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Posts Tagged: butterflies

It's a Butterfly Week!

A cabbage white butterfly nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When the week is about butterflies instead of guerrilla attacks, murderous rampages, measles outbreaks, and deflated footballs, it's a good week.

Butterflies draw smiles instead of scowls, pleasure instead of pain, glee instead of grief.

So, here's Part 1 of the good news. You still have a chance to win the Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest. No one has come forth in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano to deliver the first cabbage white butterfly of the new year to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. If you collect the first one of 2015 and you're the verified winner, you'll receive a pitcher of beer or its equivalent.

Shapiro, who usually wins his own Beer-for-a-Butterfly contest, hasn't found one either.  Every day has amounted to a "No Fly Day" and a "No Beer Day."

Reports are surfacing that the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae) are flying in Santa Rosa, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), Santa Rosa is in Sonoma County, not in Sacramento, Yolo or Solano counties.

Shapiro has sponsored the annual contest since 1972. It's all part of his four-decade study of climate and butterfly seasonality. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter. Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20." Shapiro says his long-term studies of butterfly life cycles and climate "are especially important to help us understand biological responses to climate change. The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here."

Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, knows where and when to look. In fact, he's been defeated only three times since 1972, and all by his graduate students. Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.

In 2014, Shapiro netted the winning butterfly at 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. It ranked as "the fifth or sixth earliest since 1972.

The contest rules include:

  • It must be an adult (no caterpillars or pupae) and be captured outdoors.
  • It must be brought in alive to the department office, 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with the full data (exact time, date and location of the capture) and your name, address, phone number and/or e-mail. The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it. (If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, keep it in a refrigerator; do not freeze. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.)
  • Shapiro is the sole judge.

Part 2 of the good news about butterflies: a mid-winter gathering of Northern California Lepidopterists and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will take place at an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31 in the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. Hosts are Bohart senior museum scientist-entomologist Steve Heydon and entomologists John De Benedictis and Jeff Smith.

Lepidopterists are researchers or hobbyists who specialize in the study of butterflies and moths in the order Lepitopdera.
All interested persons are encouraged to bring specimens, photos, PowerPoint presentations or slides from collecting trips and tales of collecting triumphs to share with others.  Butterfly t-shirts and other entomological merchandise are available from the gift shop.

The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, and is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It was founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007).

For more information on the mid-winter gathering of lepitopterists, contact Steve Heydon at (530) 752-0493 or slheydon@ucdavis.edu.

Meanwhile, The Great White Cabbage Butterfly Hunt is still underway. Can you find one before Art Shapiro does?

Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) collection in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. These are all males. The females have barely any blue on their wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is a Paris peacock butterfly (Papilio paris), part of the Bohart Museum of Entomology collection. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum of Entomology houses nearly eight million specimens from all over the world. Here are some of the butterfly specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015 at 9:37 PM

A Close Call

Art Shapiro (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, isn't feeling so well--to put it mildly--but he still went out on one of his butterfly monitoring expeditions today at his study site in North Sacramento.

He recorded 12 species of butterflies in the dry vegetation. (He's been monitoring the butterfly population in Central California for some four decades and he shares the information on his website.)

Frankly, we're surprised he went monitoring at all, especially after he emailed friends and colleagues about the bad news. Subject line: "Breaking Bad."

"At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept.11, my world turned upside-down. So did I.

"I was just into the crosswalk from the NW corner of Oak and Russell in Davis, heading south toward my lab, when I was struck from behind with great force by a bicyclist. I flew through the air and landed on the pavement head-first, with the right side of my face bearing the worst of the impact. The wife of a departmental colleague arrived on the scene a moment later; I believe she called 911. I was never unconscious, which is strange. My neck could easily have been broken, resulting in either death or paralysis, but it wasn't (the EMTs had assumed it was!). I was rushed to Sutter Davis Hospital and thence transferred to the UC Davis hospital trauma unit in Sacramento....Every bone on the right side of my face was pulverized. I had no more eye socket (orbit) and no more right cheekbone."

It was not a hit-and-run, as some folks speculated. The bicyclist stayed for the police report.

Through it all, Shapiro retained his sense of humor and is now back at work in his Storer Hall office after surgery on Sept. 12 and a repeat visit to the UC Davis Medical Center today.  And he can see again.

"...my right eye is swollen shut, I am all black and blue and look like I've been in the ring with Mike Tyson. I look like a ghoul in a zombie-apocalypse movie, with caked blood, blah blah. I'm not sure I've ever felt worse, though, oddly, there hasn't been all that much pain."

So, immediately after the Medical Center appointment, he trekked over to his North Sacramento study site. His appearance did not go unnoticed. "Looking like I do is an invitation for street people, homeless, and down-and-outers to talk to you, as I learned today. There were only two campers at North Sac, but I had a dozen such conversations...most of them assumed I had been in a fight." One guy said said 'I hope you gave the other guy as bad as you got!'

True to form, Shapiro appeared to be most interested in monitoring butterflies than monitoring his physical condition.

"North Sac: 88F, clear, very light S wind. No new fires. Veg very dry, less of everything in bloom except Euthamia (goldentops) Hemizonia (tarweeds), and Epilobium (willowherbs/fireweeds) all peaking. No coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) yet. With all the Euthamia I expected (Atlides) halesus (Great purple streak), but didn't see it; with all the Epilobium expected (Ochlodes) sylvanoides (Woodland skipper), but didn't see it, either; and there were no Poanes melane (umber skipper)."

The species he recorded:

  • Junonia coenia, 11, Buckeye
  • Pyrgus communis, 18, Common Checkered Skipper
  • Plebejus acmon, 5, Acmon Blue
  • Pieris rapae, 19,  Cabbage White
  • Strymon melinus, 4, Gray Hairstr.eak
  • Brephidium exile, 1. Western Pygmy Blue
  • Atalopedes campestris, 4, Field Skipper
  • Phyciodes mylitta, 10, Mylitta Crescent
  • Everes comyntas, 1, Eastern Tailed Blue
  • Hylephila phyleus, 7, Fiery Skipper
  • Limenitis lorquini, 3, Lorquin's Admiral
  • Agraulis vanillae, 1, Gulf Fritillary

Twelve different species. Eighty-bugs. 

And what did Shapiro have to say about his field trip? "Me and AH-nold: we're b-a-a-a-a-a-c-k."

"It feels good," he added.

And we're all feeling good--whew!--that he's feeling good.

That was a close one.

Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Art Shapiro saw 19 of this species, Pieris rapae, or cabbage white, today at his North Sacramento study site. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Butterflies flutter. 

Bees don't.

Indeed, some bees seem to possess Superman's extraordinary power of "faster than a speeding bullet."  They're just lacking a blue costume, a red cape and an "S" on their thorax.

The butterfly doing the fluttering in our garden is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, a showy reddish-orange Lepitopderan that lays its eggs on our passionflower vine (Passiflora).

The bee doing the speeding-bullet routine is the male longhorned digger bee, Melissodes agilisThey are so territorial that they claim ALL members of the sunflower family in our garden: the blanket flowers (Gallardia), the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and the purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

They relentlessly patrol the garden and dive-bomb assorted bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, sweat bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and even stray leaves that land on "their" flowers. (Their eyesight is not as good as Superman's.)

Why? They're trying to save the pollen and nectar resources for the Melissodes agilis females. And trying to entice and engage the girls.

Last Sunday we watched a Gulf Frit touch down on the Tithonia. Just as it was gathering some nectar, a speeding bullet approached.

How fast?

If it were a horse, it would have been Secretariat.

If it were a track star, it would have been "Lightning Bolt" Usian St. Leo Bolt.

If it were a car, it would have been a Hennessey Venom GT.

If it were a plane, it would have been a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Swoosh! As the longhorned digger bee rifled by, the startled Gulf Frit shot straight up. Straight up.

Frankly, the Gulf Frit could have "leaped a tall building in a single bound."

A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Gulf Fritillary sips nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), unaware of what will soon occur. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A speeding bullet, a male longhorned digger bee, targets the unsuspecting Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Startled by the digger bee, the Gulf Fritillary shoots straight up. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It's back to normal. The Gulf Fritillary finds another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Ah, Spring!

It's a glorious day, the first day of spring, and what better time to mark the occasion by visiting the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive?

Mother Earth, a mosaic ceramic sculpture by talented Donna Billick of Davis, co-founder and co-director of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, overlooks a thriving garden populated with honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, syrphid flies, and ladybugs.

Today we saw the mournful dusky-wing butterfly (Erynnis tristis), the first of the year. (How ironic a butterfly with such a sad name would be in the garden the first day of spring!) The more colorful painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) arrived earlier this month. (See the Central California butterfly monitoring site of Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis for more information on butterflies and his research.) 

The UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery attracts scores of pollinators with such plants as ceanothus, salvia, California fuchsia, cut-leaf lilac, rosemary, bulbine and Spanish lavender.

Meanwhile, the officials at the teaching nursery are gearing up for their next public plant sales, set for three Saturdays: April 5,  April 26 and May 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Garden and irrigation experts will offer guidance for what to plant in your garden, including the Arboretum All-Stars, and offer advice on drought-related resources. A plant doctor clinic is also planned. (Members say 10 percent on plant sales.)

While you're browsing through the plants, don't overlook the pollinators! Indeed, they may just nudge you into buying a specific plant...

A honey bee foraging on ceanothus in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee foraging on ceanothus in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee foraging on ceanothus in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A painted lady, Vanessa carduii, finds a cut-leaf lilac, Syringa × laciniata, quite attractive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A painted lady, Vanessa carduii, finds a cut-leaf lilac, Syringa × laciniata, quite attractive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A painted lady, Vanessa carduii, finds a cut-leaf lilac, Syringa × laciniata, quite attractive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Check out the pollen on this honey bee foraging on ceanothus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Check out the pollen on this honey bee foraging on ceanothus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Check out the pollen on this honey bee foraging on ceanothus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A mournful dusky-wing butterfly (Erynnis tristis) on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A mournful dusky-wing butterfly (Erynnis tristis) on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A mournful dusky-wing butterfly (Erynnis tristis) on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mother Earth, a mosaic ceramic sculpture by Donna Billick of Davis, overlooks the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mother Earth, a mosaic ceramic sculpture by Donna Billick of Davis, overlooks the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mother Earth, a mosaic ceramic sculpture by Donna Billick of Davis, overlooks the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A torrent of emotions on the face of Mother Earth, the work of artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A torrent of emotions on the face of Mother Earth, the work of artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A torrent of emotions on the face of Mother Earth, the work of artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 10:54 PM

'Battus philenor! Battus philenor!'

Pipevine Swallowtail nectaring radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“Battus philenor! Battus philenor!”  

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, excitedly points to a Pipevine Swallowtail nectaring on roadside  radish. 

“Battus philenor! Battus philenor!”  

It's the earliest he's ever seen the Pipevine Swallowtail in Gates Canyon, Vacaville, one of his 10 fixed study sites in California's Central Valley.  

It is Saturday, Jan. 25. Another day to monitor the butterfly population, something he's been doing for 42 years. He posts much of his information on Art's Butterfly World.

Shapiro has trekked up Gates Canyon since 1976. He aims for 26 visits a year. In 2013 he totaled 32 visits. In a typical season, he finds approximately 30 to 40 butterfly species, "but that's not reached every year by any means," he points out. "Last year the maximum was 31."

It's a long way up and back. Shapiro, who doesn't drive a motor vehicle, rides a bus from Davis to the Vacaville bus station, then walks three miles from downtown Vacaville to Gates Canyon Road; up the road three miles and down three miles; and back to the bus station. That's a total of 12 miles.  

Shapiro works his route easily. He's like an Olympic skater as he walks up the hill: hands folded behind his back and sometimes on his hips; eyes constantly sweeping for the count.  He can, and does, detects the slightest movement, the slightest rustling of leaves, the slightest flutter of wings. 

This Saturday Art Shapiro records eight different species of butterflies or a total of 18 individuals. And not just butterflies: he spots a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus voznesenskii, nectaring on radish next to a Pipevine Swallowtail. 

The road up Gates Canyon, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"That's the earliest I've ever seen the Pipevine Swallowtail and the yellow-faced bumble bee in Gates Canyon," he says.

Overall, it's a good day for "earlies." On Saturday, he sees his earliest Pieris napi, a Gray-Veined White, which beats his record of Jan. 31, 1984; his earliest Incisalia iroides, a Western Brown Elfin, eclipsing his previous records of Jan. 31 in 1976 and 1984; and his second earliest Erynnis propertius, Propertius Dusky-Wing, since Jan. 22, 1990.

Gates Canyon is bone dry. The thirsty hills and the dry creek beds ache for water. Alamo Creek, at the lower elevations, holds no water at all. At the higher elevations, the creek bed just trickles.

Shapiro's records shows that on Jan. 24, 1976, "under extreme drought conditions, I had 10 species flying at Gates Canyon. Today (Jan. 25, 2014), I had 8. Of these, only 2 were flying in '76." That amounted to 80 percent from what he detected on Jan. 24, 1976.

Shapiro keeps meticulous notes. His Jan. 25th notes include: 

"Mid-70s, 90 percent sunshine (again, a few patchy altocumulus), light noth wind not getting into the upper canyon at all. No water in Alamo Creek at lower elevations; a bit more above than on Jan. 15, actually trickling audibly in spots. Vegetation little changed: alder and bay, nothing else in upper canyon (got up to ridgetop, where there is patchy bloom of manzanita and winter currant) except a totally anomalous native Lathyrus high on a sunlit, warm rock face, being visited by Battus (but I'm getting ahead of myself); somewhat more Raphanus down below, and very little Brassica. Aristolochia still dormant. The infamous 'poison oak tree' is leafing out but most poison oak is not. A few really small buckeyes are now in early leaf; hardly any green showing on big ones, even S-facing ones. No trace of Asclepias fascicularis. No Dentaria in flower and no detectable rosettes of Dodecatheon! Few birds. Still no Phainopepla. Deer and quail; no newts; no amphibian calls."

The 18 butterfly species he sighted at his Gates Canyon study site on Jan. 25:

  1. Battus philenor (Pipevine Swallowtail): 5 (new earliest at Gates)
  2. Polygonia satyrus  (Satyr Anglewing): 1
  3. Nymphalis antiopa  (Mourning Cloak): 5
  4. Celastrina ladon echo (Echo Blue): 3
  5. Pieris napi  (Gray-Veined White): 1 (female-probably earliest ever)
  6. Incisalia augustinus iroides (Western Brown Elfin): 1 
  7. Erynnis propertius (Propertius Dusky-Wing): 1 
  8. Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur or Alfalfa Butterfly): 1

Shapiro worries about the drought. On Tuesday, Jan. 28, he recorded: "Today was the 52nd and last consecutive day with no rain in winter--a record probably never to be equaled in any of our lifetimes (I hope)."

Meanwhile, his other nine study sites in the Central Valley await him. They are all over the map, just as he is. As he says on his website: "Ranging from the Sacramento River delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin, fixed routes at ten sites have been surveyed at approximately two-week intervals since as early as 1972. The sites represent the great biological, geological, and climatological diversity of central California."

If you're lucky enough to accompany him on a survey, you'll hear him point out butterflies as excitedly as a winner yells "Bingo! Over here! Over here!"

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battis philenor, nectaring on radish on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Pipevine Swallowtail, Battis philenor, nectaring on radish on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battis philenor, nectaring on radish on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and Pipevine Swallowtail,  Battis philenor. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and Pipevine Swallowtail, Battis philenor. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, and Pipevine Swallowtail, Battis philenor. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro monitoring his study site on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro monitoring his study site on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro monitoring his study site on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The slightest movement attracts Art Shapiro's attention. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The slightest movement attracts Art Shapiro's attention. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The slightest movement attracts Art Shapiro's attention. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Alamo Creek is dry at the lower elevations of Gates Canyon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Alamo Creek is dry at the lower elevations of Gates Canyon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Alamo Creek is dry at the lower elevations of Gates Canyon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:05 PM

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