- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
He not only did--they were the larvae of the common buckeye, Junonia coenia--but this was exciting news--a first-of-its-kind discovery that led to a piece published today (Dec. 13) in the News of the Lepitopterists' Society.
The discovery: The plant is a larval host of the butterfly.
This is the first known case of buckeye larvae feeding on Russelia equisetiformis, an ornamental shrub with red tubular flowers that's widely favored by gardeners and pollinators, including hummingbirds.
The news article, authored by Shapiro and de Grassi, is titled "Buckeye, Junonia coenia, Uses the Garden Ornamental Russellia equisetiforis (Plantaginacease) ("Firecracker Plant") as a Larval Host in California."
Russelia equisetiformis produces a variety of iridoid glycosides, Shapiro says, but up until July 10, there were no previous records of the buckeye feeding on the plant. The colorful plant, native to Mexico and Guatemala, is especially popular in California and the southwestern United States. It is also known by such common names as "fountain bush" and "fountain plant" for its long arching branches. It can reach a height of 4 to 5 feet.
On his Art's Butterfly World website, Shapiro points out that the "buckeye breeds on plants containing bitter iridoid glycosides, including plantains (Plantago, especially P. lanceolata), various Scrophulariaceae (especially Fluellin, Kickxia), and Lippia (Lippia or Phyla nodiflora). The spiny, black-and-white caterpillar has a bright orange head. Its behavior suggests its diet makes it virtually immune to vertebrate predation, but the pupa and adult are quite edible."
Back in 2010, Shapiro and K. Biggs discovered another larval host of the buckeye--an emergent aquatic plant, Hippuris vulgaris, also known as mare's tail or common mare's tail.
As for Russelia equisetiformis, it draws its genus name from Scottish naturalist Alexander Russell (1715-1768). The species name refers to its resemblance to horsetail rushes (the Latin term equisetiformis means "like Equisteum.")
One was a firecracker plant. And along came the buckeyes!
Katie Hetrick, director of Marketing and Communications for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, wrote about the larval host discovery on the Arboretum website: "It goes to show you that observant home gardeners are important citizen scientists – you never know what discoveries are waiting to present themselves. Now there's yet another reason to love the firecracker plant; not only is it a low-water, long-blooming plant that hummingbirds love, it also appears to be larval host plant for buckeye butterflies!"
As for de Grassi, she continued to see the buckeye caterpillars on her firecracker plant through Aug. 26. And, later, after hearing of her find, Shapiro discovered a female buckeye laying eggs on a firecracker plant by the Sciences Lab Building on the UC Davis campus.
In the piece in News of the Lepitopterists Society, Shapiro wrote that the Russelia equisetiformis "is occasionally cited in horticultural sources as vulnerable to damage by unidentified caterpillars."
Unidentified caterpillars? Mystery solved?
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
So, get ready for Bee-a-Thon 3!
The free multimedia event will begin online with a series of videos about honey bees and other members of the Microcosm, including videos created by Brady and clips from previous Bee-a-Thons.
UC Davis will be represented by Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and entomologist/artist Diane Ullman and artist Donna Billick, co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. Mussen, a member of the department since 1976, is world-renowned for his honey bee expertise. Ullman is the associate dean of undergraduate academic programs in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a professor of entomology.
Among the others to be interviewed will be Kim Flottum, longtime editor of Bee Culture magazine; Ria de Grassi, director of federal policy, California Farm Bureau; Eddie Dunbar, founder of the Insect Sciences Museum of California; Celeste Ets-Hokin, creator of the Pollinator Gardens at Lake Merritt, Oakland; and Mike Somers, state director of Pesticide Watch and the Pesticide Watch Education Fund.
The schedule includes:
- a pollination fundraising luncheon, with a honey-inspired menu, from noon to 1 p.m. at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine, 630 G St. (not broadcast).
- fruit presentations from 1 to 1:30 p.m. at the Davis Food Co-Op, 620 G St.; (not broadcast)
- a live broadcast from 2 to 4 p.m. on Davis Community Television public access Channel 15
- a radio/video feed from KDRT, 95.7 FM, from 4 to 6 p.m.
- BATMAP (Bee-a-Thon Monster After Party) billed as the world’s first Pollinator Party from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Davis Media Access, 1623 Fifth St., and featuring music by Eminent Bee. Admission is free, but guests must come adorned as an insect, spider or flower.
- a lounge chat from 10 p.m. to midnight at deVere’s Irish Pub, 217 E St.
Brady says the art-science event is designed to ignite a community about the full story about honey bees and other pollinators — "not just the science, but the art, the anthropology, the technology and design, the pop culture."
“The interdependence we have with insects — especially bees — is profound and complex and most people are only discussing half the story," said Brady, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hiram (Ohio) College. "The key word is biocomplexity — how human behavior fits into the global ecology. It’s also about how insects inspire and amaze our society. That will all be covered on the show.”
Brady described the Bee-a-Thon as timely; Time magazine just published a cover story on “beepocalpyse.”
We know Emmet Brady to be passionate about honey bees. And we know that the Bee-a-Thon will be educational, informative and entertaining.
When Brady talks about the "wonderful world of pollinators," he's thinking of the simple things we take for granted, the ABCs, if you will.
A honey bee on an Apple.
A honey bee on a Begonia.
A honey bee on a Cucumber.