Today I had the pleasure of going out to the Ranch Santa Ana Botanic Gardens in Claremont, California with a bunch of folks from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. It was a great day for it- sunny and warm but not too hot.
The gardens are really lovely and are worth a visit, but of course, we were there for the bugs. Some folks were there for flower flies, some for bees, we had a spider expert, and, predictably, I was most interested in the butterflies. Ordinarily collecting isn’t allowed on the property but we had permission, thanks to knowing one of the staff researchers. AND, we got to wear exciting fluorescent green vests!
I counted 16 species of butterflies throughout the property. By far the biggest surprise was the established colony of Pipevine Swallowtails, Battus philenor. I’m familiar with this species from living in Davis (CA), Arizona, and Virginia, but it doesn’t occur naturally in southern California west of the desert. My first reaction upon seeing an adult drift by was ‘you’re not supposed to be here!’ By the end of the day I counted 3 adults and a caterpillar, all very localized around the host plant. I spoke to some of the staff who said they think that the colony has been there at least 5-10 years, but they’re not sure how they got there. Its host plant, Aristolochia vine, is established on the property, but no new plants have been brought in for over 50 years. This means it’s unlikely that the caterpillars came in on a nursery shipment. The garden has a butterfly pavilion, but according to the staff the colony predates the pavilion so it’s unlikely to be an escapee. Perhaps it was intentionally released nearby, and was able to establish on the Garden’s plants? Regardless, it was a fun find. I entered the rest of the day’s sightings on eButterfly if you want to see what else we found.
It was really great to go out into the field with my entomology colleagues from the museum. There was a lot of good knowledge getting shared, and a lot of new skills being learned. Perhaps the biggest ‘skill stretch’ was watching Ichthyology Curator running down the trail with a butterfly net, chasing a Queen butterfly. She’s developing quite a swing-and-flip.