We haven't had a cat since our 16-year-old tuxedo, Xena the Warrior Princess crossed the Rainbow Bridge in March of 2016. She sported a butterflylike marking on her left leg.
Monarch butterflies fascinated her. They brought out "the princess" instead of "the warrior" in her.
If you don't have a cat or a feline pollinator partner, plant milkweed and you'll get another kind of 'cat, the larvae of monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus.
Today we have several 'cats on our tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in our Vacaville garden. None this year on our narrowleafed milkweed, A. fascicularis; showy milkweed, A. speciosa; or butterfly weed, A. tuberosa.
If you want to learn more about monarchs, their life cycle, milkweed and other related topics, attend the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday, Nov. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis. The theme is "Monarchs" and scientists will be there to answer your questions.
The event is free and family friendly and a great opportunity to learn more about D. plexippus.
The scientists will include:
- UC Davis distinguished professor emeritus Art Shapiro of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, who has studied butterfly populations in central California since 1972 and maintains a research website, Art's Butterfly World.
- UC Davis emeritus professor Hugh Dingle, a worldwide authority on animal migration, including monarchs. He is the author of Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press), a sequel to the first edition published in 1996. See news story on the UC Davis Entomology and Nematology website.
- UC Davis professor Louie Yang, who does research on monarchs. Due to parental duties, he may be able to attend only the last part of the open house. See news story about his work.
- UC Davis professor Elizabeth Crone of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, formerly of Tufts University, who researches monarchs. See news story about the declining monarch population on the UC Davis Entomology and Nematology website.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a living insect petting zoo (Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects, among others), and a insect-themed gift shop. UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey has directed the Bohart Museum, founded in 1946, since 1990.
Want to learn about ants? Check. Bees? Check. Caterpillars? Check. And more? Check.
The spring seminars begin Wednesday, April 5 and will continue on Wednesdays through June 7. All in-person seminars will be in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, starting at 4:10 p.m. The seminars also will be virtual. The Zoom link:
Here's what's on tap:
Wednesday, April 5
Professor, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Title: “Lessons About Thermal Ecology from Rainforest Ants”
Wednesday, April 12
Research entomologist, USDA-ARS
Title: “Chemical Biomarkers and the Physiological Underpinning of Honey Bee Health Decline”
Wednesday, April 19
Wednesday, April 26 (Zoom only)
Founder and director of The Caterpillar Lab
Title: “Using Native Caterpillars, Their Ecological Connections, and Novel Outreach Tools to Showcase the Importance of Biodiversity”
Wednesday, May 3
Senior research fellow and professor emeritus of mathematical sciences
Stellenbosch University, Western Cape, South Africa
Title: “Tsetse, Trypanosomiasis and Climate Change: What Can We Learn from Field Data Collected in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe?”
Wednesday, May 10
Professor of biology, Indiana University, Bloomington
Title: “Friends with Benefits: Protective Microbial Symbioses in the Honey Bee”
Wednesday, May 17 (Zoom only)
Molecular biologist USDA-ARS
Title: “Beech Leaf Disease: an Emergent Threat to Beech Forest Ecosystems in North America”
Wednesday, May 24
Assistant professor, School of Biological Sciences, UC Irvine
Title: “Cellular Mechanisms of Dendrite Regeneration after Neuron Injury”
Wednesday, May 31
Wednesday, June 7
Doctoral candidate, Phil Ward lab, UC Davis
Exit seminar: “Phylogenetics and Biogeography of the Pyramid Ants”
For more information, including any technical issues with Zoom, Meineke may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But that's the case with UC Davis doctoral student Grace Horne. Her undergraduate thesis about the effects of the decline of ash trees on native caterpillars, scored the cover of the February edition of the journal Environmental Entomology. Or, should we say, it "graced" the cover.
The paper, “Specialist Herbivore Performance on Introduced Plants During Native Host Decline,” is co-authored by Ria Manderino of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Upperville, VA and Samuel Jaffe of The Caterpillar Lab, Marlborough, N.H.
“Our publication highlights the importance of multispecies assessments of host plant acceptance,” said Horne, who studies plant-insect interactions, urban ecology, global change biology, natural history and community science in the laboratory of urban landscape entomologist Emily Meineke, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“We tested three related species, two of them congeners, on their ability to accept alternative host plants in the face of the loss of their primary host," Horne said. "We found a diversity of responses even among these three species. Further downstream, landscape managers may be able to use our results to make decisions about which plantings will help support native herbivores.”
Jaffe provided the cover image of a Sphinx kalmiae, commonly known as "laurel sphinx."
Ash (Fraxinus spp.) is in rapid decline across the northeastern USA due to the invasive emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire). Three recently co-occurring confamilial species may serve as alternative larval host plants for ash-reliant Lepidoptera. These prospective hosts are nonnative shrubs often planted in managed suburban landscapes and are sometimes invasive or naturalized in North America. Given the imminent decline of ash trees, we considered potential downstream effects on insect herbivores historically specialized on ash foliage. We measured the performance of three ash-specialist hawkmoths (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) on native white ash (Fraxinus americana L.) and alternative host plants: common lilac (Syringa vulgaris L.), weeping forsythia [Forsythia suspensa (Thunb.) Vahl], and European privet (Ligustrum vulgare L.). We found the nonnative host plants provided varied support for larval survival to pupation, with biomass and growth rate affected differently by both plant and insect identity. Nearly all caterpillars reared on one alternative host, European privet, exhibited distinct malformations of the wing buds at pupation. Given caterpillar presence on privet in the field, privet may constitute an ecological trap (i.e., when female moths select a sub-optimal host, offspring survival and fitness are reduced). This work demonstrates how performance testing can reveal species-specific effects of host plant loss on mono- or oligophagous insects. For some ash specialists, alternative nonnative host plants may be suboptimal, but some cultivated host plants may be able to support certain specialist insects during native host decline. We suggest that landscaping decisions can be tailored to support threatened insect species."
Graduate of Colby College. Grace is a 2021 graduate of Colby College, Waterville, Maine, where she majored in biology (evolution and ecology), and environmental science (conservation biology), receiving magna cum laude (with distinction) in both majors. Her thesis: “Reduced Performance of Ash-Specialist Caterpillars on Nonnative, Cultivated Oleaceous Plants.”
Horne joined the Meineke lab in 2021 after serving as an education staff member and undergraduate researcher at The Caterpillar Lab, Marlborough, N.H. from 2018-2021. The environmental education organization focuses on inviting people—youth and adults alike—to share in stories of ecology, evolution, and natural history. Horne presented at more than 30 venues, including elementary school classrooms, botanical gardens, and children's museums, "with a goal to ignite in us a curiosity of the world we live in, from the smallest leaf-miners to the tallest trees."
Horne gained experience in conservation and education in the spring of 2020 when she participated in the Round River Conservation Studies in Maun, Botswana. The environmental organization operates at the nexus of conservation and education to explore the complex relationship between conservation, people, and wildlife, mostly in Mababe, Botswana. "We worked with local experts to design and maintain wildlife monitoring systems to be used to substantiate economic and environmental decisions," she related.
Check out the recent feature, For Ash-Dependent Insects, Some Plants Make Good Alternatives—But Others Don't, in the Entomological Society of America's Entomology Today publication.
Picnic Day Co-Chair. You'll be able to see more of Horne's leadership at the 109th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on April 15. Horne, active in the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association (EGSA), is co-chairing the entomological activities with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty.
The entomological events, held at Briggs Hall and the Bohart Museum of Entomology, are both educational and entertaining. At Briggs Hall, look for forest, medical and agricultural entomology displays, and participate in cockroach races, maggot art, and scores of other activities. And over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, check out the insect specimens and hold such critters as Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects in the live "petting zoo."
Last year Horne displayed pipevine swallowtails, Battus philenor, munching on their host plant, Dutchman's pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla.
"Picnic Day," as the officials say on their website, "is one of UC Davis' most revered traditions and serves as the university's annual Open House for prospective and current students, families, alumni, staff, faculty, and the greater Davis and regional communities."
When you're in your garden, look up.
Sometimes you'll see a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar outlined against the sky, munching away on its host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The bright orange caterpillars can be as striking as the adults (Agraulis vanillae).
This caterpillar, however, is not the only critter hungry in the Passiflora. We saw evidence that a praying mantis also calls this home. One wing of a Gulf Frit here. One wing of a Gulf Frit there.
Everything eats in the garden.
In a previous Bug Squad, we mentioned that the Gulf Frits are found in many parts of the world and arrived in California (San Diego) in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. They spread through Southern California in urban settings and were first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908, Shapiro says. They "became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says the Gulf Frits “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Yes, they're back and a joy to see.
If you have a passionflower vine (Passiflora), you probably have cats.
No, not the four-legged ones that meow, chase mice or cavort with catnip.
These 'cats or caterpillars are part of the life cycle of the Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) and Passiflora is their host plant.
Watch for the chewed leaves, the frass (poo) and the chrysalids.
Expect a cat-tastrophe when predators like the California scrub jays, European paper wasps, and praying mantids appear and the 'cats disappear.
The circle of life...