On what is one of our last trips to Albany Hill (Albany, California), we found some checkerspot skipper (Pyrgus communis) eggs and adults and west coast lady (Vanessa annabella) eggs.
Fast and darty as always, it was hard to get close to this checkerspot skipper (Pyrgus communis) to take pictures of it. Unlike other skippers, we almost always only find them near mallow (Malva), which the larvae eat, or dry grassy areas in general where the plants grow. We have never seen them nectar at anything except for mallow flowers and the flowers of other small plants on the ground.
Although we see checkerspot skippers throughout the year, the only time we kind actually find a decent amount of their eggs is towards the end of summer. A few weeks ago we found one and today we found another with trying very hard. Of course, we have never known them to be very common around here, so it was still a nice find. We would have taken it home if we weren't leaving in a few days. We also found at least a dozen or two west coast lady (Vanessa annabella) eggs scattered around. It seems that the painted ladies (V. cardui) take the spring, red admirals (V. atalanta) take the summer, and these west coasts take the end of summer and fall.
Completely by accident, we found some pellitory (Parietaria) plants clobbered in red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at Albany Hill (Albany, California).
For the longest time, we have seen red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) flying at Albany Hill, or even in the city, during the summertime. Last year we discovered just a smidge of stinging nettle (Urtica) growing inside the path of Albany Hill, but never found any of their eggs. Obviously, these plants weren't enough to support an actual population. In fact, Albany Hill data from 1995-1999 concluded that Vanessa atalanta were most likely vagrant since no Urtica was recorded at the site during that time. The authors suspected urban pellitory (Parietaria) or baby's tears (Helxine or Soleirolia) as the more probable host plants.
Today we happened to stumble across a plant growing along the fence outside of Albany Hill that was getting a lot of attention from a red admiral. We almost jumped when we saw that the tiny plant was utterly suffocated in fresh eggs. The plant, as it turned out, was in fact some variety of pellitory which belongs in the same family as the nettles. We found more of the stuff growing along the same fence, all covered in eggs or even first instar larvae. It was quite clear that the red admiral population was getting quite desperate and that they were basically dependent on these small plants, almost all of which looked so young that they could have only grown in this year.
Interestingly, we also found a single west coast lady (Vanessa annabella) egg today on mallow (Malva), another exotic weed. Whereas the atalanta eggs seem to have about 8-12 ribs, the annabella have at least two to three times that.
In this post, we record the butterflies that we observed at Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) around the Little Farm and Jewel Lake.
Today we took a short hike in Tilden Regional Park until we were just past Jewel Lake. There, we witnessed a completely different selection of butterflies than what we saw last summer in July. The first thing we saw was west coast ladies (Vanessa annabella) and painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) which seem to be in large numbers during this time. These were mostly flying around tall grasses and nectaring. We also saw a male sara orangetip (Anthocharis sara), which is a species that we have never seen before. This is probably one of the only times that we have seen a pierid around here besides the cabbage white (Pieris rapae) which we also saw on the way back. Also out of random chance, we also found a mylitta crescent (Phyciodes mylitta) and something that we cannot identify but looks vaguely like a some sort of Lycaenid. Both were flying among dead grasses and little weedy nectar plants away from the creek.
We also observed one or two western tiger swallowtails (Papilio rutulus). One was around the butterfly garden which is right beside the creek while the other one (it could have been the same one) was flying along the creek past Jewel Lake. They flew by too quickly to distinguish either by physical characteristics or by behavior whether they were male or female. Despite not seeing any eggs, we also saw a single pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) near pipevine, though we also could not tell if it was a male or female.
The first of the large brood of West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella) we reared in September has eclosed.
The majority of the caterpillars in our big brood of West Coast Ladies from September actually ended up dying at one point or another from disease. Too much humidity was required to keep the mallow leaves they ate fresh so we were forced to either use a closed container which cut off ventilation and/or water tube which leaked water everywhere over time. But the couple that did survive are starting to eclose.
The third installment of rearing notes for a large group of wild caught West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella) found mostly as eggs on wild, introduced mallow (Malva).
Rearing notes 9/27/16-9/30/16:
Today we realized we have a fifth instar Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) caterpillar mixed in with out fifth instar West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella)!
Yesterday, while we were cleaning out the petri dishes that we our West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) caterpillars in, we took note of which ones were in apolysis as always and took care not to disturb them. We had quite a few -- maybe five or so -- fourth instar individuals in apolysis for fith instar. We noticed then, that one of them seemed much larger than the others, larger than perhaps a young fifth instar. At the time, it never once crossed our mind that it might be a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) caterpillar, which are normally significantly larger than V. annabella but today we found out!
The fourth instar in apolysis looks more or less identical to the V. annabella fourth instars, so it was no wonder that we didn't realize earlier. Even among different V. annabella caterpillars before the fifth instar, there is very little variation (there is incredible diversity in coloration in the fifth instar， though); every single caterpillar we had looked pretty much identical. We don't know exactly when the V. cardui caterpillar molted, but it must have been a while since we checked this evening because we almost jumped back when we opened our petri dish and saw a monstrous caterpillar towering over even the largest of mature V. annabella fifth instars. Besides the ungodly size, its appearance was now distinctly different than any V. annabella caterpillar. Its body much longer and less fat compared to V. annabella, more like a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). In addition, its coloration actually is very similar to that of a typical black morph V. atalanta that we have never witnessed in any V. annabella; the base is completely black with not red or yellow striped down the back seen in all of our V. annabella, the spiracles are outlined in yellow, and the feet are reddish. At the same time, it also doesn't look quite the same as V. atalanta. See images below.
The strange part about finding this V. cardui caterpillar is that mallow (Malva) is not a particularly popular host plant. While V. cardui is probably one of the only butterflies in our area that are truly polyphagous, capable of feeding on low plants from a huge number of unrelated botanical families, it still seems unlikely that they would utilize mallow unless there is a population spike and food sources are in high demand, but V. cardui is certainly is not very common in our particular region at this particular time. A regional preferences for host plants is plausible but unlikely -- why would they compete with the abundant V. annabella which exclusively feeds on mallow? If anything, we would assume that V. cardui would more commonly utilize the milk thistles growing here but to this date we have never found one on this particular host plant in Albany.
The second installment of rearing notes for a large group of wild caught West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella) found mostly as eggs on wild, introduced mallow (Malva).
Rearing notes 9/19/16-9/26/16:
Rearing notes for a large group of wild caught West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella) found mostly as eggs on wild, introduced mallow (Malva).
Rearing notes 9/8/16-9/18/16:
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!).
Rearing notes for West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) chrysalises that were formed from caterpillar that we collected as egg or first instars on wild mallows (Malva) from 9/11-9/14.
Rearing notes 9/11/16-9/14/16:
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)