Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro
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)
NIMBY--"Not in My Back Yard"--is a term used to target unwanted development projects in a neighborhood. Irate residents ban together and tell a governmental agency, such as a city council: "Not in My Back Yard!" For example, they don't want that chemical plant, prison, toxic waste dump, strip club or casino next to them.
But if you have butterflies in your back yard, NIMBY doesn't apply.
We planted seven passionflower vines (Passiflora) to attract the tropical Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), the brightly colored orange-reddish buterflies belonging to the family Nymphalidae and subfamily Heliconiinae.
It's a joy to see them fluttering around the yard--the females laying eggs and the males cruising for a "date." From the eggs to the caterpillars to the chrysalids to the adults--the Gulf Frit population keeps expanding.
Then, surprisingly, we spotted an unfamiliar-looking caterpillar among all the rest.
"What is this?" we asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley and maintains a butterfly site.
"It's the melanic phase of the Gulf Frit larva, well-known in the southeast United States and in South America, but I've never seen one in California," Shapiro said. "Presumably genetic, but the genetics have not been worked out. See if you can breed from it!"
Well, what to do? We popped the VIP (or rather VIC for "Very Important Caterpillar") in our butterfly habitat container, newly purchased from the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The container is now home to a dozen caterpillars, six chrysalids, and one VIC.
But breeding the butterfly? First, the caterpillar would have to form a chrysalis. Then, if and when the butterfly emerges, we'll have to determine the gender, provide a mate, and see if anything happens.
Melanic phase of a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, rare in California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melanic Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An adult Gulf Fritillary on a passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The news is not good.
Scores of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are now migrating toward their overwintering zone in Mexico but they're doing so in dwindling numbers.
"Monarch butterflies appear headed for a perhaps unprecedented population crash, according to scientists and monarch watchers who have been keeping tabs on the species in their main summer home in Eastern and Central North America," wrote reporter Daniel Schwartz of CBC News in a Sept. 24 news article.
"There had been hope that on their journey north from their overwintering zone in Mexico, the insects' numbers would build through the generations, but there's no indication that happened."
We spotted six Monarchs nectaring on lantana on Sept. 14 in south Vacaville. "I think the numbers are up regionally, but I've seen no breeding at all in the Central Valley," said butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "They bred like mad in Nevada this year."
Shapiro writes on his butterfly monitoring website: "The Monarch overwinters on the central coast and moves inland, typically in early March."
In his book, The Handy Bug Answer Book, entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, points out that Monarchs are the most famous of the "insect migrants that make a return trip."
Which begs the question: "Do the overwintering monarchs in Mexico feed?" Responds Waldbauer: "Practically none of them feed. On warm days, they leave the trees to drink water, but the few flowers near the overwintering sites are sucked dry of nectar by the first few monarchs that find them."
They survive, he writes, "on large stores of energy-rich body fat that they acquired as they migrated south. On average, their bodies consist of about 50 percent fat. Their fat supply lasts through the winter because, inactive in the cold climate of the high mountains, they use up very little energy."
A Monarch butterfly nectaring on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Monarch butterfly filling up on nectar from lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
That would be Agraulis vanillae.
Visitors to the open house saw Gulf Frit eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids and adults.
UC Davis professor Christina Cogdell, who teaches art design and history, loaned some of her Gulf Frit population, as did Bohart volunteer Greg Kareofelas and yours truly. Fortunately, museum officials collected them on a sunny Friday because the Gulf Frits would not have been flying on rainy Saturday.
The Red Barn Nursery, Davis, loaned a potted passionflower vine, which the entomologists decorated with caterpillars. Tabatha Yang, public education coordinator and outreach coordinator, affixed a sign that read "How many caterpillars can you find?"
As one caterpillar crawled up the sign, Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey held up one finger, designating "One!"
As if on a cue, a caterpillar began pupating.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology, stopped by. He had initially planned to go on a butterfly monitoring field trip, but rain dashed his plans.
All in all, it was a Gulf Frit kind of day, despite the downpour.
Seven more weekend open houses are planned throughout the 2013-2014 academic year. The next one, "Beauty and the Beetles," is set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. The events are free and open to the public. All ages are welcome.
The museum houses nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a "live petting zoo" and a gift shop. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart founded the museum in 1946.
An adult Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, holds up a finger to designate "One caterpillar." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caterpillar pupating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A miss is as good as a mile...or a smile.
The Buckeye (Junonia coenia) is a striking butterfly patterned with eyespots and white bars. We saw one today nectaring on sedum, but with chunks of a wing missing. Perhaps a bird or a praying mantis tried to grab it. It narrowly escaped predation.
A lucky day.
It's quite a common butterfly, as common as it is recognizable.
The Buckeye "is found in southern Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia and all parts of the United States, except the Northwest," according to Wikpedia. It's also found throughout Central America and Colombia.
"The Buckeye breeds on plants containing bitter iridoid glycosides, including plantains (Plantago, especially P. lanceolata), various Scrophulariaceae (especially Fluellin, Kickxia), and Lippia (Lippia or Phyla nodiflora)," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his website. "The spiny, black-and-white caterpillar has a bright orange head. Its behavior suggests its diet makes it virtually immune to vertebrate predation, but the pupa and adult are quite edible."
Well, this is one adult that got away.
Buckeye butterfly on sedum. Note the missing chunks of its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sideview of Buckeye butterfly-almost a meal for a predator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An intact Buckeye on sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)