Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
They made it through the winter: the bitter cold with subfreezing temperatures; the 54-day drought (will it ever rain again?) and the heavy rain that caught us thinking about ark-building.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was among those concerned about whether the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) would be able to survive the winter in this area.
They did. And they are.
Shapiro spotted the "signs of life" in the City of Davis (Yolo County) and the City of Vacaville (Solano County). Naturalist/butterfly enthusiast Greg Kareofela, a volunteer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has also seen them in Davis.
The ones pictured in this blog we found near downtown Vacaville last Monday, Feb. 17, on a passionflower vine (Passiflora): two adults and half a dozen caterpillars. Empty chrysalids, and a few viable chrysalids, plus seed pods from the Passilfora, hung from the branches.
The showy reddish-orange butterfly continues to make a comeback in the Sacramento-Davis area. In the early 1970s, it was considered extinct in that area.
“It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” Shapiro told us. "It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro describes the Gulf Fritillary as “one of the most widespread weedy butterflies in the Americas." However, he points out, it has no “native host plant in California."
Those who want to attract the Gulf Frit can do so by planting its host plant, passionflower vine (tropical genus Passiflora).
If you'd like to learn more about butterflies, ecological communities, and the science of conservation, be sure to attend Art Shapiro's talk at noon on Monday, March 24 at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., San Francisco. His topic is "Ecological Communities and the March of Time."
Ecological communities as we know them are similar to freeze-frames from a long movie. Associations among species are very dynamic on millennial scales, as demonstrated by the evidence since deglaciation 15,000 years ago. Coevolution of species occurs locally in geographic mosaics and can be extremely dynamic as well. Frederic Clements, the father of American community ecology, had a holistic vision. He saw communities as super-organisms. He was wrong.
This program is part of “The Science of Conservation and Biodiversity in the 21st Century”: This series of lectures will present a new way of looking at public policy issues in conservation. The things we've assumed as facts often are not. Traditional approaches are losing ground as science illuminates new pathways for framing and achieving conservation goals.- See more at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-03-24/arthur-m-shapiro-ecological-communities-and-march-time#sthash.iJcIhIcg.dpuf
This program is part of Commonwealth Club's “The Science of Conservation and Biodiversity in the 21st Century," according to spokersperson Chisako Ress (firstname.lastname@example.org). This series of lectures is aimed at presenting a new way of looking at public policy issues in conservation. The things we've assumed as facts often are not, she noted. Traditional approaches are losing ground as science illuminates new pathways for framing and achieving conservation goals.
From the Commonwealth Club website: "Ecological communities as we know them are similar to freeze-frames from a long movie. Associations among species are very dynamic on millennial scales, as demonstrated by the evidence since deglaciation 15,000 years ago. Coevolution of species occurs locally in geographic mosaics and can be extremely dynamic as well. Frederic Clements, the father of American community ecology, had a holistic vision. He saw communities as super-organisms. He was wrong."
You can use this coupon code "friendsforshapiro" to get a discount, Ress said. For program detail and registration, access http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-03-24/arthur-m-shapiro-ecological-communities-and-march-time.
Following Shapiro's talk, the next speaker is another UC faculty member; this time it will be Joe McBride of UC Berkeley:
A Gulf Fritillary spotted Feb. 17 near downtown Vacaville, Solano County. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another Gulf Frit on a passionflower vine on Feb. 17 near downtown Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the move. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A seed pod from a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's what I've always wanted to see on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, we rarely see any insects--probably because we aren't looking for them. But a butterfly? And a butterfly laying an egg?
I took an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) laying an egg in west Vacaville (Solano County) on Christmas Day. She fluttered around a frost-bitten, caterpillar-eaten passionflower vine (Passiflora) as the temperature held steady at 65 degrees.
Then the butterfly dropped down, extended her abdomen, and laid an egg. A tiny yellowish egg, right in the middle of dozens of caterpillars and chrysalids. Somehow or another, these immature stages managed to survive our extended frost, when the mercury dipped to 22 degrees.
I told butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, about the egg-laying butterfly. Not so coincidentally, he was searching for adult butterflies in Vacaville today (temperature, 70 degrees), but didn't see any.
Shapiro, who monitors the butterflies of Central California and posts information on his website, sounded the alarm about the comeback of these spectacular orange-red butterflies several ago. It was in September 2009 that he excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Frit after its four-decade absence in the Sacramento metropolitan area, and its three-decade absence in the Davis area.
The larvae or caterpillars of the Agraulis vanillae feed on the leaves of the passion flower vine; they eat "many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," Shapiro says. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. No one knows exactly when the first Gulf Frit first arrived in California, but "it was already in the San Diego area by about 1875," Shapiro said. It was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 it "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, a Davis resident since 1971.
Now we know that at least some Gulf Frits survived the freezing temperatures--just when a setback threatened the comeback.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg on Christmas Day in west Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary spreading her wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
That's the line that came to me Saturday when I released a week-old Gulf Fritillary butterfly I'd reared in our home.
Kris Kristofferson penned that line in his hit song, "Me and Bobby McGee," popularized by Janis Joplin. Kristofferson most definitely was NOT thinking of Agraulis vanillae when he wrote that. According to performingsongwriter.com, he was thinking of a time-tested movie plot. You know, boy loves girl, boy leaves girl, boy cannot forget girl.
Calling freedom a "two-edged sword," Kristofferson explained that the boy "was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him. That’s where the line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ came from."
Fact is, my little ol' December butterfly picked a terrible time to emerge in the habitat I purchased last summer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. With outside temperatures dipping to 22 degrees, I didn't have the heart to make this a nothing-left-to-lose day. Not yet. So I fed it sugar water and waited for a better-chance-to-make-it day.
When the temperature hit 55, I released it on a passionflower vine in our yard. My boy butterfly quickly fluttered away, on the wings of freedom, only to return a few minutes later and touch down on a clump of pampas grass.
I'm sure it never found a mate. In fact, between hungry predators and the just-chillin' weather, it probably ended up as a one-day butterfly.
However, there's always the promise of more butterflies. A quick peek beneath the burlap-covered passionflower vine revealed several caterpillars and chrysalids.
A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary returns to the site where it was released. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar survived the frost. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's rather troubling trying to rear subtropical butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), in late autumn.
The string of warm sunny days in late November meant plenty of days for Gulf Frits to mate and reproduce. From eggs to larvae to chrysalids to adults--we watched the life cycle unfold on our passion flower vines (Passiflora).
Now it's freezing cold, with morning temperature dipping below 23 degrees.
No Gulf Frits flying outside.
But there is one Gulf Frit flying inside. It emerged from its chrysalis Friday. It is the sole occupant of our butterfly habitat.
"That butterfly could not have picked a worse time to come out," commented naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart Museum of Entomology volunteer who rears butterflies, including Gulf Frits.
He's so right. Freezing cold and pouring rain are not conducive to releasing butterflies back into the wild--the wild meaning the Passiflora.
On Sunday afternoon as the mercury rose a bit, I contemplated releasing my Gulf Frit. I asked Siri "How COLD is it in Vacaville, California?"
She answered "It is 49 degrees in Vacaville and I don't find that particularly cold."
What? So, now we're getting editorial comment when we ask a question about the weather?
Siri, as you know, is that "intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator" (thanks, Wikipedia) that responds to questions you ask on your iphone. Siri is Norwegian for "beautiful woman who leads you to victory."
Beautiful woman or not, Siri is neither leading ME to victory nor my boy butterfly.
Yes, my Gulf Frit is a male, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
Like many other lepidopterists, Shapiro is concerned about the high pressure from the Arctic, resulting in freezing temperatures here. "The low temperatures we have experienced may be enough to extirpate the Gulf Fritillary butterfly regionally," he said. "This subtropical invader has become very popular with local residents (Yolo, Sacrameno and Solano counties, for instance), and if it is indeed wiped out, many will be sad to see it go."
Today Shapiro visited some of the warm pockets on the UC Davis campus but saw no "Leps" (Lepidoptera) of any kind.
There is, however, one restless male Lep in my butterfly habitat. His release date depends on the outside temperatures.
It does not depend on what Siri says.
Newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A brief bit of sunlight, and the newly emerged Gulf Frit fluttered its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mother Nature isn't, either.
For several weeks, we've been rearing Gulf Fritilliary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). We purchased a butterfly habitat from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, salvaged some caterpillars from our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and watched the transformation from caterpillars to chrysalids to butterflies.
One butterfly, however, emerged last weekend with crippled wings.
You may have seen crippled butterflies, too.
A reader who lives in Rancho Cordova said she's nurtured passion flower vines (the larval host plant of the Gulf Frits) for the past seven years and has "spotted or or two butterflies a year in the yard."
"In the past two weeks we suddenly have dozens and dozens of chrsalids," she wrote, adding "I'm not sure what their odds of survival are but I have picked up about 15 off the ground who were never able to fly. I tried giving them some sugar water on a q-tip and about four regained strength and were able to fly away but the others have died."
"Do you have any tips on helping our friends?" she asked. She also wanted to know the life span of a butterfly.
We asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of entomology and evolution at UC Davis, to answer the questions.
"It's highly abnormal that any significant proportion of Gulf Frits would be unable to fly," Shapiro said."If the pupae are not disturbed they hang vertically. The butterfly pops out and hangs on the bottom of the cast pupal skin, letting gravity pull down the wings so they elongate fully. If the bug is knocked down while the wings are soft and cannot immediately climb up a vertical surface, it will end up a cripple. The pupae should never be removed from their substrate and laid horizontally in a container. That virtually guarantees crippling. If there was no disturbance and all those animals fell down spontaneously, they are infected with some microorganism that has significantly weakened them."
"Any butterfly that is unable to fly is a lost cause and there is really no reason to try to save them since they won't reproduce. If a crippled female was mated by a flying male, which is possible, she wouldn't be able to lay her normal complement of eggs on the host plant anyway."
Shapiro, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley of California and posts information on his website, says that "adult Gulf Frits, which are pretty unpalatable to predators--they have chemical defenses-- are quite long-lived. In warm weather they can live 4-6 weeks. In cold weather they can live 2-3 months, but are killed outright at 21-22F."
"For the record, butterflies have sugar receptors on their feet. When their feet contact sugar, the proboscis uncoils automatically for feeding. If it's necessary to feed a butterfly, place watered-down honey--not much--or Pepsi or Coke right out of the container--on a fairly non-absorbent surface--I use a strip of foam rubber--and, using forceps to hold the wings over the back, lower the feet to the liquid. Bingo! Allow to feed ad lib."
As for the crippled butterfly we reared, we released it in our backyard. It encountered a possible mate, which checked it out and took off.
Then we placed it on an orange zinnia where it clung tightly to the blossom. A short life, true, but at least a taste of nectar and a little sunshine.
Mother Nature isn't perfect, and neither are we.
A crippled Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A possible mate checks out the crippled butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We placed the crippled Gulf Fritillary on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)