You're heard these idioms:
- The early bird gets the worm
- First come, first served.
- The second mouse gets the cheese.
But have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) eclose and then see her...well...engaged?
Such was the case on Labor Day, Sept. 3 in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
The female (we'll call her "Bride-to-Be") finishes eclosing and is hanging from her empty chrysalis, just drying her wings on the passionflower vine (aptly named) and getting acquainted with her new life stage and leafy surroundings.
Then, whoosh. A suitor (we'll call him "Groom-to-Be") appears out of nowhere. Well, from somewhere, but somewhere quite threatening. He looks tired and worn out, too fragile to fly. (As a colleague said: "He's accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles.") His ragged wings indicate a recent encounter with one or more predators, maybe a bird or a praying mantis. But he lucked out in the Predator-Prey tally: the final score, Butterfly, 1: Predator 0.
He lucks out again. He's the first to arrive at the altar. Our camera catches the action.
"In some Heliconius, the males locate female pupae and may even copulate with the female before she ecloses!" commented butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "They are related."
Labor Day, 2018.
There's an old joke circulating among entomologists about excited novices contacting them about finding a "two-headed butterfly."
Sounds like National Enquirer stuff, right?
Wrong. Just two butterflies mating.
If you see lots of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) frequenting their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora), you might spot a two-headed butterfly--if the angle is right.
This butterfly is a comeback butterlfy. It first appeared in California in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s, according to noted butterfly researcher Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He's been monitoring the butterflies of central California for four decades and maintains this website.
From San Diego, “it spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908," says Shapiro. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
We remember hearing about the butterfly in the Sacramento/Davis area in the 1960s. Shapiro says it “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.” Read what he wrote about them.
In our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, it's been a good year for Gulf Frits, with multiple sightings of two-headed butterflies. The following images, however, are of all same pair.
You can find out at the second annual Butterfly Summit, a free event hosted by Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 at Annie's nursery, located at 740 Market St.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, will speak at 11 a.m., covering the status of butterflies in the area. The author of Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (UC Press, 2007), he has collected data over 46 years, tallying 150 species, and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/.
The distinguished professor will cover such questions as:
- Are insect faunas in free fall (as reported in Germany)?
- What have we learned from 46 years of butterfly monitoring?
- What are the relative impacts on butterflies of climate change, land use change, introduced species and pesticides?
- Are there differences in how butterfly faunas are behaving near sea level vs. in the mountains?
- Are the scary headlines about the monarch butterflies being "endangered" true? If so, why? If not, why the fuss?
Shapiro began monitoring north-central California butterflies in 1972. His is the largest and oldest such dataset in North America.
The family friendly event will include displays of the life cycle of butterflies and information on creating and preserving habitats. Tables will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to offer information to visitors. The presenters are:
- Tim Wong, aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences and known as "the pipevine swallowtail whisperer."
- Tora Rocha and fellow members of the Pollinator Posse at the Gardens at Lake Merritt, a volunteer group that supports pollinators and rears monarch caterpillars
- Andrea Hurd of Mariposa Garden Design, specializing in permaculture methods and songbird, butterfly and pollinator habitat gardens, using California native and pollinator friendly plants. Hurd will share methods for designing meadows for butterflies.
- Kelli Schley-Brownfield of Wild Flower Garden Design, Devil Mountain Nursery, and Pollinator Posse member, who will demonstrate butterfly puddling spots using Annie's plants.
- Evelyn Orantes, independent curator, arts educator and teaching artist and a new member of the Pollinator Posse, will share visual representations of butterflies in arts and culture.
- Andy Liu, landscape architect and garden design specializing in butterfly habitat, will explain why his neighborhood is alive with swallowtails, gulf fritillaries and "many other winged wonders."
- Sal Levinson, author and entomologist specializing in butterfly habitats. She is the author of Butterfly Papercrafts, which contains 21 indoor projects for outdoor learning.
Another attraction, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is "Giant Puppets Save the World," featuring the silk and bamboo menagerie of monarchs, hummingbirds "and more" with Toni Tone, an artist, puppeteer and stilt walker. It's billed as "super fun for the kids."
Our hearts are with the victims and what we can do to help.
But we briefly stepped out in the backyard yesterday (Oct. 10) in Vacaville to see a sun and sky we did not recognize. Nearby, the brightly colored orange Gulf Fritillary butterlifes (Agraulis vanillae) continued their life cycle on the passionflower vine (Passiflora), their host plant. So unreal to see:
- An egg on the tendrils.
- A caterpillar munching leaves.
- A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary clinging to its pupal case.
- An adult spreading its wings in the eerie light, ready to start the process all over again.
Mother Nature is not kind. Neither is Father Time./span>
So there they were, the bride and groom, culminating their vows.
We spotted them in Vacaville, Calif., clinging to a passion flower vine (Passiflora), their host plant--just the two of them, the female Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the male.
Two's company? Not for long.
Soon other Gulf Frits descended on them.
Two's company, three's a crowd. Where did all those uninvited guests come from? They're everywhere!
All went well, though. The guests fluttered off, leaving the couple alone and allowing the photographer to engage in insect wedding photography.
Gulf Frits are incredibly beautiful, what with their bright orange wings with black markings, and underside, their elongated silver iridescence spots. A touch of the tropics!
Gulf Frits have been around a long time in the Bay Area--more than a century, according to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s," Shapiro writes on his website. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield, where, however, it is not established."
"There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
Shapiro says that in the Bay Area "this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough."
Thankfully, that's not all they do.
Coming soon to a passion flower vine near you--eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, and then those gorgeous butterflies!