Seen any monarchs lately?
No, not the British royal family: the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has monitored butterfly populations of dozens of species in the Central Valley since 1972, says it's a poor year for monarchs.
He saw one monarch on Sept. 26 in Davis, and one on Sept. 27 in West Sacramento, both Yolo County. "The coastward migration is apparently afoot...all 6 dozen of them..." he lamented.
Maybe the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife will declare it an endangered species?
From its website: "On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that listing the monarch as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions. The decision is the result of an extensive status review of the monarch that compiled and assessed the monarch's current and future status. The monarch is now a candidate under the Endangered Species Act; we will review its status annually until a listing decision is made."
The first five paragraphs of their news release, issued Dec. 15, 2020: "After a thorough assessment of the monarch butterfly's status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has found that adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions. With this decision, the monarch becomes a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate."
“We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act. However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith. “While this work goes on, we are committed to our ongoing efforts with partners to conserve the monarch and its habitat at the local, regional and national levels. Our conservation goal is to improve monarch populations, and we encourage everyone to join the effort.”
“The Monarch Joint Venture is committed to continuing its conservation efforts for monarchs. Each of our partners, and many other stakeholders, come to the monarch conservation table with different approaches, audiences, strengths and opportunities to make a difference. There is a role for everyone in monarch conservation,” stated Wendy Caldwell, Executive Director, Monarch Joint Venture.
"Over the past 20 years, scientists have noted declines in North American monarchs overwintering in Mexico and California, where these butterflies cluster. Numbers in the larger eastern population are measured by the size of the area they occupy. At a density of roughly 8.5 million monarchs per acre, it is estimated that the eastern population fell from about 384 million in 1996 to a low of 14 million in 2013. The population in 2019 was about 60 million. The western population, located in California, saw a more precipitous decline, from about 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 in 2019."
"In 2014, the Service received a petition to list the species and published a substantial 90-day finding in December 2014. In 2016, the agency began an in-depth status assessment, looking at the global population as well as focusing on monarchs in North America, where 90% of the world's population occurs."
Meanwhile, the tally of sightings in the Yolo-Solano area is troubling. Beyond troubling....
Dear Ms. Mantis,
We see you. You're trying to camouflage yourself, but we see you.
You're hanging out on a showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, trying to catch a butterfly or a bee.
So, will you try to nab a monarch? A Mama Monarch that's trying to lay her eggs on her host plant?
You know, the declining monarch population is on “life support,” as butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says.
Ms. Mantis, we remember when one of your kin ambushed a monarch on our butterfly bush in September of 2015. Your kin ate the head, thorax and abdomen and discarded the wings. The wings fluttered to the ground. Yes, we know you have to eat, too. Everything in the garden eats.
But now that we have your attention, Ms. Mantis, would you kindly consider the following menu--à la carte, if you wish?
- Appetizing aphids
- Scrumptious stink bugs
- Magnificent milkweed bugs
- Crunchy cabbage white butterflies
- Luscious leaffooted bugs
Thank you, Ms. Mantis, for your kind attention to this culinary matter. If we may be of any future help in menu planning (it's important to consider the principles of adequacy, balance, calorie or energy control, nutrient density, moderation and variety), please let us know.
You can be an understudy or you can be an underwing.
Have you ever seen an underwing, a moth in the family Erebidae?
Today one dropped out of a tree, landing on my feet in a Vacaville park. It just missed being a part of our National Moth Week celebration.
"Yes, too worn for certain ID," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "But certainly a Catocala--several species are common in creek-bottom habitats."
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, and entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart, noticed the tattered wings right away.
"I'd say it has a lot of mileage," Kimsey quipped.
It wasn't flying or fluttering, but dropping and hopping.
And sometimes you find it underfoot.
Interested in moths? Check out the Bohart Museum's home page to access videos about moths and butterflies by Smith and fellow Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas. Next year, if all goes well on the pandemic front, the Bohart may host a National Moth Night again./span>/span>
A reader asked: "A friend was just telling me that butterflies and moths land differently. She couldn't remember if it was a moth that landed with its wings up or down. It looks like they land with their wings down. Am I right?"
We asked three experts affiliated with the University of California, Davis, for their responses.
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, commented: "There are moths that hold the wings erect over the back like butterflies, and butterflies that hold them out at the sides like moths. Life can be confusing."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, said: "It depends on the kind of moth or butterfly. Some species/genera of moths will rest with wings folded vertically over them and some rest with wings folded flat over the abdomen. Same with butterflies, and some of this may depend on which surface they want to expose to dangers around them. For example, anglewing butterflies (Polygonia) have great bark-like colors on the ventral surface and they rest with wings over the body so they blend in with the bark of trees that they choose to land on. Buckeye butterflies most often expose the upper surfaces which have the large eyespots that may deter predators. So, not a good rule of thumb."
Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas commented: "Some moths land flat against the substrate, but others can land with their wings closed over their back, depends on the situation sometimes. Some butterflies land with their wings closed, then open them, etc., etc. I think every possibility is possible."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. However, it is usually open to the public four days a week and it traditionally hosts open houses throughout the year, including a Moth Night that features moth displays and blacklighting. John "Moth Man" De Benedictus, senior museum scientist Steve Heydon and colleagues set up a blacklighting system, comprised of a UC-lit white sheet, in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Home of nearly eight million insects, the Bohart Museum also includes a year-around gift shop (now online) and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas. UC Davis distinguished entomology professor Lynn Kimsey serves as the director.
(Editor's Note: Check out the moth and other videos on the Bohart Museum website)
Gotta love that Gray Hairstreak.
If you don't like putting "gray" and "hair" in the same sentence, not to worry.
This is the butterfly, Strymon melinus.
When the it's hanging around a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, the orange spots on its tail accent the color of the flower.
"Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated," writes Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology on his website. "They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
"This is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known, recorded on host plants in many families. Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
The Gray Hairstreak is considered a weedy butterfly. "Weedy," as Shapiro explains on his web site, "is a general term for organisms that are typically associated with habitats that are disturbed by human activities or are dominated by non-native, invasive plants."
At first glance, you don't know "which end is up"--which makes it all the better for the butterfly to escape predators.
This one allowed me to get quite close. It was more interested in the nectar than the slow movement of the long lens.