Now that spring has finally arrived, the insect activity in Stebbins Cold Canyon has increased exponentially. This dramatic influx of insects was also coupled with an equally dramatic abundance of blooming wildflowers, majority of which were native to California. This spontaneous adventure to Cold Canyon led to some awesome finds and there were a lot of things, both flora and fauna, that I saw for the first time in the area. The previous weeks of warm weather and recent rainfall has turned this canyon into an area that is completely different from what it was almost eight years ago. As the season progresses, there will be more and more insects emerging and I will hopefully be there to witness these changes.


Now With Even More Color!

The trails and hillsides within the canyon were more green than my friend and had ever seen. It was incredible how much this area had changed from when it had caught fire about two years ago. There is almost no trace of what the fire had burnt previously because it was overgrown with tall grass, green shrubs, wildflowers, and trees full of leaves. At one point the trees that were lining the canyon’s trails made it seem as if I was in a somewhat “subtropical” environment. There were numerous new wildflowers that had appeared since my last visit and some of the species I encountered were none that I had ever seen before in all my seven years I had visited the area. Thankfully for me I ran into a few kind botanists who were on a flower walk and they were able to help put an ID on all the flowers that were new to me.

These silvery blue butterflies (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) were puddling right at the entrance to the canyon.

As my friend and I made our way up the canyon trail, we soon realized that the insect activity/abundance had increased exponentially. There were at least five to six more species of butterflies that I had not seen in the area a few weeks back, as well as an abundance of new bees, beetles, and flies species that were also making their first appearance for the year. Some of the butterfly species I came across were the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor), the duskywing skipper (Erynnis sp.), the Acmon blue (Plebejus acmon), the silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus), and the alfalfa butterfly (Colias eurytheme). We did not expect this much activity during this adventure because the morning was overcast and still quite cool. But to our surprise, the day warmed up fairly quickly and the clouds slowly but sure disappeared as the day went on, making for one amazing nature hike.

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The Sara orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis sara) was one of the most common butterflies I saw in the canyon, but they tend to fly early in the year so finding them closer to summer may be uncommon.

As I made my way up the trail with my friend Alex, we continuously had to stop because we kept finding more cool things to photograph. If it wasn’t some new insect, it was a new plant or flower, and if it wasn’t that it was a spider or millipede. The amount of creatures we were finding was amazing and it continued that way until the end of the day. There were a wide variety of wildflowers blooming including lupine, poppies, blue dicks, fiddlenecks, California fuchsia, clover, Indian paintbrush, and wallflower. The wallflower was new to me and proved to be fruitful in terms of an insect attractant. Its bright orange color attracted a variety of different insects including true bugs, hover flies, and even a day flying moth. To my surprise, Mule’s ear (Wyethia sp.) was also blooming, making it another attractant for many different insects and even a few spiders. The spiders weren’t attracted to the flowers, but were instead attracted to the insect activity on and around the flower heads.

There were a number of sweat bees (Halictidae) on the Wyethia and they were so focused on the plant that I was able to close enough for some great photos.

More Still to Come

As the season progresses, the canyon will continue to change and hopefully more insect species that are on the fly will cross my path. A majority of the insects I was finding near a small creek which connected to the main one that runs through the canyon, were on the Mule’s ear flowers (Wyethia sp.). It was surprising to find so many different insect species all gathered on and around these large yellow flowers. There were a number of native sweat bees (Halictidae) that would consistently visit these flowers, as well as a species of true fruit fly (Tephritidae). They were accompanied by some metallic green blister beetles (Meloidae) who were very focused on devouring the bright orange poppies. A number of different butterfly species also flew through this area, meaning this micro habitat that I stumbled across was also a fly way for butterflies. I had also run into spider webs that were spread out across the creek and once I realized they were there I was able to get a good photo of the spider itself.


The bright red color of the Indian paintbrush flowers (Castilleja sp.) were a great contrast to the green hills behind them.

After a few more photos, my friend and I were finally ready to move further down the trail and explore the rest of the canyon. We didn’t get very far before we encountered another interesting subject. I found an orange wallflower and on it were a number of different insect species, including a hover fly, a largid bug, a day flying moth, and a tephritid fly. This was the first time I had ever seen a wallflower in the canyon and it was quite an awesome find for me. The genus Erysimum includes close to most of the wallflower species in the family Brassicaceae and the ones I found were pretty scattered but were in small clusters along the sides of the creek. As we walked further into the canyon we found an area were there were a number of California newts (Taricha torosa). I managed to get photos of them before deciding to leave the canyon.


These wallflowers were quite the sight and their appearance in the canyon was sporadic along the creek.

As this season progresses there will be more and more insects that will appear and emerge throughout the canyon. Other areas around Davis will also be progressing like Stebbin’s Cold Canyon and I will try my best to visit as many of these areas as I can in order to survey the diversity both through collecting and photography. I am patiently waiting for the foothills of the western Sierras to get warm enough for insects and flowers to emerge there. But until then I will continue to survey Cold Canyon and the areas around the coast range.

Until we meet again California newt.