Where are you, Gulf Fritillaries?
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) population seems to be diminishing this year around Solano and Yolo counties.
A few here, a few there, but not in the large numbers of last year.
Last summer the Gulf Frits overwhelmed our passionflower vine (Passiflora), their host plant, and skeletonized it.
Which is what we want them to do. We plant Passiflora for them, not for the fruit or the blossoms. On a good year, they eat it all--blossoms, fruit, leaves and stems--and look for more.
The history of the butterfly in California is as striking as its silver-spangled, reddish-orange coloring.
“It first appeared in California in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro, who has monitored butterflies in central California since 1972 and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, says the Gulf Frit “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
It's making a comeback, but this year it doesn't seem to be "coming back" so much.
Want to attract the Gulf Frit? Plant its host plant and some of its favorite nectar plants. In our pollinator garden in Vacaville, their favorite nectar sources include the butterfly bush (Buddleia), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lantana (genus Lantana.)
Plant them and they will come--if they're around!
It apparently originated during World War II. Remember the 1942 film, "The Flying Tigers," starring John Wayne as Capt. Jim Gordon?
John Wayne, aka Jim Gordon, asks a Rangoon hotel clerk about a missing plane: "Any word on that flight yet?"
The hotel clerk replies that Japanese aircraft attacked the plane, but "She's coming in on one wing and a prayer."
Then there's the 1944 film, "Wing and a Prayer," about "the heroic crew of an American carrier in the desperate early days of World War II in the Pacific theater" (Wikipedia).
Fast forward to today, but this time with migratory monarchs. It seems that, they, too, fly on a "a wing and a prayer."
Over the last two months, we've seen dozens of migratory monarchs-often four or five at a time--stop for flight fuel in our 600-square foot pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Many arrive in poor condition, their wings gouged, shredded and tattered. Still, they manage to sip nectar from Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia), butterfly bush (Buddleia) and Lantana, and continue their hazardous journey.
Imagine how incredibly difficult it is for these tiny, fluttering insects to weather the elements, not to mention evading birds, praying mantids and other predators.
Not all will make it. But look for some to arrive in the overwintering spots along coastal California "on a wing and a prayer."
It's the first day of summer and the beginning of National Pollinator Week.
What could be better?
This: Spotting a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) sail through the pollinator garden and touch down on a butterfly bush (Buddleia). When the striking yellow and black butterfly lands softly and begins to forage on the lavender butterfly bush, it's like a Picasso come to life.
"National Pollinator Week is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them," say officials at the National Pollinator Partnership, which originated the idea of National Pollinator Week and now manages the observance. "During National Pollinator Week, we highlight and share the importance of pollinators including bees, birds, butterflies and bats."
Background: The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the designated week nine years ago. Now it's not only a national celebration but an international one. And well it should be, as we all remember to "protect our pollinators."
Check out the many logged-in activities on the Pollinator Partnership website. Among them: an open house on Friday, June 24 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis. Part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, the half-acre garden was installed in the fall of 2009 and is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
The haven open house is free and open to the public. Activities include:
- Learn to observe and identify bees
- Catch and observe bees up close
- See honey bees at work
- Learn about low-water plans that help bees
- Buy native bee houses to support the haven
- Enjoy honey tasting and sales
The haven is open to the public from dawn to dusk. The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum that circles much of the campus is open to the public 24 hours a day. There is no admission.
And that Western tiger swallowtail? You might see it now in the arboretum and haven. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, writes about it on his website: "The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse."
Among its favorite nectar plants: the aptly named butterfly bush.
If you go looking for a bumble bee, you might find a butterfly.
And vice versa.
The UC Davis Arboretum last Saturday (Feb. 6), was just starting to "get its spring on." We spotted a few honey bees and syrphid flies foraging on daphne (Daphne odora) in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, but nearby, in the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo, a single butterfly fluttered down on a silver anniversary butterfly bush (Buddleia “Morning Mist").
Could it be? It was. A mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, said "Congratulations--good show. The first spotting (of the year) in the Valley." Shapiro has monitored the butterfly populations of the Central Valley for more than four decades, and posts his research on his website.
After perching on the butterfly bush, the mourning cloak soared high and then touched down on the sign that read "Silver Anniversary Butterfly Bush. Buddleia “Morning Mist.” What are the odds?
On his website, Shapiro describes the mourning cloak as a "very distinctive and charismatic butterfly, best known for its conspicuous activity in late winter, flying and acting territorial before any trees have leafed out or any wildflowers are active...in recent years populations of this butterfly have collapsed regionally; it disappeared from West Sacramento for several years and has been very scarce and erratic at other low-altitude sites; there was some improvement in 2005 and numbers of hibernators at low altitude were up in 2006, but very bad weather may have prevented much if any recovery."
Shapiro has seen two this year at higher elevations but not in the valley--yet. "In the Sacramento Valley there appears to be only one brood (in spring); the resulting adults migrate upslope and breed in the mountains," he says on his website. "There is a reverse downslope migration by the next generation, in late September-October. It is not obvious why this seasonal altitudinal migration occurs, but both the California and Milbert's Tortoiseshells, its closest relatives, do it, too."
The mourning cloak, native to Europe and North America and widespread throughout the world, is the state insect of Montana. It's distinguished by its purple-black color, iridescent blue spots, and a yellow border on its upperside. The adults feed on oak tree sap, rotting fruit, and "occasionally on flower nectar," according to Butterflies and Moths of North America. Caterpillar hosts are willows including black willow (Salix nigra), weeping willow (S. babylonica), and silky willow (S. sericea); also American elm (Ulmus americana), cottonwood (Populus deltoides), aspen (P. tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Older caterpillars wander about and may be found on plants that they do not eat."
The UC Davis Arboretum will be the site of scores of visitors on Saturday, Feb. 13 during the fifth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day. The campuswide event, free and open to the public, will take place at 11 different sites:
- Anthropology Collections, Young Hall, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Arboretum, Headquarters along LaRue Road, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Academic Surge Building, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Botanical Conservatory, greenhouses along Klieber Hall Drive, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- California Raptor Center, Old Davis Road, open 9 a.m. to noon
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Lab Building, open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road, open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Academic Surge Building, open noon to 4 p.m.
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Lab Building, open 1 to 4 p.m.
- Paleontology Collections, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And maybe--just maybe--visitors to the UC Davis Arboretum will see a mourning cloak.
Or maybe the first bumble bee of the year...a queen black-tailed bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus?
If you go looking for a butterfly, you might find a bumble bee.