Backyard Orchard News
Skippers and sedum. Sedum and skippers.
A perfect match. The flower, sedum (family Crassulaceae), and the fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus, family Hesperlidae) make a stunning autumn photo.
When late afternoon sun strikes its fighter-jet wings, it glows brilliantly. Move closer and you'll see the skipper sipping nectaring. Move a little more closer and...it's gone.
It does keeps its distance.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, provides comprehensive information on fiery skippers and other butterflies on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
He calls the fiery skipper "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937."
Only 1937? A newcomer, but what a beauty.
You gotta love the Joe-Pye Weed.
It's a shady character and a late bloomer. That is, it loves the shade and blooms in the late summer and early fall.
Better yet, bees and butterflies love it.
Once you hear the distinctive name, Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) you'll never forget it.
We're told that Joe Pye was a Native American Indian herbalist who used the perennial to treat an outbreak of typhus among the colonists of Massachusetts Bay. The grateful colonists immortalized him by naming the plant for him.
Sometimes it's called "Queen of the Meadow." Sometimes it's called "gravel root." And sometimes "snakeroot."
No matter what you call this four-foot-high plant, the name that really sticks is "Joe-Pye Weed."
Insects can get Pye in their eye.
Bee on Joe-Pye Weed
There's a whole lot of crunchin' going on.
The redhumped caterpillar has discovered our redbud tree, which it considers an "all-you-can" buffet.
Now this is a voracious eater on the same scale of a fellow named Joey "Jaws" Chestnut.
Seconds? Yes, please.
Thirds? Of course.
Well, say "when!"
Distinguished by a bright red head and an equally bright red hump behind its head (Joey has neither, by the way), the caterpillar is yellow with red and white stripes. It's about an inch and a half long and can defoliate or skeletonize a leaf faster than you can say "The redhumped caterpillar is a Schizura concinna in the family Notodontidae." (Or “Joey Chestnut ate 54 dogs and buns on July 4, 2010 and took home the Mustard Belt.”)
The redhumped caterpillar is quite fond of redbud leaves but it also takes a liking to liquidambar, walnut and plum leaves, to mention a few.
Noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and the person behind "Art's Butterfly World," took one look at my trio of happy campers...er...caterpillars and commented:
"As you can see, they are gregarious and warningly colored. The red hump contains a defensive formic acid gland. They hold their anal prolegs, which are not useful for walking, in the air and thrash their rear ends in unison when disturbed. This is the ONLY defoliator of redbud around here, and is very common."
Shapiro says it also "attacks walnut and a variety of other chemically distinctive trees that other things don't eat, as a rule. The damage is minor, and I strongly advise against spraying; hand-picking can be used if control is deemed necessary, but they feed so late in the season that there is no actual harm to the tree."
No, no harm. Just some skeletonized leaves and leaf stubs.
What's the adult look like?
"The moth is very nondescript," he says. "It holds its wings wrapped around the body cylindrically and looks remarkably like a cigarette butt, though it is probably 'imitating' a broken-off twig. Despite authoritative commentary to the contrary, they have two broods a year here but are usually seen in fall. The species is native on both coasts and oddly absent in most of the mid-continent."
It will be awhile before we see the adults, which are grayish-brownish.
Shapiro says the insects "pupate in litter or slightly below the soil surface and won't hatch until June or so, if true to form."
Meanwhile, it's OTL, followed by OTD and OTB (out-to-lunch, dinner and breakfast).
It's already won the Redbud Belt.
This is no ordinary calendar.
We just previewed the second annual North American Native Bee calendar and it's just absolutely spectacular.
Created by UC Berkeley-alumnus Celeste Ets-Hokin, a native bee advocate from the San Francisco Bay Area, the calendar is a fundraising project for the Great Sunflower Project and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
The macro images, primarily the work of UC Berkeley-trained entomologist/insect photographer Rollin Coville, are stunning. Coville, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1978, has been photographing insects and spiders for more than 25 years.
The calendar is unique in that each month not only features a "pin-up" photo of a bee but also includes notes on preferred plants, nesting needs, and guidance on how to identify the genus. It's like zeroing in on the lifestyles of the not-so-rich and not-so-famous, the ones that share your garden with honey bees. You can preview a sample of the front cover, one month, and back cover of the calendar.
The calendar idea originated with Gretchen LeBuhn, an environmental science professor at San Francisco State University. She's the one who launched the Great Sunflower Project. What's the Great Sunflower Project about? Members plant sunflowers in their garden, monitor bee visits and report back to LeBuhn. "The Great Sunflower Project currrently boasts an online membership of about 80,000 citizen scientists from across the United States and Canada," Ets-Hokin said.
Back to the calendars. This year the theme is "Bees and Food."
A good theme, a good cause, and a good place to learn about the many species of bees, including leafcutter bees, sweat bees and bumble bees, and how to attract them.
The 2010 calendar was so popular that it sold out. The 2011 calendar promises to be even more popular. In fact, the project coordinators are now taking orders. Orders received by Oct. 15 will be shipped the third week of October, Ets-Hokin said. Orders received by Nov. 30 will be shipped the first week of December.
I have it on my calendar. Only problem is, I don't want to part with my 2010 North American Bee Calendar.
North American Bee Calendar
“Beekeepers in California are cautiously optimistic that their colonies are going to survive the winter in better shape that they have in the past few years,” says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. ”Instead of having to feed their colonies all summer, they were glad to see that many colonies actually benefitted from last year’s nearly seasonal rainfall and produced some honey.”
Mussen said it’s too early to predict where the stress relief of better season forage will result in “a lessening of CCD, but better-fed bees can handle much more adversity than poorly fed bees.”
Mussen will be the keynote speaker at a "Bee Informed" public event, set from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Historic Ballroom of the Citizen Hotel, 926 J St., Sacramento. The educational celebration will focus on bees and honey through speeches, displays, drinks and food. A donation of $10 will be asked at the door, with donations benefitting the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
With the recent rise of colony collapse disorder, increased honey bee awareness is vital for the preservation of local honey farms, said event coordinator Elaine Baker, pastry chef at the Citizen Hotel/Grange Restaurant.
“We’ll have honey-based cocktails available at a cash bar, a tea and coffee station, and I’m creating a selection of mini desserts, each featuring a different honey.”
“Honey is one of my favorite ingredients to use in desserts because of its beautifully nuanced flavors and gorgeous colors,” said Baker, who blogs about food at http://www.elainebakerspastryplayground.com/. “It’s just magical.”
She's right. It's just magical. Show me the honey.
And what she's doing to help the bees is magical, too.
The key goals of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the Laidlaw facility on Bee Biology Road, are to provide the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators with a year-around food source; to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees, to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own, and to serve as a research site.
And oh, yes, it's open year around to homo sapiens, too.
Show Me the Honey