It's up for discussion. Take the painted lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui. In real life, it is spectacular but the average fan may never be able to photograph it well in the wild. In art, you can depict it as you see it, or how you think it should be depicted. Either way, these butterflies draw attention.
Artist Roberto Valdez finds them fascinating, too. His Dixon May Fair entry in oils and acrylics, adult fine arts, won a well-deserved "best of show" in the Professional Fine Arts category.
No thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dixon May Fair--which dates back to 1876 and is renowned as the oldest district fair and fairgrounds in the state of California--canceled its 2020 and 2021 fairs. This year, however, the fair accepted entries. Judges scored the entries on tables set up in Denverton Hall and images of the winning entries were posted online.
V. cardui has a colorful history. Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, writes on his research website that "apparently the entire North American population winters near the U.S.-Mexico border, breeding 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."
Valdez' painting depicts 13 painted ladies fluttering by him or stopping to nectar. That's something you don't see often except during the height of a migration.
If you're an insect enthusiast, you'll enjoy seeing the online entries of insects depicted in paintings, photographs, drawings and jewelry. And you'll see bee condos or bee hotels (housing for leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees) crafted by youth.
At the judging tables in Denverton Hall, we also admired a drawing of a friendly blue dragonfly, the work of eight-year-old Logan Rush of Vacaville. He nailed it! Future entomologist? Maybe!
The Dixon May Fair, headed by chief executive officer Patricia Conklin, supports the communities of Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Elmira, all of Solano County, and Woodland and Davis, both of Yolo County. The 2021 Dixon May Fair normally would have taken place Thursday through Sunday, May 6-9, ending on Mother's Day. However, vendors offered a taste of the fair ("grab and go" food) for fans to enjoy.
Pre-COVID, the fair hosted community and agriculture-related activities throughout the year. The UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology plays a role in the annual four-day fair by providing exhibits. Next year!
Eager hands cradling an orchid mantis.
Eyes darting toward a hornet's nest.
That set the scene at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's three-hour open house, themed "Crafty Insects." Visitors learned about the sneaky or cunning insects like praying mantids, and about the skillful insects such as hornets that construct intricate nests of wood pulp and saliva.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth section of the Bohart, loaned the quilted dragonfly hanging, the work of his mother-in-law, quiltmaker/seamstress Ann Babicky of Schofield, Wis. "She made it personally with us in mind," he said.
UC Davis entomology student and Bohart associate Lohit Garikipati, who rears mantids, loaned some of his favorites, including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, a shield mantis, Rhombodera valida, and an Asian dead leaf mantis, Deroplatys truncata.
Garikipati, who serves as secretary of the UC Davis Entomology Club displayed mantids and walking sticks with club president Chloe Shott.
Smith and Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas showed visitors the moth and butterfly collection, while UC Davis student Emma Cluff answered questions about a hornet's nest. Another UC Davis student, Isabelle Gilchrist, staffed the "paint-a-rock" table. (See Bug Squad blog). Tabatha Yang, the Bohart's education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house.
Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, it houses
- nearly eight million insect specimens
- the seventh largest insect collection in North America
- the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity
- a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids; and
- a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Public weekend hours for the academic year 2018-2019 are:
- Sunday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Bring It Home: Urban Entomology"
- Saturday, Jan. 12, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Time's Fun When You're Studying Flies"
- Saturday, Feb. 16, times vary: (campuswide) Biodiversity Museum Day
- Saturday, March 9, 1 to 4 p.m., "Eight-Legged Wonders"
- Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., (campuswide) UC Davis Picnic Day
A perfect perch.
A young male variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, found a perfect perch--a seed ball of Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
It towered over the garden and so did he.
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum of Entomology associate, University of California, Davis, has been seeing and photographing some of these migrating dragonflies in his yard in Davis as well.
"Evidently, there was a big migration of lots of these dragonflies south of San Francisco," Kareofelas noted in his Facebook post.
And apparently thousands have been spotted at Half Moon Bay. Dragonfly alert!
Variegated meadowhawks live near ponds, lakes, and swamps. They are largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males, according to Odonatacentral.org. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada; also Mexico south to Belize and Honduras. "This species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...It is largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, offers a beautiful dragonfly poster, "Dragonflies of California," in its gift shop. It's the work of entomologist Fran Keller (she received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College) and Kareofelas, whose expertise includes butterflies and dragonflies.
Who doesn't love the red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata?
If the Fourth of July had its own insect, it would be the firecracker red flameskimmer. It's so showy and eye-popping red that it almost looks patriotic. Or at least it should be flying over an Independence Day parade while a band plays "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
On a breezy day in the late spring, we can usually count on a flameskimmer or two entering our yard. Of course it helps if you have a pond and a pollinator garden and some bamboo stakes. They hover over our pond, turn the pollinator garden into their dining room, and perch on the stakes to eat their prey.
We managed to capture a few images of this one last weekend as it helicoptered from bamboo stake to bamboo stake. It "posed" against a shade-cloth fence, a pink background of Jupiter's beard, and with a little aperture changing, against a black background.
It stayed for a couple of hours.
More than enough to strike up a band to play "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
The flameskimmers are back!
We've been waiting for the new generation of flameskimmers, aka firecracker skimmers (Libellula saturata), to visit our yard after the long winter.
On Sunday, a male flameskimmer did.
It perched on a bamboo stake, soaked up some rays, took flight, and then returned to its perch. It glittered in the morning sun, a ruby helicopter of an insect. Finally, it clumsily took off, zigging and zagging over the cherry laurel hedge.
Meanwhile, a Western scrub jay nesting in the cherry laurels tracked its movements.
Says Wikipedia: "Due to its choice habitat of warm ponds, streams, or hot springs, flame skimmers are found mainly in the southwestern part of the United States. They also make their homes in public gardens or backyards."
"An immature flame skimmer (nymph) feeds mainly on aquatic insects. Its diet consists of mosquito larvae, aquatic fly larvae, mayfly larvae, freshwater shrimp, small fish, and tadpoles. The nymphs, which live in the mud at the bottom of warm streams or ponds, catch their prey by waiting patiently for it to pass by. Adult skimmers usually feed on moths, flies, ants, or any other soft-bodied insect while waiting perched on a small rock or twig or while flying through the air."
It's our fish pond that draws dragonflies to our yard. To accommodate them, we've posted a dozen bamboo stakes at different heights, from four feet to six feet. Finches and hummingbirds perch on them, too.
To be honest, however, the bamboo stakes are mainly for the dragonflies. (But don't tell that to the finches and hummers.)