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 (email@example.com).
University of Minnesota honey bee researcher Marla Spivak, in her TED talk on honey bee health, referred to bees as "flower feeders."
That they are. Flower feeders.
As are other pollinators from butterflies to beetles to bats.
But it's a special treat to see butterflies, honey bees and carpenter bees sharing blossoms of the same plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
Several years ago a UC Davis professor planted a fenceline of passionflower vines at her residence off east Covell Boulevard, Davis. This year she is reaping her reward: Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), honey bees and Valley carpenter bees are all over it. Why Gulf Frits? The passionflower vine is their host plant. You can see the entire life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult in her yard.
The Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are frequent foragers, too. The females frighten many people because of their size and loud buzz. They're a solid black, in sharp contrast to the males, which are golden with green eyes.
We didn't see one predator Thursday in her Davis yard.
In our yard, we have scores of predators on our passionflower vines: scrub jays, European paper wasps, jumping spiders, ladybugs, assassin bugs and an occasional praying mantis. Although the jays pick off the caterpillars from our passionflower vines, they don't seem to go for the adults.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, points to research published in a 2007 edition of the Journal of Chemical Ecology that indicates that the Gulf Fritillary adults are poisonous to birds. A team of scientists from Maryland, Virginia and Georgia wrote in the abstract of their article, “Novel Chemistry of Abdominal Defensive Glands of Nymphalid Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae): “Abdominal defensive glands of both sexes of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, emit a pronounced odor when disturbed…we suggest that the constituents in the glands may play a defensive role against potential avian predators.”
The article relates that Linnaeus (1758) first described the tropical butterfly and noted that its brilliant coloration of the reddish-orange butterfly makes it conspicuous.
An anise swallowtail fluttered in and out of the tall anise bordering the banks of the Benicia Marina.
A beautiful sight.
The female butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), as identified by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was probably laying eggs, he told us.
The butterfly is often confused with a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Their coloring does indeed look similar.
As for the anise butterflies, "they have several generations (late February or March-October) and breed very largely on sweet fennel ("anise"), Foeniculum vulgare, and (in the first half of the season) poison hemlock, Conium maculatum," Shapiro writes on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World. "Both of these are naturalized European weeds."
The larvae of the anise swallowtail use fennel as a food plant. Something else about anise: If you crush the leaves, they smell like licorice.
While we were watching the anise swallowtail, something else was watching her: an European paper wasp.
Wasps eat butterfly eggs.
It's worth a pitcher of beer or the equivalent if you win Arthur Shapiro's 40th annual Cabbage White Butterfly Competition, which begins Jan. 1, 2011.
Shapiro (right), a noted butterfly expert and a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology (EVE) at the University of California, Davis, sponsors the annual contest to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight.
Why does he do this? "I am doing long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate," he said. "Such studies are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The Cabbage White is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."
Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, enlists public involvement "because I have that much more confidence that I am tracking the actual seasonality of this common 'bug.'"
The butterfly must be turned in alive to the receptionist in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during the business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The receptionist will certify that it is alive and then notify Shapiro, who will confirm the identification.
Collectors must include the precise location and time of their find (such as corner of Buck Avenue and West Street, Vacaville, Solano County, 7:44 a.m., Jan, 2, 2011) and provide their name and contact information (e-mail and/ or telephone).
"First flight dates in the past have varied between Jan.1 and Feb. 22," Shapiro said. "The first record in 2010 was on Jan. 27. Sight records without a capture are interesting but not eligible to win since the species cannot be verified."
"If you capture a Cabbage White on a weekend or holiday when the EVE office is closed, or cannot deliver it the day you catch it, refrigerate it; do not freeze it," he said. "It will keep up to a few days that way. Again, it must be alive when turned in to be eligible. If no receptionist is on duty when you arrive, ask any member of the EVE office staff to take care of it."
Oh, if you win a pitcher of beer, it's your choice of the brand. If you don't drink or you're a minor, not to worry. You'll get the equivalent in cash.
For more information, contact Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone (530) 752-2176, or fax him at (530) 752-1449.
It's a big year for buckeyes, says noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He counts between "30 and 85 a day" in West Sacramento and North Sacramento.
The common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is not only distinctive, but quite attractive, especially when it lands on a red zinnia.
Its large eye spots on the wings (probably meant to scare off predators) draw you to its world of color and drama.
We saw this buckeye (below) in Napa, just off the Napa-St. Helena Highway. However, buckeyes are found all over the United States, except in parts of the northwest.
Maybe the northwest, too! An image of the buckeye appeared on a 24-cent U. S. postage stamp issued in 2006.
This intriguing member of the Nymphalidae family also appears on a popular poster available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology gift shop. The insect museum, at 1124 Academic Surge, UC Davis campus, also counts this butterfly as among its seven million mounted specimens.