The year 2020 felt like a close encounter of the worst kind.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic, the California wildfires, the political scene, the poverty, the racial uprisings, the stay-at-home mandates, the strife...
When the Washington Post recently asked its readers to describe 2020 in one word, more than 2000 responded. These three words tumbled out the most: "exhausting," "lost" and "chaotic." Readers also defined 2020 as "surreal," "relentless," "fallow," "limbo," "heartbreaking," "nightmare," "broken dreams," "stifling," "dumpster fire," and simply "ugh!"
"Ugh?" That's right. We never knew what was coming at us next.
At times it seemed as if we were the prey, trying to escape hundreds of hungry, circling predators.
We remember this encounter last summer between a praying mantis, a female Mantis religiosa, and a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, on a fenceline bordering our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Here's the mantis, lying in wait by the passionflower vine, ready to ambush any "suitable prey" that comes within her reach. Along comes a Gulf Fritillary, which the mantis defined as "quite suitable."
The mantis pounced, but couldn't wrap its spiked forelegs around the butterfly. The mantis finally settled for a caterpillar.
So, as we end the year 2020, the key word should be "escape." Like the butterfly, we need to be find our way out of the clutches of a cunning predator, one cunning predator at a time.
Here's hoping for a Happy New Year!
Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.
It's not often you see "passion on passion."
You often see the males patrolling the vine and the females laying eggs on the leaves.
But have you ever seen one foraging on a blossom?
On sunny days in Vacaville, we're seeing it happen more and more.
The brilliant orange butterfly with the silver-spangled wings is one spectacular butterfly. Together the passion butterfly and the passionflower live up to their names.
Those passion flowers (Passiflora) are insect magnets.
One minute you'll see a praying mantis on a blossom. The next minute, a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. And the next morning, the blossom is an arthropod magnet--the beginnings of a spider web.
Passiflora is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, a spectacular orange butterfly with silver-spangled underwings. The Gulf Frit lays its eggs only on Passiflora.
The Gulf Frits know where the Passiflora is. Their predators know where the butterflies are.
The female mantis, Mantis religiosa (below), didn't snag the butterfly. But it did grab and munch on a few Gulf Frit caterpillars.
Ever critter eats in the garden.
Happy Labor Day!
And what an appropriate time to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, depositing an egg!
The females lay their eggs on the tendrils and leaves of the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) but we've seen them depositing eggs on nearby fences where the vines climb.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s. 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 said. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area."
It is a dazzling butterfly, what with its brilliant orange wings and spectacular silver-spangled underwings.
The Gulf Frit, also called the "passion butterfly," is usually quite skittish--except this one wasn't. We captured this image on Labor Day weekend in Vacaville, Calif., with a short macro lens--60mm--mounted on a Nikon D500.
She didn't seem to mind.