Friday, November 27, 2009

The gulf fritillary caterpillars hatched two days ago, the day before Thanksgiving. Now they are munching on the underside of the passionvine leaf. The gulf fritillary and cabbage white butterflies are still active. It seems warm this year as compared with most years. It is drizzling this morning, so maybe it will get wintery soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Two little orange dots, one on each leaf. I know my photo is not great, but those are gulf fritillary eggs. Gulf fritillaries lay their eggs on passion vine. The leaf on the right is passion vine. But growing in the same bed is lots of nasturtium, and one butterfly got confused and chose the wrong plant. Or maybe it is just an experiment to see if the caterpillars can live on a different plant. After all, the host plant is not always available, and the butterflies that can be more flexible could be more likely to survive. I am debating whether to leave the caterpillar on the nasturtium after it hatches, or move it to the passion vine. I think I will move it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Next Meeting of the Entomology Clug

The entomology club is having another meeting. BYOB! Bring your own bug, that is. Experts will try to identify them, and if you stump them, you can win a hand lens. More info here:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eddie Dunbar (in the green shirt) organized the first meeting of the local entomolgy club, which met outside the Rotary Nature Center in Oakland. Lots of people showed up and admired Andy's beautiful displays and enjoyed his educational talk. Usually, at garden fairs, I have to entice people to our table with the possibility of seeing butterfly eggs. This time, people were really excited to see all the caterpillars. I let him work, while I enjoyed the other displays. I got to see Joyce Gross's wonderful photos, and annoy the vector control guy with my endless questions about skunks. I would love to get ride of the skunks in our neighborhood, they are stinky. Thank you Andy, for all your hard work, and thank you Eddie for organizing. Thanks also to the other exhibitors, who were wonderful. It was a great day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It is Termite Day! Every year, on the first sunny day after the first heavy fall rain, the termites have their nuptial flight. I think Berkeley got at least 2" Monday night/Tuesday morning. And today, Wednesday, isn't exactly sunny, but it is warm enough for the termites. There are so many of them that the neighbors are stopping me to ask what is going on! It is the nuptial flight of the termites. They come out of the ground, fly around looking for that special someone, mate, and lose their wings. The males die and the females start a new colony. Maybe in your house.

We think of termites as "pests" and destructive insects, and they can do tremendous damage to your home. However, they were breaking down wood long before humans came on the scene, and will probably continue to break down wood long after all our homes are gone. They are composters. If they didn't break down wood, forests would be filled with downed trees. They can break down wood much faster than bacteria alone. What eats wood? Not many animals, because the cellulose is very hard to digest. So the termites depend on bacteria in the gut. Together, they are very efficient. And we should be thankful! They create room in the woods for new trees to grow.

If you are concerned about termites, you may want to read the UC Davis IPM site:
There are less toxic options for getting rid of them. If you want to treat just a small spot, orange oil can work. But if you want to make sure they are gone from the whole structure, maybe heat would be a better choice. And next time, build with steel, unless you are worried about rust. Or maybe stainless steel? Just kidding. Wood homes have served us well for many years, and they can last for hundreds of years if they are taken care of.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm teaching a class at the UC Botanical Garden tomorrow, Sunday. Anybody want to come?

Monday, September 14, 2009

I was in the middle of lunch today when I noticed a gray hairstreak on the Sphaeralcea ambigua buds. I know it must have been laying eggs, but I couldn't find any. I brought the plant home, hoping for more obvious caterpillars later. I know the pics are lousy, but the mallow flowers are pretty!

Friday, September 4, 2009

My butterfly emerged today. September 4, 2009. This is the same one that pupated on Aug 25. I'm guessing that it is a field crescent, but I really don't know.
Compare here:
Isn't that flower pretty? I got the plant for free, it was in such bad shape, then I put it on the front porch and ignored it, except for occasional water. Then to my surprise, it bloomed! It is Reineckea carnea in the Lily family. I think it is a great plant, since it is taking care of itself. Maybe I should try putting it in the ground, although it is doing so well in the pot, I would rather not disturb it. Apparently the snails love it, so maybe I will try it as a house plant.
Just a reminder: this animal fed on aster as a youngster, and it was born and raised in Berkeley, California. I plan to release it tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A friend found this caterpillar on asters, and I decided to bring it home to raise it. I thought maybe it was a crescent, but crescents are supposed to overwinter as caterpillars, and I just don't see how this caterpillar could be that old, since the asters were planted from seed last winter. I guess I could just wait to see what butterfly emerges, but now I think it may overwinter as a chrysalis, and I just don't want to wait until next spring. So, can anybody identify it from my mediocre photos? The chrysalis is about 1/2" and pupated today, 25 Aug 2009.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Andy and I went to Strybing in San Francisco for the Garden Fair. We didn't take any plants to sell this time, so it we had less to schlep and it was easier. Andy outdid himself with the displays, and people were so impressed! More people this year, perhaps people are going to garden fairs instead of doing a garden tour in Europe because of the economy. The kenilworth ivy with white flowers growing in the garden walls was enchanting. Usually it has lavender flowers, which I like, but I also like the white. It is the larval host plant for buckeye butterflies. It love cracks in steps and walls and perfers a shady spot with moisture. It is sometimes available at nureries, but why buy it when you can "borrow" some from a neighbor! Do ask before digging. ;-)

Here is a student working on one of my butterfly paper crafts. I hear that they kids really enjoy them and learn about butterflies and butterfly flight using them. I usually recommend that the students compare the flight of the papercraft to the flight of a real butterfly. It gets the kids outdoors looking for and really watching butterflies. Different butterflies have different flight patterns, also, so it gets them thinking about that if they see more than one species. It is a great learning tool, but of course, I am a bit biased.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two of my neighbors are redoing their parking strips. Or at least, they removed all the plants that were there. In both cases, they removed butterfly habitat, although I am sure they didn't realize it. The strip with the stepping stones had a beautiful patch of milkweed. I had never seen Monarchs in it, but still, I enjoyed the foliage and flowers and it gave me a chance to dream about the butterfly possibilities. The other dirt patch used to have a very healthly stand of plantain. I even saw a buckeye laying eggs. I had visions of caterpillars in September. Now, they are gone and I am sad.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

These cabbage white butterflies were caught in a spider web. What a smart spider, building a web near the nasturtiums, where cabbage whites spend the day! I debated about leaving the butterflies for the crafty spider. After all, she had put a lot of work into the web and deserved her catch. But I felt more sorry for the butterflies than the spider, so I released them, all the while feeling guilty for messing with nature. Oh well........

Friday, June 5, 2009

This is a big year for California Tortoiseshells. These pictures were taken right in my neighborhood. Two people have told me about caterpillars in the ceanothus. I am going to have to find those plants and photograph them next year. Plenty of ceanothus around, I am glad that it is actually supporting butterflies.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

So cold today! The baby phoebes were supposed to be out learning how to fly and catch insects, but after a few tries, they cuddled up on the fence instead. Most of the students in my butterfly class showed up in spite of the cold. We didn't see many insects. We did see a few young pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. We looked at all the plants in the butterfly garden at Tilden, and Andy talked about them. After about an hour the class left and Andy and I went for a walk. It was lovely, but cold.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today, I went sailing on the bay with some friends. Perfect weather and nice breeze. So lovely! No butterflies flying above that salt water, but there were some on Angel Island: pipevine swallowtails, red admirals. I've posted a photo of a lady. And I also saw a California Sister but was unable to get a picture of it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Today Andy and I went to Willard Middle School for Spring Day. The students get to do fun activities and earn tickets to buy snow cones and other food. Andy brought butterfly eggs, caterpillars and chrysalids and explained the butterfly lifecycle to anyone who would listen. I made tiny butterfly kites with the kids. An hour turned out to be plenty of time to make the show off the insects and make the kites. And we got strawberries and muffins for our effort. One science teacher asked us to come in and give a presentation, so I think I will be back at Willard soon.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The UC Botanical Garden plant sale was yesterday and today. The pictures posted show all the lovely plants ready to be taken away to loving homes. The sale was rather mellow, fewer people than normal. I think the economic downturn has affected the plant sales.

I had three rather interesting entomological encounters. First the plant pathologist at the sick plant clinic asked for help identifying some eggs. They were enclosed between two pieced of tape. When I asked what plant they had been on, but nobody knew. What kind of eggs wouldn't be glued down? In fact, I think they were not eggs, but slow release fertilizer. The mystery eggs were not eggs at all!

Then I saw boy, maybe 8-10 years old, wearing a mantis tshirt. I told him about a mantis I had for a pet for awhile. When he asked how long it lived, I told him not long because I killed it for my insect collection. His face just fell! I wish I had lied to him! But still, I had a good time finding plants for him that would support butterflies and moths. I hope he forgives me...

Then there were these two men who saw my California Tortoiseshell picture next to the ceanothis. The torties lay their eggs in the ceanothis blossoms. One of them said, "I have never seen a tortoiseshell in Berkeley!" Of course, I had to stop him and tell him that the picture was taken right across the street from where he was standing. I told them to look for adults in the middle of march when the ceanothis starts to bloom.

Well, maybe we didn't sell a lot of plants, but we had a good time and we all learned something.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunday afternoon, I gave a talk for the San Francisco Rose Society. They had no projector, so I brought my own tv to show a butterfly lifecycle video and do a powerpoint presentation. It was a small audience, so my 26" screen worked out fine. It was my first powerpoint ever, and I was very nervous about that. I was also nervous about getting the laptop and tv to work together. But, luckily, there are a few techie geniuses in my family, so everything went off without a hitch. My main message (plant caterpillar food) and secondary message (don't kill the caterpillars with insecticides) seemed to go over pretty well. So well that I was asked back to speak to the Golden Gate Rose Society. Two rose societies in San Francisco? Who knew? Andy came along, of course. He is always great at finding something to say when I become tongue-tied. He also sold plants and showed people the live specimens. We had a great time and met some nice people. And I guess we will be doing it again soon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Well, it is March, and the California Tortoiseshells are back. I just learned recently that they lay their eggs in ceanothus blossoms. I knew that they used ceanothus, but I had thought that it was the leaves. And right now, there are so many beautiful ceanothus in bloom. They are mostly blue, but the flowers can also be white or purple. This plant is also known as California lilac, although it really doesn't look like lilac to me. Anyway, many species are in full bloom now, just as the Torties need it for oviposition. I even saw one on a flower today, but I wasn't close enough to see if it was actually laying eggs. I am going to have to keep an eye on the flowers to see if I can find any caterpillars.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A friend gave me butterfly flags as a holiday gift. Aren't they pretty? Now anyone can find my house. Used to be I had an ordinary Berkeley Brown Shingle house. Now this is clearing the house of someone who loves butterflies. I no longer need an address. I can just tell people to come to the house with the butterfly flags!

Anyway, Obama is now president. I hope that is good for all the insects and other human and non-human organisms on the earth.