She came, she saw, she oviposited, she nectared and she left.
That's the extent of our sole monarch sighting in our Vacaville pollinator garden this year. This occurred Oct. 9.
But the good news is that more monarchs are gathering on the overwintering sites along the California coast than this time last year. And this is occurring during a major drought year.
In an article, Monarch Butterflies Return to Pacific Grove. And the Drought May Be the Reason for Their Rebound, published yesterday (Oct. 21) in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tara Duggan wrote:
"For once there is some promising news for western monarch butterflies: Around 2,600 of the migratory insects were counted at Pacific Grove Thursday, after zero were observed at the famed Monterey County sanctuary last year. And overall, conservationists estimate the current population that has arrived in its annual wintertime migration to the California coast to be around 10,000 compared to 1,900 last year.
"One possible reason for the rebound: this year's drought, since warm and dry conditions in early spring can help with their migration."
Many others haves noticed the uptick, too. On Oct. 14, entomologist David James of Washington State University wrote on his Monarchs Butterflies of the Pacific Coast Facebook page: "Another exciting and encouraging update on monarch arrivals at the California overwintering sites. Combining all the reports I've received over the past few days there are an estimated 1500 butterflies at 5 overwintering sites from Santa Cruz to Pismo Beach. And still the butterflies are arriving... The highest number at one site is about 700 at a site in the Pismo beach area. This exceeds the highest number seen at one site in 2020 (550 at Natural Bridges). Pacific Grove is reported to have about 200 butterflies. This is especially notable since none were recorded at this site in 2020. Inbound migration will continue for a few more weeks yet but even at this early stage we are close to exceeding the entire population counted at overwintering sites in 2020. Good news, indeed!"
Volunteers counted only 1900 on the overwintering sites along the California coast in 2020, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Compare that to approximately 29,000 in 2019 and almost 200,000 in 2017.
"But on Wednesday (Oct. 20) volunteers counted 8,000 of the butterflies at two groves in Pismo Beach, compared to 300 last year," wrote Duggan.
Scientists, including Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, say the main reasons for the decline of the monarchs are habitat loss and pesticides.
Plant milkweed, plant nectar sources and lose the pesticides.
(Editor's Note: Due to UC ANR server issues, images aren't visible. Click on the icon to see the image)
Seen any monarchs lately?
No, not the British royal family: the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology who has monitored butterfly populations of dozens of species in the Central Valley since 1972, says it's a poor year for monarchs.
He saw one monarch on Sept. 26 in Davis, and one on Sept. 27 in West Sacramento, both Yolo County. "The coastward migration is apparently afoot...all 6 dozen of them..." he lamented.
Maybe the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife will declare it an endangered species?
From its website: "On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that listing the monarch as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions. The decision is the result of an extensive status review of the monarch that compiled and assessed the monarch's current and future status. The monarch is now a candidate under the Endangered Species Act; we will review its status annually until a listing decision is made."
The first five paragraphs of their news release, issued Dec. 15, 2020: "After a thorough assessment of the monarch butterfly's status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has found that adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions. With this decision, the monarch becomes a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate."
“We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act. However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith. “While this work goes on, we are committed to our ongoing efforts with partners to conserve the monarch and its habitat at the local, regional and national levels. Our conservation goal is to improve monarch populations, and we encourage everyone to join the effort.”
“The Monarch Joint Venture is committed to continuing its conservation efforts for monarchs. Each of our partners, and many other stakeholders, come to the monarch conservation table with different approaches, audiences, strengths and opportunities to make a difference. There is a role for everyone in monarch conservation,” stated Wendy Caldwell, Executive Director, Monarch Joint Venture.
"Over the past 20 years, scientists have noted declines in North American monarchs overwintering in Mexico and California, where these butterflies cluster. Numbers in the larger eastern population are measured by the size of the area they occupy. At a density of roughly 8.5 million monarchs per acre, it is estimated that the eastern population fell from about 384 million in 1996 to a low of 14 million in 2013. The population in 2019 was about 60 million. The western population, located in California, saw a more precipitous decline, from about 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 in 2019."
"In 2014, the Service received a petition to list the species and published a substantial 90-day finding in December 2014. In 2016, the agency began an in-depth status assessment, looking at the global population as well as focusing on monarchs in North America, where 90% of the world's population occurs."
Meanwhile, the tally of sightings in the Yolo-Solano area is troubling. Beyond troubling....
Ever seen a green metallic sweat bee?
The colors are exquisite.
This is a female Agapostemon on a purple coneflower at UC Davis. They are called "sweat bees" because they are attracted to human perspiration.
The genders are easy to distinguish. The males have a striped abdomen.
Green sweat bees are among the bees featured in the book, "California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists," co-authored by the University of California team of Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley; Robbin Thorp (1933-2019) UC Davis; and UC Berkeley affiliates Rollin Coville (photographer and entomologist) and Barbara Ertter (plant specialist). Frankie, Thorp, Coville and Ertter (and others) also published "Native Bees Are a Rich Natural Resource in Urban California Gardens" in California Agriculture.
Oh, those bee-utiful bees. They are not only conspicuous, but charming and often camera-cooperative.
Our showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is putting on a show.
The towering plant--a good eight feet--anchors the garden as we patiently wait for monarch butterflies to arrive and lay their eggs.
It's mid-August and it appears the monarchs are not coming here to our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Maybe we'll see some during their late summer or early fall migration--on their way to their overwintering sites along coastal California.
Meanwhile, the speciosa has more than its share of lady beetles (aka ladybugs) and aphids.
But now we have a new visitor, well, maybe a permanent resident.
A praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata (as confirmed by mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, a UC Davis graduate and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate now attending graduate school in Towson University, Maryland) has arrived.
For the first several days, Ms. Mantis hung upside down and did not eat (at least in our presence). She watched the bees buzzing around but made no effort to snag one. We think she was yawning. "Okay, I know you're there. I don't care and I'm not hungry."
Then we found her exoskeleton on one of the speciosa leaves.
A mantid's "skeleton," you know, is outside its body and it's known as an "exoskeleton." It reminds us of a suit of armor, for protection, support and form (is it a "suite of amour" when love abounds?).
A young mantis eats and outgrows its exoskeleton and then it molts (sheds it). Scientists say some species of growing mantids may lose their exoskeletons as many as 10 times.
And, according to Garikipati, a mantis that has just molted may not eat for two or three days.
Did you hear that, bees?
So, bottom line, no monarchs on the milkweed.
But we do have assorted lady beetles, aphids, and one praying mantis and her exoskeleton.
Wait, correct that. Just one mantis. A breeze just swept away the exoskeleton.
So began noted neuroscientist John Hildebrand in his keynote speech heralding the opening of the first-of-its kind international olfaction/taste symposium. Hildebrand is the Honors Professor and Regents Professor at the University of Arizona and the International Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences.
UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal coordinated and co-hosted the Zoom symposium, titled “Insect Olfaction and Taste in 24 Hours Around the Globe.” The free event drew attendees from 66 countries.
The presentations, which began at 9 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), Wednesday, Aug. 11, were uploaded to YouTube. All ten videos from the symposium are now online:
- Video One is at https://youtu.be/QlyNCZtSvtY
- Video Two is at https://youtu.be/-aO8-1yfQRI
- Video Three is at https://youtu.be/2SsQvYlXKXY
- Video Four is at https://youtu.be/hmmEac7MliI
- Video Five is at https://youtu.be/60D99Z6nJI8
- Video Six is at https://youtu.be/rZ7i4d7VogQ
- Video Seven is at https://youtu.be/19ukK_R7eKE
- Video Eight is at youtu.be/eROTKZFhu9w
- Video Nine is at https://youtu.be/uVrESHyAyvU
- Video Ten is at https://youtu.be/-XUuKGYbByc
"As an undergraduate student, I started in research working on bacteria in the laboratory of the biochemist John Law," he related. "At that time he was beginning to redirect his research to problems in insect biochemistry and among other projects; he was collaborating with the biologist E. O. Wilson in studies of ant pheromones. The term pheromone had been invented only three years earlier in 1959 in Germany by Peter Carlson and Martin Luther, and in that same year another German out of Bhutan and his group had reported the first chemical identification of an insect pheromone."
That was the silk moth pheromone, Bombykol, released by the female silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) to attract mates.
The rest, they say, is history. Insect history.
The symposium included 15 invited (keynote) and 36 contribution presentations,” said Leal, a UC Davis distinguished professor with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology). Leal hosted the PDT segment. Wynand van der Goes van Naters of Cardiff University, UK, hosted the British Summer Time (BST) segment; and Coral Warr of La Trobe University, Australia hosted the Australia Eastern Standard Time (AEST) segment.
The presentations covered a wide variety of insects, including three species of mosquitoes (Culex, Aedes and Anopheles); honey bee (Apis mellifera); fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila sechellia, and Drosophila suzukii); sand flies (the blood-sucking dipteran flies); cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera); housefly (Musca domestica); cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae); and the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana).
- Total users (including those logging in periodically): 2,990
- 71 percent of the attendees surveyed said they were "very satisfied" with the symposium, and 12 percent "satisfied."
- 54 percent of the surveyed attendees had never attended a conference on chemosensation.
"One of the highlights of the symposium was the participation of students and postdocs who showcased their work and announced at the end, that they will be looking for a position," Leal said. "Other professors, at the end of their talks, advertised vacancies in their lab. I had asked all presenters to share some new data. In fact, many presenters showed unpublished data, while others showed data that they had already submitted to BioRxiv, a non-peer reviewed pre-print server."
At the closing, Leal selected two persons to give their impressions of the symposium:
- See opinion by Greg Pask, an assistant professor of biology at Middlebury College, Vermont: https://twitter.com/wsleal2014/status/1427040189147275271.
- See comments by Nathalia Brito, who just completed her Ph.D. at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro: https://twitter.com/wsleal2014/status/1427431406527934490
- "I used to work in the field of insect taste and olfaction and have attended a couple of ESITO meetings (European Symposium for Insect Taste and Olfaction) when I was a grad student and in early days as a postdoc. This was a wonderful opportunity to see that latest advances in the field and see many of the people whom I had met in person talk and some new people."
- "Thank you to the organizers for coordinating such an informative and well run virtual event."
- "Great collegial and convivial atmosphere. Really good idea to have a commentary on the lectures."
- "I am working on bark beetle olfaction, so I am available in the future with this topic. Thank you."
- "I learnt a lot from different groups especially disease vectors. It was a privilege to listen to some of the big names in this area. Looking forward to a future meeting."
- "I would like say the heartiest thanks to everyone who worked on this webinar. I am doing research for more than 10 years and I never experienced such a wonderful scientific event. What you have done can not be appreciated by words."
- "Undoubtedly, this is the best symposium I have ever attended to. I was able to join with almost every presentation. As an early-career researcher in chemical ecology, this inspired me a lot. Hope to present in this meeting and getting to know great scientists in the future. Hats off to the organisers. Thank you."
- "Thank you for organizing! I only wish there were more detailed times for each presentation so I could be sure to tune in for specific talks, but this is a great concept!"
The detailed schedule of times and speakers was purposely not announced in advance "in order to keep attendance high when students, postdocs, and early-career scholars presented," Leal said, adding "I enjoyed listening to the student/early-career researchers talks. All of them were very interesting and well executed."
For more information and updates, follow Walter Leal on Twitter at @wsleal2014 or access his biochemistry channel where all the videos will be posted. Folks can also turn on YouTube and Chrome browser notifications to receive alerts.