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Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro

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

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

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