First Clouded Sulphur Butterfly Pupa in North Campus

February 23, 2012

Last week, Jany Alvarez, one of the Museum's Guest Relations staff, was sitting at the bus stop adjacent to the North Campus. While she was waiting for her bus, she saw an interesting sighta caterpillar crawling along the sidewalk! Thinking that the caterpillar would be better off on a plant than on the cement, she picked the caterpillar up and placed it carefully on a Dudleya plant on the Living Wall. Later that day, another Guest Relations staffer watched the caterpillar pupate! By the time word travelled to me, the pupa looked like this:

Yellow pupa on DudleyaWhen I came into work on Tuesday morning, the pupa had changed color! I took more pictures and went back to my office to identify it.

Close up of pupa. Note the small horn-like structureThe pupa belongs to a butterfly regularly seen in and around Los Angeles, the Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae. The Cloudless Sulphur belongs to the Pieridae butterfly family, which includes White, Sulphur, and Orange-tip butterflies. The most common butterfly in this family is the Cabbage White, which flies year round in our area and is a pest on vegetables such as cabbage, kale, and broccoli. In contrast the caterpillar of the Cloudless Sulphur feeds on cassia plants (genus Senna) and is often seen in our local deserts where the two California native species in this genus grow naturally. The altered nature of Los Angeles is such that non-native cassias are now common all over our area. They've been planted in various places like your neighbor's backyard, your local park, and even in the North Campus. The bus stop where Jany found the Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar is only 20 feet away from a few feathery cassias, Senna artemisioides, which were recently planted in the North Campus!I guess our premise for developing habitat around the Museum is correctplant it and they will come!

Male Cloudless Sulphur from our Entomology Collection


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the North Campus gave to me...

Twelve skippers skipping

 

 



Eleven pill bugs pillaging

 

 

 

 



Ten fritillaries a-feeding

 

 

 

 



 Nine gulls a-diving (dumpster diving that is)

 

 

 

 



Eight mantids a-milking

 

 

 

 



Seven caterpillars a-crawling

 

 

 

 

 



Six ladybugs a-laying

 

 



Five phorid (fly) wings

 

 

 

 



Four calling crows

 

 

 

 



Three French hummingbirds

 

 

 

 



Two turtle fox squirrels

 

 

 

 



 And an oak gall in an oak tree!

 

 

 

 

 



 

Wishing you a happy holiday season!

 



 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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I went out for a walk around the North Campus today and this is what I saw:

They are filling the pond to make sure there aren't any leaks and that the waterfall cascade is level.

 



I went out for a walk around the North Campus today and this is what I saw:

They are filling the pond to make sure there aren't any leaks and that the waterfall cascade is level.

 



Underneath the pedestrian footbridge is the best spot for mushrooms. I think this is a morel, Morchella esculenta. I am consulting with some mushroom experts to see if they can make a positive identification.

 

 



Apparently the Monarch caterpillar I found two weeks ago made its pupal case on a wall. I just love how green they are!

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Yesterday afternoon myself and number of other staff members braved the heat to continue our survey of North Campus insects. On the heels of last week's Gulf Fritillary discovery, I found the site's first Monarch butterfly caterpillar, Danaus plexippus!

 



Monarch butterfly caterpillar

 

As soon as I saw the caterpillar I knew it was a Monarch: There isn't another caterpillar in our area with such yellow, black, and white banding. Also, the caterpillar was found on a narrow-leaved milkweed plant, Asclepias fascicularis, which is one of the food plants of this well-known species.

 

Based on its size, this caterpillar is in the second to last caterpillar stage (4th instar). Over the coming weeks it will molt to the last and final stage (5th instar), and then turn into a chrysalis.  In time for its fall migration, the adult Monarch will emerge and make its way to an overwintering site somewhere along the coast.

In the coming years I hope to tag and track the adult Monarchs that emerge in the North Campus, so we can determine the exact location(s) of our Monarchs' overwintering site(s). Tagging Monarchs is an easy process that in no way hurts the butterflies. The adults are collected with a net and then carefully held while a small sticker (approximately 2% of the butterflies weight) is attached to the hind wing of the butterfly. The butterfly is then released and flies onto its overwintering site. When the Monarchs dies the following spring (after mating) the tags are hopefully retrieved and we can answer the question, where do our North Campus Monarchs overwinter?

 

Demonstrating how to handle a Monarch for tagging

 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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The last few weeks I have been spoiled with bloggable stories, but this week I needed inspiration. I took a stroll out to the North Campus to see what I could find, and was excited to happen upon the first North Campus caterpillar.

 

The caterpillar I found was in the last and final "J stage" of its larval lifecycle, just about to pupate. 

 



Easily recognizable, Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are striped and spiny.

 

24 hours later the caterpillar had metamorphosed into the pupal stage, aka chrysalis.

 



If you look close, you can see the developing wings.

 

This pupa is a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, native to Mexico and the southeastern United States where its passion vine food plants are also native. However, this species is now very common to our region because of all the passion vines that have been planted in yards, parks, and also in the North Campus! The species of passion vine I found the caterpillar on was Passiflora 'Lavender Lady' cultivar, which is a cross between P. amethystina and P. caerula.

 



Typical alien-looking flower of passion vine, 'Lavender Lady' cultivar.

 

If you want to encourage these butterflies in your own yard, try planting a few passion vines of your own. Here is a list of the other passion vines we plan on planting in the North Campus:

Passiflora edulis

Passiflora caerulea

Passiflora alatocaerulas


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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