The seventh annual International Monarch Monitoring Blitz will take place Friday, July 28 through Sunday, Aug. 6.
That's when community scientists from across North America--United States, Canada and Mexico--will "come together with the shared goal of helping to protect and conserve the beloved and emblematic monarch butterfly," the organizers said. "Data collected by volunteers each year support trinational efforts to better understand the monarch butterfly's breeding productivity, range, and timing in North America."
So, during this 10-day period, we will look for monarchs, as well as eggs, caterpillars and chrysalids, and load the data via the Trinational Monarch Knowledge Network, "a central repository that, in combining data from various sources, assists researchers in performing large-scale temporal and spatial analyses. The data collected by volunteers help researchers answer key questions about monarch butterfly and milkweed distribution, timing of reproduction, and the use of natural resources. In turn, this information helps conservationists identify and prioritize actions to conserve the species."
Ready to participate? All you have to do is share your data with one of the community science programs below:
- Journey North (journeynorth.org)
- Mission Monarch (mission-monarch.org)
- Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (mlmp.org)
- Naturalista (naturalista.mx)
- Correo Real Program/PROFAUNA A.C. (https://www.correoreal.mx/)
- Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper (monarchmilkweedmapper.org)
The Blitz is organized by the Trinational Monarch Conservation Science Partnership, a collaboration of organizations, including the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Insectarium/Montréal Space for Life, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the Monarch Joint Venture, Journey North, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, PROFAUNA AC/Correo Real Program, and Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (Conanp).
Last year's effort resulted in 5988 observations, 2698 participants from 75 states and provinces, 19,222 monarchs observed, and 68,847 milkweeds examined.
Also, you can sign up for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation's newsletter here.
We remember that in 2016, our Vacaville pollinator garden thrived with 300 monarch eggs and caterpillars. The most exciting event? On Monday, Sept. 5, 2016 a citizen-tagged monarch fluttered into our yard from Ashland, Ore. This was part of a migratory monarch project headed by entomologist David James of Washington State University, my alma mater. Community scientist Steven Johnson of Ashland tagged it on Aug. 28, numbering it A6093.
"So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," James told us. "Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now." (See Bug Squad blog)
Now, to keep our eyes open for Danaus plexippus--the adults, eggs, caterpillars and chrysalids--during the July 28-Aug. 6 blitz.
Zero sightings in our yard so far this year!
Call it “The Battle Over a Tree Hollow."
Feral bees have occupied—and abandoned—a sycamore tree cavity in a Vacaville neighborhood for at least two decades. They occupy it in the spring, summer and fall, and then the colony either absconds or dies back in the winter.
When this winter proved exceptionally cold and rainy, a clever squirrel moved in.
A place to stay warm. A perfect sleepy hollow.
Then in early April, scout bees from a spring swarm begin circling the tree. Wait! There's an intruder inside.
Squirrel: "Occupied! No vacancy!"
Bees: "Out, it's ours!”
Squirrel: “Finders, keepers! I was here first!”
Bees: “But it's ours! This is our bee tree!”
Cars speed by. Residents trudge by with leashed dogs. Birds chirp. A hound bays uproariously. The sleepy squirrel pokes his head out occasionally as if to ask “What's all the ruckus about? Can't a squirrel get some sleep?”
More bees buzz around his head.
“Occupied!” Mr. Squirrel shouts again. “No vacancy!”
The score: Squirrel: 1. Bees: 0.
Then one mid-April day, the tenant vanishes.
The bees quickly move in. Call it a "hollow victory" for the bees.
The score: Bees: 1. Squirrel, O.
Now a queen bee is busily laying eggs. The workers are performing their age-related duties: nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, undertakers, and guards.
Who was it who said "Everything works if you let it?" The American rock band, Cheap Trick.
Have you seen any Checkered White butterflies lately?
They're quite common in the southern United States and northern Mexico (they're known as the Southern cabbage butterfly), but one CW fluttered through our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Solano County, Calif., on June 23.
It's in the same family, Pieridae, as the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae.
This one, a female Pontia protodice, as identified by butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, seemed to like our lavender.
"There was one laying eggs at Gates Canyon (Vacaville) two weeks ago," Shapiro noted. "This is an immigrant, which occasionally overwinters here--not very recently, though. It lives in the desert, both in SoCal and in Nevada. I don't know which direction these are coming from."
He reported two recently at Lang Crossing (Nevada County) on the Sierran West slope at 5000 feet. "This is probably a significant incursion."
He saw "scads of them" on June 30 in Rancho Cordova (Sacramento County)--clearly breeding there!"
The Checkered Whites "tend to fly in a straighter line than rapae, like it's late for an important date," he quipped. The females have more extensive markings than the males.
On his website, Art's Butterfly World, he points out that:
"In the 1970s this species was often abundant at low elevation along the transect, overwintering only locally and sporadically-mostly on dredge tailings along the American River. It has since become much rarer and in most years is seen only in September and October. At Sierra Valley it overwinters unpredictably but colonizes each year from the desert in May or June, and usually becomes common by late summer. It has been recorded at all sites but is not a permanent resident at any of them at this time!"
"A highly vagile species, the Checkered White breeds on a great variety of Brassicaceous plants, preferring smaller and unsucculent species such as Peppergrasses (Lepidium, but L. latifolium is unpreferred), Tumble Mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), and the short-lived perennial Hirschfeldia incana (formerly called Brassica geniculata). The eggs are orange, laid conspicuously near the top of the plant, and the larvae, which are striped lengthwise in whitish yellow and greenish gray, feed primarily on buds, flowers and fruit. However, eggs are also often laid on small rosettes, especially if the larger plants in the area are senescent. This is overwhelmingly a species of grassland and steppe and occurs in wooded areas only along roadsides."
Shapiro, who has been monitoring the butterfly population of central California since 1972, says the Checkered White adults visit mustards, composites, legumes "and almost anything else; they are often abundant in irrigated alfalfa and visit its flowers freely. Males patrol in host-plant areas and often mate with teneral females."
No doubt you've seen a praying mantis egg case, or ootheca, on a tree, shrub, fence or post.
But have you ever seen one attached to a clothespin on an outdoor clothes line?
So here we were Thursday afternoon, hanging freshly laundered dog blankets on the clothes line.
We grabbed one clothespin after another, carefully fastening Fido's favorite blankets to the line to dry in the 80-degree temperature.
One more reach....Whoa! What's that?
Can't use that one. There's a ooth on it.
A praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, had apparently pinned her hopes to a clothespin. Or maybe that was her PIN number?
"Too funny," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. "What a weird place to put your ooth."
Our little gravid gal must have climbed the eight-foot-high clothes pole last fall; walked the line (ala Johnny Cash?); and discovered the "perfect place" to deposit her ooth--right above a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) buzzing with bees and fluttering with butterflies.
"I've seen egg cases on outdoor furniture, predator guards on duck boxes, on buildings between bricks, trees, and even garden implements like pots, watering cans, and tools," said praying mantis expert Andrew Pfeifer, who now studies horticulture/landscape design at North Carolina University. "It's a Stagmomantis limbata ooth for sure; the hatch rate will be 150 or less."
Oothecas don't usually hatch until around June, but with the temperatures soaring here in Vacaville, it could happen "even within the month," Pfeifer says.
In September 2018, we watched a praying mantis deposit her ooth a few feet from that clothesline. That gal chose a redwood stake. (See photos on Bug Squad blog).
Now we wait for the nymphs to emerge...and scramble to eat one another...and prey on bees and butterflies...and the life cycle begins.
- It's one of the habitats of the California state insect, the California dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, and its host plant, false indigo, Amorpha californica--or at least it was before massive wildfire swept through there on Aug. 19, 2020.
- It's one of 10 research sites of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored central California's butterfly populations since 1972 and maintains a research website at https://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/
And now, it's the home of a newly discovered ant species.
Myrmecologists Brendon Boudinot, Marek Borowiec and Matthew Prebus, all alumni of the Phil Ward laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, just published their collaborative research, "Phylogeny, Evolution, and Classification of the Ant Genus Lasius, the Tribe Lasiini and the Subfamily Formicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)," in the journal Systemic Entomology.
The ant world on Twitter is crawling with congratulatory comments and how "awesome" the work is. Wrote one: "Congratulations! Lasius is a familiar genus in Japan, so I will let the Japanese entomologists know about it."
The story behind the story? It all began in the Ward lab. "The Three Ant Men" are now scattered from Idaho to Arizona to Germany.
- Borowiec, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2016, is an assistant professor at the University of Idaho.
- Prebus, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2018, is a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University.
- Boudinot, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2020, is in Jena, Germany on a two-year Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to research evolutionary and comparative anatomy.
Looking back, Prebus and Borowiec said that they were both interested in Lasius atopus "due to its strange morphology and lack of phylogenetic data despite the amount of attention paid to the genus, and planned a collecting trip to the type locality in Mendocino County in 2013."
The collecting trip to Mendocino proved unsuccessful. "But because of Phil's extensive collections. we knew of a population of a closely related species in Gates Canyon near the city of Vacaville," Prebus said. This time the trio collected specimens from several colonies at Gates Canyon, which is located off Pleasants Valley Road.
"For all of us, this was a collaborative side project, so after the study was presented, submitted, and rejected, it took the back-burner while people finished their dissertations, got jobs, got married, had kids, and so on," Prebus recalled. "Speaking personally, the pandemic put quite a few of my postdoc projects on hold after the Arizona State University campus closed, but the small upside amongst the inundation of downsides was that I was able to focus on getting some long-haul projects into shape for publication, including the Lasius study. This involved a huge amount of reanalysis of data that we had already collected, but thankfully didn't require generating any new data."
See more on the ant research on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.
(Note that the 7.8 mile Gates Canyon Road, lined with residential homes (private property) and "no trespassing" signs, is a paved county road that leads to the top of Mount Summit, the highest point in Vacaville. It is narrow and hilly. Hikers, runners, walkers and bicylists consider it a challenge.)