Tag Archives: pollination

Butterfly School at Monarch Watch Fall 2009 Open House

Chip Taylor, right, director of Monarch Watch, shows how to hold a monarch butterfly for tagging.

Chip Taylor, right, director of Monarch Watch, shows how to hold a Monarch butterfly for tagging.

One of the highlights of the annual fall open house at Monarch Watch is Butterfly School, in which Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, demonstrates how to catch, hold, tag and release a Monarch butterfly before it begins its migration to its winter home in Mexico.

CHip Taylor shows the students in "Butterfly School" where to place the tag on the butterfly's wing.

Chip Taylor shows the students in "Butterfly School" where to place the tag on the butterfly's wing.

The weather for this fall’s event (Sept. 12) was warm and sunny, so the butterflies were very active but with the right technique (wait until they stop to refuel on a flower, don’t chase them!) they were easily captured in a net so that a small tag could be placed on a wing to help to track the butterfly’s migration patterns.  Monarch Watch is on the west campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Soon these tagged Monarchs will be joining hundreds of millions of other Monarchs in one of nature’s greatest natural wonders.  

In North America the Monarchs migrate south starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring. The Monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south, although no single individual makes the entire round trip.  The Monarchs tagged east of the Rocky Mountains spend the winter in Mexico and start to breed on their trip back home as soon as they encounter milkweed along the route.  This is why it’s so important for people to plant milkweed in their gardens to help the Monarchs along the way. Find out about starting a Monarch Butterfly Waystation by visiting Monarch Watch’s website.  Because of development and agriculture, milkweed is being destroyed in the areas Monarchs have used in the past. Drought and cold weather also reduces the amount of milkweed available.

Chip Taylor shows how to sneak up on a butterfly to catch it with a net. Captured butterflies are tagged so that when they are found, the data on the tag can tell researchers about the butterfly's migration.

Chip Taylor shows how to sneak up on a butterfly to catch it with a net. Captured butterflies are tagged before being released so that when they are found, the data on the tag can tell researchers about the butterfly's migration.

The tagging students were preparing for the  Jayhawk Audubon Society and Monarch Watch annual tagging event for the public at the Baker University Wetlands along 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana in Lawrence, Kansas. The annual tagging event is open to everyone, with instructions given at the site.  The 2009 event is scheduled for 7:30 AM until 11:30 AM on Saturday, September 19, 2009.  More information can be found by clicking on the Monarch Watch website in my blogroll at the right.

In 2001, 325 participants tagged nearly 3000 of the estimated 20,000 Monarchs present, and at least 85 of those tagged were recovered at the winter roost sites in Mexico, according to Monarch Watch.  Almost as many were tagged in 2008.  You can view all of the recoveries tagged at these events by searching for Lawrence-tagged Monarchs on the Monarch Watch searchable recovery database on its website.  Click on this to find out more about the tagging process and why it’s done.

Getting ready to release a buttterfly

A group gathers in Monarch Watch's biohouse to hear about how to tag Monarch butterflies.

Every year, up to hundreds of thousands of Monarchs stop on their way south to refuel on the nectar from the ocean of yellow Bidens flowers at the wetlands, which is an amazing sight.

Monarch Watch is dedicated to the education about, conservation of and research about Monarch butterflies.  It works closely with schools and with researchers.  Research into Monarch migration is providing extensive information about genetics, for example.

Taylor and others went to the wintering site in Mexico in March 2009.  Here’s part of what Taylor had to say about a new Disney film, taken from the Monarch Watch blog.  It’s very exciting.  “While I enjoyed the entire trip, and this agreeable bunch, I had a side adventure: I spent 4 extraordinary days working with a film crew funded by Disney at El Rosario. It was total monarch immersion, all day every day, from 6AM to 7PM. The film crew was the largest I’ve worked with and there were three cameras going most of the time. The footage will be spectacular and like no other on monarchs to date.Disney has commissioned a series of nature films, and this film about pollination and pollinators is scheduled for theaters in 2010-2011. The working title for the film is “Naked Beauty” – but the bets are the title will be changed in time to something like “Nature’s Beauty: A love story that feeds the world”. The film’s message is important and timely. Nature’s beauty, as represented by numerous pollinators and the fruits, nuts, berries, and seeds that are the products of their efforts, will be skillfully and dramatically presented through the masterful direction and loving eye of the film’s director, Louie Schwartzberg.”

A Monarch butterfly is a beautiful hair ornament -- but just for a few minutes.

A Monarch butterfly is a beautiful hair ornament -- but just for a few minutes. Photo by Evan Jorn.

I’ve posted several other articles about Monarch Watch and butterflies, which you can find through my search button.  The Monarch Watch site has many articles on the butterfly’s biology, reproductive needs and the The Top Ten Butterfly Facts.  You can also find out how you can raise your own Monarchs.

Wikipedia has links, charts and photographs about the Monarch Butterfly.  Monarchs have spread widely and can even be found in New Zealand.  There’s a white version in Hawaii.

Monarch butterflies harden their wings on CHip Taylor's beard.

Newly emerged Monarch butterflies harden their wings on Chip Taylor's beard.

 

Children received a free Monarch pupa so that they could raise a butterfly at home.

Children received a free Monarch pupa so that they could raise a butterfly at home.

 

Monarch Watch provides information about other pollinators, such as honey bees.  Visitors to Monarch Watch's fall 2009 open house watched honey bees at work in this hive.

Monarch Watch provides information about other pollinators, such as honey bees. Visitors to Monarch Watch's fall 2009 open house watched honey bees at work in this hive.

 

Children and their parents found plenty of fun and educational activities to do at the fall 2009 Monarch Watch open house.

Children and their parents found plenty of fun and educational activities to do at the fall 2009 Monarch Watch open house.

 

Chip Taylor discusses research into Monarch butterfly migration, which provides insights in a lot of areas of science, including genetics.

Chip Taylor discusses research into Monarch butterfly migration, which provides insights in a lot of areas of science, including genetics.

 

Monarch Watch raises Monarchs for educationa and research.

Monarch Watch raises Monarch butterflies for education and research.

 

Monarch butterflies are fascinating creatures scientifically, but it doesn't hurt that they are also gorgeous and like to visit beautiful flowers on a lovely late summer afternoon.

Monarch butterflies are fascinating creatures scientifically, but it doesn't hurt that they are also gorgeous and like to visit beautiful flowers on a lovely late summer afternoon.

 

A male Monarch butterfly shows of its beautiful wings while perched on a scarlet milkweed in front of the Monarch Watch headquarters in Foley Hall at the University of Kansas.

A male Monarch butterfly shows off its beautiful wings while perched on a scarlet milkweed in front of the Monarch Watch headquarters in Foley Hall at the University of Kansas.

 

People gets close to Monarch caterpillars at the Monarch watch fall 2009 open house.

People get close to Monarch caterpillars at the Monarch Watch fall 2009 open house.

 

A Monarch caterpillar feeds on a South African Milkweed.  There are more than 140 known species of milkweed, which is the only kind of plant Monarch caterpillars eat.

A Monarch caterpillar feeds on a South African Milkweed. There are more than 140 known species of milkweed, which is the only kind of plant Monarch caterpillars eat.

A Monarch butterfly finds nectar in the blossom of a scarlet milkweed, a tropical species.  I planted four kinds of milkweed, but the Monarchs by far preferred my scarlet milkweed.

A Monarch butterfly finds nectar in the blossom of a scarlet milkweed, a tropical species. I planted four kinds of milkweed, but the Monarchs by far preferred my scarlet milkweed. The other milkweeds in my garden are perennials, but I'll need to replace my scarlet milkweed next spring. I could save the seeds or, more likely, just buy a new one at the Monarch Watch spring open house. This butterfly is one of the many that greeted visitors to the Monarch Watch fall 2009 open house.

Chip Taylor shows the tagging students what the tag says. Monarch watch pays for the retrieval of dead Monarch bearing these tags, most of which are found in Mexico near where they spend the winter.

Chip Taylor shows the tagging students what the tag says. Monarch Watch pays for the retrieval of dead Monarch bearing these tags, most of which are found in Mexico near where they spend the winter.

 

A newly emerged Monarch butterfly hardens its wings before taking its first flight.  The process takes a few hours.

A newly emerged Monarch butterfly hardens its wings before taking its first flight. The process takes a few hours. In the leaf above, you can see the hole made by a caterpillar when it hatched from its egg and ate its first milkweed meal.

 

Children could get a little exercise playing tossing games while learning about butterlies at the Monarch watch open house.

Children could get a little exercise playing tossing games while learning about butterflies at the Monarch Watch open house.

 

Here's where the cycle begins -- the butterfly mating cage at Monarch Watch.

Here's where the cycle begins -- the butterfly mating cage at Monarch Watch.

 

The pollination garden at Foley Hall, the home to Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

The pollination garden at Foley Hall, the home to Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

 

Here is a Monarch butterfly just minutes from emerging from its chrysalis.

Here is a Monarch butterfly just minutes from emerging from its chrysalis.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Entomology, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, New Zealand, Personal, Science, University of Kansas

Saving Bees

These honey bees are finding nectar on wildflowers in a park.  Bess find fewer places to find food as more areas are developed and mowed.  These wildflowers were mowed a few days later, leaving no flowers for the bees.

These honey bees are foraging for nectar on wildflowers in a park. Bees are finding fewer flowers for food as more areas are developed and mowed. These wildflowers were mowed a few days later, leaving no flowers for the bees.

My garden is a hang-out for bees of all kinds — honey bees, native bees, carpenter bees.  I love watching them going about their business and am glad to help out keeping them fed.  Bees are important pollinators.  Pollination is essential for most of our food crops. 

The honey bee population has dropped dramatically in recent years, and scientists are trying to find the causes.   They’ve discovered a number of reasons.  Below is a link to a New York Times article with comments about the bee situation from entomologists and beekeepers.   (There haven’t been many butterflies this year in the Midwest, which I’ll write about later. )

Room for Debate: Saving Bees: What We Know Now. – Lessons from the battle against colony collapse disorder, which is still decimating hives. Also check out Monarch Watch and Pollinator Partnership in my blogroll.

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Filed under Agriculture, Biology, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Life, Nature, Science

Leaf Cutter Bees

A leaf cutter bee enters its home drilled in a cedar plank. Leaf cutter bees are solitary but don't mind living close to other leaf cutters.

A leaf cutter bee enters its nest drilled in a cedar plank. Leaf cutter bees are solitary but don't mind living close to other leaf cutters. Leaf cutter bees are important pollinators.

 Old cedar planks drilled with rows of small holes lean against Jackie G.’s garage in a Kansas City suburb.  Leaf cutter bees come and go from the holes, where they have built nests using bits of leaves and petals they have cut from nearby plants. 

“I smile when I see the lacey edges,” Jackie says.  “It means leaf cutter bees are in the garden.”

Despite the busy bee activity in the planks, very few of the nearby leaves and petals exhibit cut edges and none seem to be damaged very much.  Mild-mannered leaf cutter bees are important pollinators, which is one reason Jackie, a master gardener, provides the drilled planks.  Drill holes in untreated soft scrap or salvaged wood to make the bee condos. Jackie also volunteers with Monarch Watch, which is dedicated to education about and  conservation and research of the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators. The link is in my blogroll on the right.

   From Pollinator Partnership, link is in my blogroll on the right.

Pollinators need protection NOW

Declines in the health and population of pollinators in North America and globally pose what could be a significant threat to the integrity of biodiversity, to global food webs, and to human health. A number of pollinator species are at risk.

Pollinators are ESSENTIAL TO LIFE

At least 80% of our world’s crop plant species require pollination. Estimates as high as 1 out of every 3rd bite of food comes to us through the work of animal pollinators. Birds, bees, butterflies, and also bats, beetles and even mosquitos are among the myriad creatures which transfer pollen between seed plants.  This function is vital for plant reproduction and food production.

 

One person who makes bee condos or nest blocks, etc., from reclaimed wood is  “Andrew’s Reclaimed.”  He makes Mason bee blocks, leaf cutter bee nest blocks, bat houses, elevated pet feeders, planter boxes and more, all from reclaimed wood.  He found me on twitter.  Somehow he knew I was a bee and butterfly nerd.  Here’s a link to his shop: Andrew’s Reclaimed.  He lives in the Seattle area, but the shipping costs don’t seem that bad.  Even if you aren’t in the market for any of these items, it’s worth checking out his store, because he provides a lot of information.

These lacey edges show that leaf cutter bees have harvested part of the leaves to line their nests.

These lacey edges show that leaf cutter bees have harvested part of the leaves to line their nests.

“Anna’s Bee World” post about Bee engineers. 

Information about the Leaf Cutter Bee. 

More information about Leaf Cutter bees.

Artsy Homes for Leaf Cutter Bees.

Old planks of untreated wood drilled with holes make great homes for leaf cutter bees.

Old planks of untreated wood drilled with holes make great homes for leaf cutter bees.

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Filed under Entomology, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal

Life and Death in the Garden

 
A crab spider grabs a honeybee that has visited a common milkweed flower.
A crab spider grabbed a honey bee that visited a common milkweed flower.
This honey bee was lucky it didn't encounter any crab spiders hiding in the milkweed flowers.

This honey bee was lucky it didn't encounter any crab spiders hiding in the milkweed flowers.

In the Midwest, Master Gardener J. G. has planted a complete banquet for pollinating insects, such as bees and butterflies.   There are plants for all stages in an insect’s life.  One section of her garden is devoted to native prairie plants, such as the common milkweed, which has a wonderful fragrance and beautiful flowers.  Monarch caterpillars are dependent on milkweed leaves and flowers for food, and other insects drink the nectar.  The garden is a certified Monarch Watch monarch butterfly waystation that provides milkweed, nectar sources and shelter for monarchs as they migrate through North America.

Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

J. G.'s garden is a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation that provides plants for nectar, milkweed and shelter for migrating Monarch butterflies.

Honey bees were busy getting nectar and pollen in the milkweed flowers when we toured J.G.’s garden.  One honey bee wasn’t so lucky.   A crab spider grabbed it and paralyzed it for its own dinner.  Crab spiders don’t spin webs but hide on plants, waiting for prey to visit.

It was a hot, humid day, and few butterflies appeared.  J.G. called out the names of the few that passed through — fritillary, painted lady, skipper.  I recognized a Monarch butterfly that flitted over the milkweed, settling just for a moment, before leaving.

To learn more about butterflies in the Kansas City area click on this links and do a search on butterflies: Johnson County Extension Office.    Other useful links: Monarch Watch and look for Bug Girl’s Blog, Anna’s Bee World and Pollinator Partnership in  my blog roll. If you’re buying from Amazon.com, use the Monarch Watch portal on my blogroll.  I’ll be posting more about J.G’s garden, including her leaf cutter bee boxes.

A honey bee visits a rose blossom.  You can see how closely these wild roses resemble apple blossoms, members of the same family.

A honey bee visits a rose blossom. You can see how closely these wild-looking roses resemble apple blossoms, members of the same family.

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Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Science, University of Kansas

Monarch Watch Spring 2009 Open House

My friend Deb buys some tropical milkweed at the Monarch Watch Spring Open House.  Monarch Watch Director Chip Taylor, at left in the yellow hat, and many volunteers were busy as the crowds snapped up the annuals and perennials.   The sale is a fund-raiser for Monarch Watch and also ios a good way for people to introduce plants for pollinators in their gardens.
My friend Deb buys some tropical milkweed at the Monarch Watch Spring Open House at the University of Kansas on May 9. Monarch Watch Director Chip Taylor, at left in the yellow hat, and many volunteers were busy as the crowd snapped up the pollinator-pleasing annuals and perennials. The sale is a fund-raiser for Monarch Watch and also is a great way for people to introduce plants for pollinators in their gardens.

 It’s estimated that 80 percent of the world’s food crops needs to be pollinated.  Habitat for pollinators is shrinking every year, while the demand for food increases.   Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas in Lawrence is dedicated to promoting education about the biology and conservation of the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators.  It works with children of all ages, involving schools, nature centers and other ogranizations.  For more information, click on Monarch Watch and Pollinator Partnership on my blogroll.  If you buy products from Amazon.com, you can also benefit Monarch Watch by clicking on the amazon portal on the Monarch Watch website to buy.  There won’t be an additional cost to you.

 The following are photographs from the open house on May 9, except the last one which was taken in my backyard.

These Monarch Butterfly Chrysalides look like jade beans, trimmed with a thin stripe of gold leaf.  They'll be placed in containers when it's time for the butterflies to emerge.

These Monarch Butterfly chrysalides look like jade beads, trimmed with a thin stripe of gold leaf. They'll be placed in containers when it's time for the butterflies to emerge. The butterflies are then released, where hopefully they'll find food and habitat. Because of increasing development and changing farming practices, habitat and food sources for Monarchs are rapidly decreasing.

Children have a good time at the open house, where there are plenty of fun science-related activities....and cookies, too!

Children have a good time at the open house, where there are plenty of fun science-related activities....and cookies, too! Monarch Watch promotes education about and conservation of pollinating insects and other pollinating animals.

Visitors choose their Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, which you could buy when you bought a milkweed plant.  There were dozens of caterpillars munching away on milkweed in the white tub.

Visitors choose their Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, available for sale when you bought a milkweed plant. There were dozens of caterpillars munching away on milkweed in the white tub.

 

These Monarch caterpillars await adoption.  People who bought milkweed plants could also buy caterpillars to take home to live in on the newly purchased milkweed plants in their gardens.

These Monarch caterpillars await adoption. People who bought milkweed plants could also buy caterpillars to take home to live on the newly purchased milkweed plants in their gardens.

Monarch Butterflies are busy in the mating enclosure.

Monarch Butterflies are busy in the mating enclosure.

 Monarch Butterfly drops by to say hello to a young visitor.

A Monarch Butterfly says hello to a young visitor.

 

Thie honey bee dropped by the open house to visit some chive blossoms in the pollination garden.

This honey bee dropped by the open house to visit some chive blossoms in the pollination garden.

MonarchButterflies weren't the only stars of the open house.  Here are some silkworms.

Monarch Butterflies weren't the only stars of the open house. Here are some silkworms.

 

Honey Bees thrive in a hive at Monarch Watch headquarters, which promotes education adn conservation of all pollinating insects and other animals.

Honey bees thrive in a hive at Monarch Watch headquarters, which is on the west campus of the University of Kansas.

 

The Monarch Watch open house offered a wide range of annual and perennial nectar and food plants for butterflies and caterpillars.

The Monarch Watch open house offered a wide range of annual and perennial nectar and food plants for butterflies and caterpillars.

 

Not just caterpillars turn into butterflies.

Not just caterpillars turn into butterflies.

 

The Monarch Watch pollination garden is planted to attract and feed butterflies, bees and other pollinators, but it attracted me, too.  Isn't it lucky that plants for pollinators are also beautiful!

The Monarch Watch pollination garden is planted to attract and feed butterflies, bees and other pollinators, but it attracted me, too. Isn't it lucky that plants for pollinators are also beautiful!

 

Here's "Reggie," the Monarch caterpillar I bought, at home on a milkweed in my garden.

Here's "Reggie," the Monarch caterpillar I bought, at home on a milkweed in my garden.

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Filed under Animals, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Environment, Food, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Science, University of Kansas

Orange Sulphur Butterfly on a Sunflower

Orange Sulfur Butterfly and a soldier beetle rival compete for space on a sunflower. A for sale sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

Orange Sulfur butterfly and a Soldier beetle compete for space on a sunflower. A "for sale" sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

Here’s a bright scene for a cold winter day.   An Orange Sulphur butterfly sips nectar from a sunflower in a field in September.  The field was mowed a few weeks later, and the remaining short stubble is brown and lifeless, showing no sign of the lively community of insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds that once lived there.   A “for sale” is planted in the center.

I emailed several photographs of yellow butterflies to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  Any yellow butterfly around here I’ve been calling a Cloudless Sulphur.  Dr. Taylor says this butterfly is an Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme.) 

“The butterfly looks like a female – males have solid and females spotted margins,” he wrote. 

Dr. Taylor identified the other insect as a Soldier beetle, which is highly prized by gardeners because it eats pest insects, such as aphids and grasshopper eggs.  It’s also a pollinator.  Pollinators are essential to our food supply, but there are fewer and fewer places for them to live.  Thousands of acres are lost daily to development.

Monarch Watch is dedicated to education about and the conservation and research of Monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

An Orange Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

An Orange Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store. You can see its proboscis.

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Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, University of Kansas

Honey Bee and Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly

This honey bee has found a paradise at a local nursery.

This honey bee found a paradise at a local nursery.

After waiting in vain with my camera for butterflies to pass through my neighborhood a few weeks ago, I went to a very large local nursery that features hundreds of thousands of plants.  (It sounds as if I spend way too much time chasing butterflies……)  Even there, I didn’t see many butterflies, so I focused on bees, which were loaded down with bright orange pollen.  For more of my bee and butterfly photos, scroll down to the next post or use my search box for other posts.  Click on the photos for a better view.  If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m big on pushing the protection of pollinators.  Here are two informative sites: Monarch Watch and The Pollination Partnership.
So many flowers, so little time.

So many flowers, so little time.

This Cloudless Sulphur butterfly knows where to find lunch.

This Cloudless Sulphur butterfly knows where to find lunch.

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Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Nature, Photography, Random

Batty About Birds, Bees and Butterflies

Soon after it was hung, hummingbirds appeared at this feeder at the Grand Lake of the Cherokee, Oklahoma, in mid-September.

Several ruby-throated hummingbirds appeared at this feeder almost as soon as it was hung at a waterfront home at the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, Oklahoma, in mid-September. Hummingbirds are territorial so they all fought to make it their personal feeding station.

 

In 2007, there weren't many bees in my garden, but this year they've swarmed to my basil plants. I have both honey bees and carpenter bees.

In 2007, there weren't many bees in my garden. This year, a "swarm" of honey bees appeared, along with carpenter bees, in my basil plants.

My enthusiasm for bees sky-rocketed last year when I discovered that I wasn’t getting any squash, because I had no bees to pollinate them.  I had to do the job myself with an artist’s paintbrush.  My harvest? Ten squash.  I’m a terrible match-maker! It’s easier to attract bees to do the work.  They know what they’re doing. They’re like match.com for fruits and vegetables. 

Pollinators are essential to our food supply, and not just in our backyards.  Eighty percent of the world’s food crops depend on some kind of pollinator.

I already miss the ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies that passed through our yard or made it their home this summer and early fall.   The bees are still busy in the basil flowers, so I’m waiting to cut the plants for pesto.  I’m also lazy. 

My husband took down the hummingbird feeder a few days ago after not seeing “our” ruby-throated hummingbird for more than a week.  The tiny bird has left Kansas City and is on his way to southern Mexico for the winter.  Adios!  I loved watching him come to the feeder at the window.  Occasionally, a visiting hummingbird would stop at the feeder, and there would be a “dog fight” in the air as the resident bird dive bombed and chased the intruder.

I didn’t see as many butterflies this year as last.  We had a colder, wetter spring, which reduced their numbers.  Hopefully, their numbers will bounce back after our lush, wet summer resplendent with flowering plants. 

A male carpenter bee on a basil flower.

A male carpenter bee on a basil flower.

What I really want to show you are my photographs, including those below.  Don’t miss them!  Be sure to click on them to get a better look. For my other posts and photographs on ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies, caterpillars and bees, use my search box.

Here’s a list of useful websites:

A Monarch butterfly fid nectar in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

A Monarch butterfly finds nectar in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

A Zebra butterfly flutters in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  I saw a Zebra flt through my yard this year. It flashes by so quickly I almost thought it was a hallucination -- or at least wishing thinking.

A Zebra butterfly flutters in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. I saw a Zebra flt through my yard this year. It flashed by so quickly I almost thought it was an hallucination -- or wishing thinking.

There are 3,500 species of skipper butterflies, and they seem to be be everywhere.  They're not very flashier, however, so you might not even notice them.  This mating pair of skippers is making a spectacle of themselves, however, so you have to take a look.  This took place in front of the Monarch Watch building at the University of Kansas.

There are 3,500 species of skipper butterflies, and they seem to be be everywhere. They aren't very flashy, though, so you might not notice them. However, these mating skippers are making a spectacle of themselves in front of the Monarch Watch building at the University of Kansas. You can't not look!

I was so excited when this female hummingbird stopped by our backyardfor a few days to visit the cardinal flowers I planted to attract her.

I was so excited when this female ruby-throated hummingbird stopped by our backyard for a few days to visit the cardinal flowers I planted to attract her. She and butterflies pollinated these flowers, which are already forming seeds that I can plant next year to continue the cycle.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly is just a blur on an aster as it flits from flower to flower in the native prairie on the Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas.  Sixty percent of Sprint's 240-acre campus is devoted to green space, including 60 acres of prairie grass and wildflowers and seven acres of ponds and wetlands.  It's a wildlife paradise.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly is just a blur on an aster as it flits from flower to flower in the native prairie on the Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. Sixty percent of Sprint's 240-acre campus is devoted to green space, including 60 acres of prairie grass and wildflowers and seven acres of ponds and wetlands. It's a wildlife paradise.

Here's why this beautiful flowering shrub is called Butterfly Bush.  These butterflies are int he butterfly garden at Powell Gardens in Lone Jack, Missouri, east of Kansas City.

Here's why this beautiful flowering shrub is called "Butterfly Bush." These butterflies are in the butterfly garden at Powell Gardens in Lone Jack, Missouri, east of Kansas City.

Text and photographs by Catherine Sherman, all rights reserved, October 2008.

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Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Science

Sunflower Season

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Kansas is the sunflower state, but we had to go to Oklahoma to find these vast sunflower crop fields (pictured above and at the bottom) near Quapaw in mid-September. 

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

Heading south on Highway 69 in Kansas, we passed mile after mile of green soybean rows and the brown stalks of ready-to-harvest feed corn.   Cattle and horse grazed in lush pastures.  It was the kind of perfect late summer day you want to bottle so you can release it in January.

The small yellow heads of wild sunflowers cheered us along the roadside and in fields that had escaped mowing and grazing, but it wasn’t until we crossed into Oklahoma that we really saw SUNFLOWERS –brilliant yellow that stretched as far as I could see.  Thankfully, I was wearing sunglasses, or I’d be blind today!

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, so I’m sure it was the first flower I ever learned about. Helianthus annuus, the annual sunflower, comes in 60 species.  Some species can grow as tall as fifteen feet.  The flower heads can be small as buttons or be as large as dinner plates.   I don’t think I’m biased, but the sunflower has got my vote as the most useful flower in the world.  If you can think of a more useful one, let me know.  (I’m making my case below.)

Native Americans discovered and domesticated the sunflower as early as 2,300 B.C. The earliest example of a fully domesticated sunflower was found in Tennessee.  The Incas used the sunflower as an image of their sun god, and the sunflower is regarded as the floral emblem of Peru.  Native Americans grew and used the sunflower for both food and oil.  They made a yellow dye from the flower heads and fiber from the stalks.  

The oil can be used for cooking, soap-making and even in the manufacture of paint.  I’ve used oil paints with sunflower oil, rather than linseed, in art. Domesticated sunflowers are grown ornamentally and for crops — seeds, oil and high-protein cattle feed. You can eat the seeds or make butter out of them.  The leaves can be used for cattle fodder.  Sunflowers even produce latex.  No part is wasted. 

Many birds love sunflower seeds, and some crop varieties have been developed with drooping heads to make it more difficult for the birds to get at the seeds.

Sunflowers in Fenway Victory Garden in Boston.

Sunflowers in a plot in Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston.

There are the weedy types that thrive along roadsides and in uncultivated areas that provide essential habitat for wildlife and insects.  Sunflowers are also good nectar and pollen sources. Some wild types creep into crop fields, where they’re popular with bees and butterflies, but not farmers.

Many composite flowers — the actual flowers are crammed together in the head — are called sunflowers, including some perennial species. The petals — or rays — can be yellow, maroon, orange or even other colors.

The Spanish introduced the sunflower into Europe in 1510, and sunflowers are now grown throughout the world.  Russia is the leading grower, followed by Argentina, the United States and Canada.  During the 18th century in Europe, members of the Russian Orthodox Church helped to make sunflower oil popular because it was one of the few oils not prohibited during Lent.  This could explain why Russia leads in its cultivation.

The seeds are used as chicken feed — and perhaps not coincidentally, two famous chicken restaurants in Pittsburg, Kansas, are not far from Quapaw– Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

The tuberous roots of the Helianthus tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke, can be eaten.  Now called a sunchoke, the old Jerusalem name of this perennial sunflower came from the Italian word for sunflower, girasole.  I’ve never tried a sunchoke, but it sounds interesting, if not delicious.

To learn more about sunflowers, click here.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

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Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies and Caterpillars

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

Who doesn’t love a pretty quartet of wings?  The flashy appearance of the Monarch butterfly’s brilliant orange and black wings is so perfect for Autumn.  And those white polka dots on black?  Very stylish and classic.  (The design also signals to birds — don’t eat me, I’m toxic!)

Monarch butterfly.

Monarch butterfly.

Black Swallowtail butterflies are gorgeous, too.  Black, yellow, iridescent blue.  The perfect color combination.  And those fabulous swallowtails! Definitely au courant.  I’m like a fashion photographer coaxing these beauties to show their best side as I chase them all over the neighborhood with my camera. (Click on the photos for a larger view.)

Black Swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail.

I’ve almost overlooked the less spectacular Cloudless Sulphur butterflies.  They’re understated, even plain.  They don’t have fancy swallowtails.  These small to medium-sized yellow and white sulphur butterflies can look like flower petals or leaves fluttering from a tree, which gives them an advantage in eluding birds that might want to eat them as they hunt for nectar, mates or a place to lay eggs.

A ten-year-old boy pointed to this Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar, saying it was in the "J" phase. It was one of the caterpillars hanging out at the Monarch Watch open house on Sept. 6, 2008, at the University of Kansas.

I saw this Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar hanging out at the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. A ten-year-old boy told me it was in the "J" phase as it prepares to pupate.

The males are a clear yellow above and yellow or mottled with reddish brown below.  The female is lemon-yellow to golden or white on both surfaces.  Both have mottling, which makes them look more like “moth-eaten” leaves.

Last summer was the first time I really noticed a Cloudless Sulfur butterfly. Certainly, I’ve seen them, but they aren’t showy.  The little yellow butterfly flitted in almost under my radar.  I saw one moving from blossom to blossom in my impatiens bed.  It unfurled its long proboscis into the narrow throat of each impatiens bloom. 

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar starting to pupate in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar starting to pupate in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

As the seed pods formed, I realized, hey, I was there at their conception.  I’m sort of their Godmother Nature. I’d plant these seeds instead of buying impatiens, thereby saving money and also bringing the cycle full circle.

When the pods seemed mature, I carefully gathered them.  The pod explodes when it’s touched.  That’s why they’re called impatiens — they’re impatient to get moving and germinating. 

But more about my impatiens project later — this is the Clouded Sulphur’s story.  Yet, you can’t separate pollination from butterflies and other pollinators. According to the Pollinator Partnership, almost 80 percent of the food we eat requires a pollinator.  A large number of these are insects such as bees and butterflies.

As more land is paved and more acreage tilled for crops, there are fewer places for pollinators to live.  About 30 percent of the Monarch butterfly’s summer breeding area is in croplands, where milkweeds — essential for Monarchs to eat — used to thrive, according to Monarch Watch.  Herbicides in crop fields have killed off a lot of the milkweed. Monarch Watch helps people plant milkweed in their gardens for the caterpillars to eat.  They also suggest nectar and host plants that many butterflies and their caterpillars will like.

Herbicides and frequent mowing along roadsides also have reduced habitat for wildlife. The Kansas Department of Transportation has reduced mowing along several of its highways to restore the prairie and move away from brome grass, which is poor habitat.   I enjoyed some of this restored roadside prairie on recent trips in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  What would the neighbors say if we restored our yard to prairie?  It’s a thought.  Wild blue indigo, the orange flowers of the butterfly weed and scores of other flowers among the grass are a beautiful sight.
Dennis Toll writes beautifully about the Flint Hills, including its many flowers, on his blog Flint Hills, Tall Grass.
Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly and an insect rival compete for space on a sunflower. A for sale sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly and an insect rival compete for space on a sunflower. A "for sale" sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

The restored roadside habitat also fosters a higher diversity of native bees that are essential for pollination, according to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch.  “There are dozens and dozens of species of bees, most of them small and not obvious to people,” Taylor says.
“Create a culture of appreciation for diversity,” Taylor suggests. “Change the vegetation in your garden to plants that foster pollinators.” 
Several butterfly enthusiasts have suggested useful butterfly websites.  Deb D. recommended the forums at gardenweb.com.   Mike of Clover Cove Farm, an herb farm near Nashville, suggested Butterfly Gardening and Conservation, which focuses on several types of butterflies.  His solution when caterpillars eat your herbs?  Plant more herbs!
 
Kristy G. of South Carolina inspired me to find out more about butterfly metamorphosis when she wrote about a swarm of Black Swallowtail butterflies that had devoured her parsley.  She wanted to know how she could follow their progress from caterpillar to adult.  More about that in a later post.
The Pollinator Partnership provides a wide range of information, including what plants will attract pollinators in different parts of the country.  Another good information source is Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  You can sign up for an emailing list and also participate in activities.  Check out my post on Monarch Watch.  Also check out the video on the Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Metamorphosis.
A Cloudless Sulfur butterfly chrysalis looks like a leaf in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch on the campus at the University of Kansas.

A Cloudless Sulfur butterfly chrysalis looks like a leaf in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch on the campus at the University of Kansas.

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