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Posts Tagged: butterflies

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

Courtship in the Lantana

The purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) is a butterfly magnet. 

In our yard, it draws gulf fritillaries, Western tiger swallowtails, cabbage whites, and fiery skippers.

Lately, fiery skippers (Hylephila phyleus) are the main draw. It's a delight to see them fluttering over the blossoms and then touching down for a sip of nectar.

Or chasing one another.

This species is California's most urban butterfly, says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis. It's "almost  limited to places where people mow lawns," he says on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World.

"Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937."

The fiery skipper is attracted to lantana, verbena, zinnias, marigolds, and "in the wild seems quite happy with yellow starthistle," Shapiro says.

The butterfly breeds mostly on bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), native to the Mediterranan region, according to Shapiro.

Last weekend we noticed a courtship in the lantana. A female landed on a blossom and seconds later, a male. 

"The male butts her tail with his head," Shapiro told us. One of his master's students described the courtship some 40 years ago.

Soon, more fiery skippers!

Courtship in the lantana: the female is on the left, and the male on the right. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Courtship in the lantana: the female is on the left, and the male on the right. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: the female is on the left, and the male on the right. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: second photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Courtship in the lantana: second photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: second photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: third photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Courtship in the lantana: third photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: third photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: fourth photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Courtship in the lantana: fourth photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Courtship in the lantana: fourth photo in a series of four. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Bring on the Butterflies!

Yoko Warncke of Vallejo crated this butterfly cross-stich. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's a glorious summer day and butterflies are fluttering in the breeze. They are Nature's flying flowers, Nature's stained glass windows, and Nature's sunny smiles.

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days--three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain,” wrote John Keats in Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne.

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne

An Irish blessing reads:
"May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond."

From time immortal, we humans have depicted butterflies in our art. There's something about the ballet of butterflies that soothes our mind, brightens our spirit, and captures our soul.

So it is with the talented artists exhibiting their work at McCormack Hall during the five-day Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. The fair opens Wednesday, July 31 and ends Sunday, Aug. 4. 

Vallejo resident Yoko Warncke cross-stitched butterflies for her needlework exhibit. Another Vallejo resident, Tina Waycie, crafted a paper butterfly and flowers.

Trudy Molina of Fairfield depicted "The Hungry Caterpillar" in a baby quilt. It's a quilt sure to be treasured. It reminds us of the quote by Richard Buckminster Fuller: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."

No, indeed!

Vallejoan LaQuita Tummings quilted a beautiful bee, dragonfly and ladybug, so spectacular that you just want to sit and study it.

We watched Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of the McCormack Hall building and her adult and youth assistants hang many of the displays. They're involved in the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, throughout the year, but in the summer when the Solano County Fair rolls around, they're at McCormack Hall accepting entries, recording results and displaying the work.

Insect art is just a small part of the displays in McCormack Hall. You'll see photography, collections, table settings, clothing, baked goods, jams and jellies, and even some farm equipment.

It all ties in with the fair theme, "Home Grown Fun."

Gloria Gonzalez (left) of Vallejo, superintendent of McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, and assistant Iris Mayhew of Vallejo hang a quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gloria Gonzalez (left) of Vallejo, superintendent of McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, and assistant Iris Mayhew of Vallejo hang a quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gloria Gonzalez (left) of Vallejo, superintendent of McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, and assistant Iris Mayhew of Vallejo hang a quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of blue-ribbon quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. It features a bee, dragonfly and ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of blue-ribbon quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. It features a bee, dragonfly and ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of blue-ribbon quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. It features a bee, dragonfly and ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Iris Mayhew of Vallejo, an assistant at McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, with
Iris Mayhew of Vallejo, an assistant at McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, with "The Hungry Caterpillar" quilt by Trudy Molina of Fairfield. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Iris Mayhew of Vallejo, an assistant at McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, with "The Hungry Caterpillar" quilt by Trudy Molina of Fairfield. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

This paper art, of a butterfly and flowers, is the work of Tina Waycie of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This paper art, of a butterfly and flowers, is the work of Tina Waycie of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This paper art, of a butterfly and flowers, is the work of Tina Waycie of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 10:40 PM

The State Fair: Bees, Butterflies and Sunflowers

Bees, butterflies and sunflowers at the California State Fair?

Yes.

The state fair, which opened July 12 and ends July 28, is a good place to see a bee observation hive, honey bees on sunflowers, carpenter bees on petunias, and butterflies in the Insect Pavilion, aka Bug Barn.

If the purpose of a fair is to educate, inform and entertain, then that's what this fair does. A recent stop at the 160th annual fair provided a glimpse of what's going on in the entomological world--and what shouldn't be going on in the petunia patch.

At the California Foodstyles in the Expo Center, beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daughter, Rebekah Hough, urged folks to find the queen bee, worker bees and drones in the bee observation hive. Then the fairgoers sampled the honey.

Sweet!

At the Bug Barn, mounted butterflies drew "oohs" and "ahs." Just a few of the butterflies:  Monarchs, Western Tiger Swallowtails,  Great Purple Hairstreaks, Dusty-Winged Skippers, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, home of nearly eight million specimens, provided some of the butterflies.

Cool!

Outside the Insect Pavilion, a garden thrived with tall-as-an-elephant's-eye sunflowers. Honey bees and sunflower bees buzzed among the heads--sunflower heads and fairgoers' heads.

Beautiful!

The most disconcerting scene: teenagers screaming when they heard and saw the female Valley carpenter bees nectaring petunias. "Ick, big black bees!" said one as she quickly ran off.

"Carpenter bees," a middle-aged bystander commented dryly as she sauntered off to see the sturgeon display.

Another teenager approached the petunia patch, and she, too, bolted. "They're going to sting me!" she yelled.

It's rather sad that the first reaction on seeing bees in a flower bed is not "pollinator" or "pretty flowers"  or "pink petunias" but "sting."

When did "Big Fun" become "Big Scare?"  

Sunflowers grow as high as an elephant's eye at the California State Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sunflowers grow as high as an elephant's eye at the California State Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Sunflowers grow as high as an elephant's eye at the California State Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daugher, Rebekah Houck, at the beekeepers' booth in the Expo Center. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daugher, Rebekah Houck, at the beekeepers' booth in the Expo Center. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daugher, Rebekah Houck, at the beekeepers' booth in the Expo Center. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterfly specimens in the Insect Pavilion. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly specimens in the Insect Pavilion. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterfly specimens in the Insect Pavilion. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A female Valley carpenter bee working a petunia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female Valley carpenter bee working a petunia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A female Valley carpenter bee working a petunia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, July 26, 2013 at 10:00 PM

An Admiral at the Marina

There's nothing like seeing an admiral at a marina.

That would be the Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, at the Berkeley marina.

It's often very common in the urban Bay Area, says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. The Red Admirals often share sites with West Coast Ladies.

"Both breed on the weed Parietaria judaica (Pellitory) there."

We also saw a West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, fluttering around the Red Admiral last Saturday.

But it's the other butterflies that Shapiro is concerned about. "At this time of the year, one used to see Great Coppers (Lycaena xanthoides) up the yin-yang on the 'waste ground' across the marina parking lot, between it and the freeway. Since they made it part of Eastshore Park, it seems to be gone. Typical!"

Other "marina fauna" from back when, he says, included Anise Swallowtails and Large Marbles. "The latter seems to be gone too; it's extinct regionally but there is one population I know of near Concord."

A renowned lepidopterist, Shapiro monitors the butterfly population in Central California and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

He's the author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regionsillustrated by Tim Manolis. "The California Tortoiseshell, West Coast Lady, Red Admiral, and Golden Oak Hairstreak are just a few of the many butterfly species found in the floristically rich San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions," Shapiro writes. He covers and identifies more than 130 species in the book.

A West Coast Lady at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A West Coast Lady at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A West Coast Lady at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Red Admiral at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Red Admiral at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Red Admiral at the Berkeley Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 7:56 PM

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