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Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro

The Strippers

We have strippers.

Not anything to do with that thriving business known as "The Strip Club" in Las Vegas.

The strippers we have are Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, which can skeletonize their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) faster than you can sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins movie) forward and backwards ("Dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes").

Seems as if one minute the plant is bursting with shoots, tendrils, leaves, flowers and stems, and the next minute, nothing but lots of little larvae.

But we like it that way. The tiny reddish orange caterpillars will turn into glorious reddish orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has monitored scores of butterfly species in the Central Valley for more than four decades. (See his website.)

You probably remember the story. Back in September of 2009, the professor excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.

The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971. 

True, some gardeners don't like to see their plants reduced to a skeleton, something they think should appear only on  Halloween night.

But to us--and many others--passionflower vines are just food for the caterpillars. To be a butterfly, you first must be a caterpillar. 

Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, August 18, 2014 at 9:43 PM

Passion for a Passion Butterfly

"Wow! Oh, wow!"

That's what people usually say when they encounter dozens of reddish-orange butterflies at a home on the 1500 block of Claremont Drive in Davis, Calif.  The home is behind the Nugget Market on East Covell Boulevard, but the real gold mine, the mother lode, is that Claremont Drive fenceline of passionflower vines.

The passionflower vine (Passiflora) is the host plant for the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) of the family Nymphalidae and subfamily Heliconiinae. Homeowner Christina Cogdell, professor of architectural and design history in the UC Davis Department of Design, planted the vine several years ago.

Today it's a butterfly fandango.

You'll see butterflies mating. You'll see females laying tiny yellow eggs on the tendrils and leaves. You'll see caterpillars munching on the leaves. You'll see chrysalids dangling from the thin green stems. And then--voila!--newly emerged adults ready to start the life cycle all over again.

Cogdell generously donated some of her caterpillars for a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house last year. The 'cats were a big hit.

Noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who monitors the butterfly populations of Central California and posts the information on his website, has long admired the established population on Claremont Drive, as has naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a volunteer at the Bohart Museum and an avid butterfly aficionado.

Shapiro will tell you that the Gulf Frits first appeared in California in the 1870s in the vicinity of San Diego. In the early 1970s, they were considered extinct in the Sacramento-Davis area, but began making a comeback in 2000. The showy butterfly “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.”

Yes, recolonizing and doing well.

Today Cogdell pointed out a newly emerged Gulf Frit hanging onto its empty chrysalid. Female? Probably. We watched the Grand Little Lady unfold her wings and greet a number of ruggedly handsome males (and some raggedly handsome males, the work of predators). Then she took off, trailed by a fluttering line of males.

Christina Cogdell's Claremont home (note the alliteration!) will soon be for sale (for inquiring minds or lepitopterists who want to know, she's listed it with Claire Black-Slotton, First Street Realty). The professor's home is unique in that it's an architecturally unique urban "farm" home but it's also unique in that it comes complete with a treasure trove of butterflies. A veritable lepidopterist landmark.

If holidays ads can say "Batteries not included," maybe this home listing should say "Butterflies included."

We thought of that today as 50 butterflies gracefully fluttered around us.

Wow! Oh, wow!

A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bohart Museum volunteer Greg Kareofelas cradles the newly emerged Gulf Frit. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bohart Museum volunteer Greg Kareofelas cradles the newly emerged Gulf Frit. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bohart Museum volunteer Greg Kareofelas cradles the newly emerged Gulf Frit. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Newly emerged Gulf Frit flashing its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Newly emerged Gulf Frit flashing its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Newly emerged Gulf Frit flashing its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A suitor (left) arrives on the scene. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A suitor (left) arrives on the scene. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A suitor arrives on the scene. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two's company, three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company, three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two's company, three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 9:59 PM

Looking for a Thistle

Perhaps it was searching for a thistle.

The Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) did not find the thistle—at least in our bee garden.

What it did find were the leaves of a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) where it sunned itself before fluttering off to parts unknown.

This butterfly breeds on thistles, says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis. He monitors the populations of Central California butterflies on his website

"With the naturalization of weedy European species of Cirsium, Carduus and Silybum, it (the Mylitta Crescent) is now found in all kinds of disturbed (including urban) habitats," he says on this website.

Perhaps the next time we see the invasive bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, growing in a field or alongside a road, it will be occupied by not only a spotted cucumber beetle (a pest) but a Mylitta Crescent.

Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) on the leaf of a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) on the leaf of a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mylitta Crescent butterfly (Physiodes mylitta) on the leaf of a tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Occupied! This bull thistle is occupied by a spotted cucumber beetle. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Occupied! This bull thistle is occupied by a spotted cucumber beetle. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Occupied! This bull thistle is occupied by a spotted cucumber beetle. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 9:42 PM

A Very Showy Butterfly

There's a good reason why lepidopterists call the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) "showy."

Its bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan all point to "showy." 

The Gulf Frit is a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina.  Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.

Yes, the Gulf Frits are back. Thankfully, they've returned to creating a nursery of sorts on our passionflower vine and their host plant (Passiflora). The eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults are a delight to see.

However, the cycle of life is in full force in our bee garden. The hawks are eating the scrub jays; the scrub jays are eating the bees; and the bees are just trying to mind their own "bee business" by collecting pollen and nectar for their colonies. Always opportunists, the jays nesting in our trees are also targeting the butterflies and caterpillars. (So, too, are such predators as spiders and praying mantids.)

Today we captured several images of a Gulf Frit in flight. If you look closely, you'll see that part of her wing is missing.

That was a close one!

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) in flight over a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) in flight over a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) in flight over a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary checking out a place to lay her eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary checking out a place to lay her eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary checking out a place to lay her eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary warming her wings on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary warming her wings on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary warming her wings on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 9:39 PM

Anise Swallowtail, a Sunny Butterfly

It's a joy to see the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) fluttering around in community gardens, bee gardens and parks.

Last weekend in a Benicia community garden, we spotted this sunny butterfly, as identified by Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who monitors Central California butterflies and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

Its distinctive yellow, blue and blue colors remind us of the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).

Unlike the Western tiger swallowtail, however, the anise swallowtail has large patches of black on the front portion of its forewing.

You'll see the anise swallowtail around its host plant, anise, Foeniculum vulgare, a weed with a licorice scent. Anise swallowtails breed on the anise and poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, Shapiro says.

Last weekend in Benicia, the anise swallowtail took an interest in wild radish.

Check out the beautiful photos of the anise swallowtail on BugGuide.net, which says it was first described in 1852 by Hippolyte Lucas as Papilio zelicaon. That was during California's Gold Rush Days and a year later, in 1853, settlers introduced the European or Western honey bee to California.

Anise swallowtail visiting a community park in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail visiting a community park in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail visiting a community park in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey))

Anise swallowtail foraging on wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail foraging on wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail foraging on wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

We have liftoff! Anise swallowtail leaves the wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We have liftoff! Anise swallowtail leaves the wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

We have liftoff! Anise swallowtail leaves the wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Caterpillar of the anise swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caterpillar of the anise swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Caterpillar of the anise swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 6:08 PM

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