UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, gets queries about two-headed butterflies.
A two-headed butterfly? A wonderful and surprising find of a new species? And suitable for publication in ZooKeys, that "peer-reviewed, open-access, rapidly disseminated journal launched to accelerate research and free information exchange in taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography and evolution of animals?"
And a discovery guaranteed to bring fame and fortune, or at least worldwide headlines?
No, not a two-headed butterfly. Just a male and a female butterfly keeping busy.
This week we spotted a two-headed butterfly on a blanketflower, Gaillardia, in a Vacaville pollinator garden. The butterflies? Gulf Fritillaries. They're also known as "the passion butterflies," as their host plant is the passionflower vine, Passiflora.
Ah, the warmth of the sun, the autumn colors, a slight breeze, and two butterflies forming a two-headed butterfly.
Life doesn't get any better than that if you're a couple of butterflies seeking to create progeny--or a photographer engaging in "insect wedding photography."
The bride and groom didn't notice the camera. They were too busy keeping busy.
This is the story of how two native bees from Vacaville, Calif., traveled 1872 miles to Oklahoma City.
But a photo I took in Vacaville of two Melissodes agilis bees zipping over a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, happened to win a top prize at the 63rd North Central Insect Photographic Salon, co-sponsored by the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) and the Photographic Society of America.
Judges scored it "Best Image by an ESA Member." All 7000 ESA members are invited to contribute, as are non-members. I wasn't planning to enter--this was my first time--but Insect Salon coordinator/ESA member Tom Myers posted a note on Facebook seeking images to be showcased at the 2023 Joint North Central and Southwestern Branch meeting in Oklahoma City. The theme: "Branch Cross-Pollination: Seeking Hybrid Vigor in Science through Communication, Collaboration, and Societal Impact."
The North Central Branch covers Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, plus parts of Canada (Manitoba, Nunavut, Ontario) while the Southwestern Branch encompasses New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and all of Mexico, except Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa and Sonora.
To be accepted for display, a photo must score 85 points or more. The image of the male and female bees, which I titled "Catch Me If You Can," scored 94 points, and two other Garvey images, one of a golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria), "Checking You Out," and the other titled "I Do," of two Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), tallied 92 and 89 points, respectively. "Checking You Out" earlier won "Best Image by an ESA Member" in the 64th annual International Insect Salon competition.
The M. agilis species are fun to photograph, but set your shutter speed high. These bees are the Usain Bolts of the bee world. Catch me if you can!
I captured the image of "Catch Me If You Can" with a Nikon D500, mounted with a 200mm lens. Settings: shutter speed set at 1/8000 of second, f-stop 5, and ISO 800.
For "Checking You Out:" Nikon D500 with a 105mm lens, 1/320 of second, f-stop 9, and ISO 800.
For "I Do": Nikon D500 with a 70-180 lens (110 focal length), 1/640 of a second, f-stop at 10, and ISO of 800.
All were taken in our family's pollinator garden. (No tripod, no flash.) The added benefit of planting a pollinator garden includes capturing images of the residents and visitors.
Me? I'm just a guest in their habitat. I don't poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em. I just photograph them. When. They. Let. Me.
That is, you saw a photograph of a Danaus plexippus ovipositing.
The image, by Joe Virbickis of Washington, Ill., won a medal at International Insect Salon, a highly competitive annual event coordinated by the Peoria Camera Club, Illinois and showcased by ESA. Each year photographers worldwide are invited to submit images of insects, spiders, and related arthropods (such as barnacles, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, centipedes and millipedes).
The 2021 Insect Salon drew a total of 256 images from photographers residing in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, England, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Scotland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, as well as within the United States.
An image must receive a minimum of 13 points of the maximum 15 points to be accepted into the show, said Virbickis, chair of the Peoria Camera Club's Insect Salon committee. This year the judges accepted a little over 100 entries. The names of the winning photographers and their images are currently posted online.
ESA member Tom Myers, a Board-Certified Entomologist and noted photographer, chaired and emceed the Insect Salon showing at the Denver meeting.
The "Best of Show" medal went to Marcus Kam of Ipoh, state of Perak, Malaysia for "Bugs Love." Kam, an 11-year insect photographer, also won the medal for the "Best Image by a Non-ESA Member" for his "Sharing."
- "Medal, Most Unusual," won by Albertus Nugroho of Jakarta, Indonesia, for "Super Ant In Action."
- "Medal, Best Story Telling," Dre Van Mensel of Tielen, Antwerpen, Belgium for "Fall Over."
- "Medal, Best by ESA Member," Tom Myers of Lexington, Ky for "Syrphid Fly Feeding."
- "Medal, Best by Peoria Camera Club Member," Joe Virbickis of Washington, Ill., for "Monarch Laying Eggs."
The monarch image? Here's the story behind the image.
"The story...I was searching our milkweeds for monarch caterpillars. I did not find any, but to my surprise, I encountered this monarch laying eggs. Fortunately, my movements to raise my camera did not startle her. I was able to focus and shoot a burst of six images before she fluttered off. Unfortunately, I could not find the eggs to gather them. I do not rear monarchs regularly. A couple years ago, I managed to find, harvest and raise four monarchs for release. It was quite exciting."
Virbickis created the image with his Canon 80D, and a 100-400mm Tamron lens, zooming in at about 200mm. "I have learned that monarchs can be skittish as they are sensitive to movement, sounds and shadows and I did not want to make any more movement than necessary."
A past president of the Peoria Camera Club and a repeat Insect Salon winner, Virbickis also won the same medal in 2012 and 2014 and has scored several acceptances over the years. "I have been interested in photography since age 12 and much of my collection is connected to travel (45 states and 7 countries)," Virbickis related. "I enjoy taking all sorts of images but wildlife, landscapes, nature, grandkids, travel and photojournalism are my favorites."
Virbickis worked as a school psychologist and director of special education from 1980 to 2015, and since then, has continued to work post-retirement as a part-time school psychologist. He has entered photographic competitions "within our local club, within our regional camera club association, in regional art fairs and some national/international contests (like the National Insect Salon). Over the years I've had a good deal of success in competitions and have sold several prints. I like to print my images, as I believe printing is the logical conclusion of the photographic process. It is very satisfying to hold the physical representation of my works and share that with others. Nothing beats watching someone get immersed in viewing one of my images and appreciate what I have captured. I have a very precious collection of prints of grandkids and the wildlife I have encountered over the years. I try to capture stories in my images and share those stories with others."
Known world-wide for his skills as a photographer and entomologist, Myers has traveled to all seven continents, sometimes under the most extreme circumstances, "to document our world and the people and wildlife in it." His images have appeared in USA Today, The Rachael Ray Show, National Geographic publications and Nature's Best, among others. They are also widespread on the Internet, as well as on calendars and in newspapers, textbooks, TV news broadcasts and scientific guides.
Myers, who has worked in the urban entomology field for several years, owns a pest management company in Lexington, KY. The National Pest Management Association and ESA extensively use his insect images. One recent image appeared on the Spring 2021 cover of American Entomologist. His images have won local, national, and international awards. His credits also include two invitational exhibits in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Among the two California entries accepted was one by yours truly, Kathy Keatley Garvey. It depicts two passion butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), "keeping busy." Garvey, a communication specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a member of ESA, quips that it is "insect wedding photography." An image of two bees, titled "Bee 4066" by Nan Carder of Lancaster, Ca., a retired registered nurse and active in the Photographic Society of America, was the other California entry accepted.
ESA, founded in 1889 and headquartered in Annapolis, Md., is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and others in related disciplines. Its 7000-members are in educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government.
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.