And the winner is…drumroll…Art Shapiro. Yes, he's won again!
We're not sure how many folks were out searching in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo, but the first butterfly of the year is now history.
Shapiro collected the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, at 11:23 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19 in one of his frequented sites—a mustard patch by railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He caught it with his hands--no net--no small feat.
Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. Shapiro acknowledged that he didn't think he'd find it Jan. 19 as the weather forecast included cloudy skies and a chance of rain.
“I spotted the male butterfly dorsal basking (sunbathing) on low vegetation shortly after the first cumulous formed at 11 a.m.,” the professor said. “As I approached to collect it, a small cumulus occluded the sun and it closed its wings over its back--allowing me to just pick it up without using my net at all, and drop it into a glassine envelope. It turned out that that was the ONLY cloud that crossed the sun in the next two and a half hours! It got up to about 60 degrees and was a gorgeous day with a trace of a west wind.”
He described the butterfly as quite yellow instead of white. “Cold weather promotes sepiapterin formation, so early ones are often quite yellow.”
Apparently the newly emerged butterfly had not yet flown. When Shapiro placed it in the glassine envelope, “it voided meconium, metabolic wastes of metamorphosis, normally ejected before the first flight.” (Note that in its immature form, the cabbageworm is a pest. See UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website.)
His former graduate student, Matt Forester, now a professor of biology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a research collaborator with Shapiro, accurately predicted the first butterfly would be found on Jan. 19.
This is the seventh year the winning butterfly has been collected in Yolo County. Last year Shapiro found the winner on the UC Davis campus; in 2016, graduate student Jacob Montgomery netted the winner outside his home in west Davis, and Shapiro collected all five winners from 2012 to 2015 in West Sacramento.
Shapiro mused that the 2018 winner "probably emerged an hour or so before I got there so this really is the start of the season! Let the rites of spring begin!”
How many days 'til spring? Check out this handy "Days Left to Spring" website for the days, hours and minutes./span>
Take the immature form (caterpillar) of the moth, Schizura concinna, family Notodontidae. We first spotted this caterpillar on our Western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis) in September 2010.
It has a red hump. The common name: The redhumped caterpillar.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, told us that the red hump contains a defensive formic acid gland. "They hold their anal prolegs, which are not useful for walking, in the air and thrash their rear ends in unison when disturbed. This is the ONLY defoliator of redbud around here, and is very common. It also attacks walnut and a variety of other chemically-distinctive trees that other things don't eat, as a rule."
We wondered if these little thrashing visitors should concern us. "The damage is minor, and I strongly advise against spraying; hand-picking can be used if control is deemed necessary, but they feed so late in the season that there is no actual harm to the tree," he told us. "The moth is very nondescript. It holds its wings wrapped around the body cylindrically and looks remarkably like a cigarette butt, though it is probably 'imitating' a broken-off twig. Despite authoritative commentary to the contrary, they have two broods a year here but are usually seen in fall. The species is native on both coasts and oddly absent in most of the mid-continent."
We thought we might see redhumped caterpillars on our liquidambar (sweet gum) trees that we planted more than two decades ago. We never have.
What we did see this week is that the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has revised its Pest Notes: Redhumped Caterpillar. A recent UC IPM blog described the caterpillar as a "familiar pest on fruit and nut trees such as plum, almond, cherry, and apple, as well as on ornamental trees like liquidambar and birch. It can reach high populations in California's Central Valley, sometimes defoliating entire trees."
The Pest Note, co-authored by entomologists Emily Symmes, UC IPM and UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento Valley, and Steve Dreistadt, UC IPM, describes the pest, its life cycle, and the damage rendered. You can read about a variety of management techniques.
Ah, the redhumped caterpillar...
And if you're curious about common names and scientific names of insects, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) maintains a Common Name Database, "an essential reference for anyone who works with insects. It includes more than 2,000 common names and is searchable by common name, scientific name, author, order, family, genus, and species."
Have a suggestion for a common name? You can propose it on the ESA form. Names are reviewed by the Committee on the Common Names of Insects and voted on by the ESA Governing Board.
It's probably unlikely, however, that redhumped caterpillar, will undergo a name change any time soon. That red hump is so descriptive!
They're aptly named.
Leafhoppers are tiny insects (family Cicadellidae) that suck nutrients from plants.
But have you ever looked at them really closely?
We spotted scores of mottled leafhoppers last week on our Salvia mellifera (black sage) and Verbena in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. We stirred the leaves and these near-microscopic insects hopped off.
They. Hopped. Over. To. Other. Leaves.
"Leafhoppers feed on many different fruit, vegetable, flower, and woody ornamental hosts," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website. "Most species of leafhoppers feed on only one or several closely related plant species. Adults mostly are slender, wedge-shaped, and less than or about equal to 1/4-inch long. Leafhoppers generally are varying shades of green, yellow, or brown, and often mottled. Some species are brightly colored, while others blend with their host plant. Leafhoppers are active insects; they crawl rapidly sideways or readily jump when disturbed. Adults and nymphs and their pale cast skins are usually found on the underside of leaves."
Oh, to be a leafhopper and have those modified legs for jumping. They're not faster than a speeding bullet but they're faster than aphids, and they can "run sideways and jump," UC IPM says. "Some common leafhopper species in gardens and landscapes are the rose leafhopper, grape leafhopper, variegated leafhopper, potato leafhopper, and the aster leafhopper."
This particular leafhopper--note the leopard pattern!--on our Verbena is a Typhlocybinae (subfamily of Cicadellidae) leafhopper, Eupteryx decemnotata, according to Robert Lord Zimlich of BugGuide.Net.
What to do when you see a leafhopper on Salvia and Verbena? Grab a camera with a macro lens. Don't get too close, though, as they can "run sideways and jump," UC IPM says.
Yes, they can, and yes, they do.
The annual “Butterfly for a Beer” contest, sponsored by Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, gets underway on Monday, Jan. 1.
The person who collects the first cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) of the year in one of three counties—Sacramento, Yolo and Solano—will receive a pitcher of beer or its equivalent. The butterfly must be collected outdoors and delivered live to the Department of Evolution and Ecology, Room 2320 of Storer Hall.
"Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20," said Shapiro, who researches biological responses to climate change--and has won all the contests but four.
He predicts that the first butterfly of 2018 may be collected as soon as Jan. 5 or 6, “depending on the weather.”
The professor launched the contest in 1972 as part of his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate change. Pieris rapae is emerging earlier and earlier as the regional climate has warmed, said Shapiro. "The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro netted the first cabbage white butterfly of 2017 at 1:56 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19 in the student gardens near the Solano Park Apartments. “This was the second year in a row that the first rapae was found in a garden rather than one of the conventional ‘warm pockets,' Shapiro noted. The 2016 winner? UC Davis ecology graduate student Jacob Montgomery collected it in his garden in West Davis on Jan. 16.
The contest rules include:
- It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
- It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and the contact information of the collector (address, phone number and/or e-mail.) The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If it's collected on a weekend or holiday, it can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days--do not freeze it.)
- Shapiro is the sole judge.
The professor, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society and the California Academy of Sciences, said Pieris rapae inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. The male is white. The female is often slightly buffy; the "underside of the hindwing and apex of the forewing may be distinctly yellow and normally have a gray cast,” Shapiro said. “The black dots and apical spot on the upperside tend to be faint or even to disappear really early in the season.”
As a caterpillar, the insect is a pest of cole crops such as cabbage. UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) says the cabbageworm is active throughout the year in California. "Cabbageworm larvae chew large, irregular holes in leaves, bore into heads, and drop greenish brown fecal pellets that may contaminate the marketed product. Seedlings may be damaged, but most losses are due to damage to marketed parts of the plant," according to the UC IPM website.
Shapiro, who is in the field for more than 200 days of the year, monitoring butterflies, maintains a research website on butterflies, where he records the population trends. He is the author of A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, illustrated by Tim Manolis and published in 2007 by the University of California Press.
Shapiro's four defeats came from UC Davis graduate students: Adam Porter won in 1983; Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s; and Jacob Montgomery in 2016. The first three were his own graduate students.
The professor collects many of the winners in mustard patches near railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County. Over the last eight years, five came from West Sacramento; two in Davis, Yolo County; and one in Suisun, Solano County.
The dates and locations:
- 2017: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner on the UC Davis campus
- 2016: Jan. 16: Jacob Montgomery collected the winner in west Davis
- 2015: Jan. 26: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2014: Jan. 14: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2013: Jan. 21: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2012: Jan. 8: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2011: Jan. 31: Shapiro collected the winner in Suisun, Solano County
- 2010: Jan. 27: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
Coincidentally, Shapiro caught the 2013 and 2009 winners on President Obama's Inauguration Day. This year he missed President Trump's Inauguration Day by a day.
In a ground-breaking discovery encompassing six years of research, an international team of scientists led by UC Davis chemical ecologist Walter Leal announced they've identified the sex pheromone of the pest, which feeds on citrus and transmits the bacteria that causes the deadly citrus greening disease known as Huanglongbing (HLB).
Leal, a native of Brazil and a fellow of both the Entomological Society of America and the Entomological Society of Brazil, revealed the discovery during his presentation Dec. 5 at the 10th Annual Brazilian Meeting of Chemical Ecology in Sao Paulo. His team included scientists from UC Davis, University of Sao Paulo, and the Fund for Citrus Protection (FUNDECITRUS) from the state of Sao Paulo.
“Dr. Leal's discovery of the Asian citrus psyllid pheromone is a significant breakthrough in preventing the spread of this serious citrus insect, and may offer a less toxic method for its control,” said integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America. He was not involved in the study.
“Having a lure to dramatically improve captures of this psyllid with the conventional sticky traps is a major progress toward integrated pest management,” said Professor Jose Robert Parra of the University of Sao Paulo.
Identifying the sex pheromone proved “complicated and quite a challenge” because of the insect's complex behavior and biology, said Leal, a UC Davis distinguished professor who has discovered the sex pheromones of moths, beetles, bugs, cockroaches, mites and other arthropods. A patent was filed Friday, Dec. 1, and journal publication is pending.
Citrus trees infected with HLB usually die within five years, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. There is no known cure. “The only way to protect trees is to prevent spread of the HLB pathogen in the first place, by controlling psyllid populations and removing and destroying any infected trees,” UC IPM says on its website.
Native to Asia, the Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina ciri, was first detected in the United States in June 1998 in Palm Beach County, Florida, and in California in August 2008 in San Diego County. Scientists discovered HLB in Florida in August 2005, and in Los Angeles in March 2012. The mottled brown insect, about 3 to 4 millimeters long, or about the size of an aphid, is now widespread throughout Southern California and is now found in 26 of the state's 58 counties.
The Asian citrus psyllid, or ACP, feeds on new leaf growth of oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit and other citrus, as well as some related plants. Infected psyllids can transmit the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which causes the fatal citrus disease. An early symptom of HLB in citrus is the yellowing of leaves on an individual limb or in a sector of a tree's canopy.
Currently growers are using yellow sticky traps to detect the insect and to monitor the population. “Efficient lures,” Leal said, “are sorely needed for sticky traps, particularly for early ACP detection. Otherwise, growers have to resort to regular sprays to avoid infection given that infected insects from gardens and noncommercial areas migrate to citrus farms.”
Pheromones and other semiochemicals are widely used in agriculture and medical entomology. “Growers use them as lures in trapping systems for monitoring and surveillance, as well as for strategies for controlling populations, such as mating disruption and attraction-and-kill systems,” Leal noted.
Although ACP is present in Arizona and California, the disease itself has not been established, Leal said. “The emphasis is on detection, eradication and limiting the spread of the disease. In Florida, where HLB is widespread, monitoring ACP populations is essential to avoid reinfection after eradication of infected plants.”
The detection of the pest has led to widespread eradication of citrus trees in China, Brazil and the United States. “In Brazil as many as 46.2 million citrus trees, representing 26 percent of the currently planted trees, have been eradicated since the detection of HLB in 2004,” Leal said. “In Florida, HLB has caused severe losses to the citrus industry. This year's production loss is estimated to be about 28 million fewer boxes of oranges than in 2014-2015.”
The announcement of the discovery coincides with the 40th anniversary celebration of FUNDECITRUS in Araraquara, Sao Paolo. “I am delighted that Walter Leal accepted our challenge to work on this project as the lead investigator,” said Juliano Ayres, FUNDECITRUS director. “The combination of his work ethics and qualifications are unparalleled. And, he loves challenges.”
In response to the ACP invasion in California, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has launched an extensive monitoring program to track the distribution of the insect and disease. They check yellow sticky traps in both residential areas and commercial citrus groves, and also test psyllids and leaf samples for the presence of the pathogen.
Survey methods for ACP include visual inspections, sweep netting, and placement of yellow sticky traps in trees in citrus nurseries, commercial citrus-producing areas and residential properties throughout the state, according to the CDFA. They also place sticky traps in California fruit packing houses, specialty markets, retail stores and airports that receive such produce from areas known to be infested with ACP.
Since August 2008, ACP has now been detected in 26 of California's 58 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Placer, Riverside, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Solano, Stanislaus, Tulare, Ventura, and Yolo. “The ACP has the potential to establish itself throughout California wherever citrus is grown,” the CDFA says on its website.
CDFA has set up a hotline at 1-800-491-1899 for residents to report suspicious insects or disease symptoms in their citrus trees.
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)
Save Our Citrus: Hotline Information
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR)
(Update: The research was published in the Jan. 11 edition of the journal Scientific Reports.)