Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Well, it is December, and not many butterflies are active, but the Gulf Fritillaries are still flying around. I saw some in my yard today, and the pics were taken a few days ago in a neighbor's yard. This tropical butterflies just have no concept of winter! I also have caterpillars in the kitchen; they are developing slowly because we keep the house so cold, but I expect to have butterflies next month. Pray for rain, we need it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Crickets in December

I can hear no crickets tonight. But a few nights ago I was coming back from holiday shopping and heard them as I was walking home. Crickets in December! Will they come back this year?

The gulf fritillaries are still active. I have eggs and caterpillars in the house, and I saw the out gallivanting in the yard today. Usally they are around all year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Well, the crickets were still singing last night. Wonder how long it will go on. I think it sounds most like the fall field cricket on this website.


The snowy cricket sounds lovely, I wish we had those.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Well, the rains have paused and the crickets were back last night. I wonder how long they will last. The sound of crickets is familiar to most of us, but what about the sound of a courting medfly. For some interesting insect noises, try this link:

Monday, November 3, 2008


I think of cricket songs as a summer event. But I have been noticing the last few years that they are definitely still singing in the fall. In fact, they were singing just a few days ago. But now that the rains have come, the songs are gone. It is sad, but we really need the rain, so i am welcoming fall.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bot Garden Insects

A couple of days ago, I was in the UC Botanical Garden to attend to my docent duties. The kids were fourth graders who had come to the Garden to learn about how Indians used plants. I did my best to inform them. Here they are before the tour listening to the head docent.

After the tour I took some pics of insects in the Saint Catherine's Lace, Eriogonum giganteum. The white flowers don't look particularly lacy to me, but it is gigantic compared to some other buckwheats. Many honey bees were collecting nectar and were not spooked by me or the camera. The Painted lady was a bit shy, but she kept coming back, so I eventually got a good picture of her. She looked very fresh for the beginning of October. Maybe butterfly season will extend into the fall this year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yesterday, my Albany Adult School butterfly class met at the Tilden Botanical Garden to go for a walk. It was cool and overcast, so we didn't see many butteflies, but the ones we did see sat around long enough so that we could get a good look at them and identify them. There was a field crescent trying to camouflage itself on an orange sign and a woodland skipper on the path, also well camouflaged. We enjoyed being out amoung the plants and maveled about how many were in bloom in September. We will meet one more time in the classroom and go for one more walk. Hopefully it will be sunny next week.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yesterday, Andy and I did a presentation at MIG, a landscape architecture firm in Berkeley. It was the first time ever that Andy had put together a powerpoint presentation, and I must say it turned out rather well. Very nice pictures of butterflies. And he brought in plants to show what the caterpillars like to eat. He put a lot of work into his presentation.

On the other hand, I was lazy. I just put the monarch lifecycle in the DVD player, and played it. I didn't even narrate like I usually do. The audience seemed to really appreciate the presentation, and some stayed afterwards asking questions.

It is a busy week. Tuesday was my class at Albany Adult School, and Friday I am supposed to give presentations at LeConte. We have to take advantage of summer while it is still warm and sunny.

Friday, August 8, 2008

That sad looking caterpillar is a dead pipevine swallowtail. I don't know why it died, but I suspect that the Aristolochia manchuriensis that it was feeding on is just too toxic. The butterflies seem to prefer to lay eggs on it, and the caterpillars become so dense on the leaves that they sometimes completely defoliate the vine. But they don't seem to survive very well. Even some of the larvae that I brought inside and fed on Aristolochia californica died. But those that I collected from A. californica and raised on A californica did fine. So I wonder what is going on here. Maybe I will do a study next year.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On Saturday, Andy and I went to Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco. They had their annual garden show, and as usual, Andy and I were there doing butterfly education. There is Andy in his orange shirt, setting up the table full of lovely flowers. People love flowers. Butterflies like flowers, but I think people like them even more.

We had Sunday to rest (well not really, but no butterfly activities) and then we did a talk for Five Creeks at the Albany Community Center on Monday night. They were only expecting 20 people at most, but more than 40 came. They mobbed Andy, as can be seen in the second picture. They just couldn't get enough of his beautiful displays. Thank goodness for tech geeks. I couldn't get the computer to show the monarch lifecycle, but someone in the audience got it going. I would have been lost without it. This was the most enthusiastic audience I have ever spoken too. They loved the film, and they loved Andy's beautiful displays. They asked many questions, most of which I could answer. I talked a lot about weeds, and even though the group probably prefers natives, they enjoyed hearing about what the butterflies prefer. We had a great time!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I'm Famous!

Well maybe not famous, but as a result of the interview Andy and I did with the journalism students, I was mentioned in an Examiner article by John Curley: http://www.examiner.com/x-366-SF-Photo-Examiner~y2008m6d16-In-the-garden?comments=true
It is about the controversy over weeds and it includes a link to the UC Botanical Garden and to my movie, In the Company of Wild Butterflies. It is nice to get the exposure. And it is nice having someone help me in trying to educate people about weeds.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Raking and Mulching

In a normal garden, people rake up the old dead leaves and put down mulch to discourage weeds from growing. In a butterfly garden, this is not the best approach. Check out the pics. The green chrysalis on the nasturtium leaf is a cabbage white. The brown chrysalis on the dead mallow leaf is a lycenid. Although some caterpillars prefer to pupate on some kind of structure, like under a porch or on a fencepost, some like those in the photos, prefer the leaf litter underneath plants. Raking and mulching makes life difficult or impossible for these butterflies. It also ruins the habitat for many of our native bees which nest in the ground. So although the humans prefer a tidy garden, the insects want a wilder environment. If you can't entirely give up these normal gardening practices, at least try to leave a part of your garden au naturale to give the tiny animals a chance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interview and Film Showing

Yesterday, a bunch of journalism students interviewed me. They had all worked in the field for years, but were taking a one weekend intensive class to learn about new technology. Here they are in the shade on a hot day at the UC Botanical Garden getting started on the project. That is me in the pink shirt, getting interviewed. Intense! So many questions so fast! But I think I did alright. After the interview, documented in audio, video and stills, we went for a walk in the garden. Not that many butterflies were out, and since it was hot, they were flying fast. But I did find some caterpillars, and after all, that is what it is all about. Here I am with a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, talking about it in another interview. Andy showed them his beautiful specimen jars, which they thoroughly enjoyed. I think that they learned a lot and really enjoyed the day. I hope the web page they do is flattering! After the interview, we had a short break, then we did a film showing. Before the film, Andy showed his specimens to the film-goers, and again, they were greatly enjoyed. The audience was great. They enjoyed the film and asked me to clarify some of the info afterward. It was a great day and now I get to relax.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This is one of the most beautiful flowers I saw in Texas, but it took me awhile to figure it out. I noticed a low-growing plant with green flowers as we were driving along, but I was so dazzled by bright yellow and incredible purple flowers that I ignored it until we got to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. When I saw it up close I was just wowed! It is one of those flowers that is just so perfect it looks fake. Then I realized it was a milkweed. No wonder there were so many Monarchs flying around! Maybe we will plant it on our Papillon Ranch outside of Junction.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Box Elder Bug

This is a box elder bug. They generally feed on box elder trees, but I found this one under a maple. The tree has not yet leafed out, but the bugs have become active. I think they are lovely: black with thin red lines. Many people think they are pests, even though they do little damage to trees. They can become numerous and invade dwellings when they are looking for shelter in the fall. If they are a problem for you, make sure your home is tight: caulk openings and put in weatherstripping to keep them out. Once they are inside, vacuuming is the best way to deal with them. I saw only adults, so I think they are looking for love right now. Later on they will lay eggs that will develop into nymphs.

To most people, any small crawly thing is a bug. A fly is a bug, a centipede is a bug, even an earthworm is a bug. But to an entomologist, only something in the order hemiptera is called a bug. The box elder bug is a true bug, and you can tell because of the v-shape on its back. "Hemiptera" means half-wing, and the V marks the wing where it changes from hard to membranous. Stink bugs are also true bugs.

February is always spring in Berkeley, as evidenced by the activity of the insect and plants. The cabbage whites are flying, the birds are singing, and so many things are in bloom: manzanitas, acacias, daphne, oxalis, and on and on. We had our rain in January, so Feburary is a time to enjoy all the flowers that result.