Seen any Pipevine Swallowtails lately?
The UC Davis Ecological Garden is teeming with eggs, larvae, pupa and adults. The butterflies there seem particularly fond of nectaring on Jupiter's beard, Centranthus ruber.
A visit to the Vallejo City Unified School District's Loma Vista Farm open house on May 22 resulted in "Farmer Rita" (Rita LeRoy) showing us some tiny pipevine caterpillars.
You can't miss them. The eggs are red or rust-colored. The larvae or caterpillars are black with bright orange spots on the ends of tubercles in rows along their body. The adults are black with blue iridescent upper wings and orange arrowhead-like spots on their inner wings. The chrysalids or pupae we've seen are a drab brown.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, writes about Battus philenor on his website, Art's Butterfly World:
"The signature riparian butterfly of our region, occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere where its only host plant, California Pipevine or Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs... It is unmistakeable and very conspicuous as both a larva and an adult. Only the pupa is cryptic (either brown or green, with a delicate golden filigree)."
"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," he writes. "It derives its protection from the toxic aristolochic acids produced by the host, which it sequesters; females even pass these along to the eggs, which are also protected (and are brick red, laid in bunches of up to 20, and quite conspicuous). Eggs are laid only on young, tender, growing shoot tips and the larvae must begin by feeding on these. Initially they feed in groups. As they get larger they scatter and can tackle large, mature leaves. But because these react to feeding damage by becoming more toxic and unpalatable, a larva will feed on a single leaf only for a short time and then has to move on. Eventually most or all leaves end up damaged, but few are badly damaged. The larvae also feed eagerly on the immature fruits, which look like small bananas with fluted edges. In big swallowtail years little if any seed ends up being set." (See more on his website.)
If you've never seen the Pipevine Swallowtails in the nine-acre Hallberg Butterfy Gardens, a wildlife sanctuary in Sebastopol, West Sonoma County, you should. They are a delight to see. Owner Della Hallberg planted the native Dutchman's Pipe in her garden in the 1920s. It's now considered one of the oldest garden sin the country. Her daughter, Louise Hallberg (1917-2017) maintained the garden until her death, keeping meticulous records and thoroughly enjoying showing visitors around. We posted a Bug Squad blog about her and her garden in 2015 and captured an image of her on her front porch.
Pipevine Swallowtails fascinated her and now they will fascinate generations yet to come.
In between the rains today, we saw them.
So beautiful! Painted ladies, Vanessa cardui, nectaring in patches of colorful wildflowers in the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG), located behind the Mann Laboratory on University of California, Davis campus.
The migratory butterflies, passing through California on their way to the Pacific Northwest, stopped there for some flight fuel: sipping nectar from tidy tips, Layia platyglossa; five-spot, Nemophila maculate, and blue lupine, Lupinus.
They've been in the national news a lot, these butterflies, as has butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. Known for his expertise on all things butterfly, he's monitored the butterfly population of Central California since 1972 and maintains a research website.
Yes, it's been a big year for painted ladies, thanks to the heavy rainfall and super blooms in the deserts near the Mexican border. And, as Shapiro says, tremendous wildflower blooms are typically great years for the painted ladies.
New York Times reporter Julia Jacobs interviewed Shapiro for her March 17th piece, in which she marveled that millions of the painted ladies are migrating. Shapiro told her: "The striking thing is they're moving very rapidly and directionallly. So it's almost like being in a hail of bullets.”
Rita LeRoy or "Farmer Rita," the self-described "Farm Keeper" on the Loma Vista Farm, Vallejo, part of the Vallejo City Unified School District, saw the butterflies passing through the farm on Monday, March 17. Her description is fabulous:
"They came through Vallejo on Monday," she said. "Art's description was right on. It was like being in a hail of bullets. This was because they were flying so low and it was a constant stream, like standing in the middle of a 500 lane expressway. I kept telling the students, 'Look! Another, another, another...' The path was at least as wide as the farm which is about 200 yards. When I stood in one spot, I would agree they were passing within my vision (about 100') at about 1 every second. They rarely stopped to nectar but were flying in a very direct NE direction when they came through the farm. They flew through nonstop from before 1 p.m. and the flow started to dwindle around 4 p.m. Still enough at that point to show the after school kids. They didn't fly in huddled groups or clouds and they moved fast. I tried taking a video but it was like a bad remake of The Blair Witch Project, with unfocused, whiplash camera moves of uncertain objects since they are so small in the overall background. I'm so glad Art saw them."
Today (Wednesday) we didn't see the hail of bullets, but we did see about a dozen of them grabbing some flight fuel on the UC Davis campus over a 10-minute period.
If you get a chance, check out the Biological Orchard and Gardens. A 24,000-square-foot garden, located behind the Mann lab, off Kleiber Hall Drive, it's planted with several dozen species of heritage fruit trees, and landscaped with flower gardens. The painted ladies are elsewhere on campus, too, including the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
We first saw her at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2017.
She was eating. That's what monarch caterpillars do best. They eat. A lot.
"Where have you been?" I asked. "Where have you been hiding? Your siblings have long gone. Your buddies passed through here in late August and September on their way to their overwintering sites in Santa Cruz and beyond."
How could I have missed her? This one was a fifth in-star and almost ready to pupate.
"Let's see. When your mama laid the egg, you hatched in about three to four days. You'll be a caterpillar for 10 to 14 days. Then you'll be in the pupa stage for 10 to 14 days. But that's all under normal conditions, summer conditions. This is fall, not normal conditions, little buddy."
The chubby black, yellow and white monarch caterpillar kept eating. "YOU could have been eaten, little buddy," I told her, glancing at the hungry California scrub jays vocalizing in the cherry laurels. True, milkweed contains a poisonous toxin that protects monarchs from predators, but birds do eat them. "Just not as much," says Louie Yang, associate professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Then there are the other deadly encounters. Tachinid flies and braconid wasps parasitize the caterpillars and chrysalids. And some fall victim to that dreaded disease, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, caused by an obligate, protozoan parasite.
Give her a chance, just a chance...
So, awed by her unexpected appearance, we prepared the indoor butterfly habitat for its last tenant of the season. Our monarch-rearing kit features a Patron tequila bottle; the narrow neck prevents the 'cats from drowning, and the broad, heavy base assures stability (this is one bottle that doesn't get tipsy!). Just add water, milkweed stems and the caterpillar, and center the bottle in the zippered habitat. Then you wait for the caterpillar to create a silk button and form a J. And then a chrysalis. And then an adult ready to generate more generations.
This November tenant, however, chose the most fragile, overhanging milkweed stem in the bottle to pupate. No mesh ceiling for her!
When the jade-green chrysalis formed on Nov. 4, it looked like a jeweled ornament dangling from a Christmas tree. Or a mid-life chrysalis.
Now, "hurry up and wait." In ideal conditions, a monarch ecloses in 10 to 14 days. In ideal conditions.
Nothing happened for 10 days. Then 12. Then 14. Then 18.
On Day 19, Nov. 22 (the day before Thanksgiving), the chrysalis darkened, revealing the orange, black and white wings in all its transparency. The chrysalis bulged, throbbed and swayed. Out slipped the butterfly, wings flat, wings pumping. She clung to the pupal case as her wings expanded. A big, strong and healthy girl.
On Thanksgiving Day, four adults, two dogs and one butterfly celebrated in Casa de la Garvey. At least we think the butterfly celebrated. She dropped to the floor of her habitat and sipped orange juice and a honey/water mixture. Then, sustained, she fluttered up to her perch, and began searching for an opening, an escape.
She. Wanted. Out.
Hmm...No way would she be able to fly three hours to the overwintering site in Santa Cruz in the cold and rain. And then there are those hungry California scrub jays hanging out in the cherry laurels...Just waiting...
It just so happened that a friend and pollinator advocate, Rita LeRoy, the self-described "farm keeper" at the Vallejo School District's Loma Vista Farm, Vallejo, was heading to Santa Cruz on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to show her out-of-town relatives the overwintering migratory butterfly sanctuary at the Natural Bridges State Beach Park. That's about a 100-mile trip from Vallejo.
Could Ms. Monarch hitch a ride?
She could. And she did.
Rita, who delights in showing area schoolchildren the monarchs that frequent Loma Vista Farm--she's also a Monarch Mom who rears and releases monarchs and is active in the Bay Area Pollinator Posse--unzipped the mesh habitat at the butterfly sanctuary.
Her sister-in-law captured an image of Miss Monarch in freedom's hands.
Wow! Just wow! From a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult. And there she was! In Rita's hands. In Santa Cruz. In the migratory butterfly sanctuary. With her buddies. Or soon-to-be buddies.
"She flew so fast that we didn't get a picture of her flying away," Rita lamented. "She was anxious to join her new friends."
"It was a beautiful day," Rita said, adding "Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of setting her free. I was so sad that my last ones (monarchs) didn't survive. It was really nice to have this happy experience."
Once upon a monarch...thanks to Rita, the ending could not have been better...
Rita LeRoy, the self-described "Farm Keeper" at the Loma Vista Farm, Vallejo, takes amazing photos.
We recently wrote about the farm, part of the Vallejo City Unified School District, when we visited it during the annual spring festival.
LeRoy, who has worked for the Vallejo school district for 25 years, teaches students about nature and nutrition through hands-on farm lessons involving cooking, gardening, insect appreciation, and animal care. Founded in 1974, the Loma Vista Farm is described on its website as a 5-acre outdoor classroom that provides hands-on educational activities involving plants and animals for children of all ages and abilities,
But back to Rita LeRoy. She is an avid entomological enthusiast, an insect photographer, and a member of the Pollinator Posse.
She recently posted a photo on Facebook of several praying mantids emerging from their ootheca, a sight folks rarely see. She ca[tired this image in the Loma Vista Farm greenhouse. Indeed, we rarely see the camouflaged adults unless they're moving around in the vegetation or snaring prey.
With her permission, we thought we'd share her amazing photo--from a distance and then a portion of it enlarged.
We have four oothecas in our family bee garden but never once have we seen any action. They are silent as stones.
However, we know the praying mantids are out there. We see them in our yard periodically. These are the survivors, the ones who made it past the sibling-eat-sibling stage and the mating ritual of female-eat-male, also known as "off with the head." They're cannibals, you know. Now they're dining on...alas, our pollinators--the honey bees, sunflower bees, sweat bees, bumble bees and butterflies. (We'd prefer it if they changed their menu to pests instead of pollinators.)
The ever-so-patient mantids lie in wait and snag their prey with their spiked forelegs.
Yes, we know they're out there. This one (below) was hidden in the lavender patch.
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Down on the farm...the Loma Vista Farm....
When the Loma Vista Farm--part of the Vallejo City Unified School District--recently hosted its annual Spring Festival, scores of folks came to see the animals, buy a plant or two, and participate in the many activities.
But if you looked closely, you could see that the farm, located at 150 Rainier,Vallejo, is also a pollinator habitat and home to many insects.
Lady beetles, aka lady bugs, munched on aphids in the garden (the garden feeds Vallejo school children as well). Those pesky spotted cucumber beetles also showed up. We spotted a beneficial insect (lady beetle) and a pest (spotted cucumber beetle) sharing a leaf.
A Western tiger swallowtail fluttered down to the aptly named butterfly bush for a sip of nectar. The caterpillar of an anise swallowtail dined on the leaves of its host plant, anise, also called fennel. (It smells like licorice to us!)
All the while, a colony of yellow-faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii, went about their bees-ness, entering and exiting a hole in the ground in a pattern that would alarm human air controllers. They zigged, zagged and then bumbled through with huge pollen loads, sometimes nearly colliding.
The Loma Vista Farm is also the habitat of "Farm Keeper" Rita LeRoy, who has worked for the Vallejo school district for 25 years. She teaches students about nature and nutrition through hands-on farm lessons involving cooking, gardening, insect appreciation, and animal care. She is an avid entomological enthusiast, an insect photographer, and a member of the Pollinator Posse.
Founded in 1974, the Loma Vista Farm is described on its website as a 5-acre outdoor classroom that provides hands-on educational activities involving plants and animals for children of all ages and abilities. "We seek to increase students' knowledge of nature and nutrition while enhancing academic learning, ecoliteracy, and psychosocial development."
The farm offers field trips, after-school opportunities through 4-H, community service and volunteer opportunities, garden-based workshops for adults, and job training for college students, developmentally disabled young adults, and disadvantaged youth.
It's open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the school year.
It's open to insects year around!