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Are you on a winning streak? Or a losing streak? Or somewhere in between?
The Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) is always on a streak--a gray streak.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, writes about the Gray Hairstreak on his website, Art's Butterfly World. It's one of the many butterflies in the Central Valley that he's monitored over the past four decades.
It's most common in weedy and disturbed habitats at low elevation, Shapiro says, adding that it's "territorial and a hilltopper in suitable terrain, but does very well in towns and cities in the Central Valley. It is multiple-brooded and has a very long flight season, at sea level from February to November, but rarely seen before June in the mountains where it does not appear able to overwinter."
"Its most frequent hosts in our area are mallows, including the weedy species of Malva; legumes, including Spanish Lotus (Lotus purshianus), bird's-boot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), white clover (Trifolium repens) in lawns, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and many others;and turkey mullein (Eremocarpus or Croton setigerus, Euphorbiaceae)."
We recently spotted the Gray Hairstreak grabbing some nectar on our guara (Guara lindheimer). Its distinctive orange spot matched perfectly the color of the nearby Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Those of us joining naturalist Steve Daubert's butterfly talk and tour at the UC Davis Arboretum last September also spotted a Gray Hairstreak. The good news is that he's giving another "Butterfly Ecology Talk and Walk," sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum, on Sunday, Sept. 14. It's free and open to the public. Participants will gather at 11 a.m. by the trellis at the California Native Plant GATEway Garden (newly-constructed garden at the Arboretum's east end, just behind the Davis Commons Shopping Center). (See the Arboretum calendar for more information and a map.)
"Last year at the Arboretum Butterfly Walk and Talk we talked about the co-evolution of the butterflies with the flowering plants, starting in the Middle Cretaceous," Daubert told us in an email. "This year we will set the scene farther back into the Mesozoic Era and talk about the origin of the advanced insect orders, including the Lepidoptera (the holometabolous insects). We will also talk about blue colors in the animals. And we will talk about butterfly gardening for folks here in the valley. We will be looking to see members of the five butterfly families commonly found in Davis."
Daubert is a molecular scientist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology. In addition to writing scientific technical text, he writes short stories, illustrated with his own photographs. He blogs at threadsintheweb.com.
Gray Hairsteak, Strymon melinus, nectaring guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bottoms up! Gray Hairstreak sipping nectar from guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Our buddy, the resident praying mantis, appears to be in perfect form.
Crouched beneath the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), he glistens in the early morning light, as honey bees, long-horned bees, Gulf Fritillary butterflies and fiery skippers search for food. The flower is his beach umbrella, colorfully shading him but also stealthily hiding him.
Finally, he makes his move. He slips up and over the petals and perches on the head of the blossom. As he does, he swivels his head 180 degrees, checking out the photographer and the camera. No predator, no problem, he apparently decides. He assumes the position, folding his spiked forelegs.
A fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) floats by, almost touching down next to him. The praying mantis leaps, just as the startled butterfly spins away. A near miss.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) flutters by in his air space, unaware of the "no fly zone." The mantis lurches forward as the butterfly soars. A wide miss.
Praying Mantis: 0.
Sometime a miss is as good as smile.
Praying mantis hides beneath the petals of a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Are you looking at me? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A leap and a near miss as a startled fiery skipper spins away. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Fritillary moves out of the way of the praying matnis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee food. That's what the globe artichoke is. Bee food.
Many of us let our artichokes flower, not because we don't like the vegetable, but because we like bees better.
Whether you see bees flying in formation, or in a gaggle (lacking organization), they're making a beeline to the artichoke (Cynara cardunculus).
Although native to the Mediterranean region, the artichoke is California's official vegetable, as proclaimed on April 10, 2013 by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. And why not? California produces nearly 100 percent of the U.S. crop, and Monterey County (home of Castroville, the self-proclaimed Artichoke Center of the World) accounts for 80 percent of the crop.
We never tire of watching the bees navigate "the purple forest," threading in and out of the petals, trying one entrance and exiting another and returning like giddy explorers without a map.
Humans would need a GPS or an app for that.
Honey bees flying in formation toward an artichoke in bloom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Carrying heavy loads of pollen, bees look for more. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A hot spot! Honey bees engage in a little pushing and shoving. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
There's something about the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) that makes folks foam at the mouth.
That's because butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, offers a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year that's brought into the department from the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Sacramento.
The contest is all part of Shapiro's 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He monitors the many species of Central California butterflies and posts the information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
The cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter," he says. Since 1972--the year he launched the "beer-for-for-a-butterfly" contest--the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
The good professor almost always wins his own beer-for-a-butterfly contest because he knows where to look.
This year Shapiro netted his prize winner at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14 in West Sacramento, Yolo County. He collected the male on the south slope of the railroad tracks where “I've caught at least half of the first-flight cabbage whites.” The temperature hovered at 62 degrees, but soon rose to 70 degrees.
He caught it in mid-air with a self-described "ballet leap."
Contest over. All done. However, for months afterwards, would-be contestants, aka beer lovers, find a cabbage white and ask "Did I win?" Well, no...
Last weekend I followed a stunningly beautiful cabbage white in our bee garden as it nectared catmint. Usually these butterflies move so fast there's no chance of capturing them in mid-flight, but this one seemed to cooperate.
Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! Pieris rapae! I almost executed a ballet leap. Hey, Art, did I win?
(Editor's Note: Read about the cabbageworm larvae on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management site.)
Cabbage white butterfly in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cabbage white nectaring on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The look of a lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)