You're heard these idioms:
- The early bird gets the worm
- First come, first served.
- The second mouse gets the cheese.
But have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) eclose and then see her...well...engaged?
Such was the case on Labor Day, Sept. 3 in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
The female (we'll call her "Bride-to-Be") finishes eclosing and is hanging from her empty chrysalis, just drying her wings on the passionflower vine (aptly named) and getting acquainted with her new life stage and leafy surroundings.
Then, whoosh. A suitor (we'll call him "Groom-to-Be") appears out of nowhere. Well, from somewhere, but somewhere quite threatening. He looks tired and worn out, too fragile to fly. (As a colleague said: "He's accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles.") His ragged wings indicate a recent encounter with one or more predators, maybe a bird or a praying mantis. But he lucked out in the Predator-Prey tally: the final score, Butterfly, 1: Predator 0.
He lucks out again. He's the first to arrive at the altar. Our camera catches the action.
"In some Heliconius, the males locate female pupae and may even copulate with the female before she ecloses!" commented butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "They are related."
Labor Day, 2018.
So there they were, the bride and groom, culminating their vows.
We spotted them in Vacaville, Calif., clinging to a passion flower vine (Passiflora), their host plant--just the two of them, the female Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the male.
Two's company? Not for long.
Soon other Gulf Frits descended on them.
Two's company, three's a crowd. Where did all those uninvited guests come from? They're everywhere!
All went well, though. The guests fluttered off, leaving the couple alone and allowing the photographer to engage in insect wedding photography.
Gulf Frits are incredibly beautiful, what with their bright orange wings with black markings, and underside, their elongated silver iridescence spots. A touch of the tropics!
Gulf Frits have been around a long time in the Bay Area--more than a century, according to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "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," Shapiro writes on his website. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and 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!"
Shapiro says that in the Bay Area "this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough."
Thankfully, that's not all they do.
Coming soon to a passion flower vine near you--eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, and then those gorgeous butterflies!
"I do! I do! I do!"
Some of us engage in wedding photography.
Not with humans. With insects.
All you need is a bride, a groom and a…hmm…bedroom. That could be a leafy green bedroom in the rose garden where the lady beetles, aka ladybugs, are. Most of the time they're in the kitchen, eating aphids. Sometimes they're not.
Sometimes the activities underway aren't just...well...."integrated pest management activities." Think two ladybugs on a leaf. Two. One is not a "lady." There's this gender thing.
Life is simple in insect wedding photography.
- There's no preacher saying “Let us prey.” The bride and groom are both predators, and aphids are their prey.
- There are no vows. There's no “til death do us part.” Unless the bride and groom are praying mantids and the groom is about to part with his head.
- Love amid the roses? Well, there is “I larva you.” But insects are interested in only two things: reproduction and an all-you-can-eat buffet.
- There's no wedding party. But there is a congregation of favorite aunts (ants) and soldiers (soldier beetles), and assorted uninvited guests, including lacewings, honey bees, syrphid flies and spiders. Some of the guests are eating one another. Oops! Is it too late to hire a wedding planner?
- There's no need to coordinate what the mother of the bride and groom are wearing. They're wearing spots. And a few minutes ago, they flew off in search of more aphids. Sorry, to leave you, dears, but we're hungry.
- There's no wedding cake. Aphids are the fare when you're a ladybug. Mites and scales are fairly delicious, too.
Here's the kicker: the bride and groom will never, ever--never, ever!--complain about how fat, old, tired or wrinkled they look in the photos. They're as cute as well…bugs…and bugs are pretty darn cute.
If you want to pursue insect photography or insect wedding photography, you'll need a macro lens, patience, and the ability to blend into the scene.
Just don't bug the love bugs.