Ready? Set? Go?
The search party is almost ready to start. If you're lucky, you'll net the prize before Art Shapiro does.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has announced his annual “Butterfly for a Beer" contest: the person who collects the first cabbage 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. (See rules)
As you may remember, Shapiro launched the contest in 1972 as part of his scientific research. Since 1972, the first flight of the cabbage white butterfly has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. He predicts that the first butterfly of 2018 may be collected as soon as Jan. 5 or 6, “depending on the weather.”
He's usually the winner; he's been defeated only four times, and then by UC Davis graduate students.
And yes, he's had some humorous moments.
Some folks contact him way way way after it's all over and done (like in the spring!) with a collected specimen and ask him if they've won.
We thought about declaring ourselves the winner to the good professor after photographing dozens of them all spring and into summer and late fall and encountering hundreds more.
Meanwhile, starting Jan. 1, the cabbage white will be the most sought-after insect in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano.
They're not easy to find in January. Neither are they always easy to photograph seasonally. They seem to flutter out of your viewfinder just as you're about to focus on them. Wait, wait, come back! I'm not through yet!
Other times, they photobomb your long-awaited image, like last summer when I was zeroing in on a solo bee on a bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis).
Webster defines photobombing this way: "to spoil a photograph of by unexpectedly appearing in the camera's field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke."
In this case, they both wanted the same nectar. The photo amounted to a "two-fer"--two insects for the price (prize?) of one.
And then the determined cabbage white butterfly circled the hapless honey bee for another photobomb opportunity. Aren't you done, yet?
He's the bully in the bee garden.
If you've ever watched the male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) patrolling "his" flower patch, you'll see him targeting insects several times larger than he is.
Take the case of the Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), one of the largest bees in California. The female is solid black, while the male is a green-eyed blond.
Last week we were watching female Valley carpenter bees trying to gather some nectar from a bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) when the much smaller male carder bee dive-bombed her.
The male was also dive-bombing and body-slamming honey bees, sweat bees leafcuter bees and other bees, in addition to butterflies. They do that to "save" the flowers for their own species and perchance to mate!
As the sun set, the sleepy male carder bees headed over to a bee condo to grab some shuteye.
The bee condo was meant for nesting blue orchard bees (which pollinate the almonds in the spring).
Bee condos can also be occupied by other critters, including spiders, wasps and European wool carder bees!
Birds do it...bees do it...
You've probably seen the territorial male European carder bees on patrol. They dart through the stems of a nectar treasure, such as bluebeard (Caryopteris 'Blue Mist'), knocking off all floral visitors. They're trying to save the nectar for their girls, perchance to mate.
These boy carder bees are often called the "bullies of the bee world," as they whack-smack, bodyslam and dive-bomb unsuspecting honey bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and other insects that are just trying to get a share of the nectar. (Davis insect photographer Allan Jones calls them "bonker bees.")
Sometimes you'll see the female wool carder bees nectaring, or carding fuzz from the plants for their nest. Sometimes you'll see a male carder bee pause from patrolling to take a a nectar break. It's like filling up the tank.
And sometimes, if you get lucky, you'll see two bees becoming one.
Love out of the blue (beard)...
Do they ever slow down?
The male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a yellow and black bee about the size of a honey bee, spends most of the day defending its "property" (food) from other visitors. It's so territorial that it will dive-bomb and/or bodyslam visitors such as honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and praying mantids that dare land on or occupy "their" plant. We've seen them do this on catmint, blanket flower, Mexican sunflower, foxgloves and bluebeard.
If you're a floral visitor, it's no fun trying to sip some nectar while trying to dodge a yellow-and-black bullet. And if you don't move, you're likely to get hit. Unexpectedly.
Early morning, however, is a perfect time to photograph the male carder bees. They're often resting on a blossom, warming their flight muscles, or sipping a little nectar.
The bees, so named because the females collect or "card" leaf fuzz for their nests, were introduced in New York in 1963, and then began spreading west. They were first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
"Males are considerably larger than females, and have a spine on either side of the last two abdominal segments and three spines on the last segment," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology at UC Davis. Those spines have been mistaken for stingers, but only females have stingers.
The female wool carder bees build their nests in rotting wood or preexisting tunnels, such as beetle burrows, Kimsey says. At night, we've seen the males sleeping in the bee condos (drilled blocks of wood) meant as homes for blue orchard bees.
A little R&R before D&B (dive-bombing and body-slamming).
(Note: Check out the Anthidium manicatum research in Pan-Pacific Entomologist, the work of entomologist Tom Zavortink, associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, and entomologist Sandra Shanks, formerly of Davis and now Port Townsend, Wash. They pointed out that several papers “have documented its spread from neighboring areas in the northeastern United States and southern Canada” and that the species has since crossed the country. It was confirmed in Colorado in 2005, Missouri in 2006, and Maine, Michigan, Maryland and California (Sunnyvale) in 2007, the entomologists wrote.)
So here's this tiny praying mantis hovering over a spider's web in the bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis) in our pollinator garden. In the web are freshly caught prey, including a honey bee.
Now the praying mantis is known for snatching and devouring live prey--but this one appeared to be contemplating leftovers. Leftovers? Yes, and quite-dead leftovers.
Praying mantids don't do leftovers. They do eat their brothers and sisters, though, when they emerge from the ootheca. All's fair in love and war when prey is at a premium.
But this inch-long "bluebeard predator" appeared fairly new to the game of "snatch, hold and eat." Bees buzzed around his head but he kept looking down, looking for victims.
Which brings to mind a meme that friend Darren McNabb developed and posted on his popular Facebook page, Darren's Bugs. McNabb, who lives in Coralville, Iowa, is a talented macro photographer and life-long entomology enthusiast. He rears a few praying mantids. And he has a great sense of humor.
Ever been puzzled about what to call the key anatomical parts of a praying mantis?
Well, not to worry. Darren McNabb has them all figured out.
- The antennae: "Booty detectors."
- The eyes: "Victim locators."
- The mouth: "Devourer of all things, possibly including time"
- Those spiked forelegs: "Double-spined murder clamps."
Then there are the "neck enlongeners" and the "holder-uppers" and "floppy surprises."
The last time we saw our little praying mantis, he was using his "booty detectors," "victim locators" and "neck enlongeners," but not his "holder-uppers" or "double-spined murder clamps."
Thanks, Darren. You nailed it!