Monday, May 14, 2018


I remember this creature from entomology class. But I think I had never seen a live one until a couple of weeks ago when a friend showed me a photo he had taken at the UC Botanical Garden. Then I saw this one in Oakland last Friday. I knew what it was immediately. It is so distinctive because of its snaky look. So I looked it up to find out more about this insect.
First of all, it looks like a snake because of the elongated prothorax. Both adults and immatures eat aphids, mites, etc. Because they are predators as both adults and larvae, they have been considered as biocontrol agents. 

The female lays eggs in bark or rotten wood. After the eggs hatch, there are 10-11 instars. Pupation takes place in a cell. But the pupa, which can move, sometimes leaves the cell for a second location before the adult emerges. 

They commonly live in coniferous forests in the Western US, and around the globe. But this one was in a suburban home. Maybe I brought it inside inadvertently. There are some conifers around there. There are also conifers at the Bot Garden. But I would not call those places coniferous forest. 

Thanks to wikipedia for the info.

Monday, April 23, 2018


I am providing a list of the educational books and movies that I have worked on.

My papercraft book is designed for kids about 6-10 years old. Each craft teaches a bit about butterflies: anatomy, host plants, pollination, etc. And it has many suggestions for outdoor activities so that kids become familiar with real live insects.

I was consulting entomologist on two films that I worked on with my brother. The short one is a Monarch lifecycle. It has fabulous detail and amazing photography. Perfect for people of all ages.

The long one is all about butterflies.  Predation, conservation, butterfly gardening, etc. Wonderful closeups! Great for all ages. It has chapters, so for younger kids it can be shown a chapter at a time.

If you have any questions about my publications, or about butterflies in general, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pollination of Aristolochia californica

This flower is not showy. It is sort of greenish. And the maroon parts seem to blend in with the brown parts of the plant. If you are not looking for the flowers, they are easy to miss. So it is not pollinated by bees or butterflies, which usually visit colorful flowers. It is pollinated by fungus gnats. You can see the dead or unconsciousness fungus gnats a the bottom of this flower which has been cut open. They get in through the "mouth" at the upper right. Probably attracted by some mushroomy smell. They fly to the anthers, at the upper left. This part of the flower is light and bright, and they must think that they can get out that way. When they get tired out, they fall to the bottom, where they can see the light through the mouth, and find their way out when they revive. At least that is what I surmise, from looking at the flower, and knowing insect behavior. 

I have read that the insects escape when the flower wilts. However, as you can see from the faded flower below, the shape doesn't change when it wilts. So I don't see how that would work.
You can also see the fruit beginning to develop in the photo above. See the striped portion above the brown flower? That is the fruit when it is still tiny. 

I have read that fungus gnats like moist cool habitats. Which would make sense, because that is where mushrooms grow. I have noticed that pipevine plants that grow in the sun have few fruits, even if they have lots of flowers. Since the fungus gnats don't like that environment, they don't visit much, the flowers don't get pollinated, and the fruits don't develop. 

Some people think that since Pipevine swallowtails visit this plant, that they pollinate it. No, they lay their eggs on it. 

This plant has relationships with at least three different insects. The fungus gnats that pollinate it. The butterflies that lay their eggs on it. And the wasps that eat the seeds. 

And this is a poisonous plant! 

I am sure other plants have interesting relationships with many insects. But I know about this one because of the butterfly. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cleyera Japonica, Sacred Tree

This tree is native to warm, humid forests, but it seems happy at the UC Botanical Garden. It is sacred in the Shinto religion. Branches are decorated with streamers and used as offerings or as props in ritual dance. Branches are also used in purification and decoration. It is attached to buildings or fences 

More info here:
Cleyera japonicaan evergreen tree whose branches are used in Shinto ritual, for example, as offering wands (tamagushi) presented before a kami. When presented as tamagushi, it is usual to attach paper streamers (shide) to the branch. Branches of sakaki are also used for decoration, purification implements, and as hand-held "props" (torimono) in ritual dance. Sakaki may also be affixed to shrine buildings or fences as a means of designating the interior as sacred space. Theories regarding the etymology of the word sakaki range from those based on the nature of the sakaki as an "evergreen" or "always thriving tree" (sakaeru-ki), and thus point to the sense of prosperity or thriving, to others which derive from the use of the tree as a "border-tree" (sakai-ki) used to demarcate sacred space. In the "divine age" chapters of Kojiki, the term sakaki appears in the episode of the rites observed to draw Amaterasu out of the heavenly rock cave; the passage states that "they tore from the very roots the flourishing masakaki of the mountain Ame no Kaguyama," festooned it with jewel beads, a mirror, and cloth (nigite). A similar passage is found in Nihongi, which also includes a passage in the record of Emperor Keikō that speaks of the "sakaki of Mount Shitsu," while the record of Emperor Chūai refers to a "flourishing (lit., ‘five-hundred branch') sakaki." All of these records note that jewels, swords, and mirrors were hung from the branches. The sakaki has been used since ancient times in divine rituals. While the name originally referred to all evergreens, it gradually was limited to those trees of the tea (Theaceae) family. In practice, however, a number of other trees, including oak (kashi), cryptomeria (sugi), boxwood (tsuge), and fir (momi) are sometimes substituted in ritual use. As the examples of masakaki found in Kojiki and Nihongi suggest, the trees were decorated in a number of different ways: some were adorned with mirrors, jewels, and swords, some with five-colored silks, mirror, jewels and swords, while others were decorated only with five-colored silks. In the Rules for Ritual Procedure at Shrines (Jinja saishiki) implemented in 1875, the term masakaki is used to refer to two poles of Japanese cypress (hinoki), to the tips of which are attached branches of sakaki, and below which are attached five-color silks (blue, yellow, red, white, and purple). The pole on the right (when facing the shrine) is decorated with a mirror and a jewel, and the one on the left with a sword.

-Inoue Nobutaka
An offering of sakaki at Niutsu Hime jinja

Wakayama Prefecture, 2005

©Fujii Hiroaki

Imitation sakaki made of plastic


Courtesy of Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

sakaki branch attached to a torii gate at Atsuta Jingū.

Aichi prefecture, 2005

©Ōsawa Kōji
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
Copyright ©2002-2006 Kokugakuin University. All rights reserved.
Ver. β1.3

Holiday Gift Suggestions

Anybody looking for butterfly gifts? My book is great for kids in elementary school.


This movie is wonderful for all ages, although you may need to explain a bit to younger ones. . It is a short of the Monarch lifecycle.

Secret Lives of Monarchs

Last but not least, the 45 minute film that covers many aspects of butterflies; predators, behavior, conservation, etc. The price listed is for those who want to do public shows. If you want to watch at home, it is much cheaper.

This one is best for middle school an up, but it can be shown to younger kids chapter by chapter.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I love the craggy trunk on this old tree. Or young tree. Since olives have been cultivated for thousands of years, this one is still just a baby, although it is older than most of the ones I have seen. Of course people eat the olives. But the oil has been burned for light and it was massaged into the skin long before moisturizers were available. 

This tree can be considered sacred because it is a part of many religious traditions. In Greek mythology, it was a gift from Athena, and considered the greatest gift to humankind. Although some may think the grape deserves that credit. Muslims used to wood to make prayer beads. Of course, in the bible, there is the story of the dove bringing the olive branch to Noah to let him know that the floods were subsiding. 

Seems like the olive has always been a symbol of peace. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017


I love iris. I have planted many in my yard, but few bloom. They are so fickle! But this beautiful purple and white one bloomed a few years ago. Gorgeous! I like iris because so many have beautiful purple flowers. But they are named iris, after Iris, the Rainbow Goddess, because they come in all colors of the rainbow. So iris is not really a sacred plant. It is just named after a mythical creature. 

Iris are mostly used in gardens for their flowers. But the roots have been used to make perfume. Which, after drying for five years, ends up smelling more like violets than iris. Strange!