Early in his career, the late heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) drew international headlines when he uttered that remark before his 1964 fight with then champion Sonny Liston.
It was all over by the seventh round when "The Greatest" emerged victorious. But his comment regarding butterfly and bee behavior lives on.
That begs the question--were any bug people ever champion boxers?
Yes, the late James H. Oliver Jr. (1931-2018) was a Golden Gloves champion.
Two years before Oliver died, entomologist Marlin Rice, a past president of the Entomological Society of America, interviewed him for American Entomologist (Volume 62, Issue 4, Winter 2016), pointing out: "James H. Oliver, Jr. is Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Biology Emeritus at Georgia Southern University and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Oliver is widely recognized as an international expert in medical entomology and acarology, especially the biology and cytogenetics of pathogen-transmitting ticks and parasitic mites."
And Oliver was a Golden Gloves state champion.
Rice asked him a series of questions, including:
"Were you a good student?"
Oliver: "No, not very. I was a good school athlete and party guy. [Laughs.]
You went into boxing at the University of Georgia? Were you a good boxer?
Oliver: "Yeah. I won the state championship in my weight—the Golden Gloves."
Did you ever get knocked out boxing?
Did you ever knock out an opponent?
Oliver: Yeah. [Laughs.]
What's the quickest round you ever won?
Oliver: "Probably second or third round. I was so good at it because I was in good physical condition—great physical condition. I had a coach that said the one's that's in the best physical condition and can keep his left jab going all the time and don't try for a knockout—just hammer him [would win]. It was very good advice, because after the second round my opponent would usually get arm weary and I'd block him by keeping my hands up. That's how I won most of my fights, out of pure physical condition, and I was coordinated and fast. So then I found what I wanted to do; I'm not going to be a veterinarian, I'm going to be a boxer—a professional boxer! Well, that wasn't well thought out. [Laughs.] My brother, and he was always a scholar, said, “My god, you can't do that. You're going to have a brain concussion!” “Yeah, but I'm quick.” I was finally talked into not doing that and leaving the University of Georgia. I went to Georgia Southern 'cause it was only 50 miles away from home and I liked teaching as well. So I'll become a high school biology teacher and coach. That was my goal for several years until I decided I don't want to do that." (Read the entire interview here.)
So, yes, at least one entomologist was a boxing champion. Another professional boxer went into pest control following his retirement. Mike "Irish Mike" Jameson fought the likes of Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Randall “Tex” Cobbs before fighting bugs, landing a job as a pest control inspector with Clark Pest Control, Lodi, Calif., according to a feature story on pctonline.com.)
Did they ever say "Float like Lepidoptera, sting like Hymenoptera?"
Well, maybe they said "flutter" instead of "float?"
It's early morning.
A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, perches alone in the center of a lavender bed in Vacaville, Calif. It's too early for the honey bees.
This Gulf Frit probably eclosed at dusk yesterday and then flew several yards from the host plant, Passiflora, to the lavender bed.
As the sun warms her wings, she unfolds them gingerly. As honey bees arrive, buzzing all around her, she moves a few feet.
Eventually she flutters away as more honey bees arrive, a hummingbird hovers over an agave, and California scrub jays chatter.
Just another day in the Life of a Butterfly and another opportunity to showcase this glorious orange-reddish butterfly with silver-spangled underwings.
"This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th Century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s," writes butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his research website. He's been monitoring butterfly populations in the Central Valley since 1972. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley-- nd has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield where, however, it is not established. There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally! In the Bay Area, this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough.
Yes, flying throughout much of the year. We've seen a Gulf Frit laying eggs on Christmas Day. A gift unlike any other. Early mornings are good, too.
Some people are born good-looking. Some have the gift of gab. And some are lucky enough to be born smarter than the rest of us. Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature does not dole these characteristics out evenly.--Simon Sinek
That applies to butterflies, too. Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
If you're rearing butterflies, such as Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), expect to see some defects, deformities and death. That chrysalis you've been watching? A butterfly may never eclose. In the cycle of life, the transformation from egg to larva to pupa to adult may never occur.
Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
The chrysalis is a withered grayish-brown, perfectly camouflaged on the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). Sometimes you see a burst of reddish-orange wings and sliver spangled underwings, the remains of a butterfly that struggled to eclose.
Then you wait for one that will, one that will eclose.
The next one will take your breath away. Mother Nature is like that.
The honey bee and the Painted Lady.
Apis mellifera and Vanessa cardui.
They both wanted to sip that sweet nectar from a mustard blossom.
The Painted Lady was there first. Sometimes it's "first come, first served" and sometimes it's "I'll have what she's having."
The persistent bee managed to forage a bit around the blossom, but the butterfly, just as persistent, stayed put.
Finally, the bee buzzed over the butterfly, nearly touching it, as it headed for new territory.
Meanwhile, the cardui migration continues, from California through the Pacific Northwest. Millions have already moved through the Davis/Sacramento area on their way up north.
"It's Week 11, Day 81," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "It's almost over (through this area)."
An article published May 19 in the Idaho Statesman, Boise, announced that "Hundreds of Butterflies Flitted Through Boise This Weekend."
"This weekend, Boiseans found themselves in the middle of a massive migration as hundreds of orange-and-brown butterflies known as painted ladies winged their way through the area," wrote reporter Nicole Blanchard. "Dozens of people on social media shared accounts of seeing the butterflies flying overhead en masse or stopping to snack on spring blooms. Many of the painted lady butterflies, which are often mistaken for monarchs because of their orange coloring, were spotted in the North End and Foothills on Saturday."
One Boise resident related on Twitter that she saw 56 flying northwest through her yard in a period of two minutes.
Want to learn more about Painted Ladies and other butterflies? Check out Art Shapiro's website. He's been monitoring the butterfly populations of Central California since 1972.
On Vanessa carduii: The mass migration begins near the U.S.-Mexico border, Shapiro says. They breed "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. 2005 was one of the biggest Painted Lady years in history--perhaps the biggest," he says. This year was also a very good year.
"They do not stop to feed or have sex until they have burned up their reserves, carried over from the caterpillar stage," according to Shapiro. "They fly in a straight line from SE to NW, like 'bats out of Hell,' and go over obstacles rather than trying to go around them. (On certain days there may be concerted local movements in the wrong direction. We do not understand these.) Painted Ladies tend to fly parallel to the Sierra Nevada, not across it. They enter the Central Valley through the Inyo-Kern lowland or by crossing the Transverse Ranges. They can apparently make it from Bishop to Davis in three days. In some years the migration is heavier in the Great Basin and on the East slope of the Sierra than farther west. The Painted Lady moves northward in a generational wave as the season progresses. Frequently it disappears altogether from the lowlands in summer. Beginning in August the movement reverses and butterflies head south toward the desert wintering grounds. The southward migration is a more protracted affair, with plenty of adult feeding and some breeding en route. Numbers tend to be highest east of the crest, on Rabbitbrush blossoms in October."
It's been a very good year for these orange-black butterflies, which began arriving in the Davis/Sacramento area on March 17. Just don't confuse them with Monarchs! Shapiro can't begin to count the calls of folks telling him that the Monarch is no longer in trouble; that "there are millions of them!"
Merry Christmas has always been merry, but it's better with butterflies! Isn't everything better with butterflies?
Last year, in our small-scale monarch rearing project here in Vacaville, Calif., we saw one monarch eclose on Saturday, Dec. 24, one on Sunday, Dec. 25, and one on Tuesday, Dec. 27. What's missing this Christmas: no monarch butterflies.
In 2016 we reared and released 62 Danaus plexippus. This year, eight. We could blame it on predators, parasites, pesticides, loss of habitat, human errors, natural occurrences, climate change or MC (mysterious circumstances), but we won't. We do know this: eight is not enough.
Just one butterfly is a miracle of nature. That's whether you
- live in France and call it "papillon"
- live in Italy and call it "palomma"
- live in the Philippines and call it "paruparo"
- live in Portugal and call it "borboleta"
- live in Germany and call it “schmetterling"
- live in Vietnam and call it "npau npaim"
Butterflies are the canaries in our coal mines. Their very presence indicates a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem and represent symbols of hope, love, joy, change, transformation, strength and endurance.
They overcome the odds. We are part of those odds.
They are flowers with wings: flitting, fluttering and fluctuating flybys just out of our reach. Miracles of nature.
Merry Christmas! And may the best of what's to come be filled with butterflies.