Interviewer: "Hey, Gulf Fritillary! What happened to you? Something take a chunk out of your wings?"
Miss Gulf Frit: "I dunno. I was just fluttering around the passionflower vine and something grabbed me."
Interviewer: "Do you have any idea what happened?"
Miss Gulf Frit: "Sorry, no. It happened so fast but I managed to escape. A miss is as good as a mile, right?
Interviewer (turning to praying mantis): "Ms. Mantis, do you have any idea what happened here?"
Ms. Mantis: "What? You talking to me? You talking to me?"
Interviewer: "Yes, you're the only other one in the passionflower patch."
Ms. Mantis (smiling): "It wasn't me, y'hear. It wasn't me! Okay, well, maybe it was me. I was hungry. I'm still hungry. I missed!"
Interviewer: "Well, a miss is as good as a smile."
If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), you probably have cats.
No, not the four-legged ones that meow, chase mice or cavort with catnip.
These 'cats or caterpillars are part of the life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) and Passiflora is their host plant.
Watch for the chewed leaves, the frass (poo) and the chrysalids.
Expect a cat-tastrophe when predators like the California scrub jays, European paper wasps, and praying mantids appear and the 'cats disappear.
The circle of life...
It's early morning.
A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, perches alone in the center of a lavender bed in Vacaville, Calif. It's too early for the honey bees.
This Gulf Frit probably eclosed at dusk yesterday and then flew several yards from the host plant, Passiflora, to the lavender bed.
As the sun warms her wings, she unfolds them gingerly. As honey bees arrive, buzzing all around her, she moves a few feet.
Eventually she flutters away as more honey bees arrive, a hummingbird hovers over an agave, and California scrub jays chatter.
Just another day in the Life of a Butterfly and another opportunity to showcase this glorious orange-reddish butterfly with silver-spangled underwings.
"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," writes butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his research website. He's been monitoring butterfly populations in the Central Valley since 1972. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley-- nd 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! In the Bay Area, this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough.
Yes, flying throughout much of the year. We've seen a Gulf Frit laying eggs on Christmas Day. A gift unlike any other. Early mornings are good, too.
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.