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Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro

Go West, Young Monarch, Go West!

Westward, ho!

The western migration of the Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippusto their overwintering sites along the California coast is underway.

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, recorded four Monarchs at his Suisun monitoring site yesterday. He's been monitoring butterflies in Central California for some four decades.

This morning, a male Monarch fluttered into our yard to sip some nectar from a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (A distinguishing feature of the male Monarch: a  small black spot on each of its two hindwings. See photo below.)

Monarchs head for sites along the coast, including Santa Cruz, Monterey, Natural Bridges and Pacific Grove, to overwinter, Shapiro noted.

"There used to be a small site in Fairfield, near the old Juvenile Hall on West Texas Street, in a row of Eucalyptus. It's been gone for decades. Some years they try to overwinter in Marin and Sonoma counties, but usually give up and shift south in December. In the past few years there has been a little winter breeding on the south coast. This was never recorded before."

The migration of the Monarchs to overwintering sites in central Mexico is well-publicized, but some monarchs head for the California coast. According to the monarchwatch.org website, monarchs east of the continental divide generally migrate to central Mexico from as far away as Ontario, Canada. "Monarchs west of the divide fly to the coast of California to spend the winter. They cluster together on tree limbs during the winter months in California by the thousands, and in central Mexico by the millions."  (Download the PDF on the monarchwatch.org site.)

We're glad to see the huge national campaign to plant milkweed, the host plant of the Monarchs. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has posted a wealth of information on its website for us to take action. The Monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.

“Monarch butterflies are declining due to loss of habitat,” said Monarch Watch director Chip Taylor. “To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds needs to become a national priority.”

It also helps to provide nectar resources for the Monarchs to help them along in their migration. In our yard, they like the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and blue beard (Caryopteris × clandonensis). See list of Monarchs' favorite plants on the monarchwatch.org site.

Meanwhile, an occasional Monarch flutters into our family bee/butterfly garden to sip some nectar. Sometimes territorial native bees chase them away but the Monarchs return, determined to grab some flight fuel.

Westward, ho!

A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A male Monarch nectaring on Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of the Monarch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch gets ready for flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 5:37 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

Something Was Wrong

Something was wrong.

The Anise Swallowtail (Papillo zelicaon) that fluttered into our bee garden last weekend and began nectaring on zinnia wasn't quite herself.

Her yellow and black coloring and the striking blue spot on the rear left wing looked fine. But the blue spot was MIA on the rear right wing. In fact, a huge chunk of that wing was MIA.

Its missing parts told part of the story: It had managed to escape a predator, probably a bird, praying mantis or spider.

"Good thing she survived," said butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis who monitors the butterflies of Central California. "It's a gravid female." (Distended with or full of eggs.)

"They have several generations (late February or March-October)," he writes on his website, Art's Butterfly World. The Anise Swallowtails breed largely on fennel or anise (Foeniculum vulgare) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both, he says,  are naturalized European weeds.

The butterfly's usual range, according Wikipedia, "extends from British Columbia and North Dakota at its northern extreme, south to the Baja California peninsula and other parts of Mexico. It is occasionally reported from the southeastern United States, but its normal range does not extend east of New Mexico. In all the more northerly parts of the range, the chrysalis hibernates."

The Anise Swallowtail is commonly found in fairly open country, Wikipedia says, and "is most likely to be seen" on bare hills or mountains, in fields or along roadsides.  "It is often seen in towns, in gardens or vacant lots."

We've seen P. zelicaon on plants from A to Z: anise along roadsides and zinnias in our garden.

Zelicaon on a zinnia...

This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This Anise Swallowtail is missing part of its wing. A predator missed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail nectaring on zinnia. (Photo by K

Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 9:12 PM

A Streak of Gray

Are you on a winning streak? Or a losing streak? Or somewhere in between?

The Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) is always on a streak--a gray streak.

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, writes about the Gray Hairstreak on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It's one of the many butterflies in the Central Valley that he's monitored over the past four decades.

It's most common in weedy and disturbed habitats at low elevation, Shapiro says, adding that it's "territorial and a hilltopper in suitable terrain, but does very well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter."

"Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), bird's-boot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), white clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and turkey mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."

We recently spotted the Gray Hairstreak grabbing some nectar on our guara (Guara lindheimer). Its distinctive orange spot matched perfectly the color of the nearby Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).

Those of us joining naturalist Steve Daubert's butterfly talk and tour at the UC Davis Arboretum last September also spotted a Gray Hairstreak.  The good news is that he's giving another "Butterfly Ecology Talk and Walk," sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum, on Sunday, Sept. 14. It's free and open to the public. Participants will gather at 11 a.m. by the trellis at the California Native Plant GATEway Garden (newly-constructed garden at the Arboretum's east end, just behind the Davis Commons Shopping Center). (See the Arboretum calendar for more information and a map.)

"Last year at the Arboretum Butterfly Walk and Talk we talked about the co-evolution of the butterflies with the flowering plants, starting in the Middle Cretaceous," Daubert told us in an email. "This year we will set the scene farther back into the Mesozoic Era and talk about the origin of the advanced insect orders, including the Lepidoptera (the holometabolous insects). We will also talk about blue colors in the animals. And we will talk about butterfly gardening for folks here in the valley. We will be looking to see members of the five butterfly families commonly found in Davis."

Daubert is a molecular scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology. In addition to writing scientific technical text, he writes short stories, illustrated with his own photographs. He blogs at threadsintheweb.com.

Gray Hairsteak, Strymon melinus, nectaring guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gray Hairsteak, Strymon melinus, nectaring guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gray Hairsteak, Strymon melinus, nectaring guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bottoms up! Gray Hairstreak sipping nectar from guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bottoms up! Gray Hairstreak sipping nectar from guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bottoms up! Gray Hairstreak sipping nectar from guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 10:15 PM

Luck of a Lady in White

There's something about the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) that makes folks foam at the mouth.

That's because butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, offers a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year that's brought into the department from the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento.

The contest is all part of Shapiro's 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He monitors the many species of Central California butterflies and posts the information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

The cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter," he says. Since 1972--the year he launched the "beer-for-for-a-butterfly" contest--the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.

The good professor almost always wins his own beer-for-a-butterfly contest because he knows where to look.

This year Shapiro netted his prize winner at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He collected the male on the south slope of the railroad tracks where “I've caught at least half of the first-flight cabbage whites.” The temperature hovered at 62 degrees, but soon rose to 70 degrees.

He caught it in mid-air with a self-described "ballet leap."

Contest over. All done. However, for months afterwards, would-be contestants, aka beer lovers, find a cabbage white and ask "Did I win?" Well, no...

Last weekend I followed a stunningly beautiful cabbage white in our bee garden as it nectared catmint.  Usually these butterflies move so fast there's no chance of capturing them in mid-flight, but this one seemed to cooperate.

Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! I almost executed a ballet leap. Hey, Art, did I win? 

(Editor's Note: Read about the cabbageworm larvae on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management site.) 

Cabbage white butterfly in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cabbage white butterfly in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cabbage white butterfly in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cabbage white nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cabbage white nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cabbage white nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The look of a lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The look of a lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The look of a lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 9:14 PM

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