Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, knows where they are. As mentioned in a previous Bug Squad blog, he spotted a cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, on Jan. 16 on the UC Davis campus, just south of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, located at 254 Old Davis Road.
As you probably know, Professor Shapiro always looks for rapae as part of his scientific research; he sponsors the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest to determine its first flight of the year. COVID-19 canceled this year's contest.
But did you also know that Shapiro found FOUR other butterfly species on his Jan. 16th rounds in Davis, which included Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus, and residential Davis?
- Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, seen in Lot 1 landscaping
- Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, spotted in residential Davis, north central
- West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, seen on Old Davis Road near the campus hotel.
- Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa, spotted on Old Davis Road
The links on the species will direct you to his amazing research site, Art's Butterfly World, and the wealth of information.
Our butterfly-spotting record so far: Zero. Zilch. Nada.
But of course, what with the pandemic and all, we haven't been out much. The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is a good place to stroll, observe and photograph. We remember spotting a Mourning Cloak in the Arboretum's Ruth Risdon Garden on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 on an identification sign for the silver anniversary butterfly bush, Buddleia “Morning Mist."
It was a good place to warm its wings.
Meanwhile, here are a few images of the butterflies that Shapiro saw on Jan. 16. These images were taken in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano.
Honey bees are the first thing you notice about the sea squill (Drimiamaritima or Urginea maritima) in the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
The sea squill, thriving in the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo, is a bee magnet, not to mention it's an incredible flowering plant in an incredible place.
As it says on the Arboretum website: "The Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo is a theme garden based on medieval moon-viewing gardens of India and Japan. With its curving paths framing a vine-covered gazebo, the garden is a popular site for weddings and other events. Many of the plants here are fragrant, and their pale flowers are particularly luminous by moonlight. The garden is named for Carolee Shields, an avid gardener and the wife of Judge Peter J. Shields, one of the founders of the UC Davis campus."
The plant grows from a large bulb that produces a raceme of flowers. It's native to southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Since ancient times, it's been used as a medicinal plant. Hippocrates reportedly used it to treat jaundice, convulsions, and asthma. The main active compounds, according to Wikipedia, are cardiac glycosides.
And did you know that the plant has also been used as a poison? "It is very bitter, so most animals avoid it," Wikipedia tells us. "Rats, however, eat it readily, and then succumb to the toxic scilliroside. This has made the plant a popular rodenticide for nearly as long as it has been in use as a medicine. The bulbs are dried and cut into chips, which can then be powdered and mixed with rat bait. The plant was introduced as an experimental agricultural crop in the 20th century primarily to develop high-toxicity varieties for use as rat poison.]nterest continued to develop as rats became resistant to coumarin-based poison."
If you've ever stepped in sticky gum, it's similar to what happens when an insect steps into milkweed pollinia.
Take the wasps visiting the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) on Thursday morning, July 16 in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
They foraged on the colorful red, yellow and orange blossoms, and as nature intended (for reproductive reasons), flew off with that sticky pollinia from the anthers.
Basically, pollinia is a sticky packet of golden pollen grains originating from a single anther. The wishbone-shaped pollinia are in a nectar trough where insects often get trapped. Some insects manage to escape but leave body parts behind. A foot here...a wing there...an antenna over there...
One wasp exited a flower with "the golden glue" on its feet.
“Too funny with all the milkweed pollinia all over its feet,” commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and Nematology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, who identified the wasp as a species of Podalonia, parasitoidal wasps in the family Sphecidae. "It looks like it's wearing fluffy socks.”
We've seen honey bees on showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) struggling to free themselves, only to find the bees dead the next day--and new recruits buzzing in for their share.
These Podalonia wasps, however, managed to navigate the "traps" quite well.
They'll be back for another round.
(Reminder: Folks planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Davis, Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.)
She probably eats a lot of mosquitoes.
After all, we just observed National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, June 21-27, didn't we?
We spotted this female widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) on Friday morning, June 26 in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. She flashed her steel-blue coloring and her black basal-banded wings as she zig-zagged from one perch to the other, catching and consuming flying insects.
Naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the gender and confirmed the species. "I think this is a very good year for them," he told us. Last week he and a colleague observed many widow skimmers, both male and female, in West Davis.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," according to BugGuide.Net. "Females and immature males have the same brown wing bands as the mature males, but not the whitish areas. Wings usually have a brown tip. A dorsal view of the abdomen shows a brown band at center with a yellow stripe running along each side."
Widow skimmers are found throughout the United States except for the Rocky Mountain region, says BugGuide.Net. Their range also includes southern Ontario and Quebec.
Locally, look for these dragonflies near Putah Creek, which flows through the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. These species are most commonly seen in the summer, and what a treat to see.
Mosquitoes might think otherwise, though.
The "Tiger King" has nothing on the Western Tiger Swallowtail.
The colorful yellow and black butterfly, Papilio rutulus, reigns supreme. We saw this one last week at the Ruth Storer Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
"The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse," writes butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his website. "It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen."
We've seen it glide majestically and forage on everything from Verbena to lilacs (Syringa) to the butterfly bush (Buddleja). What a treat--especially during the coronavirus pandemic! When you visit the Arboretum, keep your social distance and wear facial masks, per the Yolo County Health Department's current precautions.)
Meet the real Tiger King: the Western Tiger Swallowtail./span>