Posts Tagged: Agraulis vanillae
Mother Nature isn't, either.
For several weeks, we've been rearing Gulf Fritilliary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). We purchased a butterfly habitat from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, salvaged some caterpillars from our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and watched the transformation from caterpillars to chrysalids to butterflies.
One butterfly, however, emerged last weekend with crippled wings.
You may have seen crippled butterflies, too.
A reader who lives in Rancho Cordova said she's nurtured passion flower vines (the larval host plant of the Gulf Frits) for the past seven years and has "spotted or or two butterflies a year in the yard."
"In the past two weeks we suddenly have dozens and dozens of chrsalids," she wrote, adding "I'm not sure what their odds of survival are but I have picked up about 15 off the ground who were never able to fly. I tried giving them some sugar water on a q-tip and about four regained strength and were able to fly away but the others have died."
"Do you have any tips on helping our friends?" she asked. She also wanted to know the life span of a butterfly.
We asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of entomology and evolution at UC Davis, to answer the questions.
"It's highly abnormal that any significant proportion of Gulf Frits would be unable to fly," Shapiro said."If the pupae are not disturbed they hang vertically. The butterfly pops out and hangs on the bottom of the cast pupal skin, letting gravity pull down the wings so they elongate fully. If the bug is knocked down while the wings are soft and cannot immediately climb up a vertical surface, it will end up a cripple. The pupae should never be removed from their substrate and laid horizontally in a container. That virtually guarantees crippling. If there was no disturbance and all those animals fell down spontaneously, they are infected with some microorganism that has significantly weakened them."
"Any butterfly that is unable to fly is a lost cause and there is really no reason to try to save them since they won't reproduce. If a crippled female was mated by a flying male, which is possible, she wouldn't be able to lay her normal complement of eggs on the host plant anyway."
Shapiro, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley of California and posts information on his website, says that "adult Gulf Frits, which are pretty unpalatable to predators--they have chemical defenses-- are quite long-lived. In warm weather they can live 4-6 weeks. In cold weather they can live 2-3 months, but are killed outright at 21-22F."
"For the record, butterflies have sugar receptors on their feet. When their feet contact sugar, the proboscis uncoils automatically for feeding. If it's necessary to feed a butterfly, place watered-down honey--not much--or Pepsi or Coke right out of the container--on a fairly non-absorbent surface--I use a strip of foam rubber--and, using forceps to hold the wings over the back, lower the feet to the liquid. Bingo! Allow to feed ad lib."
As for the crippled butterfly we reared, we released it in our backyard. It encountered a possible mate, which checked it out and took off.
Then we placed it on an orange zinnia where it clung tightly to the blossom. A short life, true, but at least a taste of nectar and a little sunshine.
Mother Nature isn't perfect, and neither are we.
A crippled Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A possible mate checks out the crippled butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We placed the crippled Gulf Fritillary on a zinnia. (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)
NIMBY--"Not in My Back Yard"--is a term used to target unwanted development projects in a neighborhood. Irate residents ban together and tell a governmental agency, such as a city council: "Not in My Back Yard!" For example, they don't want that chemical plant, prison, toxic waste dump, strip club or casino next to them.
But if you have butterflies in your back yard, NIMBY doesn't apply.
We planted seven passionflower vines (Passiflora) to attract the tropical Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), the brightly colored orange-reddish buterflies belonging to the family Nymphalidae and subfamily Heliconiinae.
It's a joy to see them fluttering around the yard--the females laying eggs and the males cruising for a "date." From the eggs to the caterpillars to the chrysalids to the adults--the Gulf Frit population keeps expanding.
Then, surprisingly, we spotted an unfamiliar-looking caterpillar among all the rest.
"What is this?" we asked noted butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley and maintains a butterfly site.
"It's the melanic phase of the Gulf Frit larva, well-known in the southeast United States and in South America, but I've never seen one in California," Shapiro said. "Presumably genetic, but the genetics have not been worked out. See if you can breed from it!"
Well, what to do? We popped the VIP (or rather VIC for "Very Important Caterpillar") in our butterfly habitat container, newly purchased from the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The container is now home to a dozen caterpillars, six chrysalids, and one VIC.
But breeding the butterfly? First, the caterpillar would have to form a chrysalis. Then, if and when the butterfly emerges, we'll have to determine the gender, provide a mate, and see if anything happens.
Melanic phase of a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, rare in California. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Melanic Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An adult Gulf Fritillary on a passion flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Valley carpenter bees are passionate about passionflower vines (Passiflora).
You see these black bees foraging on the blossoms. Tiny grains of golden pollen, looking like gold dust, dot the thorax.
Their loud buzz frightens many a person, but wait, they're pollinators.
Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
These carpenter bees are large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are solid black, while the males are golden/buff-colored with green eyes.
We receive scores of calls about "golden bumble bees." They're the male Valley carpenter bees, sometimes nicknamed "Teddy bears."
The females are the only ones we've seen in the passionflower vines, though.
The males? They must be cruising somewhere else, patrolling for females.
Most of the time we see female Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) laying their eggs on the leaves, and male Gulf Frits searching for females.
A female Valley carpenter bee is covered with yellow pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Female Valley carpenter bee on a passionflower blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Call it serendipity.
Call it a prize from the sky.
Frankly, it's not every day that a newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, lands at your feet. It crawled from its chrysalis, hinged to a eight-foot high tree limb near our passionflower vines (Passiflora), and fell, quite unceremoniously, on a bed of wood chips.
Right where I was standing.
At first I thought a scrub jay or an European paper wasp (which keep an attentive eye on the Gulf Frit population in our yard) had nailed it.
No. This was newly emerged. It looked like a plop of red, orange and silver paint, its body limp, its antennae crumbled, its wings still damp.
I lifted it gingerly and placed it on a Passiflora to dry off. Did it fly off in five minutes? Ten minutes? Half an hour? No, it stayed for two hours. When scores of male adult butterflies ventured down to check its gender and then left, I figured it to be the same gender.
A boy butterfly.
If it were female, a male would have mated with her in minutes as one did several weeks ago when a female emerged from a chrysalis. (That, however, is not the only way you can tell gender! There are abdominal differences and males are more brightly colored, a deeper reddish-orange, than the females.)
Boy Butterfly leaned his head back, opened and stretched his wings, and finally, he took off, touching me on the shoulder as he floated by.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis who monitors the butterfly population in the Central Valley, is glad to see the Gulf Frits making a comeback in this area. He writes on his website:
"this dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th Century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s. It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield where, however, it is not established. There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
As for Boy Butterfly, a loudly buzzing female Valley carpenter bee attempting to forage on a flower near his head, prompted his rather abrupt departure.
Newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis, lands on a bed of wood chips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary starts to stir. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary drying off on a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary slightly opens its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
First opening of the wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Another butterfly comes down to investigate. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
One last spread of the wings, and it's off. It's a male.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)