Monday, December 23, 2013

Anise Swallotail

Andy released an Anise Swallowtail at my house today. He also released several Gulf Fritillaries, which would be expected. The Gulf Frits are tropical and fly all year long. But the Swallowtails? They usually overwinter as pupae and emerge in the the spring. So it seems rather odd that this one is out in December. I am guess that it will find no one to mate with and it will never be able to reproduce. So beautiful, a perfect specimen, but a failure of nature none-the-less.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another Presentation

Yesterday, Andy and I gave a presentation to the docents at Coyote Hills Regional Park. It was a last minute thing, because the scheduled presenter bowed out. We were proud about how many live specimens we found at the last minute in the middle of December. That is the "editorial we." I contributed this one lone Gulf Fritillary caterpillar pictured below. Andy found a West Coast Lady egg, two Monarch eggs, and several more Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. He also collected flowers from passion vines, plantain, pearly everlasting. In December! People really appreciated the Monarch lifecycle film, too.  And when I told Bill about how well the film was received (for the hundredth time!) he agreed to complete the lifecycle films and market them. Yay!!!! Can't wait!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Insect Discovery Lab

Yesterday, the local library hosted the Insect Discovery Lab. The presenter brought a handful (!) of arthropods to show to the kids. In the picture, a student is holding a beetle. She also brought along walking sticks, hissing cockroaches, millepedes, grasshoppers, etc. Some kids were bored. Some didn't want to touch the insects. And some were fascinated. Of course, I was fascinated, especially since the presenter did such a great job, both with the animals and the kids. Very fun!

3D Movie at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin

While doing touristy stuff in Austin, I stopped in at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. When I noticed that they were showing a butterfly film, I had to see it. Wow! The Flight of the Butterflies is amazing. It seems like the butterflies are right there in the theater with you. I even flinched a couple of times; it seemed as if they were going to fly right into my face. The movie has a bunch of information about the Monarch and the entomologist who spend his life studying their migration patterns. Accurate, lovely and touching! Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Common Mestra

This is another butterfly I saw while visiting the Goat Cave Preserve in Austin, Texas. It is a bit like a Sara Orangetip, except it has orange at the bottom of the hindwings instead of the top of the forwings. The host plant is a euphorb. That is another plant with latex, like a milkweed. Maybe this butterfly is toxic, just like the Monarch.

Austin Art

Austin airport has some fun art. I saw a cork mosaic of a longhorn. And this wonderful white paper-like thing made out of milar with fridges and herringbone. This one caught my interest because of the Gulf Frittilary butterflies. "All we ever look for"? What does that mean? Humans only look for butterflies? Butterflies only look for trees? Neither of those make any sense, must be something else. Got any ideas?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cloudless Sulphur

I took this picture on 12 November 2013 at the Lady Bird Johnson Center in Austin, Texas. It was a cold day and the butterfly was very cooperative. It just sat there for several pictures. They have a butterfly garden there, and an insectary, where they raise caterpillars.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Just got back from Texas on Wednesday. While we were there, we saw many snouts at the Goat Cave Preserve in Austin. Most of the kept their wings closed, but this butterfly allowed me to get a picture of the upper side of its wings. . It is called a snout because it looks like it has a snout. The big nose is formed by elongated mouthparts. This butterflies has such large migrations that it hits the news regularly. We saw a bunch of them, but most people probably wouldn't have noticed.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


A week or so ago, a wasp was intent on getting some of my yoghurt. I threw it out, but it came right back. I guess it really needed some protein. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Assassin Bug?

Before the butterfly walk on Tuesday, while everyone was looking at live specimens, I noticed a bug in a woman's hair. I got her to stand still while I got this great pic, although she was worried. I didn't say,"I think it is an assassin bug" until after I got it out of her hair. I wonder if she would have been happier with a caterpillar.......?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Yesterday was the last butterfly walk of the season. First, I showed everyone live specimens: gulf fritillaries, anise swallowtails and Pipevine swallowtails. I especially like showing the eggs. So small!

We saw the Buckeye on buckwheat. The butterfly is named for the circular patterns on its wings that look like eyes. "Buckwheat" was originally called "beechwheat" because buckwheat seeds look like tiny beech seeds. So the words have entirely different etymologies even though they seem much alike.

We also saw plenty of skippers, a few cabbage whites, and a lady. It was a lovely end to a lovely season.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gulf Fritillaries

These two butterflies were having a great time in my front yard a couple of days ago. It is hard to tell from my pic, but they were courting. The female was sitting on the ground, and the male was hovering near her. I didn't stick around to watch, but usually they mate after the male has convinced his beloved of his excellent muscle strength. Sometimes that takes awhile. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Disanthus cercidifolium

Plants are so easy to get pictures of. They just sit there and let you have your way with them. Just look at the glorious color in this plant. It just took a few seconds. Meanwhile, I missed getting a picture of the checkered skipper and the common buckeye butterflies that I saw in the same area in the same day. Shoot!

At the UC Botanical Garden. Yesterday.

There really isn't much to say about this plant. Just, spectacular fall color. Which is obvious from the photo.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Arts Magnet Butterfly Presentation

Andy and I went to another school today to do a butterfly presentation. Third grade. Their curriculum includes energy, so I talked about how the energy comes from the sun to the plant, and then the caterpillar eats the plant, and then a bird eats a caterpillar, and so on. They are raising Gulf Fritiallaries in the classroom, my favorite classroom pet.  Andy did a great job making sure that all the kids saw the live specimens. There is is below with the kids and the jars.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pipevine Swallow

Here is the Pipevine Swallowtail that we saw on the butterfly walk yesterday. Another lousy picture!


Yesterday was the monthly butterfly walk at the UC Botanical Garden. The Tithonia in the Crops of the World section turned out to be a butterfly magnet. This Monarch kept coming back over and over to nectar. It didn't seem to matter that we disturbed it over and over. There were also two Pipevine Swallowtails visiting. People just wanted to stay and watch and take pictures. My photo is not great, but you get the idea.

The Monarchs are heading south now, looking for warmer weather. Maybe there will be some more coming through the Garden.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nuptial Flight of the Termites Today

More info here:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Palm Tree

In Roman times, the palm frond was a symbol of victory. When generals won wars, they wore togas decorated with them.  When lawyers won cases, their offices were decorated with them. Nike and Victoria, Greek and Roman Goddesses of Victory, respectively, were often represented by palm fronds.

 Everybody knows about Palm Sunday, when Christian churches are decorated with palm fronds to commemorate Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem. Although I have a hard time deciphering the story, apparently he was triumphant not because he had won a war, but because he had been declared the messiah. When he rode into Jerusalem, people were waving palm fronds.

In ancient Egypt, Hathor was the cow goddess. You have probably seen her depicted with a sun between the cow horns on her head. She was the goddess of life, joy, music, dancing and fertility and her symbol was the palm.

The palm tree has been a sacred symbol for thousands of years. Now  it commonly represents a tropical vacation. Maybe that is sacred, too.

The palm below resides near the tropical house at the UC Botanical Garden.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Elderberries can now be seen behind the Tropical House at the UC Botanical Garden. This isn't a great picture, but you get the idea. Do you remember the play, "Arsenic and old Lace"? Old ladies poisoned men by putting arsenic in their elderberry wine. There is also a famous quote from Monty Python, in which one knight insults another by saying, "Your mother was a hamster and your fathere smelled of elderberries!"  I think elderberries smell okay, and the flowers are supposed to have an excellent fragrance, so I don't really understand. Maybe I am not supposed to.

In some cultures, this plant is known for housing fantastical creatures and having  magical properties. The tree was sacred to the Goddess and was home to tree dryads. A leaf pinned to a door would keep away evil spirits. For a more info about elderberry mythology, check out this website:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Metasequoia glyptostroboides--Dawn Redwood

This is a Dawn Redwood. I love the scuptural look of the truck. Our regular California coastal redwood does not look like that. The leaves are similar to a Coast Redwood. And it looks a bit like a Bald Cypress when it loses its leaves in winter. But the truck, which looks like it has troll homes carves out if it, is unique.

Most botanists know the story about how scientists described this species from fossils before it was known to still be living in China. One place it was found was in the small village of Modaoqi. The people who lived there had built a shrine at its base because they considered it divine or sacred. The tree was used to forecast crop yields and human deaths. It does have a magical look about it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nero and Roses

Do you remember any Roman history? I don't. I had to read about it on Wikipedia. Anyway, there was this big fire in Rome about 64 CE. Nobody know how it started, but Nero was accused, because he built the huge Golden House on the ruins. It was a bit of a strange structure. It was covered in gold leaf and frescoes. The ceilings were veneered with semiprecious stones and ivory. It had over 100 rooms, but no restrooms or kitchens. Supposedly he had people there for fabulous dinners, but I don't quite see how you do that if you don't have a place for cooking or peeing. 

The rose story is that Nero liked to let rose petals drift over the diners. But like everything else, it was done to excess. The people dined under a dome. The ceiling was designed to revolve like the heavens, and slaves were used to power it. From this dome, petals were dropped and perfume was sprayed. But, instead of a few baskets of rose petals, it was tons. So many petals that some of his guests smothered and died. Such a host!

One of my neighbors has roses out front. This is a picture from that garden.

Monday, July 29, 2013


I guess around here, the big bloom month for roses is June. But roses overall seem to have a long bloom season, and many are in bloom now, even though it is almost August. The picture of roses was taken at the UC Botanical Garden.

Roses have a long, rich history and are associated with many deities, one of which is Venus. She is the Roman goddess of beauty and love.  Most everyone has seen "The Birth of Venus" by Botticelli. You know, the one with the naked lady on the clam shell rising out of the sea. Well, if you take your eyes off of the beautiful woman, you might notice that she is surrounded by roses. Roses are one of her sacred flowers. Roses were offered to her in sacred rites, and they symbolized her strengths.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July Butterfly Walk

I led a butterfly walk at the UC Botanical Garden yesterday. There were some cute kids, including these twins with braids. It was cloudy and cool, so very few adults were flying. We saw one cabbage white, and I considered that a great success. Yay!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Theobroma cacao--Cocoa Tree

Cocoa trees grow in tropical areas with lots of heat and humidity. This one is in a greenhouse at the UC Botanical Garden. It seems to be doing okay. Those little white things on the truck are flowers. It does form pods (fruit), but they never seem to mature.

The genus, "Theobroma," means "food of the gods." One would think that such a highly rated comestible would be healthy, and indeed it is. Although it was vilified for years, recent research indicates that it is good and good for you! According to the Mayo webpage cocoa contains antioxidants called flavanols that reduce cell damage, diabetes, stroke and heart attack. In addition, cocoa lowers blood pressure and  improves vascular function, Just remember, refined sugar is bad, so you might want to cultivate a taste for bittersweet chocolate.

Since it is a food of the gods, cocoa can be considered a sacred plant. The Maya had a festival in April in which they sacrificed animals to the cacao god. Men used it as a ritualistic drink. They believed that it was toxic for women and children. That sounds more like sacrilege than sacred to me!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cedrus Libani--Sacred Plant

This cedar is mentioned in the Bible 75 times. It was used in temples, palaces, ship masts, wardrobes, and chariots. It was also used to purify lepers and circumcise boys. According to the Psalms, the tree was created to glorify god and planted by god. So god planted the cedars to glorify himself? Didn't she plant everything? I'm confused!

Other cultures also used this tree. The Phoenicians used it to build ships and houses. The Egyptians used it in mummification. It was commonly exported. In fact, it was loved to death. Consequently, conservation efforts first started in CE 118 by Hadrian.

As you might guess, the Cedar of Lebanon is a national symbol of Lebanon and is on the flag of that country. Lebanon is called the Land of the Cedars sometimes.

The Cedar of Lebanon has been in use in gardens for hundreds of years. This one is in the UC Botanical Garden.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Caterpillar Killers Almost Done

Just a few little tweaks and some color, and this will be done. My graphic artist did a great job illustrating the plants, animals and the pesticide bottle. Now I have to figure out what to say about the different things that are enemies of butterfly larvae. Got any ideas?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Caterpillar Killers, Next Draft

So, I decided to use a spiral as a popup. Then of course it has to be passion vine with Gulf Fritillaries. Although, I suppose there are other possibilities, such as Pipevine Swallowtails on Aristolochia. Still pretty crude. But the idea is there.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Caterpillar Killers

I've started working on a new papercraft. I am thinking of calling it Caterpillar Killers. I love the alliteration, but it seems rather harsh. Maybe Enemies of Caterpillars would be better. It will show a caterpillar on a plant, surrounded by things that could kill it: pesticides, birds, snakes, spiders, parasites, diseases, etc. This is the first try. It has a long ways to go!

Friday, July 5, 2013


My husband found this dragon fly inside on the floor this morning. I guess it came inside to die. I took it outside and put in on a bouquet on the back deck, and it is still there. Maybe I should try feeding it some insects, but I am just not that dedicated. I wonder what kind it is.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Walk in the Rain

On Tuesday, I was scheduled to do two butterfly walks, from 3-4 pm and from 4-5 pm. It rained and drizzled and misted all morning. The weather didn't clear in the afternoon, but at least it wasn't raining. Some hummingbirds were flying, but that was about it. No butterflies were flying in the UC Botanical Garden. So Andy brought the specimens up, and we spend most of the time talking about the specimens and butterfly gardening. Then, just when we were getting ready to pack up and go for a walk, the Monarch emerged. So, we showed that around, and then went for a walk. We saw water striders and a snake. Then when we got back to the entrance, we had another look at the Monarch, which had expanded its wings. Most everybody seemed very appreciative, even though we didn't get to see insects in flight. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Another Butterfly Presentation

This morning, at the Tilden Botanic Garden, Andy and I gave a presentation for the Women's Chemist Society. As usual, people were fascinated by the video and the live specimens. I had done a bit of research on chemicals as they relate to butterflies, but we mostly talked about rearing and gardening. A docent for the Tilden Garden was there and suggested that we do a class for them. They are booked for this year, but maybe next year.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bug Day at UC Botanical Garden

Yesterday, Andy and I participated in Bug Day at the UC Botanical Garden. What fun! Andy put together many beautiful displays. He included Cabbage Whites, Anise Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails, Monarchs, etc. We had a big picnic table in the shade (although it did get sunny around noon). Many people came to see the live specimens, both children and adults. Some people had raised several species before, some knew almost nothing about butterflies. Several other educational tables were spread around the garden: bees, compost, and aquatic insects, to name a few. Also, some of the docents did crafts with the kids: fuzzy spiders, bee houses, butterfly wands. The weather was perfect! What a great way to spend father's day!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pipevine Swallowtail Eggs

For the first time ever I have Pipevine Swallowtail eggs in my backyard!!!!!!!!! I have waited forever for this moment!!!!!!  I hope they like it here!!

The eggs are the rusty-gold blurry dots near the end of the Aristolochia Californica vine. They are generally laid in groups. Most butterflies lay their eggs one at a time, the the Pipevine Swallowtail lays its eggs in groups. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pipevine swallowtail

Below is a picture of a Pipevine Swallowtail. This butterfly was in my backyard in Berkeley, California yesterday. I have had pipevine, Aristolochia Californica, for more than ten years, but I have never seen the associated butterfly or any caterpillars on the plant. I am very excited about this long-awaited butterfly showing up in my backyard. I have heard that the wilder areas nearby are very dry because all of the rains were so early this year. As a consequence, the butterflies are visiting watered gardens to find lush hostplants. I have no way of testing this, but it seems like a plausible explanation. I am hoping that I find eggs soon.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


A bee was working the passion flowers in my front yard a few days ago. Looking at the pictures, it is easy to see how the anthers (with the yellow edges) are designed to deposit pollen on the back of the bee while it is busy collecting nectar. I think this honey bee is a bit small to get thoroughly coated coated with pollen. If you try breaking open a flower, you can find a circular tunnel filled with nectar. Passion flowers have copious nectar hidden away. No wonder this bee stuck around letting me take several photos.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bilingual Nursery School in Venice, CA

 This passion vine was growing at the French/English preschool on the Venice Home and Garden Tour. I saw a Gulf Fritillary, but I didn't manage to get a picture of it. Oh well.
 Clearly, the kids are studying butterflies, although this poster depicts exotic butterflies, not locak ones. I wonder if they are raising butterflies in the classroom. I couldn't find anyone associated with the school, or I would have suggested it. 
The school was made up of three cute little bungalows and a large schoolyard with trees and plants. Look like the perfect place for children. I think I want to go back to nursery school!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Color Contrast

I think this was my favorite room on the Venice Home and Garden Tour. I love the orange kitchen with the maroon leaves outside. Sorry I couldn't get the guys out of the picture. It was another very crowded and tiny house and they were deep in conversation. I didn't want to be rude, so I just snapped a photo.  I'm not sure this really has anything to do with butterflies or insects. But Western Swallowtails do lay their eggs on plum trees, and I think that is a plum with dark leaves outside the window. So this amazing design statement could be part of a butterfly garden. Whoo-hoo!

Friday, May 10, 2013


These bronze ants are embedded in the concrete sidewalk outside the sculpture garden mentioned in my last post. They were also in a walk way at a home on the Tour. I think they are a marvelous and subtle addition to the streetscape. Most people didn't even notice. But I am not most people. ;-)

Thursday, May 9, 2013


One of my favorite spots on the Venice Garden and Home Tour was number 21, an outdoor gallery. Nestled in nearly every corner and in the cracks fo the grass stairs was pellitory. When I pointed it out to the artist, she couldn't believe that I was excited about a weed. But when I told her that it is a host plant for Red Admirals, she got excited, too! Everybody loves butterflies.