When Frank Loesser (1910-1969) wrote and composed "Luck Be a Lady" in 1950, he wasn't thinking of a butterfly.
But when we spotted this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) in our garden this week, we knew she was lucky.
A predator, probably a bird, chunked out parts of both wings, but that didn't seem to bother her as she sipped nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifola).
If anything, her close encounter made her even more alert to her surroundings.
The orange, brown and white butterfly, so named because of its impressive colors and display, is found throughout much of the world. It migrates seasonally. Scientists say it can fly 100 miles per day at nearly 30 miles per hour.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis emeritus professor of evolution and ecology who has been monitoring the butterflies of central California since 1972 and posts his research on Art Shapiro's Butterfly World, says that "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," Shapiro relates on his site, noting that "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."
Hail to the Painted Lady...
A green bottle fly lands on a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
Houston, we have landed!
The fly, Lucilia sericata, begins to sip the nectar, unaware that a hungry praying mantis, a Stagmomantis limbata (as confirmed by mantis expert Lohit Garikipati) is watching.
The mantis slowly sneaks within striking distance, and waits for his prey to approach closer. Closer. Closer. Closer.
Whoosh! Gotcha! It wraps its spiked forelegs around it.
Houston, dinner is served! Fly à la carte.
Want to learn more about praying mantises?
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis is hosting an open house, themed "Praying Mantises," on Sunday, Aug. 27 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane. It is free and family friendly.
According to Kris Anderson of Las Vegas, an alumnus of Cornell University (master's degree in entomology) and author of Praying Mantises of the United States and Canada: "There are just 28 species of Mantodea found within the United States and Canada, the 7 largest of which are invasive species from other parts of the globe."
Some myths about praying mantises, as related by Anderson in his book, available on Amazon:
Myth: "Mantises sway back and forth while crawling to imitate vegetation blowing in the wind."
Truth: "The peering movement of mantises, demonstrated by the swaying back and forth of their body while ambulating or preparing to leap/take flight, is a behavioral adaptation to gain depth perception of their surroundings and has nothing to do with mimicry. Mantises blend into their environment by remaining motionless against a substrate that they morphologically resemble—not by moving. Peering movements causes the retinal images of nearby objects to be displaced more quickly than those of more distant objects, thus allowing the mantis to gain depth perception of its environment as it navigates forward."
Myth: "Mantises grab insects and immediately bite the neck/head to quickly kill their prey."
Truth: "The spinose forelegs of praying mantises are used to hold onto and prevent their prey from escaping. Once secured in their grip, the mantis will pull the prey forward and begin to meticulously chew upon whatever body part of the prey item is closest to their mouth—be it a leg, a wing, the thorax, abdomen, or head. No specific body region is exclusively targeted and the prey is always eaten alive, bit by bit, dying a slow death."
Myth: "Female mantises cannibalize the males while mating."
Truth: "With over 2,400 species of Mantodea worldwide, only a small fraction of species regularly engage in sexual cannibalism. Most do not. Of those that engage in this practice, the occurrence is not inevitable, as males typically escape and may mate with other partners."
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a live insect petting zoo (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas), and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, books, posters, jewelry and more.
The Bohart Museum is planning two other open houses this fall:
Saturday, Sept. 23: Household Vampires
Saturday, Nov. 4: Monarchs
All open houses are free and family friendly. At each event, the focus is on a special theme, but there's also a family arts-and-crafts activity, announced Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
National Honey Bee Day is Saturday, Aug. 19 and you're invited to join this oh-so-sweet celebration!
Launched in 2009, National Honey Bee Day takes place on the third Saturday of August. The event originated when a small group of beekeepers petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to honor" the honey bees and beekeepers.
HoneyLove.org, a Los Angeles-based honey bee educational non-profit organization, manages National Honey Bee Day and boosts "the educational outreach, community action and advocacy efforts to protect the health and well-being of honey bees," according to its website.
California Master Beekeeper Program. While we're honoring bees, we should also honor the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), founded and directed by Elina Lastro Niño,associate professor of Cooperative Extension and a member of the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"The award seeks to highlight teams who actively develop and encourage faculty/staff partnerships and as a result are able to make notable contributions to UC Davis that contribute to the University's Mission of Teaching, Research, and Service; and who exemplify outstanding achievement and/or service," according to Staff Assembly officials.
At the time of the nomination (March 15, 2023), CAMBP had
- Given 32,000 hours of volunteer time (Beneficial Educational Experiences) and served 186,630 individuals in education, outreach and beekeeping mentorship. If a volunteer hour is worth $26.87, the program has given $859,840 back to the state of California in service of science-based beekeeping and honey bee health.
- Enrolled 185 Honey Bee Ambassadors (a level established in 2021), 494 Apprentice, 93 Journey level candidates and certified 20 Master level beekeepers. There are 12 members in 2023 participating in their Master Capstone projects.
- Recorded 3752 hours since the team began tracking Continuing Education Experiences in 2020.
- Embarked on a project updating a safety manual.
National Honey Bee Day is also a good opportunity to learn about bees, our mini-agricultural workers that pollinate one-third of the food we eat.
The book includes 16 color plates (images contributed by Kathy Keatley Garvey), spotlighting a bee egg, bee castes, swarms and almond pollination, among others.
Princeton University Press bills the book as "the first up-to-date general reference of its kind published in decades. It is a must-have resource for social insect biologists, scientifically savvy beekeepers, and any scientist interested in bees as a model system."
Among his many honors and recognitions, Johnson was part of The UC Davis Bee Team that won the 2012 Team Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America. Other members: Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (1944-2022); systematist/hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology; native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019) emeritus professor of entomology; and pollination ecologist Neal Williams (now professor) who specializes in pollination and bee biology.
Ah, the fiery skipper, Hylephila phyleus!
They are, as UC Davis distinguished professor emeritus Art Shapiro says, "California's most urban butterfly."
Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly populations of Calfornia since 1972 and maintains a research website at https://butterfly.ucdavis.edu, says the fiery skipper is "almost limited to places where people mow lawns."
That would not include us. Our "lawn" is a pollinator garden.
Some interesting facts about the fiery skipper, from Professor Shapiro:
"Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean."
- It's been in California since at least 1937.
- "It is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October."
- "Breeds mostly on Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon), which despite its name is native to the Mediterranean region; probably on other turf grasses as well, including the native Distichlis spicata, which is a Hylephila hostplant in Peru and Chile! Adults swarm over garden flowers--Lantana, Verbena, Zinnias, Marigolds, Buddleia, etc., etc. and in the wild are quite happy with Yellow Star-Thistle."
How did it get the fiery skipper get its name? From the males, which are a bright orange, while the females are a dull brown.
Fiery skippers have also been described as "rapid flyers with darting movements."
That's especially true when you're focusing your camera. They dart, they dodge, they don't oblige.
Sometimes, however, you get lucky, and catch them in flight.
On her arm is a Cordulegaster diadema, aka Apache spiketail, and it's beautiful.
Anna, who didn't follow her father's footsteps into the field of entomology, instead has a dragonfly within arm's reach.
Anna, employed at Deluxe Studios (remotely), and her researcher father recently attended an insect-drawing class at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, "An Evening at the Museum." The class, taught by Professor Miguel Angel Miranda of the University of the Balearic Islands, Spain, a participant in the newly concluded 10th International Dipterology Congress in Reno, drew such comments as "So much fun!"
No tattoo for Rosser?
"Nope," said Rosser. "No tattoos on me. Just over 50,000 preserved dried Odonata specimens--over 3000 species--from all over the world here at home in Sacramento."
Three thousand different species...that's nearly half of the world's 6000 described species of dragonflies.
Rosser served as a senior biologist/entomologist for Los Angeles County from 1984 to 2004 before becoming a senior insect biosystematist with the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, Sacramento, where he identified orthopteroid, heteropteroid, other groups of invertebrates including mollusks. He currently enjoys working on Odonata at his home in Sacramento.
One of them is C. diadema, commonly known as the Apache spiketail ("spiketail" refers to the female's prominent ovipoistor). The adult is usually 74-88 millimeters long. "It ranges from southwestern United States to Mexico and Costa Rica," according to Wikipedia, which notes: "The back of the head is yellow to brown with yellow to black hairs, though some have been reported with a black head with white hairs. The first proximal segment of the legs are yellow. The thorax has two lateral stripes with a yellow stripe between them."
The Bohart Museum featured Garrison and his work at its November 2022 open house on dragonflies. He displayed “the largest dragonfly in the world," Petalura ingentissima, found in Queensland, Australia. Its wingspan can measure 160 mm. Among his other specimens: some of the world's smallest dragonflies, including Nannothemis bella, Perithemis tenera (both eastern United States) and Nannophya phymaea (Singapore).
Anna isn't the only one in the family who has dragonflies within an arm's reach!
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, including 469 different species of dragonflies. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus., it is open to the public (summer hours) on Tuesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing email@example.com.