Ladybug Ladybug

I’ve told you before that George and I rescue the anise swallowtail caterpillars and eggs that we find on fennel plants. The fennel gets rangy this time of year and many people cut it down, not knowing that they’re killing caterpillars. We bring the eggs and caterpillars inside, feed them fennel until they pupate into chrysalises, then release them after they emerge as adult butterflies. I rescued a large caterpillar and five eggs the other day from a parking lot in Berkeley, and the eggs have now all opened. This one is about 2 mm long.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Today while searching some fennel near our house I found another insect – ladybugs – happily wandering around the fennel flowers, probably looking for aphids to feed on. Here’s one with a few of the characteristic black spots, and very intense red-orange color.

Ladybug on fennel

Another one’s spots were barely visible, and its color was much less red.

Ladybug on fennel

This one was moving from one flower to another.

Ladybug on fennelSome of the flowers had several ladybugs.

Ladybugs on fennel flowers

Does fennel grow on your property? Please make sure to check for butterfly eggs and caterpillars, and for other helpful insects like ladybugs, before you cut it down.

Advertisements

The Great Bee Count of 2011

Honeybee on lavender flower

Honeybee on lavender flower

The day has arrived – so go out to your yards and gardens and begin …. counting bees!  The Great Sunflower Project  was launched in 2008 to get information about urban, suburban and rural bee populations.  The Project also wanted to educate people about what was happening with the bees in their back yards, and to remind us of how important bees are — their motto is: “Bees: Responsible for Every Third Bite of Food.”   So they got people all over the world to observe their bees on Lemon Queen sunflowers, because sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and a great resource for bees. They expanded the list of plants, including bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, goldenrod and purple coneflower.  But even if you don’t have any of those plants in your garden (yet — lots of time to prepare for next year!) you can still count.  The bees that come to our garden love the lavender, and I had a blast earlier this week taking photos of them.

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

The bumble bees also love the soap plant flowers (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), tiny, spiky flowers that bloom only in the evening. The flowers are only about an inch around, so watching the relatively large bumble bees (compared to honeybees) grab onto the delicate flowers, making them bounce and wave, is very entertaining.


The steps to participate in the Project are listed on their site, with links.  All you have to do:  sign up and plant your sunflower (or other plant); describe your garden; watch the plant for 15 minutes and enter the data online. With colony collapse disorder, pesticides, and other threats to the hardest-working pollinators, every little bit helps —

Even if you don’t have any of the listed plants yet, why not go outside and do the count anyway? It would be a good baseline to compare with the number you get next year, when you’ve filled your garden with plants to help the bees.  And let me know what you find!

Butterflies in Your Garden

My butterfly display at the El Cerrito Library  is up! It’s in the glass case at the front of the library.  It will be there from June 5th through mid-July.

One of my aims is to show people how to garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together some lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

Fourth, I compiled a bibliography of books related to butterflies, native plants and gardening that are available in the El Cerrito Library.  This is the link:

Books about Butterflies and Native Plants at the El Cerrito Library

Last, but not least, George wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments.  Hope you can make it to the display.

Swallowtail butterfly eggs!

The wheel turns, another cycle begins …  Just last week two of the butterfly chrysalises that we’ve been sheltering emerged.  They’re anise swallowtail butterflies.  The first one was a male – if you can get a good close look, one set of the black lines on the male’s wings is thicker than on the female’s —

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

We let him go quickly because the weather was really nice.  The anise swallowtails can remain in the chrysalis stage for years.  We’ve had some for more than two years.  You can tell they’re still alive because if you touch the chrysalis gently it will move.  It’s very different with monarch butterflies — the timing for the stages monarchs go through from egg to emergence are always the same.

A day or so later another one of the swallowtails emerged – this one was a female.  As we released her I said what I always say to the lady butterflies: “Come back to our garden and leave babies!”

So, as for the cycle of nature turning — today I found three eggs on the fennel in our garden!  The native plant the anise swallowtails lay eggs on is called yampah.  This great online resource,  CalFlora.org,  has lots of information about yampah and other native plants.  We have some yampah in a pot, but it grows very slowly.  Here’s a picture I took last year.  The egg is the tiny yellow dot near the center of the picture.  It’s about the size of the head of a pin.

Since yampah is very hard to find in the wild around us (not much wild left hereabouts  …), the anise swallowtails have turned to the fennel plant, which grows very easily here, to lay its eggs and as its larval food source.  Fennel grows in vacant lots and along the highways.  Many people cut it down as it gets rangy later in the summer, which is too bad, because they’re probably killing hundreds of swallowtail eggs and caterpillars.   Here’s a photo of an egg on fennel:

This is roughly three times larger than life size.  These last 2 pictures are from a series I did on the entire life cycle of the anise swallowtail butterfly.  You can see all of the photographs on my smugmug gallery.

What butterflies have you been seeing your garden?   Do you plant milkweed for monarchs or other plants to attract and feed butterflies?