There's a good reason why lepidopterists call the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) "showy."
Its bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan all point to "showy."
The Gulf Frit is a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
Yes, the Gulf Frits are back. Thankfully, they've returned to creating a nursery of sorts on our passionflower vine and their host plant (Passiflora). The eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults are a delight to see.
However, the cycle of life is in full force in our bee garden. The hawks are eating the scrub jays; the scrub jays are eating the bees; and the bees are just trying to mind their own "bee business" by collecting pollen and nectar for their colonies. Always opportunists, the jays nesting in our trees are also targeting the butterflies and caterpillars. (So, too, are such predators as spiders and praying mantids.)
Today we captured several images of a Gulf Frit in flight. If you look closely, you'll see that part of her wing is missing.
That was a close one!
In the entomological world, we call that a "two-fer."
Two insects in the same photo.
Sunday morning we spotted a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on an artichoke leaf. It was warming its flight muscles, maybe to flutter over to the lavender for a sip of nectar.
Next to it--we almost missed it--was a damselfly, apparently doing the same thing. Or maybe it was waiting for an aphid or a gnat or ant to come along. They eat small, soft-bodied insects.
The skipper: a member of the family Hesperiidae, order Lepidoptera.
The damselfly: a member of the suborder Zygoptera, order Odonata.
Two entirely different orders, but both belonging to the class Insecta.
And sharing an artichoke leaf on a Sunday morning.
The painted ladies are on move.
Scores of painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) are now migrating north from their overwintering sites near the U.S. Mexico border.
"Fascinatingly, they arrived in Prescott, Ariz., the same day (as the ones spotted in Benicia)," said butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. "I think they're all from south of the border." The annual migration north varies, but can take place as early as late January and as late as mid-April.
The painted ladies spend the winter in the desert, where in the late winter, they breed on desert annual plants, Shapiro says. The adults emerge in February or March and immediately migrate into the Central Valley and foothills, where they breed. Around May, here in the Central Valley, you'll see the caterpillar offspring munching on borage, thistles, fiddleneck and mallows. Then the adults head toward the Pacific Northwest.
"The painted lady moves northward in a generational wave as the season progresses," Shapiro says on his website. "Frequently it disappears altogether from the lowlands in summer. Beginning in August the movement reverses and butterflies head south toward the desert wintering grounds."
"There is no evidence that this species overwinters successfully anywhere in our area, except for very rare individuals maturing in midwinter from really late autumnal larvae."
The painted lady migration may not be as popular as the monarch (Danaus plexippus) migration, but it's fascinating just the same.
Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly population of California's Central Valley for 42 years, will be speaking at noon on Monday, March 24 on "Ecological Communities and the March of Time" in the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., San Francisco. For program detail and registration, please see the club website. His talk is open to the public. For a discount, access the website and use the coupon code, "friendsforshapiro," said spokesperson Chisako Ress (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Priceless--if it's a mural of a realistic monarch butterfly, teasing you with a strip of masking tape, a chunk of a child's lined notebook paper, and a stack of rich, textured heritage bricks.
Every time we see artist Myron Stephens' mural at 238 G St. downtown, Davis, Calif., it reminds us of the dwindling population of the magnificent monarchs, captured in a painting that's literally off the wall.
Off the wall in a good way. This amazing mural makes you think. You stand on the curb, seeing the KetMoRee Thai Restaurant sign, but not really seeing it. You're too engrossed in the wall mural. You move closer, closer, closer. You're a photographer zooming in on a subject, and then the monarch is all you see. It captures your attention, just like the photographer captures an image of a butterfly in flight.
It's a mural with a message. You just have to figure out what the message is, which is what the artist wants you to do. He's toying with your memories, provoking your thoughts, gifting you with his art. Then you read the title, "Hidden Treasures."
A treasure, to be sure. Hidden, not so much.
Stephens describes himself on his website as "an artist who appreciates life and the gifts that he has been given. His work reveals this appreciation as an extension of himself, an unfolding of his experiences, and an opportunity to share his enjoyment of life with the viewer."
“The method of creating each painting is just as important, if not more, than the subject," he says, this time in first person. "My work is not conceived and then simply painted, but it is more of a process. It is a dialog of past, present, and future. Conversations with my wife and friends often show up in my work, along with nostalgic American iconography, and contemporary imagery often painted from photographs I've taken along the way.”
The mural is part of the Davis Transmedia Walk, described by its city officials as the first of its kind in the country. It's comprised of more than 40 public sculptures and murals throughout the downtown arts-and-entertainment district.
And all the art is within walking distance.
But when you get to 238 G St., you don't want to walk.
You want to fly--just like the butterfly.
But such was the case Monday, Jan. 21 for butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
See, Shapiro sponsors the annual "Beer for a Butterfly" contest to see who can collect the first white cabbage butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano and Sacramento. A noted butterfly expert, he's been monitoring the butterflies of Central California for more than three decades and maintains a website, Art's Butterfly World.
Shapiro has sponsored the "Beer or a Butterfly" contest since 1972 to draw attention to the first flight of the butterfly. He awards the winner--usually himself!--a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.
This year he netted the first white cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) on President Barack Obama's Inauguration Day, Monday, Jan. 21. Perhaps coincidentally, he also caught the first white cabbage fly of 2009 on President Obama's first Inauguration Day--Jan. 20.
“The constitution mandates the swearing-in for Jan. 20, though it does not require Pieris rapae to emerge on that date,” Shapiro quipped.
“Thank you, Mr. President!”
For the record, Shapiro caught the 2013 winner near railroad tracks in West Sacramento, Yolo County, and the 2009 winner near railroad tracks in Davis, also in Yolo County. (Shapiro’s first catch of 2013 was actually on Jan. 1 at the same West Sacramento site, but “it was a slopover from the fall brood.” Thus, he declared the contest still under way.)
Now the contest is over and Shapiro says that since “Pieris rapae is out, I can ‘stand down.’ It’s now officially spring.”
He declared it spring, and so it is.
Now, the big question: Will Professor Shapiro share his beer with the President?
“I'd be delighted to buy Obama a beer," Shapiro said, "but I suspect he has better things to do with his time!”