In the News

Dr. Shapiro has been in the news on a number of occasions. This page points to some of these sources and also includes an RSS feed on the bottom so that one can stay informed of other news events. Please click the orange box at the bottom, then cut and paste the URL into your RSS feed program (such as Google Reader).

Gulf Fritillary colonizes Sacramento and Davis

Agraulis vanillae

Agraulis vanillae

There’s a new butterfly in town in the Sacramento metropolitan area. Well, almost new: it’s back after about 40 years. The Gulf Fritillary has returned, and it’s even breeding in midtown.

The Gulf Fritillary, whose scientific name is Agraulis vanillae, is one of the showiest butterflies in California. It has long, narrow bright orange-red wings with black spots on the upper surface. But it’s the underside that shines: it’s spangled in iridescent silver. Nothing else in the region looks like it. Its wingspan can reach four inches.

This is a tropical and subtropical butterfly, whose range extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina. Its spiny orange-and-black caterpillar feeds only on Passionflower leaves, eating many but not all species of the genus Passiflora. There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens. The butterfly can only breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood, according to Arthur Shapiro, professor and butterfly expert at the University of California, Davis.

Vanished butterfly is back

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
August 19th, 2009

Special to The Enterprise

It's almost as UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro has a "tiger by the tail."

In this case, it's the Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus), back in the Davis area after a 15-year hiatus.

Shapiro, a professor of evolution and ecology at UCD, says the Western tiger, one of the largest and showiest of butterflies, "was relatively common in Davis until the early 1990s, when it suddenly disappeared."

"Since then, there have been no sightings at all, or at most one or two per year — until this year. Now it looks like it's back as if nothing had happened!"

The butterfly, with a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, has bright yellow wings edged with a black border. Four diagonal stripes grace the top of the wings, and blue and orange spots on the hind wings, near its tail.

The butterfly's normal range covers much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. It enjoys nectar from many flowers, including thistles, abelia, California buckeye, zinnia and yerba santa.

Shapiro has tallied about 100 sightings in the Davis/Vacaville area since March 26.

Click here for the full article

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) migration 2009

Vanessa cardui

Vanessa cardui

UPDATE: May 1, 2009

The northward migration finally seems to have ended in the past week, albeit with a minor reversed direction again at the very end. So few animals were in migratory mode by then that one cannot confidently separate the phenomenon from directional randomness. Dozens of very battered animals are still hanging around, nectaring and laying eggs, and larvae are becoming easy to find, especially on thistles.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

This morning, May 1, as I walked in to work at 0740, I disturbed a Painted Lady that had apparently spent the night on the sidewalk in College Park, Davis. It was very large, brightly colored, and obviously very fresh and it flew off to the NNW. The direction may or may not be significant, but its presence is: it presumably enclosed yesterday and is the herald of the locally-bred next wave. From now until early June we are likely to see batches of these large, bright PLs eclose, feed for a few days, and depart for the north. Unlike the desert-born ones, they do have to feed. Historically this generation has swarmed the flowers of Linden (Tilia), shrubs of the Rosaceous genus Cotoneaster, and Pride-of-Madeira (Echium fastuosum). The very long migration period in March-April augurs unsynchronized emergences for the next several weeks. Records, observations and pictures are welcome!

UPDATE: April 20, 2009

Painted Ladies continued to migrate through the Central Valley at relatively low and inconspicuous densities, with day-to-day variations in numbers. On the afternoon of April 12 a concerted reverse flow began toward the SSW at Davis and toward the W near Dixon. This became nearly a due N>S flow for the next 3 days, though at all times a few individuals were seen moving in the normal SE>NW direction. Such reversed flows have occurred for a few days in prior migrations, and are not understood. (They are cited in my book on p. 196.) On April 14 a severe cold N-wind event in the Central Valley limited butterfly activity. From the 15th through the 17th directionality became confused and at times nearly random. From the 18th forward the flow was almost entirely SE>NW again, with many individuals dropping out to feed and reproduce and wing condition becoming very worn. There were a few scattered reports of S-ward movement near the coast, but not on any large scale as was true inland. On April 18 Ron Jurek reported two separate flows at Auburn, Placer County (1200’), one from the S>N/NNW and another from the E>W/WNW simultaneously, suggesting that these had been funneled by the topography. This could be purely local, or it could reflect two major streams with different orientations—wish we had more records like this! Numbers near the coast remained generally low, with occasional brief surges. Two Sierran trips – most recently April 19 --revealed a steady but thin continuing movement toward the NW, very sparse at the highest elevations. Intermittent surges continued to be observed at Reno, with one report from the Sweetwater Mountains. One newly-emerged individual was observed last week in the Sacramento area, presumably from an early-season reproductive event. As of this writing (3 PM, April 20) individuals are moving through the UCD campus at a rate of 1 every 3-4 minutes in my visual field, with at least 90% of them going N to NW and most of the rest going S to SW, with one individual seen headed due E. All of these are seemingly in migratory mode and not stopping to nectar or oviposit. How long can they keep coming?! Your observations continue to be welcome.

Citizen-Scientists help track the Painted Lady Migration 2009

Thanks for all of your email! It has been a real collaborative effort to track the 2009 Painted Lady migration, as they travel northward. This page features some of the email we have received over the past two weeks, which has helped us track the migration northward. Except for the video, we chose to keep these email anonymous, and have only included the sender's initials. As we receive more email, we will add them to this page for everyone's benefit. If you'd like to send us an update, please use our contact form to submit your message.

April 20, 2009

The PLs coming past the house were heading NW:

Time (no.)
12:30-12:40, 10 min. (8)
15:10-15:20. 10 min. (4)
15:56-16:06, 10 min. (4)
-- RJ

April 19, 2009

We saw numerous Painted Ladies at Alpine Meadows on April 12 & 13 - mostly at the summit. I can send pic if you like. -- SM

April 18, 2009

Numbers continue downward:

Time (no.)
11:02-11:03, 1 min. (0)
11:31-11:34, 3 min. (0)
13:17-13:27, 10 min. (3)

These flew west or northwest. Wind from NW

I realized this afternoon that migrants just east of our house were flying from the south and heading north or NNW, while those passing south of the house (the ones I've been counting) were coming from the east and heading west or WNW. Most from each direction maintained their courses, crossing perpendicularly about 100 feet ESE of here, but one from the south took a sharp west turn, and several from the east angled to the NNW or NW. Those from the south probably came out of the canyon near the confluence, and those from the east undoubtedly came up the nearby steep draw running ENE to WSW out of the North Fork. -- RJ

April 17, 2009

I made these counts of PLs flying past the house:

Time (no.)
13:33-13:43, 10 min. (7)
16:05-16:13, 8 min. (4)

About equal numbers flew to the west and to the WNW. From casual observations of a more open area in an adjacent field, I saw two fly across it to the west and one to the NNW. Gusty winds from the west. -- RJ

Butterfly madness: One man's mania for lepidoptera takes him on an endless quest

... When he isn't scouting butterflies and recording them on a spiral notepad, O'Brien is updating his field journal, a remarkable collage of drawings, photographs and text. On sighting a cloudless sulphur at Mission Santa Barbara, he writes, "My heart leapt to my mouth as a half-dollar of electric yellow meandered by. Watched it like a fixed Pointer dog." When he stumbles upon several large clusters of spring azures at Lake Berryessa, he gushes, "I wanted to set up my tent and study them for the rest of my life."

Read the full story from the San Francisco Chronicle

Global warming rushes timing of spring

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Wed Mar 19, 6:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The capital's famous cherry trees are primed to burst out in a perfect pink peak about the end of this month. Thirty years ago, the trees usually waited to bloom till around April 5.

In central California, the first of the field skipper sachem, a drab little butterfly, was fluttering about on March 12. Just 25 years ago, that creature predictably emerged there anywhere from mid-April to mid-May.

And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia. On March 9, when allergist Dr. Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn't be measured until late April.

Pollen is bursting. Critters are stirring. Buds are swelling. Biologists are worrying.

Link to full story:

Using Butterfly Time, We Can Learn Secrets Of Our Own 'Clocks'

In the highlands of central Mexico, millions of monarch butterflies soon will stir from their winter torpor, rising from groves of oyamel firs like flowers taking flight. Their unique annual migration offers scientists a rare insight into the molecular biology of time and travel.

"What good is a butterfly?" said entomologist Lincoln Brower at Virginia's Sweet Briar College. "It can tell you about the fundamental biology of all creatures on this earth. There is something so fundamental about finding your way."

In a majestic seasonal rite, a new generation of monarchs flies to Mexico every fall from summer breeding grounds in Canada. This past year, they formed a billowing wind-borne quilt of 55 million or more.

Click on the link below to read more.


Who's In Trouble in the Sacramento Butterfly Fauna?

From a talk, “Butterflies in Peril,” presented to the American River Natural History Association at Effie Yeaw Nature Center, Carmichael (Sacramento Co.), CA, June 20, 2007

Here is a brief summary of recent butterfly declines in our area. The page references are to “Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions,” by A.M. Shapiro and T. Manolis (UC Press, 2007).

Book: Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions

Authors:  Arthur M. Shapiro and Tim Manolis
Publisher:  University of California Press

The California Tortoiseshell, West Coast Lady, Red Admiral, and Golden Oak Hairstreak are just a few of the many butterfly species found in the floristically rich San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley regions. This guide, written for both beginning and experienced butterfly watchers by one of the nation's best-known professional lepidopterists, provides thorough, up-to-date information on all of the butterfly species found in this diverse and accessible region. Written in lively prose, it discusses the natural history and conservation status for these butterflies and at the same time provides an integrated view of butterfly biology based on studies conducted in northern California and around the world. Compact enough for use in the field, the guide also includes tips on butterfly watching, photography, gardening, and more.

  • Discusses and identifies more than 130 species
  • Species accounts include information on identifying butterflies through behavior, markings, and host plants
  • Beautiful full-color plates illustrate top and bottom views of wings for easier identification
  • Includes a species checklist and a glossary

Buy this book online
To purchase the book or see more details from the UC Press website, visit the following link. UC Press Bookpage

Where Have the Butterflies Flown?

Most grownups think there are fewer butterflies now than when they were kids. As a professional ecologist at UC Davis, I heard that from so many people on both coasts, over several decades, that I developed my own theory to explain it. It went something like this: Butterflies constitute a proportionately bigger component of the landscape as perceived by a little kid; as a person gets bigger, butterflies seemingly get smaller, and we just notice them less. I wish that were the case, but, unfortunately for us, for our local ecosystems and for our children, hard data shows that butterflies really are disappearing. In fact, some of the most compelling data come from right here in Sacramento and its vicinity, where several species, which used to be common and easy to spot, have disappeared within the past decade. This means it’s that much harder for our kids to observe the miracle of metamorphosis first-hand, like so many of us did. If you want your kids to experience the wonder of butterflies, what can you do?

Please read the full story at the Sacramento Parent website.

Also learn how to Create Your Own Butterfly Refuge.

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