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!
Gulf Fritillaries in November?
Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are still active here in Solano County, on those warm, sunny afternoons that defy the season.
They're still hanging around their host plant, Passiflora (passionflower vine), "looking for love" (thank you, Johnny Lee). And in all the RIGHT places.
The orange-reddish butterfly, with its silver-spangled underwings, was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution an ecology. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he says. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
In our pollinator garden, the Gulf Frits usually skeletonize the plant. They eat the leaves, flowers, the fruit, and then start in on the bark.
Not so this year. What's different? More predators, including California scrub jays, wasps and a resident praying mantis.
The resident mantis perished a month after depositing her egg case. The wasps vanished. And the California scrub jays, eyed by circling hawks, are nowhere to be seen.
Just the Gulf Fritillaries--their eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults--remain.
Gulf Fritillaries in November? Yes.
Some people are born good-looking. Some have the gift of gab. And some are lucky enough to be born smarter than the rest of us. Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature does not dole these characteristics out evenly.--Simon Sinek
That applies to butterflies, too. Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
If you're rearing butterflies, such as Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), expect to see some defects, deformities and death. That chrysalis you've been watching? A butterfly may never eclose. In the cycle of life, the transformation from egg to larva to pupa to adult may never occur.
Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
The chrysalis is a withered grayish-brown, perfectly camouflaged on the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). Sometimes you see a burst of reddish-orange wings and sliver spangled underwings, the remains of a butterfly that struggled to eclose.
Then you wait for one that will, one that will eclose.
The next one will take your breath away. Mother Nature is like that.
A female and male Gulf Frit find one another.
Near them, Gulf Frit caterpillars hungrily munch the leaves. Soon they will form a chrysalis. From egg to larvae to chrysalis to adult.
If you'd like to learn to rear butterflies, silkworm moths, praying mantids or tarantulas, attend the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on “Arthropod Husbandry: Raising Insects for Research and Fun” from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It's free and family friendly.
UC Davis student Andrew Goffinet, a former UC Davis Bio Boot Camper, will be on hand to talk about rearing butterflies and moths. UC Davis entomology alumnus Lohit Garikipati will discuss praying mantids. Another entomology alumnus Nicole Tam, will talk about rearing insects in the Geoffrey Attardo lab as part of research projects. Doctoral student and Bohart associate Zaid Khouri's topic is how to rear tarantulas and millipedes for fun.
"We also will be discussing Madagascar hissing cockroaches (hissers) as good options for 'starter pets' for kids, and some of the problems with stick insects (walking sticks)," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. Visitors are invited to hold the hissers and stick insects and photograph them.
At 3 p.m., silkworm moth expert İsmail Şeker, a Turkish medical doctor who wrote a book about silkworm moths and the cottage silk industry in his home town, will show his newly produced video about the silkworm moth life cycle. Seker, also a talented videographer and a photographer, will answer questions following his 13-minute video presentation.
"This will be a fun open house for anyone considering a pet with an exoskeleton," Yang said."It will be good for educators to learn about classroom 'pets,' including those who do work with silk moths for life cycle lesson plans."
"Also, to kick off the holiday season we will have the unique wire jewelry by former entomology major Ann Kao, so people should be prepared to shop for some unique insect-inspired jewelry." A family craft activity is also planned.
This is the last open house of the year. The next open house will be on Jan. 18 when UC Davis graduate students from many different fields "will be talking/displaying about their cutting edge research with insects," Yang said.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects and tarantulas. The museum's gift shop, open year around, is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Director of the museum is Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. The staff includes Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) section.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's Veterans' Day, and after paying tribute to the military veterans (my ancestors have fought in all of our nation's wars, dating back to the American Revolution--and my other half is a U.S. Air Force veteran), I slip out the back door to our pollinator garden to see where the insect action is.
Honey bees and a sole carpenter bee are buzzing on the African blue basil; Gulf Fritillaries are nectaring on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia); and a cabbage white butterfly is sipping nectar from the Lantana.
But the passionflower vine (Passiflora) steals the show. A Gulf Fritillary has just eclosed from a chrysalis that resembles a thick wad of gum chewed up and spit out and left to mummify; several male Gulf Frits are fluttering around in search of females; and the offspring of previous reunions are crawling on the stems and munching what's left of the leaves.
Overhead, the California scrub jays glance down, as if trying to decide on their luncheon menu: a fat juicy caterpillar or the bird seed scattered in the feeder.
Their choice is clear. They forsake the fat juicy caterpillars for the bird seed. Tomorrow morning, however, there will be several caterpillars missing in action.