One point about insect wedding photography is that you don't need an invitation to attend. You just have to keep your distance and not disturb the bridal couple. No sudden movements. No stressful impatience. And no camera flash, please.
It helps, though, if you grow the host plant so a bride and a groom will show up. In this case, we grew passionflower vine (Passiflora), the host plant of the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae).
One morning we saw a butterfly eclose from her chrysalis. Wedding Day! Within minutes, a male suitor arrived.
They became a couple.
Then unexpected guests arrived...a hungry caterpillar munching on the leaves and a second prospective suitor (PS) (rejected) and a third PS (rejected) and a fourth PS (rejected).
PS, leave them alone!
When the "ceremony" ended, the couple simply left. One sipped nectar from the nearby Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola. The other flew over the fence.
Soon we'll have more eggs, more caterpillars, more chrysalids, and more adults.
Life is like that when you're growing Passiflora and hoping for a Wedding Day.
You know the drill, lay 'em on the tendrils.
But Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, don't always lay their eggs on the tendrils of their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) although textbooks may indicate that.
We've seen Gulf Frits lay eggs on and under the Passiflora leaves, on the stems, on the blossoms, and on nearby fence posts and screen doors.
Hey, Gulf Frits, are you trying to tell us something? Don't you like the accommodations?
But the other day, we saw a Gulf Frit executing acrobatic moves to deposit an egg on a tendril. A little breakdancing, Lindy hopping, pole-climbing, scooting, rolling, hooping and juggling--and she's done.
The egg is tiny, bright yellow and pinpoint in size. It will probably hatch, but the larva or caterpillar may not make it.
Currently we have several California scrub jays enjoying an all-you-can-eat caterpillar buffet every morning. They sit on the fence, swoop down, grab a 'cat, and look for more.
There's always food in a pollinator garden. A Cooper's hawk that hangs out in the birdbath knows that, too.
It's Day 2 of National Pollinator Week.
So, I guess I should "toot my own horn" (we don't have one, but in our household we do have a piano, a double bass, a guitar, a banjo, a ukulele, a dulcimer, a harmonica, a sousaphone, a set of hand drums, and two accordions. Note that the last one to play the piano well was the...um...cat).
Yours truly of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, just won a silver award or second-place honors, in a photography competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE). ACE announced the awards today (June 22) at its virtual conference.
To draw attention to the plight of monarchs, I captured (with a Canon MPE-65mm lens) an image of a monarch egg in our family's pollinator garden where we create habitat for assorted bees and butterflies and other pollinators.
“The purpose of my image is to draw attention to the dwindling monarch butterfly population,” I wrote on the form. “They are on life support.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's reports that overwintering monarchs have declined 99 percent in coastal California since the 1990s.
I posted the image at https://bit.ly/3cUx358 Aug. 10, 2020 on my daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website.
Wrote the judge: “Capturing a subject this small is really quite impressive. I appreciate the photographer sharing their equipment and process to capture this image of such a delicate and beautiful little butterfly egg. Very well done.”
The image scored 25 out of 25 points in creativity/originality, audience interest/impact, and overall evaluation.
The egg, I commented, is “an incredible work of nature! The intricate egg is about the size of a pinhead, 0.9mm wide and 1.2mm high. It's creamy yellow with narrow longitudinal ridge. Unless it encounters a predator or parasitoid or another life-threatening factor, the egg will usually hatch 3 to 4 days after Mama Monarch deposits it beneath a milkweed leaf.”
“A good place to see butterfly specimens from all over the world is at the Bohart Museum of Entomology (now temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic)," I added. “Of the nearly eight million specimens in the Bohart, some 500,000 are in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.“ I also drew attention to the butterfly-rearing process of Bohart associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas.
In addition to the silver award, yours truly won a bronze award or third-place honors for my image of a photo series of male and female Gulf Fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae, “keeping busy.” The Bug Squad post, “Fifty Shades of Orange, with a Touch of Silver,” appeared July 13, 2020 at https://bit.ly/2Q6cU3q.
Wrote the judge: “This submission was a delight! I adored the written piece that accompanied the photos, describing the insect wedding during COVID times. To take notice of these delicate creatures, which many people just pass by without noticing, and to document them in photos is unique…. When photographing subjects of this size, the tack-sharp focus which captures the details that our eyes cannot normally see is what makes them so captivating. It's also incredibly difficult to capture--the photographer did a lovely job.”
“So there they were," I wrote. "The two of them. The blushing bride and the quite dapper-and-dashing groom. They didn't invite me to their wedding. I was an uninvited guest, the only guest. So, I felt obliged to crash their wedding and capture some images…Who can resist insect wedding photography? That's about the only wedding photography happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
I also drew readers to the research website of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and his information on A. vanillae, (see https://bit.ly/3uw9Yf1) and to specific work of insects “keeping busy” (see https://bit.ly/3rVU1xg) by UC Davis alumnus and renowned macro photographer Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin.
ACE, founded in 1913 primarily for ag communicators, is now an international association of professionals who practice in all areas of communication.
(Editor's Note: Last year, three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in the ACE global competition for their work accomplished in 2019 (pre-COVID pandemic). Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.)
If so, then when the 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, themed "Discovering Silver Linings," takes place virtually on Saturday, April 17, better wear your sunglasses with all that silver blasting at you.
A silver lining is a sign of hope in a negative situation, like the COVID-19 pandemic. So positivity blocks such negativity as "every rose has its thorn" or "there's a fly in every ointment" or "all that glitters is not gold."
All that glitters is silver now.
On April 17, you can discover scores of silver linings at this "all virtual" family-oriented event, which promises to be informative, educational and entertaining.
Picnic Day officials have released the schedule of events and they include entomological exhibits and talks. Think UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Bohart Museum of Entomology and the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. (See yesterday's Bug Squad blog)
Don't miss the pre-recorded talk on the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, by Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum associate and naturalist. These orange-reddish butterflies, with their silver-spangled underwings, are glorious. (See what UC Davis butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says about them on his website.) Kareofelas will showcase them and show you how to rear them, which is what he did last year during the pandemic.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, the volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart, will present a live Zoom event from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday on mimicry in Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). "I will briefly mention camouflage," Smith says, "and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense--mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces."
To connect, access https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/92841203978?pwd=ay91SUpFZnl5MEdnVmlzOUxmMFFZQT09
Zoom Meeting ID: 928 4120 3978
Zoom Passcode: 160485
"People who want to submit their questions to Jeff or request to see certain species from the collection can email their requests to email@example.com with Picnic Day in the subject," says Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. "We won't have the time or capacity to access the collection during the event for any requests. Instead, we will pull the items that are requested or relevant to the talk and have those prepared to show. Of course we may not be able to honor everyone's request, but we will do our best."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (the museum is closed now due to the pandemic), is directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. It houses nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
In the year 2020, COVID chased us out of our work places and out of our fun places.
So we dutifully covered our faces to cover all the bases, washed our hands to meet all the demands, and kept our distance to continue our existence.
But wait...we did NOT socially distance from the insects.
The bees buzzed, the butterflies fluttered, and the praying mantids did what they do best--ambush their prey (much to some folks' dismay).
But let us not stray....
They say that Santa Claus this year looks like...um...The Grinch.
Does Santa look like The Grinch? Maybe, in a pinch. But on Christmas Eve we always scan the horizon for that familiar sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer--and led by No. 9, a beaming reindeer with a red nose. (But they've never been willing to pose.)
COVID may have chased us out of our work places and out of our fun places, but don't let The Grinch steal Christmas. It's not his to steal. Let us heal.
Merry Christmas! And stay safe!