Seen any gray hairstreaks, lately?
No, not on someone's head.
This is the butterfly, Strymon melinus, from the Lycaenidae family, known as the gossamer-winged butterflies.
It's an ashy gray butterfly with a white border. You'll also see orange spots on the ends of its hindwings and one on its head, in between the eyes.
One's been hanging around our fava beans, and what a welcome sight.
UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro of the Department of Evolution and Ecology says on his website:
"This is one of the most polyphagous butterflies known, recorded on host plants in many families. Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
"Early spring specimens," he says, "are small and very dark with reduced red markings; 'albinos,' with the red replaced by pale yellow, occur mostly in the spring brood. There is much minor variation. Adults visit an immense variety of flowers, both wild and cultivated. They are particularly addicted to Heliotrope and white-flowered Apiaceae."
Sadly, Shapiro, who has been monitoring the butterfly populations of central California since 1972, has been seeing very few butterflies this spring in his transects. Let's hope the butterflies get back on track and give us a winning streak.
Meanwhile, check out his newly renovated website, Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site.
Every time we see honey bees pollinating fava bean blossoms, we think of actor Anthony Hopkins.
Remember that malevolent scene in the "Silence of the Lambs" film (1991) when serial killer Hannibal Lecter (portrayed magnificently by Hopkins (says: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
Film historians say most folks missed the significance "...Dr Lecter's choice of sides weren't based on his taste predilections, he was making a medical joke. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) could have been used to treat him, and what are the three things you're not allowed to eat while taking them? Liver, beans and wine."
Fact is, some folks cannot eat fava beans because they have a disease called favism, a condition characterized by hemolytic anemia (breakup of red blood cells). It's linked to a metabolic disorder known as G6PDD (or Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency). Indeed, some get an adverse reaction just by inhaling the pollen of the fava bean plant.
In the culinary world, the fava bean is commonly called the broad bean (Vicia faba) and is eaten raw or cooked. In the agricultural world, it's cultivated for human consumption and is also used for a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil. Horses eat a variety called field bean.
But honey bees? They just can't get enough of them.
What's red and black with yellow all over?
Ladybugs, aka lady beetles or ladybird beetles, laying their yellow eggs.
It's a sure sign of spring when aphids emerge, and ladybugs feast on them. One ladybug can reportedly eat 5000 aphids in its lifetime.
That's a lot of aphids!
Meanwhile, the aphids in the fava beans at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, are doing their part.
The garden, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is teeming with aphids on the fava beans.
And teaming with ladybugs in the process of adding more ladybugs to the garden.
If you're looking to get involved with ladybugs as a citizen scientist, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., hosts "The Lost Ladybug Project" to spotlight the ladybugs of North America. On the website, you can learn to identify them, understand their biology, and upload photos.
And it wouldn't hurt to include a photo of a ladybug dining on a scumptious aphid.
People aren't the only ones favoring fava beans.
Fava beans growing in a raised bed in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, are attracting honey bees, European paper wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, aphids and carpenter bees.
We saw all six insects on a trip to the haven last Friday.
While the honey bees and carpenter bees gathered nectar, the European paper wasps, lacewings and the ladybugs searched for prey. The ladybugs were also searching for mates.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus, is open year around from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Visitors can conduct their own self-guided tours by following the signs and reading the plant labels. Groups that want a guided tour (the cost is $4 per person) can contact Christine Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, life is good in the fava beans.
It was lovely day today, in more ways than one.
During the lunch hour, we stopped by the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, and discovered more than just blossoms in the planter box filled with fava beans.
Ladybugs, aka lady beetles! Coccinellids!
We spotted five of them, and two were...ahem...in the process of providing the garden with more ladybugs. That's quite nice of them. We need more ladybugs to eat those pesky aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
Meanwhile, as the sun warmed the garden (60 degrees!), honey bees foraged among the blossoms and assorted ants and aphids crawled up and down the leaves.
The half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is living up to its name as a place for pollinators.