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!
We spotted this Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) sunning itself on a carpet of red-purple ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) in west Vacaville on March 20, "the day after the first day of spring."
Each competed for photographic attention: the soothing autumn colors of the butterfly and the brilliance of the spring ice plant.
V. cardui is a migratory butterfly that travels across the deserts of Southern California, up into our area, and then to the Pacific Northwest. Last year, 2019, was a great migratory year for the Painted Ladies, as was 2005.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has studied the Central California population of butterflies since 1972, writes on his butterfly website:
"This mass-migrant occurs in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Apparently the entire North American population winters near the US-Mexico border, breeding in the desert after the winter rains generate a crop of annual Malvaceous, Boraginaceous and Asteraceous hosts. The resulting butterflies migrate north. In good years (lots of desert rain) they may do so by billions, interfering with traffic and attracting the attention of the media. 2005 was one of the biggest Painted Lady years in history--perhaps the biggest, but how can we know?
"At Sacramento at the height of the migration butterflies were passing in one's field of vision at the rate of about 3 per second! 2006, by contrast, was a La Nina year with very little rain in the desert. The butterflies apparently gave up trying to breed there and flew north in February. They tried to breed but mostly were unsuccessful due to bad weather, resulting in only very sporadic individual sightings of their progeny in May. Northward-migrating Painted Ladies are provisioned with yellow fat and are reproductively immature. They do not stop to feed or have sex until they have burned up their reserves, carried over from the caterpillar stage. They fly in a straight line from SE to NW, like "bats out of Hell," and go over obstacles rather than trying to go around them. (On certain days there may be concerted local movements in the wrong direction. We do not understand these.) Painted Ladies tend to fly parallel to the Sierra Nevada, not across it. They enter the Central Valley through the Inyo-Kern lowland or by crossing the Transverse Ranges. They can apparently make it from Bishop to Davis in three days. In some years the migration is heavier in the Great Basin and on the East slope of the Sierra than farther west."
And as Shapiro will tell you, the Painted Lady is commonly mistaken for the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus). Last year social media enthusiasts mistakenly acclaimed they'd seen "hundreds and hundreds" of monarchs passing by them.
BugGuide.net says V. cardui, which inhabits every continent except Antarctica and South America, is "commonly and easily raised especially in elementary school classrooms."
But life as we know it, has changed. California closed its classrooms in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. "Social distancing" and "self-quarantining" are holding our vocabulary hostage. Social butterflies? Not in this environment. But sometimes, you happen upon a serene social scene--an autumn-colored butterfly tucked in a bed of spring ice plant--that takes your breath away.
Did you hear that buzz in California's almond orchards?
It takes about two colonies per acre to pollinate California's 1.2 million acres of almonds. That's about 2.5 million bee colonies trucked here from throughout the country.
And now the 2020 almond pollination season, which began around Valentine's Day, is ending, not with a buzz, but with somewhat of a bang as growers worry about whether they'll have enough bees for next season.
In a Jan. 22 article in Ag Alert, assistant editor Christine Souza covered the situation well. In noting that California has some 1.2 million bearing acres of almond trees, she pointed out: "As another 300,000 almond acres come into production in the next few years, beekeepers and farmers say an additional 600,000 beehives will be needed for pollination. Achieving that could be somewhat daunting, as beekeepers report annual bee losses due to challenges such as reduced forage, the Varroa mite and pesticide-related issues."
In a forecast article published Jan. 6 in West Coast Nut on "2020 Almond Pollination Market: Economic Outlook and Other Considerations," Brittney Goodrich, assistant Cooperative Extension specialist, UC Davis Department of of Agricultural and Resource Economics, wrote that the total yield in pounds per acre is "projected at 1,880, down 10 percent from 2019 (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 2019). Not all of this was due to poor pollination, growers also experienced less than ideal weather conditions throughout the rest of the growing season."
Goodrich also mentioned that:
- "As of October 15, 2019, almond prices were between $2.63 to $2.98 per pound depending on the variety. Prices have remained fairly steady in this range since 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019). Almond returns per acre have also remained fairly steady since 2016, though these returns seem small when compared with the 2013-2015 time period with almond prices well above $3 per pound."
- "Pollination expenses as a percentage of operating costs have increased from 6.7 percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019)."
- "As expected, counties in the San Joaquin Valley have the highest amount of planted acreage."
- "With the exception of Contra Costa and Sacramento counties in Northern California, increases as a percentage of bearing acreage by county range from 0.2 percent to 6.5 percent of total bearing acreage. Contra Costa and Sacramento counties each saw increases over 40 percent, but combine for a total planted acreage of 217 acres in 2018."
- According to the California State Beekeepers' Association, "average almond pollination fees have gone up around $5 per colony per year since 2017. The range in fees seems to have grown over time, in 2019 there is more than a $60 difference per colony between the lowest and highest fee reported. From talking with others in the industry, the average fee of $195 in 2019 may be on the lower side. Fees for a majority of colonies likely ranged from $200 to $220 per colony in 2019."
Meanwhile, take a look at the honey bees foraging on an almond near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus.
Yes, you can.
If you've been wondering if there's still room for you at the innovative UC Davis symposium on "Saving a Bug's Life: Legal Solutions to Combat Insect Biodiversity Decline and the Sixth Mass Extinction," the answer is yes.
The free public event, set from 8:30 to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, 400 Mrak Ave., is sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS), and aims to bring together law and science to address insect biodiversity decline. You can register in advance on the Facebook page, or just show up at the symposium, according to co-chairs Kelly Beskin (email@example.com) and Peter Jansen (firstname.lastname@example.org). The event will include breakfast, lunch and an evening cocktail reception. (Download the agenda.)
The symposium begins at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast and check-in, followed by opening remarks by Kevin Johnson, dean, UC Davis School of Law; Benjamin Houlton, director, John Muir Institute of the Environment; and Peter Jansen, Environmental Law Society Symposium co-chair, UC Davis School of Law. Charlton Bonham, director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, will deliver the keynote address.
Four separate panels will center on protecting insects and biodiversity:
- The Science of Biodiversity Decline
- Listing Insets Under the California and Federal Endangered Species Acts: Procedures, Protections and Repercussions
- Pesticide Use in Agriculture: Protecting Pollinators and Sustainable Yield
- Protecting Insects and Combating the Sixth Mass Extinction: Best Policies and Practices
Insects have been called "the level pullers of the world." One study estimates that insects contribute more than $57 billion a year to the U.S. economy. However, many species currently face extinction.
Experts in the field of entomology and agricultural sciences will converse with leaders in government, legal scholars and practitioners about the current threat to insect populations "and how we can use legal tools, policy and management practices to combat the sixth mass extinction," Beskin said.
Four UC Davis entomologists are among the speakers:
- Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, whose expertise includes wasps. Kimsey is the "go-to" person in the department when the public requests general insect information.
- Neal Williams, professor and pollination ecologist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who focuses on native bees.
- Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has been monitoring the butterfly population of central California since 1972; and
- Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate and ant specialist, Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
During the lunch time, the Bohart Museum of Entomology will provide an insect fair. Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart will showcase insect specimens as well as a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. Also scheduled is honey tasting from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris. Graduate students will display their research projects, and the Entomology Graduate Student Association will be offering insect-themed t-shirts for sale. In addition, cricket protein bars will be handed out to all those interested.
Sponsors, in addition to ELS, include the California Environmental Law and Policy Center; UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment and the UC Davis School of Law.
Mark your calendar to "save a bug's life." It promises to be an educational and fun event.
Isn't it illegal to import stingless bees in the United States? It is.
So what's going on?
Members of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society and guests will find out when Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Center, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), speaks on “The Curious Case of the Stingless Bees of Palo Alto” on Thursday night, Feb. 27 on the UC Davis campus.
The society will meet at 7:30 p.m. in the conference room of the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Room 1371 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
“In 2013 we found a stingless bee colony in Palo Alto in a tree,” Hauser said, “and I had a very hard time identifying the species—the genus is Plebeia—and I had no idea how they made it into California and where they came from. Many years later and many strange events later, I figured all these things out.”
Hauser will discuss his research and also reveal how long stingless bees have been recorded in California.
The 7:30 p.m. meeting begins with a general business session, followed by Hauser's talk.
A pre-meeting dinner will begin at 6 p.m. at the KetMoRee restaurant in downtown Davis. Members and entomology associates interested in joining the group for dinner should e-mail Catherine "Kady" Tauber at email@example.com before Tuesday, Feb. 25.
The society meets six to eight times a year, usually at the California Academy of Sciences, UC Berkeley, or at the CDFA's Plant Pest Diagnostics Center. Membership in the society, organized in 1901, is open to everyone--amateurs and professionals alike. The annual membership fee is $25, and $12.50 for students. The society publishes the quarterly journal, The Pan-Pacific Entomologist. and the Bits and PES Newsletter for members residing within commuting distance of San Francisco.