It was not a good way to welcome an admiral.
The Red Admiral butterfly, that is.
The Vanessa atalanta fluttered into our pollinator garden on Sunday, July 16 in Vacaville, Calif., and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
The warmth of the sun, the rich nectar, a soft breeze, and all was well.
For a little while.
Several territorial male long-horned bees spied the stranger and pulled out the welcome mat. In a frenzy, they began dive-bombing the colorful black and red butterfly, trying to chase it away. "Those flowers are for our girls!" they seemed to say. "Leave! Now!"
Everywhere the butterfly went, a squadron of bombers followed. The sailboat-like wings proved a clear target.
One bullet-of-a-bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, slammed into the butterfly's wings, and that was enough.
"This pollinator garden's not big enough for both of us!"
You're looking for the winter daphne, Daphne odora Aureomarginta. You see a daphne sign in the Storer Garden but what's that on the sign? A butterfly? A Red Admiral? On Jan. 28? Are your eyes deceiving you?
You step closer and the butterfly is as real as real gets. It's basking in the warmth of the sun. Basking warms its flight muscles.
Yes, a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, in the dead of winter. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, points out that the Red Admiral overwinters as an adult. So while we're holed up in our homes, offices or warehouses, it's flying around, weather permitting.
On his website, Art's Butterfly World, Shapiro writes: "One of the most frequently seen butterflies in midwinter at low elevation, and often very common in the urban Bay Area, the Red Admiral occurs all around the Northern Hemisphere. It is multiple-brooded, overwinters as an adult, and may undergo altitudinal migration in the Sierra (where it is generally uncommon."
"The larval hosts are all members of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, including not only the familiar Stinging Nettles (Urtica holosericea and U. urens) but the tiny-leaved ground cover Baby's Tears (Helxine or Soleirolia) in moist, shaded gardens and the climbing urban weed Pellitory (Parietaria) in the Bay Area. The larva is solitary, in a rolled-leaf shelter."
With spring approaching on March 20, we're all anticipating more of Nature's wonders. Meanwhile, if you're seeking pollinator plants--or garden gems--check out the UC Davis Arboretum's plant sale on Saturday, March 11 at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. The Arboretum's first spring plant sale of the year, it's open to members only (Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Davis Botanical Society) from 9 to 11 a.m., and to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can also join the Friends of the Arboretum online or at the gate.
The inventory includes some 400 varieties and almost 13,000 plants. Here' s the list of "garden gems" you can download: LIFE AFTER LAWN: Garden Gems Plant List.
While you're there, be sure to walk a few yards over to the Storer Garden to see this wonderful little garden that bears the name of physician/philanthropist Ruth Risdon Storer (1888-1986), the first woman physician on the UC Davis campus and the first woman pediatrician practicing in Yolo County. There's always something new to see in the Storer Garden. If you're lucky, maybe a Red Admiral...
That may be how its name originated; someone corrupted "admirable" to "admiral."
And mistook "orange" for "red."
The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is not red: it's orange and black graced with orange bands and white spots. The undersides of the hindwings are not so colorful, with its brown-and-black camouflaged patterns.
Nevertheless, it's a gorgeous butterfly. It's found throughout North America from northern Canada to Central America, as well as throughout Europe, northern Africa and Eurasia. It's also located in Hawaii, New Zealand and some of the Caribbean Islands.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the butterfly populations in Central California for more than four decades, says on his website that it's "one of the most frequently seen butterflies in midwinter at low elevation" and it's "often very common in the urban Bay Area," not to mention occurring "all around the Northern Hemisphere."
The colorful butterfly lays its eggs on nettles (family Urticaceae), including the stinging nettles, wood nettle and false nettle. Caterpillars feed on the nettles, while the adults sip nectar from such plants as Buddleia and Jupiter's Beard. They also feed on overripe fruit.
The Red Admiral sports a girl's name, Vanessa, for its genus, and Atalanta for its species. In Greek mythology, Atalanta is a strong woman who, according to Wikipedia, "faces obstacles and backlash for refusing to follow gender norms."
Gender norms? What's that? :)
Anyway, was the Vanessa atalanta that fluttered into our yard on May 9 facing some "gender norm" challenges when it nectared on Jupiter's Beard?