When you're capturing images of butterflies, seconds count.
They're unpredictable. They move from fluttering to fleeting. And just when you're focused on where they are, they aren't there anymore. Where'd they go? Oh, over there!
Take the case of the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), aka the passion butterfly. Gulf Frits lay their eggs on their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). So it makes sense that males will patrol the vine. It's where the girls are.
And where the camera usually isn't.
And if you happen upon a mating pair, and hordes of other Gulf Frit males are disrupting the "passion," they'll take off, intertwined, for another spot. A little seclusion in "the bedroom," please, and then it's off to "the kitchen," where the nectar-producing flowers are.
This pair (below) found one another on the passionflower vine as other males bombarded them. They lumberingly headed for another spot, and the rest is history. Or her-story. Soon the female will be back laying eggs on the Passiflora, and the cycle of egg, caterpillar, chrysalid and adult will begin all over again.
These images were taken with a Nikon D800 equipped with the macro zoom lens, 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D ED. Settings: ISO 800, f-stop, 13; and shutter speed, 1/640 of a second.
Seconds count. No, not just seconds. Fractions of a second!
Birds do it...bees do it...
You've probably seen the territorial male European carder bees on patrol. They dart through the stems of a nectar treasure, such as bluebeard (Caryopteris 'Blue Mist'), knocking off all floral visitors. They're trying to save the nectar for their girls, perchance to mate.
These boy carder bees are often called the "bullies of the bee world," as they whack-smack, bodyslam and dive-bomb unsuspecting honey bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and other insects that are just trying to get a share of the nectar. (Davis insect photographer Allan Jones calls them "bonker bees.")
Sometimes you'll see the female wool carder bees nectaring, or carding fuzz from the plants for their nest. Sometimes you'll see a male carder bee pause from patrolling to take a a nectar break. It's like filling up the tank.
And sometimes, if you get lucky, you'll see two bees becoming one.
Love out of the blue (beard)...
If you look closely, you'll not only see the cycle of life in your garden, but art as the center of life.
Take the Gulf Fritillaries. They're a stunning orangish-reddish butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) with silver-spangled underwings. It's a delight seeing them laying eggs on their host plant, Passiflora (passionflower vine), watching an egg develop into caterpillar, a caterpillar form a chrysalis, and an adult eclosing.
If the light is just right, the tiny yellow egg, about the size of a period at the end of this sentence, glows. Then see,,,
- A caterpillar inching along on a passionflower vine
- An empty chrysalis or pupal case hanging like a broken chandelier.
- A male and female becoming one
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says this is a good year for Guld Frits. He has studied the butterflies of central California for more than four decades. Check out his research website, Art's Butterfly World.
Shapiro says the Gulf Fritillary is a long-time resident of California. It was first documented in Southern California in 1870s. "It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” he says. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “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.”
Thank goodness for Gulf Frits!
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 the last day of the year.
Looking back, it was a year of wonder in our pollinator garden, a year filled with flourishing lavender, salvia, catmint, honeysuckle, lantana, passionflower vine, foxgloves, cosmos, California poppies, rock purslane, basil and oregano, with three towers of jewels (Echium wildpretii) anchoring the garden. The bees sipped nectar, praying mantids ate the bees, bluejays ate the praying mantids, and hawks ate the bluejays. As we watched the hawks splash in our birdbath, we wondered about the bees, jays and mantids that were all part of this circle of life that happened in our garden.
New Year's Eve. It's a time not to make resolutions, but renewals. It's a time to refocus and recharge; to sharpen the focus and recharge the batteries; to see Mother Nature snag a little more of Father Time.
So, Bug Squad on the last day of 2014 will include four photos of two Gulf Fritillaries becoming one. These Gulf Frits (Agraulis vanillae) provided us with eggs, larvae, chrysalids and more adults. They, along with the other pollinators that inhabit our garden, make our flowers complete, our garden complete and our lives complete.
May all your gardens be filled with the buzz, the flutter and the whirl of pollinators in 2015!
Happy New Year!
Oh, the life of a praying mantis...
You can hang upside down like an acrobat, shading yourself from the sun while waiting for prey and avoiding predators. You can crawl beneath dense leaves, the better to ambush, snatch and eat an unsuspecting bee. And you can mate with a fine-looking specimen like yourself and produce some more fine-looking specimens.
Life doesn't get any better than this if you're a praying mantis. (Unless, of course, you're a male mantid and the female practices sexual cannibalism. Or, if you're a newly emerged offspring and your brothers and sisters are feasting on one another and then...eyeing you.)
Finding praying mantids is not so easy. Sometimes the slightest movement in the leaves will reveal their location. Sometimes when you water a plant, they'll emerge, looking quite irritated--if mantids can look irritated. Other times they're blatantly perched on top of a blossom or lurking beneath it.
Up until recently, we'd never actually seen them mating. But there they were that warm midsummer day on Sept. 17 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven doing just that. See, the praying mantids like to hang out in the bee garden because that's where the bees are. The half-acre garden is located next to bee research hives at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Ah, we thought, a "lover-ly" photo to add to the educational collection of Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
So, we took a few photos, being careful not to interrupt them.
If this were a documentary being filmed about the birds 'n the bees, can't you just hear it? The Cole Porter hit, "Let's Do It," softly playing in the background:
...And that's why birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
All the while, the Cleveland or blue sage (Clevelandi salvia) stirs with life. A hummingbird, honey bees and carpenter bees drop down to investigate the blossoms and sip a little nectar. A garden spider patrols its sticky web. A scared lizard darts into the shadows.
Ants lumber by with their heavy loads. No sign of any "educated fleas," though.