayed in McCormack Hall.
Indeed, pollinators are an integral part of the exhibits at the 70th annual Solano County Fair, which opens Thursday, June 27 and continues through Sunday, June 30. The annual family-based fair aims to inform, educate and entertain.
Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall, and a community leader with the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, called attention to the colorful bees framing a 9-patch maple leaf quilt showcased in the adult division. It is the work of Tina Frothy of Vallejo.
And some of the youth entries?
- Jessie Means of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, entered a close-up photo of a honey bee.
- Maya Prunty of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club submitted a photo of a caterpillar.
- Alana Boman of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club sketched a moth.
- Madeline Giron of Benicia drew a bee.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as Parthenos sylvia ssp. lilacinus from Southeast Asia. "Its English name," he said, "is the Blue Clipper."
Locally, you can see Blue Clipper specimens in the Bohart Museum of Entomology in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. "We have 11 specimens of this subspecies and specimens of 4 other subspecies of Parthenos sylvia, as well as specimens of two other species in the genus," said entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of Lepidoptera at the Bohart. He describes the butterfly as "beautiful with a strong wingbeat." Smith remembers collecting one in Thailand when he was serving with the U.S. Air Force.
Gonzalez said some of the items entered in the fair are tagged for the silent auction; the highest bidder takes the entry home.
Admission to the Solano County Fair is free all four days. Parking is free the first day only. Gates are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, and from noon to 8 p.m., Friday through Sunday. See more information on the website.
Cheers to 70 years! And cheers to the exhibitors who picked pollinators!
If you attended the Lavender Festival last weekend at the six-acre Araceli Farms at 7389 Pitt School Road, Dixon, you were in for a real treat.
Planted in April 2017, the fields glowed with seven varieties of lavender: Grosso, Provence, White Spike, Royal Velvet, Violet Intrigue, Folgate, and Melissa.
This is a family-owned business: parents Robert and Araceli and daughter Justina grow pesticide-free lavender and produce handmade, all natural products. They also host lavender festivals, lavender U-Pick, events, and workshops. (See the family's website and Facebook page.)
Last Saturday the lavender fields buzzed with honey bees from "Clay's Bees," belonging to Clay Ford, who owns the Pleasants Valley Honey Company. He and his wife, Karen, sell their honey at Farmers' Markets in Vacaville and Fairfield and other venues. Soon they'll be adding lavender honey.
But back to the fields: visitors delighted in wreathing lavender around their heads and necks, purchasing lavender products, and photographing one another in the fields. They came with tripods, professional cameras, and cell phones. But most of all, with smiles!
A day in the country with rows and rows of aromatic lavender definitely yields lots of smiles, joy and laughter.
Virtually unnoticed were the insects: Cordovan honey bees, the color of pure gold, rushed to gather the pollen and nectar, as if they knew the fields would be harvested Monday, June 24. We spotted a few yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii), cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae), and scores of migratory painted ladies (Vanessa cardui). "This is the second post-desert generation (Vanessa cardui), so altogether three generations have been involved," butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, told us Sunday, June 23. "The flight began here March 17--so today is the 98th day!"
Visitors browsed the vendor booths, all offering products or information. Drawing bee enthusiasts was Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse, a Bay Area-based organization that she and Terry Smith founded in Oakland in 2013 to create pollinator-friendly landscaping in urban settings and to foster appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action. Rocha, a retired Oakland parks supervisor, says that eco-friendly landscape techniques are at the heart of their work. They envision a day "when life-enhancing, thought-inspiring green spaces will grace every corner of the city and the world beyond." And spaces filled with bee condos for native bees! They make and sell AirBeeNBees for leafcutter bees and mason bees. (Check out their Facebook page.)
The owners of Araceli Farms love being lavender farmers. "Like anything in life, there wasn't a linear path to this," Justina relates on her blog. "Looking back on it now, I see how I was being prepped for this role, but I had no idea. After college, I landed a highly-sought after job with tons of prestige; it was incredible and I was so excited, but after some time I knew it wasn't my future. It didn't spark passion nor fuel my envisioned."
The lavender farm does.
One of the Araceli Farms employees, Maria Gonzalez of Dixon, sporting a curved harvesting knife, a wide-brimmed hat and an even wider smile, said she's been working the fields for two years.
And lovin' the lavender.
It's easy to love.
If you visit the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone--and you should, especially during National Pollinator Week--you'll see honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, among other pollinators.
Today we spotted a male monarch patrolling the milkweed in search of a female, and a Western tiger swallowtail nectaring alternately on Verbena and on Salvia 'indigo spires.'
About that Western tiger swallowtail--it was missing a chunk of its left forewing. A predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis--tried to nail it but missed.
About that garden--it's the work of Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author. When she addressed the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," she said that "Bee gardens make us happy."
They do indeed.
Frey, a resident of Hopland, co-authored the award-winning book, The Bee Friendly Garden, with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University. It's a book that details how to design an abundant, flower-filled garden that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.
And make us happy.
About that butterfly--the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, is common throughout western North America and is often seen in urban parks and gardens. In color, it's a striking yellow and black, with spots of blue and orange near its tail. Its wingspan can measure 3 to 4 inches.
It's "basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology on his website."It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse."
When we left Sonoma Cornerstone today, the "tiger" was still floating, fluttering and flittering, quite majestically, too, throughout the garden, despite the wear and tear on its left forewing.
Survival of the flittest...
The honey bee and the Painted Lady.
Apis mellifera and Vanessa cardui.
They both wanted to sip that sweet nectar from a mustard blossom.
The Painted Lady was there first. Sometimes it's "first come, first served" and sometimes it's "I'll have what she's having."
The persistent bee managed to forage a bit around the blossom, but the butterfly, just as persistent, stayed put.
Finally, the bee buzzed over the butterfly, nearly touching it, as it headed for new territory.
Meanwhile, the cardui migration continues, from California through the Pacific Northwest. Millions have already moved through the Davis/Sacramento area on their way up north.
"It's Week 11, Day 81," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "It's almost over (through this area)."
An article published May 19 in the Idaho Statesman, Boise, announced that "Hundreds of Butterflies Flitted Through Boise This Weekend."
"This weekend, Boiseans found themselves in the middle of a massive migration as hundreds of orange-and-brown butterflies known as painted ladies winged their way through the area," wrote reporter Nicole Blanchard. "Dozens of people on social media shared accounts of seeing the butterflies flying overhead en masse or stopping to snack on spring blooms. Many of the painted lady butterflies, which are often mistaken for monarchs because of their orange coloring, were spotted in the North End and Foothills on Saturday."
One Boise resident related on Twitter that she saw 56 flying northwest through her yard in a period of two minutes.
Want to learn more about Painted Ladies and other butterflies? Check out Art Shapiro's website. He's been monitoring the butterfly populations of Central California since 1972.
On Vanessa carduii: The mass migration begins near the U.S.-Mexico border, Shapiro says. They breed "in the desert after the winter rains generate a crop of annual Malvaceous, Boraginaceous and Asteraceous hosts. The resulting butterflies migrate north. In good years (lots of desert rain) they may do so by billions, interfering with traffic and attracting the attention of the media. 2005 was one of the biggest Painted Lady years in history--perhaps the biggest," he says. This year was also a very good year.
"They do not stop to feed or have sex until they have burned up their reserves, carried over from the caterpillar stage," according to Shapiro. "They fly in a straight line from SE to NW, like 'bats out of Hell,' and go over obstacles rather than trying to go around them. (On certain days there may be concerted local movements in the wrong direction. We do not understand these.) Painted Ladies tend to fly parallel to the Sierra Nevada, not across it. They enter the Central Valley through the Inyo-Kern lowland or by crossing the Transverse Ranges. They can apparently make it from Bishop to Davis in three days. In some years the migration is heavier in the Great Basin and on the East slope of the Sierra than farther west. The Painted Lady moves northward in a generational wave as the season progresses. Frequently it disappears altogether from the lowlands in summer. Beginning in August the movement reverses and butterflies head south toward the desert wintering grounds. The southward migration is a more protracted affair, with plenty of adult feeding and some breeding en route. Numbers tend to be highest east of the crest, on Rabbitbrush blossoms in October."
It's been a very good year for these orange-black butterflies, which began arriving in the Davis/Sacramento area on March 17. Just don't confuse them with Monarchs! Shapiro can't begin to count the calls of folks telling him that the Monarch is no longer in trouble; that "there are millions of them!"