Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro
We probably won't see the Gulf Fritilliary (Agraulis vanillae) laying eggs any more this year on our passion flower vine.
Cool weather has set in, the rains are coming, and the butterfly season is ending.
But just for a little while, the Gulf Frit obliged us with its shadow. It fluttered over our passion flower vine and then soared over a fence, just ahead of its shadow.
Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Sacramento area residents saw a lot of it in the 1960s, but not in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. It disappeared.
But, since 2009, it's been making a comeback.
And leaving behind its shadow...
Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, casts a shadow. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
There it was.
A green caterpillar, aka larva, aka worm, occupied a blanket flower (Gaillardia) last Friday morning in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
Soon a honey bee from the nearby Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility landed on it. And then a Painted Lady butterfly, its wings tattered from predatory attacks, joined the duo.
Well, what WAS that green caterpillar?
We asked butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis. "Well, it's a Noctuid (owlet moth family)," he said. "It may be one of the infinite variety of color forms of the tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens, which is common right now--the fine lengthwise striations suggest that--but maybe not."
He suggested we contact his colleague, David Wagner, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut.
"I am guessing that it is either Heliothis virescens as suggested by Art or Helicoverpa zea," Wagner said, looking at the photo. "Both equally probable. The former often favors plants with glandular secretory hairs: Solanaceae, geranium, etc."
According to Wikipedia, the Noctuidae or owlet moths "are a family of robustly build moths that include more than 35,000 known species out of possibly 100,000 total, in more than 4,200 genera."
Noctuidae comprises the largest family in Lepitopdera.
Most fly at night. Many are drawn to sugar and nectar-rich flowers. Some head over to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.
As for Helicoverpa zea, it's a major agricultural pest. It's known by various names, depending on what it consumes. When it consumes tomatoes, it's a tomato fruitworm. Cotton? Cotton bollworm. Corn? Corn earworm. And the list goes on.
We thought that perhaps a neighboring praying mantis would take a culinary interest in the worm, but not so.
The Noctuid appeared to a landing strip for honey bees and Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui). They kept touching down and pulling up.
As Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology quipped: "If you're in the middle of the road, you're going to get hit."
Buddies? A honey bee edges toward a Noctuid caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If two is company, is three a crowd? Painted Lady, honey bee and Noctuid caterpillar on blanket flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're passionate about Passiflora (passion flower vine), you're probably passionate about those Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
It's November with temperatures in the unseasonal mid-80s, and the butterflies are laying eggs like there's no tomorrow.
From eggs to larvae to chrysalises to adults--what a sight to see.
We watched a caterpillar munch leaves as an ant scooted down to investigate. Then a magnificent adult, its wings fresh and showing no visible signs of predatory bites, fluttered down right in front of us.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, calls these butterflies a "dazzling bit of the New World Tropics."
Indeed they are. Orange never looked so good.
Ant investigates a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
And a free one, at that.
UC Davis graduate student Melissa Whitaker, who is studying for her doctorate with noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, has just created an app or application for iphones, ipods and ipads.
It's called Butterfly Guide: Butterflies of the Sacramento Valley, Delta and San Francisco Bay Area. Click on Itunes to download it.
So if you're from the Sacramento or San Francisco area, and see a butterfly fluttering around, you can identify it by consulting this free app. Western tiger swallowtail? Check. That would be Papilio rutulus. Monarch butterfly? Check. Danaus plexippus. Gulf fritillary? Check. Agraulis vanillae.
Her app includes 117 species of butterflies, complete with photos, descriptions, common names, scientific names and family names. Shapiro, her key source of information and inspiration, maintains a comprehensive website that includes data he's collected for more than three decades. He's the author of Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions.
Whitaker engaged two computer science undergraduates, Joey Jiron and Bryan Maass, for the app development.
Whitaker, who's from Colorado but claims California as home, says she's relatively new to the butterfly scene. "Always a lover of nature and natural history education, I quickly arrived at butterflies as ideal study organisms for my PhD research," she says.
Whitaker describes the app as a "mobile tool for natural history education and biodiversity informatics, using the butterflies of the region."
Her website details how to use the guide and how to share data. She's hoping to encourage users to become citizen scientists.
Whitaker is especially interested in the teaching aspect. "Butterflies are absolutely terrific models for education in the science classroom, and capture the attention of all ages," she says on her website. "They can be used to teach many biological concepts: mimicry, conservation, species interactions, biodiversity, migration, ecology, evolution, life history development, and on and on! They can also be great tools for inspiring people to spend more time outside observing their natural (or semi-natural) surroundings. With this in mind, we hope teachers and educators will find ways to incorporate butterfly monitoring into their classrooms and will share their curriculum and ideas. For great ideas for biodiversity lesson plans check out Project Noah's Education page."
"Our long-term vision for this project is that The Butterfly Guide will provide a template for The Lizard Guide, The Urban Spider Guide, The Wildflower Guide—a whole series of guides!" she says. "With that in mind we can provide all development materials to folks who want to create their own educational, community-driven and non-commercial (free!) field guide apps."
The National Science Foundation funded the project through its REACH-IGERT program. REACH is an acronym for REsponding to RApid Environmental CHange (REACH), while IGERT is Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.
Western tiger swallowtail is one of the butterflies listed in Melissa Whitaker's app. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's that caterpillar?
This little fellow (or gal) was munching--quite contentedly, thank you--on the leaves of an aspen tree.
The homeowner didn't take too kindly to the critter defoliating his prized tree, newly purchased in Oregon and newly planted in Vacaville, Calif., so he asked us what it was.
"Smerinthus cerisyi, an exceedingly beautiful sphingid (nocturnal) with eyespots," he said. "Pupates in the ground and will emerge next April or May. Not native in Vacaville but fairly common in upland Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties and in the Sierra, Siskiyous, etc."
Shapiro surmised that the "eggs could have come in from Oregon."
So if you, too, have an aspen in your yard and are wondering what these little critters are, they will grow into a beautiful "One-Eyed Sphinx Moth" or "Cerisy's Sphinx"--if you let them.
"I encourage someone to rear them out rather than kill them," Shapiro says. "They actually won't harm the tree significantly. They'll also eat cottonwood and non-woolly willow foliage (not sandbar willow)."
Close-up of a Smerinthus cerisyi caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Smerinthus cerisyi caterpillar on aspen leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Smerinthus cerisyi adult taken by Shawn Hanrahan at the Texas A&M University Insect Collection in College Station, Texas. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)