Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro
In the bug world, we're all grateful for the people who study insects, monitor them, and share information to impart scientific data and help save declining species.
Take butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California, Davis (of Art's Butterfly World).
How he does it, we'll never know, but he has monitored butterflies in the area for more than three decades and knows when a population is declining or increasing.
On a trip to Vacaville on Nov. 12, Shapiro discovered six gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) in gardens on Buck Avenue, and one at the base of Gates Canyon (that's only the second he's seen; the first he saw in May of 1984).
That's great news!
"I suspect the colony has expanded into the upscale hillside neighborhood off Foothill but had no time to go looking," Shapiro commented.
Meanwhile, he says, there are fewer gulf frits in Sacramento this year than in the last two years.
The gulf frit is one of the showiest butterflies in California. The bright orange-red butterfly, with a wingspan that can reach four inches, was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Shapiro says it became established there only in the 1950s.
The last time we saw gulf frits in Vacaville was a couple of months ago, on Sept. 14. They were all over a passionflower vine (Passiflora)--the adults, the pupae, the larvae and the eggs--in a Buck Avenue garden. Later we saw several nectaring lantana.
Now they appear to be expanding their territory in Vacaville.
We all ought to be attracting them! The larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, the gulf frit nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
Gulf fritillary nectaring a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mating gulf frits. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf frit caterpillar munching on passionflower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When award-winning photographer Teresa Willis of Vacaville encountered a red caterpillar on a dirt road at about 6000 feet in a canyon north of Paradise Valley, Nev., she did what photographers do--she captured an image of it.
And posted it on her Facebook page where some of her friends likened it to the Oscar Mayer weiner.
The caterpillar is indeed red. Bright red. Well, what is it?
Renowned butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, who knows about such things, says it is the larvae of an owlet moth (family Noctuidae) "and the species is probably Noctuid."
"It's infested with the parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, a generalist parasite of insect larvae, which it turns bright red," Shapiro says. "Experiments have shown that this acts as a warning color, deterring visual predators (such as birds) from eating them (and the nematodes in the process)."
Hardly any Lepitoptera escapes identification from Art Shapiro, who maintains the popular website, Art's Butterfly World at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/ and is a UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology.
As for Teresa Willis (see more of her work at http://www.redbubble.com/people/teresalynwillis), you can say she got the red out.
With the help of a parasitic nematode, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora.
Larvae of an owlet moth turned bright red by the parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. (Photo by Teresa Willis)
Red caterpillar on the move--but it probably won't be eaten by birds. (Photo by Teresa Willis)
In the big, beautiful butterfly world, the Fiery Skipper stands out as the most common urban butterfly in California.
It may not be as showy as the Monarch, the Gulf Fritilliary and the Painted Lady, but the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) holds its own.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, describes it as "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."
"Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937," he writes on his butterfly website. "At any rate, it is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October."
It breeds mostly on Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Shapiro says.
We've seen the adults nectaring on sedum, lantana, zinnias and Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) at the half-acre bee friendly garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It's like their favorite restaurant where they can order nectar (take-out, please!) from sedum, zinnias, catmint and those glorious Mexican sunflowers.
Since the Fiery Skippers don't take kindly to cold winters, let's enjoy them while we can.
Close-up of Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The male Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) often head-butts the female's genitalia during courtship, says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Frit is definitely back.
Back in September of 2009, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina.
The Gulf Frit is a beautiful butterfly with bright orange-red wings, spangled iridescent silver on the underside, and a four-inch wingspan.
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."
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 says, and 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 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971.
The butterfly can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood," he told us back in 2009.
Well, there's a thriving passion flower vine behind a west Vacaville residence that makes one think: "Critical mass!"
On one recent sunny afternoon, we spotted about 10 to 12 Gulf Frits breeding on the vine. Squadrons of brightly colored orange and black caterpillars munched on the leaves.
Yes, the Gulf Frit is alive and well.
Very alive and very well.
So if you have a passion for the Gulf Frit, plant Passiflora.
Plant it and they may come.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly on passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frits breeding on passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Hungry caterpillar munching passion flower leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A "squadron" of caterpillars on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is one of the showiest butterflies in California, says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.
Indeed it is.
The bright orange-red butterfly with a wingspan that can reach four inches visited our back yard yesterday. It nectared the lantana and sedum, competing for the sweet treats with honey bees, sweat bees and leafcutting bees.
Last year we planted a passionflower (Passiflora) vine (larval host of the Gulf Fritillary). None came. No butterflies, no breeding site, no little orange-and-black caterpillars to chew the passionflower leaves. We removed the vine and replaced it with vegetables.
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is even more beautiful when it folds its wings. Then you can see what makes this butterfly so utterly breathtaking: the iridescent silvery spots.
Shapiro says this is a tropical and subtropical butterfly, with a range extending from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. It appeared in southern California in the late 1800s, and was first recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1908.
Like to attract this butterfly? Its larval hosts include passionflower vines, such as the maypop (Passiflora incarnata), blue passionflower (P. caerulea), and corky-stemmed passionflower (P. suberosa). As an adult, it nectars on such plants as lantana (Lantana camara), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), drummond phlox (Phlox drummondi) and something called "tread softly" (Cnidosculous stimulosus).
"Tread softly" is also a good idea if you're trying to photograph it. It's a very skittish butterfly and the slightest movement will prompt it to take off.
But if you wait patiently, the fluttering orange flash will likely return.
Close-up Gulf Fritillary on sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Wingspan of Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) can reach four inches. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leafcutter bee heads for the same nectar spot as the brilliant Gulf Fritillary. Note the iridescent silverly spots. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)