It's Day 2 of National Pollinator Week.
So, I guess I should "toot my own horn" (we don't have one, but in our household we do have a piano, a double bass, a guitar, a banjo, a ukulele, a dulcimer, a harmonica, a sousaphone, a set of hand drums, and two accordions. Note that the last one to play the piano well was the...um...cat).
Yours truly of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, just won a silver award or second-place honors, in a photography competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE). ACE announced the awards today (June 22) at its virtual conference.
To draw attention to the plight of monarchs, I captured (with a Canon MPE-65mm lens) an image of a monarch egg in our family's pollinator garden where we create habitat for assorted bees and butterflies and other pollinators.
“The purpose of my image is to draw attention to the dwindling monarch butterfly population,” I wrote on the form. “They are on life support.” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's reports that overwintering monarchs have declined 99 percent in coastal California since the 1990s.
I posted the image at https://bit.ly/3cUx358 Aug. 10, 2020 on my daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website.
Wrote the judge: “Capturing a subject this small is really quite impressive. I appreciate the photographer sharing their equipment and process to capture this image of such a delicate and beautiful little butterfly egg. Very well done.”
The image scored 25 out of 25 points in creativity/originality, audience interest/impact, and overall evaluation.
The egg, I commented, is “an incredible work of nature! The intricate egg is about the size of a pinhead, 0.9mm wide and 1.2mm high. It's creamy yellow with narrow longitudinal ridge. Unless it encounters a predator or parasitoid or another life-threatening factor, the egg will usually hatch 3 to 4 days after Mama Monarch deposits it beneath a milkweed leaf.”
“A good place to see butterfly specimens from all over the world is at the Bohart Museum of Entomology (now temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic)," I added. “Of the nearly eight million specimens in the Bohart, some 500,000 are in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith.“ I also drew attention to the butterfly-rearing process of Bohart associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas.
In addition to the silver award, yours truly won a bronze award or third-place honors for my image of a photo series of male and female Gulf Fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae, “keeping busy.” The Bug Squad post, “Fifty Shades of Orange, with a Touch of Silver,” appeared July 13, 2020 at https://bit.ly/2Q6cU3q.
Wrote the judge: “This submission was a delight! I adored the written piece that accompanied the photos, describing the insect wedding during COVID times. To take notice of these delicate creatures, which many people just pass by without noticing, and to document them in photos is unique…. When photographing subjects of this size, the tack-sharp focus which captures the details that our eyes cannot normally see is what makes them so captivating. It's also incredibly difficult to capture--the photographer did a lovely job.”
“So there they were," I wrote. "The two of them. The blushing bride and the quite dapper-and-dashing groom. They didn't invite me to their wedding. I was an uninvited guest, the only guest. So, I felt obliged to crash their wedding and capture some images…Who can resist insect wedding photography? That's about the only wedding photography happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
I also drew readers to the research website of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and his information on A. vanillae, (see https://bit.ly/3uw9Yf1) and to specific work of insects “keeping busy” (see https://bit.ly/3rVU1xg) by UC Davis alumnus and renowned macro photographer Alex Wild, curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin.
ACE, founded in 1913 primarily for ag communicators, is now an international association of professionals who practice in all areas of communication.
(Editor's Note: Last year, three UC Davis-affiliated communication specialists won a total of six writing or photography awards in the ACE global competition for their work accomplished in 2019 (pre-COVID pandemic). Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography; Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, two silvers for her writing and photography; and Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing.)
The monarch caterpillar feasting on the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in Vacaville, Calif., kept doing what monarch 'cats do best--eat.
She insisted on devouring the leaves as if there were no tomorrow--and today would end soon.
How did we know her gender? Our Danaus plexippus pupated, formed a chrysalis, and emerged. Oh, you beautiful gal!
Folks who comment that someone is "eating like a pig" or "eating like a horse" or "wolfing it down," have probably never seen a monarch caterpillar chow down, scarf it up or shovel it in.
One minute our little 'cat is stretched out on a leaf, binge eating. The next minute the leaf is gone and she's porking out on a second leaf. And scouting for a third.
Eric Carle titled his classic children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," quite well. His little 'cat ate everything in sight: gobbling, guzzling, gorging and gulping down everything from fruits and vegetables to junk food.
Remember the story? First, the little 'cat ate an apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, and five oranges but was still hungry. Famished, really. So he ate a piece of chocolate cake, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie and a cupcake...and more...and he wasn't little anymore.
Many folks sheltering at home during the COVID-19 crisis can certainly identify with the snatch-and-grab menu of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Did someone say "chocolate cake?"
(Editor's Note: Those planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Vacaville,Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.)
Together they won a total of seven communication awards in a competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography;
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won two silvers for her writing and photography;
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
Ricardo Vela, Miguel Sanchez and Norma de la Vega of UC ANR's News and Information Outreach in Spanish won a bronze award for a video:
- Diversity 6, Electronic Media and Audio for Targeted Audiences, bronze award for Breakfast - Desayuno de Campeones - English and Spanish videos
The awards will be presented Wednesday, June 24 during ACE's virtual conference, which opened June 22 and continues through June 25.
ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.
Yes, they do, and yes, she did.
Painted lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, do lay their eggs on Echium wildpretii, commonly known as "the tower of jewels."
However, this little lady (below) persistently returned a few times to find a bee-free spot. She finally claimed a chunk of space near the top of the 8-foot plant.
Temporarily. Until the bees reclaimed it.
"Echium is a borage," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "Boraginaceae are one of the favored host families, so I'm not surprised."
"They routinely breed on fiddleneck and popcorn flower," Shapiro says. "in 2015 they completely destroyed the borage crop at an herb farm in Solano County!" He recently saw them lay eggs on Helianthus, Cardooon (artichoke thistle) and Lupinus succulentus.
"It's been a pretty good cardui year but not as big as last year," said Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly population in Central California since 1972 and publishes his research on his website. "They've been coming in waves for several weeks and there are still some, mostly old females ovipositing."
Said Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and insect photographer: "Vanessa cardui probably has the greatest range of host plants as any butterfly. My question always is: What plant, won't it lay eggs on?"
Meanwhile, in between social distancing, what's happening in the world of insects?
We were surprised to see a skipper butterfly today (March 25) foraging in our bed of mustard in Vacaville, Calif.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as an "Umber Skipper, Poanes melane, a riparian species I haven't seen at any of my sites yet! It typically flies first in early to mid-April."
With thoughts of Shapiro's Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest (first person who collects the first-of-the-year cabbage white butterfly in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo wins a pitcher of beer or its equivalent), I mentioned that I finally beat him!
"I'd say go get a beer, but the bars are closed," Shapiro quipped. "Last year's first records of melane were very late (first iv.24) , as were 2018 (first v.10!). In the East Bay it usually comes out around now. Are you sure you weren't in North Berkeley? At Gates Canyon (Vacaville), my earliest is iii.26.88, which is my earliest anywhere on my transect! During the drought it was fairly early--iv.15.14 and iv.10.15."
Shapiro writes on his website: "Although common in parts of the Bay Area where it is an urban 'lawn skipper,' on our transect this is entirely a species of riparian forest and is generally uncommon or even rare. It perches in dappled light and shade along streamsides, generally well off the ground. Its upper limit of residency at the latitude of I-80 seems to be about 3000'. There is no evident variation. Two to three broods in our area, April-October; flight season longer in Bay Area. Host plants presumably native riparian grasses, but not identified. In Berkeley, it breeds happily on Bermuda Grass, which seems to have not discovered farther inland. Adults visit Yerba Santa, Dogbane, Milkweed, Thistles, Yellow Star Thistle, California Buckeye, Coyote Brush, etc., etc."
Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California since 1972 and maintains a research website. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
And then another surprise! My photographer-naturalist friend, Allan Jones of Davis, captured some images of an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) Saturday, March 21 in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Jones also saw a bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus (female), and a first-of-the-season Eucera frater (male) in the haven.
Said Shapiro: "Zelicaon has been rare hereabouts for about 20 years. It is not unusual to see it the 3rd week of February in dry years. It's been earlier than average this year: Suisun Marsh, iii.26; Old Davis Road (near Low-Water Bridge) ii.28; Gates Canyon (near Vacaville) ii.29, North Sacramento iii.3, Rancho Cordova iii.4."
Meanwhile, back to social distancing!