We released another wave of anise swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon) .
The zelicaon just keep eclosing and eclosing. We've already hand-paired so many and released dozens earlier this week and today we went and released and another few dozen. Some had been sitting inside the tub for a few days already and were very thirsty upon release. They quickly flew straight to the many thistle plants in our front yard that are now in full boom and nectared for many minutes. The butterflies are extremely attracted to purple colored flowers, even ones that aren't even nectar flowers. We have a large Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) covered in large purple flowers in our front yard, and we constantly see zelicaon (and rutulus if we're lucky enough to see one) attempt to nectar from it, though they are unable to suck up the nectar from these flowers.
While releasing the zelicaon, we also spotted a gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). We didn't get a shot of the gulf, but it was nectaring on white star jasmine flowers (Trachelospermum jasminoides). Unlike swallowtails, they seem to be attracted to a wider color range of flowers.
Today we found two gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs on mallow (Malva) at Albany Hill (Albany, California).
Along with the common checkerspot skippers (Pyrgus communis), west coast lady's (Vanessa annabella), the gray hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) get easy to find on mallows (Malva) late in the summer and into the fall. We found two of their eggs today on mallow at Albany Hill. They are hard to differentiate from the checkerspot eggs at first glance, but they are flatter and greenish. They also tend to be laid in slightly more obscure places such as on the buds like one of the eggs we found. The other was on the underside of a leaf -- also typical.
We found mating umber skippers (Poanes melane), common checkerspot skippers (Pyrgus communis) and gray hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) at Albany Hill (Albany, California).
Once it hits summertime, we get all kinds of these common little prairie butterflies. Umber skippers (Poanes melane) are the most common skipper and gray hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) are the most common hairstreaks and we have been seeing many of them at Albany Hill these days. In fact, we witnessed two umber skippers in copula, the only ever natural butterfly pairing we have ever observed besides monarchs (Danaus plexippus). They must male must have been "done" by the time we got there because they separately promptly after taking the photograph.
We also spotted some common checkerspot skippers (Pyrgus communis) two days ago, which, despite its name isn't actually that common here. Like the gray hairstreaks, it is a mallow (Malva) feeder which is where we discovered them. They were quite likely females looking to oviposit, but from a brief glance we couldn't find any eggs. Later in the season (August to September), however, they should be very easy to find. Alas, we would be in Ithaca by then.
The fourth installment of rearing notes for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs and caterpillars that we found on wild mallow (Malva) from 10/2-10/9. The last one died of disease on 10/13.
Rearing notes 10/10/16-10/13/16:
The fourth installment of rearing notes for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs and caterpillars that we found on wild mallow (Malva) from 10/2-10/9. Of them, only one now remains.
Rearing notes 10/2/16-10/9/16:
The third installment of rearing notes for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs and caterpillars that we found on wild mallow (Malva) from 9/24-10/1.
Rearing notes 9/24/16-10/1/16:
The second installment of rearing notes for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs and caterpillars that we found on wild mallow (Malva) from 9/16-9/23.
Rearing notes 9/16/16-9/23/16:
After finding over a hundred West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) eggs and a handful of Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs on wild mallow (Malva) this year we have gathered some knowledge on the ovipositing preferences of the adult female.
Egg and to some extent caterpillar hunting on low, weedy (herbaceous) plants is all about getting to know the ovipositing preferences of the adult. Even species that lay eggs on the same type of plant may have different preferences for where they lay.
Over the past month, we have been collecting tons of West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) eggs as the fall influx of adult butterflies starts to really heat up as they pass through on their annual attitudinal migration. After locating over a hundred eggs on well over a dozen wild mallow (Malva) plants at five or so unique locations from Berkeley through El Cerrito, we have certainly gotten a better idea of the ovipositing preferences of V. annabella that we would like to share.
First off, V. annabella strongly adheres to the isolated plant technique. The chance of finding eggs in a patch of mallow plants of over two square feet is low. In addition, wild mallow plants have different growth forms: some are very low (flat) on the ground growing out in a circular fashion where the leaves are very dense while others are much more branchy and tall; the latter is much more preferred. However, unlike the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), the number of eggs laid to the size of the plant is somewhat linear; relatively larger plants consistently get more eggs than relatively smaller ones. Rarely will a tiny plant be clobbered in a significant amount more eggs than it can reasonably handle and rarely will a larger plant that does have eggs only have a single one or two.
Concerning the new growth technique, or the seasonal health of the host plant, V. annabella seems to have little preference. Eggs can be found on mallow plants of any life cycle stage (regardless sprouting/regenerating or flowering with mature seeds). Eggs are laid on any leaf, fresh or not. Each time we review our harvest, we see no pattern in the size of the leaves (larger leaves tend to be either mature or those from fresher, healthier plants in the shade and smaller leaves tend to be either new leaves or those from plants growing in full sun). The only thing that we have noticed that should be taken note of is that they tend to avoid plants that appear to be trampled on or very damaged. Because mallow is a weed that usually grows on the edges of dry grasses (like on the side of a lawn, near the sidewalk or the road, or at the end of a driveway), depending on the location of the plant, it may receive routine pounding by human feet or vehicular bashing. The weedy plants are designed to withstand quite a bit and will not easily die, but the leaves and stems will suffer damage that seems to render the plant unattractive. At the same time, plants growing in awkward locations are usually those that are more difficult to spot by the butterfly and/or less suitable for the butterfly to be to oviposit. (Not to mention, even if eggs were laid on these types of plants, they would probably be crushed or lost after being trampled on anyway!).
V. annabella does not seem to have a very significant preference for sunny or open locations. The sun certainly might help to increase activity, but is not a requirement. One of our best plants was growing under the BART tracks where it is shaded 24/7.
The pattern for the location on the mallow plant that the eggs are laid on is straightforward and does not take long to figure out. Eggs are laid only on leaves and only on the tops of the leaves, generally somewhat near the center. To a human eye, the eggs may appear to be carelessly scattered, or laid messily, and are often times not fully glued onto the leaf (either hanging from a string of glue or lying flat on the leaf). The eggs are typically laid singly but it is not particularly uncommon to find more than one egg laid in the same spot. Oviposition, like most actions governing lepidopteran behavior, is a fixed action pattern so occasionally the adult female will uncontrollably perform more than once when still presented with the stimulus (at least, this is our theory). Like with most butterfly eggs, if there is an egg on one area of the plant there will most likely be more very nearby; and the opposite is also true.
The location preferences of the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), a Malvaceae feeding species that we have been finding quite a number of eggs from this past week alongside V. annabella, differ in some ways. Eggs are commonly found on or near buds or on stems as well as leaves (usually newer ones). They are almost always laid close to the periphery of the substrate rather there near the center. In that sense, they are more difficult to find than V. annabella eggs. Today we actually witnessed a S. melinus adult ovipositing on wild mallow. Her behavior might help to explain this: she landed on a shoot tip (part with buds and flowers) and walked up and down the stem several times while laying without flying. S. melinus eggs are virtually always laid singly.
On a side note, we also witnessed a S. melinus adult ovipositing on ornamental hibiscus, another introduced host in the mallow family.
S. melinus overall seems to be less picky than V. annabella about the specific plant.
But unlike V. annabella who may lay up to 20-30 eggs at once, a larger plant rarely means more eggs. The adult female tends to only lay a few eggs per plant at a time.
The newborn and young caterpillar of V. annabella can be easily located using the egg locating strategies since they do not move far from their birth place. The newborn does not finish eating its egg shell after hatching and goes straight away to making its silken nest where it sits such that it inadvertently incorporates the egg shell (shown below)! S. melinus, on the other hand, is tougher. We have seen mallow plants smothered in hatched S. melinus eggs (the newborns also do not eat their egg shells) but not a caterpillar in sight. When we have found low instar caterpillars, they are usually on the undersides of the plant, on stems or immature seed pods (sometimes inside and eating it!).
The first installment of rearing notes for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) eggs and caterpillars that we found on wild mallow (Malva) from 9/8-9/15.
Rearing notes 9/8/16-9/15/16:
Today we were quite disappointed to find that our newly molted Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) chrysalises was being eaten by a fifth instar conspecific!
The family Lycaenidae is quite famous for the relationship its caterpillars have with ants. Most species produce honeydew to attract and appease ants who may inadvertantly act to protect the larvae by warding of insect predators and parasitoids. Honeydew is comprised of a combination of sugars (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) and amino acids in set ratios that may only attract a specific species of ant. The larvae is protected from the ants themselves (who may normally bite at or attack caterpillars) through the evolution of a unique body form: a tiny head and legs that can be retracted underneath the short and stout body, the slug-like gliding movement while in retracted, extremely thick exoskeleton (sometimes chitinized!), and in some cases appeasing pheromones or sounds.
In quite a few species, larvae are carnivorous (an highly cannibalistic) such as those that use honeydew to get ants to carry them into their nests. Once inside the nest, larvae start attacking ant grubs. It is not difficult, then, to see why lycaenid caterpillars are notoriously cannibalistic in the lab, when housed together.
The lycaenid Strymon melinus, the Gray Hairstreak, is part of a group that is not so aggressive; they are certainly not carnivorous by choice. The ant-larvae relationship, as far as we know, is not quite so extreme. The two fourth instars that we collected on mallow (Malva) ate foliage like normal caterpillars and did not behave aggressively towards each other. The newborns, living in the same petri dish, have not eaten each other yet (at least we think!).
The scary part of the story unfolded today when we discovered a fourth instar rolled up around and feeding on a chrysalis that pupated today, both of which were confined in a small petri dish with a very dry leaf of mallow that was probably unappetizing. The opportunistic caterpillar clearly took advantage of the soft, teneral chrysalis and bit a huge hole at the thorax which was spewing an ungodly amount of blood when we arrived on the scene. Seeing this, we quickly made the decision to remove the other fourth instar inside the dish which had turned brown yesterday (is going to pupate) out to a dish of its own.
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects in Albany California and surrounding areas, from 2012-2017. Since we did not publish this site until 2016, posts before that were constructed retroactively. Starting in August 2017, we moved to Ithaca, New York; posts from there on can be viewed at Timeline 2017-present: Ithaca, New York.
August 2017 (49)
July 2017 (121)
June 2017 (79)
May 2017 (77)
April 2017 (91)
March 2017 (35)
February 2017 (12)
January 2017 (10)
December 2016 (12)
November 2016 (26)
October 2016 (49)
September 2016 (84)
August 2016 (94)
July 2016 (99)
June 2016 (53)
May 2016 (21)
April 2016 (4)
January 2016 (1)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (3)
June 2015 (2)
June 2014 (3)
May 2014 (1)
April 2014 (3)
March 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (11)
August 2013 (15)
July 2013 (9)
June 2013 (5)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (2)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (2)
November 2012 (1)
October 2012 (2)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (1)
June 2012 (1)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
Battus philenor hirsuta
Coenonympha tullia california
Langia zenzeroides formosana
Orthosia hibisci quenquefasciata
Papilio machaon oregonius
Papilio polyxenes asterius
Samia cynthia advena
Papilio glaucus × Papilio rutulus
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Araneae (Class: Arachnida)