On Friday, Aug. 26, he met with success. He spotted four within half an hour.
It all began with his stroll through the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, "where construction at Wyatt Deck was finally completed and the paths have been reopened," he related in a group email.
"It was my first time there in about 3 weeks. As usual, I scoped out the big Asclepias speciosa clone and found...nothing." He then crossed over Arboretum Drive to the Environmental Horticultural gardens where he knew of another small clone of A. speciosa. "By now it was 4:30 p.m. and the area was in dappled light and shade--and there were two brilliantly fresh-looking male monarchs chasing each other in the trees above the milkweed!"
"I looked over the plants for evidence of larval feeding and found absolutely none; I can't believe they were 'born' there despite being so brilliantly fresh-looking. I then walked west on Arboretum Drive, intending to turn north toward Mrak Hall, when an old, worn male monarch flew directly in front of me near eye level. It was now 4:50.
"As I went to turn toward Mrak (Hall) a fresh-looking one--sex undetermined--was cruising up in the trees near the bridge. I believe I saw four different individuals within half an hour. That's almost as many as I've seen in Davis all year."
Then, on Aug. 29, Shapiro ventured to north Davis where Professor Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and collaborators had planted several dozen narrow-leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, several years ago for their research projects. "Nearly all the plants are in seed; I only found three still in bloom," Shapiro said. "And one had a beautiful, fresh-looking male monarch nectaring at it at 11.55 a.m. I didn't try inspecting all those plants but on casual inspection, I noted no evidence of larval feeding, nor pupae nor pupal exuviae."
That's good news on The Monarch Front.
Shapiro's colleague and former doctoral student Matt Forister, the McMinn Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), alerted him to more good monarch news: "They're passing through Reno with increasing frequency. I am personally seeing ~1 per day now. All stopping for nectar, and heading your way, Art. Looks like the production in the desert has been good." (See latest research by Forister and colleagues on "Milkweed Plants Bought at Nurseries May Expose Monarch Caterpillars to Harmful Pesticide Residues," published in the science journal Biological Conservation.)
As you may know, Shapiro has been studying the butterfly populations at 10 sites in Central California for 50 years and maintains a research website, Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site, aka Art's Butterfly World.
The North American Butterfly Monitoring Network (NABA) website praises his work as "the longest continually running butterfly monitoring project in the world":
"Art Shapiro began monitoring 10 transects in 1972 and has been conducting bi-weekly monitoring of those sites ever since. He also monitors an additional site as part of NABA's Seasonal Count Program! Art's program is the longest continually running butterfly monitoring project in the world, predating even the British Butterfly Monitoring Scheme."
Elsewhere in Davis, Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas has seen monarchs in his Davis backyard three times this year: May 6, May 11, and in early June. "A couple of days ago, in the Inner Coast Range, Glenn county I saw nine or ten adults and that many larvae."
Our showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is putting on a show.
The towering plant--a good eight feet--anchors the garden as we patiently wait for monarch butterflies to arrive and lay their eggs.
It's mid-August and it appears the monarchs are not coming here to our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Maybe we'll see some during their late summer or early fall migration--on their way to their overwintering sites along coastal California.
Meanwhile, the speciosa has more than its share of lady beetles (aka ladybugs) and aphids.
But now we have a new visitor, well, maybe a permanent resident.
A praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata (as confirmed by mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, a UC Davis graduate and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate now attending graduate school in Towson University, Maryland) has arrived.
For the first several days, Ms. Mantis hung upside down and did not eat (at least in our presence). She watched the bees buzzing around but made no effort to snag one. We think she was yawning. "Okay, I know you're there. I don't care and I'm not hungry."
Then we found her exoskeleton on one of the speciosa leaves.
A mantid's "skeleton," you know, is outside its body and it's known as an "exoskeleton." It reminds us of a suit of armor, for protection, support and form (is it a "suite of amour" when love abounds?).
A young mantis eats and outgrows its exoskeleton and then it molts (sheds it). Scientists say some species of growing mantids may lose their exoskeletons as many as 10 times.
And, according to Garikipati, a mantis that has just molted may not eat for two or three days.
Did you hear that, bees?
So, bottom line, no monarchs on the milkweed.
But we do have assorted lady beetles, aphids, and one praying mantis and her exoskeleton.
Wait, correct that. Just one mantis. A breeze just swept away the exoskeleton.
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.
So here are all these milkweed bugs clustered on a showy milkweed leaf, Asclepias speciosa. It's early morning and the red bugs are a real eye opener.
They're seed eaters, but as Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology says: "They are opportunistic and generalists." They not only eat seeds, but monarch eggs and larvae, as well as the oleander aphids that infest the milkweed.
But wait, one of these is not like the other.
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, photobombs the scene. It sleeps with them and eats (aphids) with them. They are sharing the same food source: oleander aphids.
You can't get any more Halloween than a bold (daring) jumping spider with orange spots!
This common North American spider was hanging out yesterday on our showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, trying to look like a spectator instead of a predator.
The orange spots indicate it's a juvenile Phidippus audax. As it matures, those spots will turn white. It can jump 10 to 15 times its body length, deploying its silk "lifeline" when it's jumping for prey or evading predators, according to Wikipedia. It hunts only in the daytime.
Yesterday, resplendent in its iridescent chelicerae (mouthparts or "fangs"), the eight-eyed, eight-legged dark hairy spider crawled around the broad leaves of the milkweed, sharing its home with assorted lady beetles, aphids, wasps and an occasional butterfly (Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries and skippers).
It soaked up some sun and then apparently decided that the telephoto camera lens represented a clear and present danger, too bold and too daring.