It's always a good idea to carry your cell phone or shoulder a camera while you're taking a stroll through a garden.
You never know what you will see.
It was early morning on Tuesday, June 7, when we spotted a female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa sonorina, asleep on a passionflower vine, Passiflora. That's the host plant for the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, but carpenter bees are always hanging around for pollination. Tiny grains of golden pollen cling to this bee look like gold dust.
The females are solid black, while the males are a golden blond with green eyes. Sexual dimorphism. These bees are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to the late native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology. He described them as "the largest of the carpenter bees in California."
Wikipedia indicates Valley carpenter bees are found from western Texas to northern California, and the eastern Pacific islands. Frederick Smith, assistant in the Zoological Department of the British Museum and member of the council of the Entomological Society of London, first described X. sonorina in 1874 from specimens collected in Hawaii, according to Wikipedia. "Until 1956, it was thought that X. sonorina came from the Sunda Islands, but in a paper published that year,M. A. Lieftinck showed that Smith's interpretation of the original specimen labels was in error: Smith had mistakenly read the label of X. sonorina as meaning the Sunda Islands instead of the Sandwich Islands."
"In 1899, R. C. L. Perkins described the same species as Xylocopa aeneipennis, and in 1922, P. H. Timberlake claimed that the Hawaiian Xylocopa was the same as the mainland X. varipuncta, that had been named in 1879, and Roy Snelling predicted in 2003 that X. varipuncta would eventually be reclassified as a synonym of X. sonorina," Wikipedia relates. "This was confirmed in 2020 using DNA analysis, and as the name sonorina has seniority, this is the valid species name."
Up until 2020, we'd always called them X. varipuncta.
This week we called one "sleepy head."
Ms. Valley Carpenter Bee finally stirred and soon after, took flight.
One point about insect wedding photography is that you don't need an invitation to attend. You just have to keep your distance and not disturb the bridal couple. No sudden movements. No stressful impatience. And no camera flash, please.
It helps, though, if you grow the host plant so a bride and a groom will show up. In this case, we grew passionflower vine (Passiflora), the host plant of the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae).
One morning we saw a butterfly eclose from her chrysalis. Wedding Day! Within minutes, a male suitor arrived.
They became a couple.
Then unexpected guests arrived...a hungry caterpillar munching on the leaves and a second prospective suitor (PS) (rejected) and a third PS (rejected) and a fourth PS (rejected).
PS, leave them alone!
When the "ceremony" ended, the couple simply left. One sipped nectar from the nearby Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola. The other flew over the fence.
Soon we'll have more eggs, more caterpillars, more chrysalids, and more adults.
Life is like that when you're growing Passiflora and hoping for a Wedding Day.
You know the drill, lay 'em on the tendrils.
But Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, don't always lay their eggs on the tendrils of their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) although textbooks may indicate that.
We've seen Gulf Frits lay eggs on and under the Passiflora leaves, on the stems, on the blossoms, and on nearby fence posts and screen doors.
Hey, Gulf Frits, are you trying to tell us something? Don't you like the accommodations?
But the other day, we saw a Gulf Frit executing acrobatic moves to deposit an egg on a tendril. A little breakdancing, Lindy hopping, pole-climbing, scooting, rolling, hooping and juggling--and she's done.
The egg is tiny, bright yellow and pinpoint in size. It will probably hatch, but the larva or caterpillar may not make it.
Currently we have several California scrub jays enjoying an all-you-can-eat caterpillar buffet every morning. They sit on the fence, swoop down, grab a 'cat, and look for more.
There's always food in a pollinator garden. A Cooper's hawk that hangs out in the birdbath knows that, too.
Gulf Fritillaries in November?
Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are still active here in Solano County, on those warm, sunny afternoons that defy the season.
They're still hanging around their host plant, Passiflora (passionflower vine), "looking for love" (thank you, Johnny Lee). And in all the RIGHT places.
The orange-reddish butterfly, with its silver-spangled underwings, was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s, according to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution an ecology. It was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. "It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since." Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he says. Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
In our pollinator garden, the Gulf Frits usually skeletonize the plant. They eat the leaves, flowers, the fruit, and then start in on the bark.
Not so this year. What's different? More predators, including California scrub jays, wasps and a resident praying mantis.
The resident mantis perished a month after depositing her egg case. The wasps vanished. And the California scrub jays, eyed by circling hawks, are nowhere to be seen.
Just the Gulf Fritillaries--their eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults--remain.
Gulf Fritillaries in November? Yes.
Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.