Posts Tagged: Gulf Fritillary butterflies
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, sharing stories with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars?
Well, not likely.
The lady beetle (family Coccinellidae) preys mainly on aphids--it can eat about 50 aphids a day or some 5000 aphids in its lifetime. But it will devour other soft-bodied insects, including mites, scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, and butterfly eggs and larvae (caterpillars). Butterfly caterpillars move quite slowly; they are not Indy 500 speedsters.
We spotted a lady beetle early this morning on one of our passionflower (Passiflora) seed pods, surrounded by hungry Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) caterpillars. It was somewhat like a two-peas-in-a-pod scene, but without the peas. Here were two insect species ON a pod, and both sharing the same warning color: red.
The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are hungry. Very hungry. They've stripped the passionflower vine of all its leaves and are now eating the stems and seed pods. Actually, we planted the passionflower vine for them. But are they THAT hungry? They are. They're famished. And there are literally hundreds of them.
Sometimes we think that all of the Gulf Frit butterflies west of Mississippi are gravitating toward the plant to lay their eggs. The vine cannot support that many hungry caterpillars, despite predation by scrub jays and European paper wasps.
The lady beetle, we assume is not only eating the tiny yellow eggs of the Gulf Frit, but the tiniest of the tiny larvae. It's an exquisite buffet of tasty treats with high nutritional value.
And easy pickings.
Lady beetle, aka ladybug, with its new "friends"--Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars move around the lady beetle, aka ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A touching moment. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars will grow up to look like this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We have strippers.
Not anything to do with that thriving business known as "The Strip Club" in Las Vegas.
The strippers we have are Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, which can skeletonize their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) faster than you can sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins movie) forward and backwards ("Dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes").
Seems as if one minute the plant is bursting with shoots, tendrils, leaves, flowers and stems, and the next minute, nothing but lots of little larvae.
But we like it that way. The tiny reddish orange caterpillars will turn into glorious reddish orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has monitored scores of butterfly species in the Central Valley for more than four decades. (See his website.)
You probably remember the story. Back in September of 2009, the professor excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.
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.
True, some gardeners don't like to see their plants reduced to a skeleton, something they think should appear only on Halloween night.
But to us--and many others--passionflower vines are just food for the caterpillars. To be a butterfly, you first must be a caterpillar.
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
They made it through the winter: the bitter cold with subfreezing temperatures; the 54-day drought (will it ever rain again?) and the heavy rain that caught us thinking about ark-building.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was among those concerned about whether the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) would be able to survive the winter in this area.
They did. And they are.
Shapiro spotted the "signs of life" in the City of Davis (Yolo County) and the City of Vacaville (Solano County). Naturalist/butterfly enthusiast Greg Kareofela, a volunteer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has also seen them in Davis.
The ones pictured in this blog we found near downtown Vacaville last Monday, Feb. 17, on a passionflower vine (Passiflora): two adults and half a dozen caterpillars. Empty chrysalids, and a few viable chrysalids, plus seed pods from the Passilfora, hung from the branches.
The showy reddish-orange butterfly continues to make 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,” Shapiro told us. "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 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, passionflower vine (tropical genus Passiflora).
If you'd like to learn more about butterflies, ecological communities, and the science of conservation, be sure to attend Art Shapiro's talk at noon on Monday, March 24 at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., San Francisco. His topic is "Ecological Communities and the March of Time."
Ecological communities as we know them are similar to freeze-frames from a long movie. Associations among species are very dynamic on millennial scales, as demonstrated by the evidence since deglaciation 15,000 years ago. Coevolution of species occurs locally in geographic mosaics and can be extremely dynamic as well. Frederic Clements, the father of American community ecology, had a holistic vision. He saw communities as super-organisms. He was wrong.
This program is part of “The Science of Conservation and Biodiversity in the 21st Century”: This series of lectures will present a new way of looking at public policy issues in conservation. The things we've assumed as facts often are not. Traditional approaches are losing ground as science illuminates new pathways for framing and achieving conservation goals.- See more at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-03-24/arthur-m-shapiro-ecological-communities-and-march-time#sthash.iJcIhIcg.dpuf
This program is part of Commonwealth Club's “The Science of Conservation and Biodiversity in the 21st Century," according to spokersperson Chisako Ress (firstname.lastname@example.org). This series of lectures is aimed at presenting a new way of looking at public policy issues in conservation. The things we've assumed as facts often are not, she noted. Traditional approaches are losing ground as science illuminates new pathways for framing and achieving conservation goals.
From the Commonwealth Club website: "Ecological communities as we know them are similar to freeze-frames from a long movie. Associations among species are very dynamic on millennial scales, as demonstrated by the evidence since deglaciation 15,000 years ago. Coevolution of species occurs locally in geographic mosaics and can be extremely dynamic as well. Frederic Clements, the father of American community ecology, had a holistic vision. He saw communities as super-organisms. He was wrong."
You can use this coupon code "friendsforshapiro" to get a discount, Ress said. For program detail and registration, access http://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2014-03-24/arthur-m-shapiro-ecological-communities-and-march-time.
Following Shapiro's talk, the next speaker is another UC faculty member; this time it will be Joe McBride of UC Berkeley:
A Gulf Fritillary spotted Feb. 17 near downtown Vacaville, Solano County. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another Gulf Frit on a passionflower vine on Feb. 17 near downtown Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the move. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A seed pod from a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's rather troubling trying to rear subtropical butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), in late autumn.
The string of warm sunny days in late November meant plenty of days for Gulf Frits to mate and reproduce. From eggs to larvae to chrysalids to adults--we watched the life cycle unfold on our passion flower vines (Passiflora).
Now it's freezing cold, with morning temperature dipping below 23 degrees.
No Gulf Frits flying outside.
But there is one Gulf Frit flying inside. It emerged from its chrysalis Friday. It is the sole occupant of our butterfly habitat.
"That butterfly could not have picked a worse time to come out," commented naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart Museum of Entomology volunteer who rears butterflies, including Gulf Frits.
He's so right. Freezing cold and pouring rain are not conducive to releasing butterflies back into the wild--the wild meaning the Passiflora.
On Sunday afternoon as the mercury rose a bit, I contemplated releasing my Gulf Frit. I asked Siri "How COLD is it in Vacaville, California?"
She answered "It is 49 degrees in Vacaville and I don't find that particularly cold."
What? So, now we're getting editorial comment when we ask a question about the weather?
Siri, as you know, is that "intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator" (thanks, Wikipedia) that responds to questions you ask on your iphone. Siri is Norwegian for "beautiful woman who leads you to victory."
Beautiful woman or not, Siri is neither leading ME to victory nor my boy butterfly.
Yes, my Gulf Frit is a male, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
Like many other lepidopterists, Shapiro is concerned about the high pressure from the Arctic, resulting in freezing temperatures here. "The low temperatures we have experienced may be enough to extirpate the Gulf Fritillary butterfly regionally," he said. "This subtropical invader has become very popular with local residents (Yolo, Sacrameno and Solano counties, for instance), and if it is indeed wiped out, many will be sad to see it go."
Today Shapiro visited some of the warm pockets on the UC Davis campus but saw no "Leps" (Lepidoptera) of any kind.
There is, however, one restless male Lep in my butterfly habitat. His release date depends on the outside temperatures.
It does not depend on what Siri says.
Newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A brief bit of sunlight, and the newly emerged Gulf Frit fluttered its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
There's an old saying that "good things come in threes."
Well, they also come in twos.
When insect photographers manage to get two insects in the same photo, it's a "two-for."
Autumn is in full swing now, and the colder weather is settling in, but insects continue to provide a variety of diverse photo opportunities.
Two of a kind: a pair of mating Gulf Fritillary butterflies on a passionflower vine, two female sweat bees on goldenrod, and two female Valley carpenter bees on a passion flower.
Gulf Fritillary butterflies: Agraulis vanillae.
Sweat bees: Halictus ligatus.
Valley carpenter bees: Xylocopa varipuncta.
But if you look closely, there are three insects in the Valley carpenter bee photo. The other is a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar.
Good things come in threes, too.
A pair of mating Gulf Fritillary butterflies on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two female Valley carpenter bees sharing a passion flower. Note the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two female sweat bees, Halictus ligatus, on a goldenrod. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)