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.
But if you're not a graduate student?
You're in luck.
If you're a citizen scientist or just someone who wants to know more about this iconic butterfly, you can audit the course--for free, Shapiro says. And you don't need special permission.
In a recent email announcing the course, Shapiro wrote "Many of you know we had a 'Monarch summit' on campus recently to discuss the seemingly dire condition of the West Coast Monarch butterfly population. This seminar will take a broad view of what we do and don't know about Monarch biology, ecology, behavior, and genetics. It can be taken for seminar credit in Population Biology, Ecology, or Geography as it is X-listed."
Note that there's a requirement of graduate students who take the two-unit course: each has to present a seminar.
"People may sit in ("audit") without special permission," Shapiro emphasized.
In his flier, Shapiro wrote:
"You've certainly noticed all the media attention to the possibly endangered western Monarch population. We will address the scientific issues, including
- Is the Monarch in trouble?
- If so, why?
- What is the history of the Monarch migrations on a "paleo" scale?
- Biology of Monarchs in the Pacific, the Canary Islands and tropical America
- ..And much more"
The course will meet on Tuesday nights from 8:10 to 10, starting April 2 in Room 2342 of Storer Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive, near the UC Davis police and fire departments. The spring quarter beings March 30 and ends June 15. For more information, contact Shapiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Monarch Summit, hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund on Feb. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, centered around "Recovering the Western Monarch Butterfly Population: Identifying Opportunities for Scaling Monarch Habitat in California's Central Valley."
The Environmental Defense Fund, in its invitation to the summit, wrote that "The western population of the monarch butterfly has garnered widespread attention because of its dramatic decline in recent decades. The latest population surveys indicate that monarchs overwintering on the central coast have declined 86% since last winter and now total 0.5% of their historical average. Population declines have spurred greater scientific study, funding, and coordination around the western monarch. California legislators appropriated $3 million in funding to the CA Wildlife Conservation Board to establish the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Rescue Program."
"Additionally, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a Western Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan calling for an additional 50,000 acres of monarch-friendly habitat in the California Central Valley and adjacent foothills by 2029. Join Environmental Defense Fund along with farmers, restoration practitioners, and scientists for an invitation-only workshop to share expert knowledge and identify strategic opportunities for restoring monarch butterfly habitat across the Central Valley. We will discuss important topics including opportunities for monarch habitat in the food production landscape, incentivizing monarch habitat restoration using limited resources, production and distribution of native plants, and other subjects that will put the western monarch butterfly population on the path to recovery. We will use the results of the workshop to inform conservation initiatives and effectively and efficiently allocate funds and resources for optimal conservation outcomes."
Shapiro, one of the invited speakers, has been monitoring Central Valley's butterfly population since 1972 and maintains a website on his research. In his presentation, "What We Don't Know and What We Know That Ain't So About Monarchs," Shapiro commented that "right now, the Monarch is on life support in California, and we are reduced to prescribing placebos."
His entire presentation appears on the March 4th Bug Squad blog.
It's a database but she also has a fan base.
Ivana is entered in the Miss Vietnam Northern California/Miss Vietnam Sacramento Pageant--and entomologists, fellow insect enthusiasts, classmates, family and friends are rooting for her and hoping she wins.
Ivana is one of 14 candidates in the Sacramento-based pageant. The overall winner will be named Miss Vietnam Northern California and the second-place winner, Miss Vietnam Sacramento. The winners will be determined by People's Choice or online voting (open to all). Voting ends at noon, Pacific Time, on Saturday, March 23. The pageant itself takes place from 3 to 7 p.m., Sunday, March 24 at 6200 McMahon Drive, Sacramento.
Entering a pageant is new to her but this one is special. “I am half-Vietnamese, half-white,” Ivana related. “My mom escaped Vietnam and stayed at a refugee camp in Malaysia for a few years before finally coming to the United States in 1984.” Her father is a computer engineer and her mother, the activities coordinator at a senior living center. Ivana is one of four children; she has an older and younger brother, and a younger sister.
“To me, this pageant is an opportunity to build confidence and learn more about myself,” she said. “I feel like I didn't experience much of my culture growing up in Brentwood, Calif. The only time I would even hear the language was when we visited our relatives in San Jose. I'm hoping that through this competition, I can learn a little about myself and my culture. I also hope to serve as a role model for other young women who are still figuring out who they are and where they belong in the world. By winning this pageant, I hope to inspire others to celebrate their differences and embrace their inner beauty.”
“Right now, I am a fourth-year animal science major and medical-veterinary entomology minor at UC Davis," Ivana said. “I enjoy learning about all animals, including arthropods." In addition to working at the Bohart Museum, she's an intern at an animal hospital in south Sacramento.
Her resume includes such previous positions as spay and neuter volunteer for the Yolo County Animal Service, research volunteer at the UC Davis Meyer Avian Facility, research volunteer at the UC Davis feedlot, and hospital volunteer at Kaiser Permanente.
Ivana plans to receive her bachelor of science degree in animal science this spring, and then will apply for vet school this summer. "I plan to work as a vet assistant during my gap year."
Her work at the Bohart? "I've been LepNet databasing for a little over a year," she said, adding that "My favorite moths are sphingids due to their wing patterns and the fact that they look like torpedoes.”
The LepNet database is aimed at integrating millions of Lepidoptera occurrence records, and the Bohart Museum is one of the museums involved in the project. The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, including 500,000 in the Lepidoptera collection alone.
Ivana is active in the UC Davis Entomology Club, and currently serves as the media coordinator.
“My interest in bugs first started when I took an entomology class in high school, and the teacher gave me a hissing cockroach from his colony to keep as a pet,” Ivana recalled. "The class actually went to the Bohart Museum for a field trip, and it was one of the reasons I liked UC Davis so much!”
“I currently have two pet scorpions, two tarantulas, a centipede, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and goldfish. I also have a ton of succulents and houseplants." Once she's settled into a career and larger apartment, Ivana hopes to add a dog, some reptiles and "of course, more bugs." When she's not studying, LepNet databasing, or interning at the animal care center, Ivana enjoys hiking, cooking, baking, playing the flute, and spending time with friends and family.
Meanwhile, the People's Choice voting is underway, one vote per IP address (which means votes can be counted on separate devices, such as a cell phone and a laptop computer). Click here to vote: https://www.surveylegend.com/s/1bxp (The UC Davis student is No. 2 on the list.) Folks can find more information about the pageant by accessing Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MissVietnamNorthernCalifornia/.
From UC Davis animal science major to Miss Vietnam Northern California?
There's still plenty of time to register for the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, set Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. Topics discussed will include recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and their policy implications.
Keynote speakers are Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, (the research center launched the annual pollinator conferences in 2012) and Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England.
Other speakers include:
- Claudio Gratton, professor, Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Quinn McFrederick, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, UC Riverside
- Scott McArt, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University
- Maj Rundlöf, International Career Grant Fellow, Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden
- Juliette Osborne, professor and chair, Applied Ecology, University of Exeter, England
- Maggie Douglas, assistant professor, Environmental Studies, Dickinson College
You can register online on the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center site, related the two conference chairs pollination ecologist/professor Neal M. Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, both of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, is playing a major role in the international conference. Events manager Elizabeth Luu is the conference coordinator.
Early-bee registration: $350 (general) and $175 (student discount). After May 15, 2019, registration is $450 (general), $250 (student). For more information, check the website, https://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/2019-international-pollinator-conference.
Happy Presidents' Day.
It's day we honor not only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln but all the men (no women yet!) who have served as President of the United States.
"The federal holiday honoring Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 for government offices in Washington and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices," according to Wikipedia. "As the first federal holiday to honor an American president, the holiday was celebrated on Washington's birthday under the Gregorian calendar, Feb. 22. On Jan. 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This places it between February 15 and 21, which makes 'Washington's Birthday' something of a misnomer, since it never occurs on Washington's actual birthday, Feb. 22."
"A rough analog of this phenomenon can be seen in Commonwealth realms, where the reigning monarch's official birthday is celebrated without regard to their actual date of birth."
There you have it.
And speaking of monarchs and Presidents' Day, it's a good time to post a monarch on the American flag. Danaus plexippus reigns supreme in the world of butterflies, in that it's arguably the most recognized butterfly.
The embattled monarch--some folks want to see it listed as threatened or endangered--will be the subject of a session hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund on Feb. 28 at the University of California, Davis. It's by invitation only. But one of the speakers is Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology.
Shapiro, who has monitored the entire butterfly faunas (including monarchs) at 10 locations along I-80 coordinator for more than four decades, just published a commentary in the Davis Enterprise headlined "So the Monarch Is Endangered--Now What?"
He began with "So the monarch butterfly is in trouble and various folks, including the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee, want California or the United States, or both, to declare it endangered or at least threatened (Bee editorial Feb. 5). Great, then what?
"The fact is, nobody can answer that question competently."
"There is no disputing the facts: Monarch butterfly populations in California have dropped catastrophically," he wrote. "Based on counts of adults overwintering along the coast, numbers have dropped from some 4.5 million in the 1980s to a mere 28,429 this year. At one site, Bolinas, numbers dropped 90 percent in one year from 12,360 in 2017 to 1,256 this year."
"But the decline has not been linear or monotonic, and it is very poorly understood."
He noted: "Conservation organizations are promoting lists of things private citizens and organizations can do to help “save the monarch.” The most-often-repeated one is to plant milkweed, its larval host plant. But there is absolutely no evidence that there is any milkweed shortage in California, let alone that such a shortage is driving monarch declines."
Shapiro went on to write that "there are huge holes in our knowledge of basic monarch biology, and those translate into our inability to say why monarchs are in decline."
Shapiro noted in his commentary that "We have been stuck with using the winter censuses, which are easy to generate, as our measure of population size. But the winter numbers are the sum of everything that happened during the year, which is hidden from our view except very locally. One can do statistical analyses with them and they will give you some kind of an answer, but will it tell us anything used in interpreting reality?"
"The point of giving species protection under Endangered Species legislation is to provide a legal umbrella to encourage actions that will promote species recovery. Most endangered species have discrete populations and their critical habitat and resources can thus be protected. The monarch is different. There is no point in declaring it threatened or endangered if that, like planting milkweed, is just a feel-good action unlikely to translate into any benefit to the species."
As for the meeting at UC Davis on Feb. 28, "its first order of business," Shapiro believes, "should be to decide what we need to know that we don't know in order to take meaningful action on the monarch (and by extension, to help the rest of our imperiled butterfly fauna)."