Posts Tagged: Art Shapiro
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)
The showy reddish-orange butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is making 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,” says noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the UC Davis Center for Population Biology. “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 says it “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
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, passion flower vine (tropical genus Passiflora). The butterflies lay their eggs on the plant and voila! Leaf-munching caterpillars. Shapiro points out that the Gulf Frit caterpillars "will not eat all of the Passiflora in cultivation in California." They can be particular.
One of the Gulf Frit's favorite nectar sources is lantana (genus Lantana, family Verbenaceae.)
The Gulf Frit "has no diapause and is subject to killing out by hard freezes; in my experience, 22F is completely lethal to all stages," Shapiro says. "It has been bred for release at weddings, garden parties and the like, but there is no direct evidence linking its return in this region to such activities. If gardeners find it a pest on their Passifloras it is easily controlled by hand-picking or BT (Dipel), but it seems, to judge by my email, that most people are thrilled and delighted to have it in the garden."
Shapiro and two co-authors recently published a paper in the Journal of Biogeography (J. Biogeog.39: 382-396, 2012) on the pylogeography (geography of molecular-genetic variation) of widespread Western Hemisphere human-associated butterflies. The reearch is the work of Erik Runquist, UC Davs Department of Evolution and Ecology; Matthew Forister of the Department of Biology, University of Nevada; and Shapiro.
"We had suspected the Gulf Frit might be introduced in the United States but the genetics show not only that it is not, but that it is apparently two species--one entirely South American and one North American--but we have made no move to name anything!"
It's interesting that another host specialist butterfly, Cacyreus marshallili, a native of South Africa, is becoming a pest of garden geraniums (Pelargonium) in Europe, where "there are no native Pelargoniums," Shapiro says. "The butterfly (known as the Geranium Bronze) is becoming a real threat to the tradition of having geraniums in window boxes. Some European butterfly folks like its presence--unless they grow geraniums."
The silver-spangled underside of the Gulf Fritillary, shown here nectaring lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary shows its familiar colors. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary spreading its wings on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The buck stops here.
Whether it's doing the fandago on the plantago, the can-can on the lantana or the waltz on the sedum, it's easy to spot.
That's because of its large eyelike circles on its wings. That's enough to scare any predator--and distinguish it from other butterflies.
On his butterfly-monitoring website, noted lepitdopterist Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that the "male buckeyes are territorial perchers, usually on bare ground. Both sexes visit a great variety of flowers, from Heliotrope and Lippia to California buckeye and rabbitbrush! They often swarm over coyotebrush (Baccharis) in autumn, especially the male plants."
Lately we've seen the buckeye on Sedum (a genus in the family Crassulaceae) and Lantana (genus in the family Verbenaceae).
If you’re interested in the butterflies of the San Francisco and Sacramento areas, be sure to check out Shapiro’s Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. Illustrated by Timothy Manolis, it's published by the University of California Press.
Buckeye (Junonia coenia) spreads its wings on sedum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Buckeye perched on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Buckeye ready to flutter away. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
No doubt many of them did.
The award-winning book, published in 1969, traces the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly, from an egg to a larva (caterpillar) to a pupa (chrsyalis) to an adult.
If you've ever seen a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine, you've seen The Very Hungry Caterpillar in action.
We planted a passion flower vine two months ago in our yard. The plant hasn't yet bloomed, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) found it. Thankfully! We planted it for them.
Within what seemed like a matter of days, the passion flower vine (the host plant of the Gulf Frits), went from no caterpillars--zero, zilch, nada--to five.
We've seen the showy orange-reddish butterflies fluttering around the plant looking for places to lay their eggs, but haven't seen them actually do it.
But the evidence is there!
"As a spiny orange-and-black caterpillar, it feeds only on passion flower leaves, eating many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
The butterfly, he says, can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood.
Let there be a critical mass!
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) heads for a tasty leaf on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of a very hungry caterpillar eating its fill. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ah, the Gulf Fritillary...
We spotted this orange-reddish butterfly nectaring lantana last Saturday near downtown Vacaville. In fact, the patch of lantana (family Verbenaceae) drew assorted butterflies, including buckeyes, alfalfa, monarchs, and painted ladies. A few honey bees and native bees tried to get their share.
Lantana and Gulf Frits. These multi-colored blossoms and the multi-colored butterfly, both found in the tropics and subtropics, are a study in brilliance.
On his website, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says the Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae) was introduced into southern California in the 19th century, and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908. Once prevalent in the Sacramento area in the 1960s, it "seems to have died out by the early 1970s," he said.
Then in 2009, it began making a comeback in the Sacramento area.
Now it appears to be thriving in some areas, at least where its adopted host plant, the passion flower vine (genus Passiflora), grows. If you have a passion flower vine in your yard, you may very well see the spiny orange-and-black caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And if you have lantana or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in your yard, don't be surprised if a few adults drop by for a sip of nectar.
No wonder that commercial companies mass-rear these exotic-looking butterflies for release at weddings, garden parties and other social events.
Gulf Fritillary on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Fritillary is one of the showiest butterflies in California, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
On its underside, the Gulf Fritillary is spangled in iridescent silver. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)