Usually the life cycle--from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult—takes about a month, but this one took only 24.5 days.
“She was in a hurry,” said Kareofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, and a retired finance director of the UC Davis School of Medicine.
The egg hatched in 3.5 days. The caterpillar formed a chrysalis 12.5 days later. The monarch emerged or eclosed 8.5 days later. And it took only two hours—usually it's around four—for her to dry her wings and fly away.
“You're Ruth,” Kareofelas told her as she dried her wings on Sept. 19. “You're alive. You're going to fly.”
Kareofelas decided to name her Ruth that morning, 24 hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of gender equality and women's rights.
“I just happened to see her laying an egg on my milkweed,” he said.
Kareofelas documented the life stages on his Facebook page, daily educating his readers about the iconic butterfly, and posting photos that he captured with his “point-and-shoot camera,” a pocket-sized Canon SB890IS.
Kareofelas photographed her limp wings slowly expanding and “hardening.”
“In the wild, the butterfly is very vulnerable at this stage,” he said. “It cannot fly.”
Like her namesake, Ruth the Monarch showed independence, determination and drive.
“So, at 10 this morning (Sept. 19), I took her outside and released her,” Kareofelas wrote on Facebook. “She immediately flew to the top of the plum tree and from there, off she went. Goodbye, Ruth, stay strong and come back next spring.”
He's hoping she'll make it to the overwintering grounds along coastal California and return in February.
Kareofelas first became interested in butterflies in 1951, when as a second-grader at the Holy Rosary Academy, Woodland, he wrote and illustrated a butterfly booklet.
“Luckily, I had the kind of mother that saved this booklet,” Greg said, noting that was almost 70 years ago. “We did not know the name monarch, but you can see that I described a monarch caterpillar, chrysalis and adult butterfly. The drawing shows a green chrysalis, even showing a golden band.”
“There was no one guiding me--neither Mom nor Dad was versed in anything nature, but they were very supportive,” Greg recalled. He read the children's book, “Golden Guide to Insects,” and later borrowed a copy of John Henry Comstock's “How to Know the Butterflies” from the Yolo County Library. “The irony is most of what was in those two books was more for the East Coast, rather than California.”
Kareofelas went on to study business administration at Sacramento State College, serve in the U.S. Army (Korea USS Pueblo Crisis 1968-69) and then accepted a position at the UC Davis School of Medicine. “So, nothing butterfly related there.”
Kareofelas renewed his interest in butterflies in the 1970s when he visited the Bohart Museum of Entomology, named for Professor Richard Bohart and “run by Bob Schuster.” Then located in Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive, the Bohart Museum is now housed in the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey, a former graduate student of Bohart's, directs the museum, which includes a global collection of nearly 8 million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo”(Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a gift shop.
Kareofelas, a member of the Lepidopterists Society, is always eager to learn and share insect information. He confers with butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology (who hasn't seen a monarch egg or caterpillar all year), and serves as a volunteer at the Bohart Museum, where at special events, he shows butterfly and moth specimens with Lepidoptera curator Jeff Smith.
The Davis resident has led educational trips for Sutter Buttes Foundation, California Native Plant Society, Jepson Prairie Preserve, and the Placer Land Trust. He and UC Davis-trained entomologist Fran Keller, now a professor at Folsom Lake College, teamed to spotlight the California dogface butterfly on posters and in a book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly.” Kareofelas continues to lead tours of the Placer Land Trust's dogface butterfly habitat near Auburn.
“I am lucky to have been able to get to know some incredible folks—the Bohart crew and Shapiro—and through the Lepidopterists Society,” Kareofelas said.
Ruth the Monarch is lucky, too. She could have been a meal for a spider, a lady beetle or a milkweed bug, or parasitized by a tachinid fly or wasp.
“You're Ruth. You're alive. You're going to fly.”
Ever seen a back-lit monarch butterfly?
It's like a stained-glass window in a centuries-old steepled church where you cannot see the ugliness of the world, but its beauty.
Monarchs are like that. Those iconic butterflies excite, inspire and transform you, just like stained glass windows.
We captured these images at dusk of a monarch fluttering around an aphid-infested milkweed, a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, on Aug. 7 in Vacaville, Calif.
The orange butterfly was nothing but a blur until we stopped the action (1/4000 of a second) with a 200mm macro lens mounted on a Nikon D500.
The beauty (the monarch) eclipsed the beast (oleander aphids) in a moment of time.
We call it the Fourth of July or Independence Day.
Our 13 American colonies rose up against the monarch of Great Britain, King George III, and declared themselves free and independent.
This weekend, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we won't celebrate with fireworks, parades, picnics, family reunions or baseball games, but we will give thanks to the 13 colonies who gave us our freedom from a troubling monarch.
Today we watched a different kind of monarch, a monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, gain her freedom as she eclossed from her chrysalis.
From an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult..."Welcome to the world, Ms. Monarch."
But first, let Ms. Monarch cling to the Hot Lips salvia, Salvia microphylla, and dry those wings. Let her watch the honey bees, carpenter bees, cabbage white butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries, damselflies, and syrphid flies forage. Let her react when they buzz, bounce or bump into her. Beware of that praying mantis!
She will know when she's had enough...just like the 13 colonies knew when enough was enough and King George III lost his American colonies.
Welcome, Danaus plexippus!
A monarch butterfly, the first of the year, fluttered through our family pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. last Sunday and hung around for about two hours. We clocked him in at 5 p.m. and he exited around 7. He was on the move!
"Boy Butterfly" visited:
- the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii)
- a yellow rose ("Sparkle and Shine," related to the Julia Child rose, a purchase from the California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Davis, during its 2013 Rose Day
- a honeysuckle (genus Lonicera)
- a tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) (it ignored the native "showy milkweed," Asclepias speciosa
- a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
- a mallow (Althaea officinalis)
- a blooming succulent, hens-and-chicks (genus Echeveria): when it's blooming, it's referred to as a "rooster"
Then Boy Butterfly touched down on the ear of a cat (garden sculpture) while a mama California scrub jay watched closely. We could hear the baby birds chirping "We're hungry! We're hungry! Let's eat!"
Fortunately for the monarch, Mama's menu changed. She settled on some honey bees nectaring on the catmint (genus Nepeta), and left my Boy Butterfly alone.
A male European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) chased him. A Gulf Fritillary followed him. And a bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) almost collided with him.
And then this persistent photographer, armed with a 200mm macro lens, stealthily approached him...
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, spotted a monarch in Sacramento on Wednesday, Jan. 29--way, way, way early to see monarchs in this area.
But it wasn't in his transect.
Shapiro, who maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/, has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California since 1972. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
But back to the monarch sighting.
As Shapiro tells it in his posse email: "We had a visitor today--a British journalist--who wanted to go on a site walk. Rancho Cordova was next up. We went in his rental car. We were on US 50, just passing the Tower Theater in Sacramento heading eastbound, when, at 10.30 a.m. (temperature in mid-upper 50s, light North wind, mostly sunny), a Monarch, sex unknown, flew across the freeway in front of us, 20-22' up, from SW to NE. There is no possibility of error, unless I am having visual hallucinations."
"I have had isolated January records before--mostly not at my sites, though, so I have to extract the data from my data books. The earliest record from a site is ii.1.14 (Feb. 1, 2014) from West Sacramento. All the other pre-March ones are: West Sacramento, ii.22.17, and Rancho Cordova, ii.22.92 and ii.23.06; and Gates Canyon (Vacaville), ii.24.91. In 1992 there were Monarchs in Rancho on iii.3,iii.17 and iii.31, too. 1992 was a drought year."
Later in the afternoon, Shapiro heard monarch Elizabeth Crone, professor of Tufts University, present a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on the decline of Western monarchs.
In her seminar, Crone expressed concern about the lack of scientific knowledge about monarchs when they emerge from their overwintering sites along coastal California, usually around February, and head inland. Her "main punchline was that we don't know what they're doing between February and when milkweeds break ground later in spring," Shapiro related in his email. "I recommend cruising around in the Coast Range, particularly in Napa and Sonoma counties, looking for them. Of course, this year the total population is so small that the probability of seeing one would be comparable to that on Highway 50 this morning before the fact..."
In a later posse email, Shapiro related that "it turns out we have only one previous January monarch record, and it's from Louie Yang (associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), not me, on i.8.2012 in East Davis. There was another record here on ii.19.12. I had one on ii.10.98 in West Davis, near Stonegate. That's it!"
Interestingly enough, Shapiro saw his first monarch of the year before he saw his first cabbage white butterfly of the year! He annually sponsors a contest, "Butterfly for a Beer," or "Suds for a Bug," as part of his research. The first person to collect a live cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano, wins a pitcher of beer or its equivalent. Since 1972, when he launched the contest, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. Last year Shapiro collected the contest winner on Jan. 25 near the Suisun Yacht Club, Solano County.
However, as Jan. 29, no sightings and no winner of the 2020 Cabbage White Butterfly Contest.
The score: Monarch, 1, Cabbage White, 0.
(Update: Shapiro sighted a cabbage white butterfly on Jan. 30 at the Putah Creek Nature Park, Winters, Yolo County, but did not collect it. He spotted it basking on a malva leaf at 11:16 a.m., but it took off before he could net it. So, since no collection, no voucher, Shapiro did not declare himself the winner. "Now that I know the bug is out, there's no scientific reason to want more records," he wrote in a posse email. "To be fair to potential competitors, the first person to catch a rapae in the contest area before 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 2, wins the beer. I will not try to beat them to a voucher." See rules. Shapiro says this was the latest first flight date for Valley rapae since Jan. 31, 2011.)