Tag Archives: University of Kansas

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

This is not how the University of Kansas’ final trip to Columbia, Missouri, was supposed to end, with the No. 4 University of Missouri Tigers men’s basketball team beating the No. 8 KU Jayhawks 74-71 down to the end buzzer game. Mizzou, as the MU Tigers call themselves, is leaving the Big Twelve. The whole league is busting up. Colorado and Nebraska have left, too. Traitors!

To console myself, I listen to the Rock Chalk chant, which Teddy Roosevelt called the greatest college chant he ever heard. Bully for you, Teddy!

The KU-MU rivalry is a special one. It dates back to the violent Border Wars of the Civil War between anti-slavery and pro-slavery groups that shook towns in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of Missouri during the 1850s. Some in Missouri, then a slave state, wanted to influence whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state in an era called “Bleeding Kansas.” In 1861, the opening year of the war, Kansas forces plundered and burned six Missouri towns and large areas of the western Missouri country side. Missourians (known as bushwackers) under William Quantrill then led a retaliatory raid on Lawrence, Kansas two years later in which Lawrence was burned and 200 people murdered. Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas.

KU leads the match-up at 171-95. The teams meet again in Lawrence on Feb. 25, 2012. KU is The Basketball School, so they must prevail. The Jayhawks men’s basketball program is one of the most successful and prestigious programs in the history of college basketball. The Jayhawks’ first coach was the inventor of the game, James Naismith. About the KU Jayhawk's Men's Basketball team.
To read more about this college rivaltry as well as the violence between the states during the Civil War, click on the link.
Border War (Kansas–Missouri rivalry)

And then there were nine: NCAA Big Twelve Conference.

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Butterflies and Caterpillars — Oh, My!

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Purple Statice Postcards
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Purple Statice

This year in my garden, I added more host and nectar plants to the caterpillar and butterfly menu, but I haven’t seen many butterflies.  Maybe I should get outside more — and weed!  I know they visit, because I’ve found plenty of caterpillars on my plants, particularly the bronze fennel.  Sometimes there are dozens of Black Swallowtail (BST) caterpillars on my many fennel plants.

If you click on the photo you can see a tiny black swallowtail caterpillar on the far fennel stem in the front pot. It kind of looks like bird shit. That’s what the two large caterpillars looked like a week earlier when I gave the potted fennel to J and V. The baby was just an egg. My brother emailed me this photo to show me how voracious these critters are. Hopefully, they can supplement the menu with parsley.

I gave several potted bronze fennel plants to my brother “J” and his wife “V”.  The fennel plants I gave them were hosting some tiny BST caterpillars.  But BST caterpillars don’t stay tiny for long.   My brother emailed me a week later, saying they had “caterpillar overload” and wanted to know what else to feed the ravenous, voracious caterpillars.  He and V were afraid the caterpillars would starve.  The caterpillars had almost eaten the potted fennel to the dirt.  I suggested they buy parsley at the store, put it in water and hope the caterpillars don’t mind the change in menu.  V, a special education teacher for preschoolers, said her students are enthralled every year when they raise Monarch caterpillars, which require milkweed to eat.

A Monarch Butterfly caterpillar eats a swamp milkweed leaf in my garden.

BST caterpillars must eat members of the dill family, such as dill, parsley and fennel. (It’s amazing that’s all they need to eat.  Imagine just living and thriving on garnish!)  This fall, I’ll pot more fennel to give to friends to plant to attract more BST butterflies.  As development spreads,  there are fewer wild areas for butterflies and caterpillars to flourish, so we need to help them along by providing food and habitat.  Bronze fennel will seed itself and is a perennial, so it’s a great caterpillar host plant.  It does get tall and wide, though, so you need a large sunny spot for it in the back of your flower bed.

This summer, I saw many butterflies at Pendleton’s Country Market, which I visited with my daughter and her fiance to choose flowers for their September wedding.  The top photograph is from our visit to the fields.   The Pendletons grow plants for butterflies and their caterpillars in addition to flowers for cutting.  They also have a butterfly house you can visit.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Coneflower Postcard

From Jim Lovett of Monarch Watch: Greetings Monarch Watchers!

Here’s brief update to kick off the 2010 Monarch Migration/Tagging Season…

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Status of the Population
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The 2009-2010 overwintering monarch population in Mexico covered a forest area of only 1.92 hectares. This figure represents an all time low for overwintering monarchs and is well below the long-term average of 7.44 hectares (1994-2010). We worried about these low numbers because of the possibility that a devastating storm could drive the population even lower. And then it happened — a storm of the worst possible dimensions hit the overwintering area starting on February 2. Accounts of the flooding and landslides can be found on the Monarch Watch Blog at

http://monarchwatch.org/blog/category/mexico/

Attempts to find out how the monarchs fared following these winter storms were unsatisfactory. We estimated that at least 50% of the monarchs died during the winter months, recognizing that this value could have been low.

Fortunately, the conditions encountered by the monarchs that reached Texas were favorable. The result, in spite of the low number of returning monarchs, was a substantial first generation. These butterflies colonized much of the northern breeding area from late April to mid-June.

It appears thmonarchs are making a modest recovery and we expect the overwintering population will measure close to 3 hectares.

For a more detailed status and updates throughout the season please visit the Monarch Watch Blog at http://monarchwatch.org/blog/ at the

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Monarch Tagging Kits
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We have begun shipping out tagging kits for the 2010 monarch butterfly tagging season – all of those ordered from January-June this year are on their way and those ordered last month should go out this week. New orders should be turned around within a week so if you haven’t ordered tags yet there is still time. :-)

You can find all of the information about ordering tags, downloading additional data sheets, and our tagging program in general at

http://monarchwatch.org/tagging

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Chip in For Monarch Watch
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Last year was our first “Chip in for Monarch Watch” fundraising campaign – a chance for Monarch Watchers, colleagues, friends, and family across the planet to show their support of Monarch Watch and its director Chip Taylor who brought the program to life nearly two decades ago.

By the end of the campaign, more than $23,000 was contributed by nearly 500 donors – wow! These funds put us in the best financial position we have ever been in heading into the winter season.

Many of you asked if we would be making this an annual fundraising campaign and we think that is a great idea! Although we accept donations at any time (http://monarchwatch.org/donate/), this formal effort will be a yearly reminder to renew your support and give you the opportunity to share your monarch stories or other comments with us. If you haven’t viewed the comments and photos submitted last year, we encourage you to do so – the connections facilitated by monarchs and Monarch Watch are truly extraordinary.

The 2010 “Chip in for Monarch Watch” campaign will run through the entire month of August – if you enjoy and/or appreciate all that Monarch Watch offers throughout the year, please consider making a donation today…it’s quick, easy, secure, and fully tax-deductible. As you may know, we rely on these contributions to allow us to continue to offer educational, conservation, and research programs and resources.

Donations to Monarch Watch are managed via the KU Endowment Association (KUEA) here at the University of Kansas and 100% of your donation will go to Monarch Watch – none of it will be used for KUEA operating expenses. Donations may be made by phone, online, or by mail and you can easily set up a monthly or annual gift. Also, many employers offer matching programs, effectively doubling your gift.

Please take some time to visit our “Chip in for Monarch Watch” page and pledge your support before the end of the month. If you have any questions about this campaign please feel free to drop us a line anytime!

Chip in for Monarch Watch 2010: http://monarchwatch.org/chip

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Filed under Butterflies, Education, Entomology, Environment, Family, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, University of Kansas

2010 Commencement at the University of Kansas

Potter Lake on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

As any Kansas Jayhawk knows, visiting the University of Kansas campus, particularly at Commencement time, is a sacred experience.  One of my nephews graduated from KU on May 16, 2010, so of course I made the holy pilgrimage!  The weather was overcast, threatening rain, but we enjoyed the day with little more than a sprinkle.

My sorority, Chi Omega, is in the background of this landmark -- the Chi Omega fountain. It's a popular photo spot, as you can see here. Our group portraits often were taken in front of it. During my college days, the Chi O house didn't have air conditioning, so there were many nights when I tossed and turned in the early Autumn humid heat listening to the fountain through my open window.

The KU campus in the city of Lawrence is one of the loveliest in the country.  If you don’t believe me, just ask another Jayhawk! KU is perched on Mount Oread, adorned with a jewel of a lake and landscaped with native and ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers.  I took an urban botany class while a KU student and got to know many of the trees personally. We still keep in touch.

Bernadette Gray-Little, the new chancellor, addressed the graduates, reminding us what a treasure our university is as she told us about her first year on The Hill. We have one of the most recognizable mascots — the Jayhawk. Come on, admit it, you’ve seen a Jayhawk, even though it’s a mythical bird.

Education graduates line up with their blue balloons, preparing for their walk down the hill into Memorial Stadium.

Our chant is notable, too.  Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU. Teddy Roosevelt called it his favorite college cheer. Maybe he was shouting it when he charged up San Juan Hill!

The march down the hill is very festive, almost like a carnival, with some graduates turning cartwheels, walking arm in arm or holding the hand of their child.   Many wore accessories like feather boas or leis or messages on their mortar boards.  Many carried balloons.  One graduate carried a fake ficus tree in a pot. What was that all about?

One young woman tossed off her cap and gown and was wearing a “Where is Waldo?” outfit. I kept looking for her in the stands. Even in that costume, she was hard to spot among the thousands of graduates.  The whole procession takes a little over an hour. 

I walked down the hill as a graduate years ago. We all made it into the stadium and were seated when it started to rain.  The chancellor declared us all graduated, and we all left.  But the best part of the ceremony is the walk down the hill anyway.

More serious graduation ceremonies were held earlier for the various schools and departments.

Graduates pass through a line of faculty to get to their seats. Here, a graduate introduces her baby -- a future Jayhawk?

We are happy to celebrate the success of this great university, forged during the Civil War.

The city of Lawrence was founded in 1850s by abolitionists from Massachusetts who knew they wanted to start a university.   Here’s what the Commencement program had to report:

“Lawrence’s early days were violent, the most deadly being the 1863 raid led by pro-slavery guerrilla William Quantrill and his band of ruffians from neighboring state Missouri.  During the bloody ransacking, the town was virtually destroyed, and nearly 200 men were murdered.  The pre-dawn attack continues to spawn conversation today.”

The Jayhawk mascot visits with graduates.

This conversation is called the border war and breaks out especially during football and basketball season.  KU has some mighty fine teams.  James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was KU’s first basketball coach. KU has won twelve National Championships: five in men’s basketball (two Helms Foundation championships and three NCAA championships), three in men’s indoor track and field, three in men’s outdoor track and field, and one in men’s cross country.  On April 7, 2008, the Jayhawks defeated Memphis 75-68 in overtime to win the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  The KU football team has played in the Orange Bowl three times: 1948, 1968, and 2008.

In 1951, the Memorial Carillon and Campanile was dedicated in honor of the 276 KU men and women who had given their lives in World War II. Music from the 53 bells is an integral part of campus life.

The Commencement program stated: “Joyfully, just three years after the horror of the Quantrill raid, KU opened for business.”  Tuition was $30 per year.

Quantrill’s raid is vividly depicted in Ang Lee’s “Ride With The Devil.”

Various KU websites list notable alumni and faculty.  I’ve been lucky to meet or interview a few of them for articles.  One is internationally known paleontologist Larry D. Martin, who with David Burnham, discovered in 2009  a venomous, birdlike raptor that thrived about 128 million years ago in China.  In 1975, I met Dr. Martin at a dig of Pleistocene mammals, The Natural Trap, Wyoming.  In 2004, I visited Dr. Martin at a dig of Jurassic dinosaurs near Newcastle, Wyoming, and will post about that in the future.  Another person I was privileged to interview was Cora Downs, a professor of microbiology, who developed the flourescent dye that is used to identify and trace bacteria and viruses. I also interviewed Takerua Higuchi, a KU professor, known as the “father of physical pharmacy.”

Graduates celebrating!

Among notable alumni are Elmer McCollum, who discovered Vitamins A, B and D;  Walter Sutton, who discovered that chromosomes come in pairs and carry genes; Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the recently demoted Pluto, now a dwarf planet; doomsayer Paul Ehrlich (“The Population Bomb”) and  Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, formerly Kansas governor,  whom non-Kansans may know as the official who recently taught a reporter how to sneeze into his elbow at a press conference on the flu.

Graduates appear on the big screen as they stroll into the stadium with their own festive accessories.

Click on famous University of Kansas faculty and alumni for a more complete list.  (I’m not on the list, ha, ha.)

Official University of Kansas website.

My post on the KU Museum of Natural History.

This Week in KU History.

Wikipedia Entry on the University of Kansas.

Link to photo gallery of KU Commencement.

In an annual tradition, medical school graduates open bottles of champagne.

The School of Education graduates release their balloons.

Check out the KU commencement photos on facebook.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little gives her first KU Commencement Address.

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Filed under Education, History, Kansas, Life, Personal, Photography, University of Kansas

Monarch Butterflies in Space

KU Professor to help send monarchs into space

By RON SYLVESTER

The Wichita Eagle

(published in Kansas City Star on Nov. 16, 2009)

LAWRENCE, Kan. – (By Ron Sylvester) Chip Taylor is used to people giving him strange looks.

As director of Monarch Watch and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, Taylor has placed radio tags on butterflies and tracked them across pastures and plains.

Sending monarchs to space is not that far-out an idea to him.

Three of Taylor’s monarch caterpillars are set to blast off to the International Space Station on Monday aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

Why send butterflies to space?

To study the effects of gravity.

And yes, the thought of sending butterflies to space has drawn some quizzical looks.

But Taylor is used to that in his field.

“We got strange looks last summer when I was working with National Geographic and we radio tagged a butterfly,” Taylor said. “We have to go knock on somebody’s door and say ‘Can we go look for our radio-tagged butterfly? We think it landed in your pasture.’ I mean, you talk about having strange looks.”

Studying insects helps us learn how the world around us works, Taylor said, and how it affects our lives.

“The nature of what we do is to find out what life is all about,” Taylor said. “When you’re doing that sort of thing you’re up close and personal with all these insects, and that’s something people aren’t comfortable with.”

About 600 individuals and schools will be able to watch the caterpillars develop as they orbit in the space station, about 220 miles outside the earth’s atmosphere.

The schools will receive their own caterpillars in a small rearing station similar to that in the space station.

Students will watch those in their classrooms develop and compare them to how the caterpillars grow in space. Researchers hope they’ll turn into butterflies sometime after Thanksgiving.

The object, Taylor said, is to see how gravity, or the near-zero gravity in the space station, affects the insects. These will be the first of their species to travel in space.

“It is so gravity oriented,” Taylor said. “None of the insects they’ve taken up into space have had a particularly strong gravity orientation. The monarchs do. They’re going to be in a nearly weightless environment. It could pose all sorts of different problems for them.”

That will tell scientists more about movement and how life functions, said Steve Hawley, Kansas professor of physics and astronomy and an astronaut on five shuttle missions.

“The more we learn about how physiology works in space whether it’s human physiology or insect physiology or plant physiology the more we’ll be able to use that information on the ground to understand fundamentally how biological systems work,” Hawley said in a statement from the university.

Monarch Watch is working on the project with the BioServe Space Technologies program at the University of Colorado.

Stefanie Countryman, business development manager with BioServe, said their program created habitat and stringent requirements for the butterflies in space.

But they had no food.

Taylor and his Kansas program developed an artificial food for the caterpillars. That’s how they’ll eat in space.

Since April, Taylor has been perfecting the artificial diet.

“That’s what’s making this all possible,” Taylor said.

A study guide being sent to the schools explains that monarch caterpillars walk with 16 legs and spin silk to attach themselves to surfaces.

“What will happen when they lose their grip?” the guide asks, referring to the force of gravity on liftoff or the weightlessness of space.

How the caterpillars are able to react could teach astronauts how to move better in space, the study guide says.

“You win if they succeed, you win if they fail, because you learn something,” Taylor said. “You learn what their limitations are when they fail. You learn how they adjust if they succeed.”

People will be able to follow the experiment through photos, videos and other information at the program’s Web site: http://www.monarchwatch.org/space.

Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Entomology, Insects, Life, Natural History, Nature, Science, Technology, University of Kansas

Natural Trap, Wyoming, 1975

In August 1975, there were three ways to get to the bottom of the Natural Trap — scaffolding, rapelling and falling. I liked to rapel into the cave but climb the scaffolding back to the entrance.

In August 1975, while working for the University of Kansas, I was assigned to report on a dig in a cave in Wyoming. I didn’t know the Miocene from the Eocene, but I was happy to be on the road, it was a paid week out of the office, and I wanted to get back to Wyoming for a visit. I didn’t get paid expenses, so a friend and I camped out along the way to save money, making a stop at Yellowstone National Park.  I still remember the bird-sized mosquitoes buzzing around the tent, driving us crazy.  We eventually slept in the car.

Here I am standing outside of my Army Surplus tent. To the left you can barely see an overturned car from the early 1960s that had been used for target practice. The paleontologists’ camp was near derelict uranium mining camp cabins. (August 1975)

The dig itself was a thrilling adventure beginning with the drive up the boulder-strewn single-lane John Blue Canyon into the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains (below the road was the carcass of a Range River that didn’t survive).  Once there, we lived in Army surplus tents, ate grilled Cornish game hen and rapelled into the cave, which was packed with fossils from the Pleistocene epoch.
I soon got a crash course in paleontology. For thousands of years during the Pleistocene Epoch, mammals had fallen into an 85-foot-deep cave on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains. Paleontologists from KU and the University of Missouri at Columbia were digging up the bones of thousands of animals, such as mammoths, cheetahs, camels, bison, bears and horses. (After horses went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, they didn’t populate North America again until the Spanish brought them in the 1500s. )

Paleontologist Larry Martin examines a specimen.

I’ve been hooked on paleontology ever since this trip. I don’t mean that I love the dirty and painstaking work of actually uncovering bones and fossils and trying to figure out what and how old they are, but the excitement of seeing discoveries made in exotic locales and learning about how these animals lived and died. I’m afraid that makes me a bone-digging voyeur.

 The dig revealed a lot about the climate in the area by the types of animals that were found.  The Pleistocene climate was marked by repeated glacial cycles.  At the maximum of this Ice Age, 30 percent of the Earth’s surface was covered by ice.  At the time of this dig, it was thought we were heading into another Ice Age. Newspapers and magazines warned that it could happen very quickly and that possibly a little more carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels might stave it off and keep us from freezing to death.

The food in camp was great!

Larry Martin, now head of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Kansas, was one of the expedition leaders at the dig, which was conducted with B. Miles Gilbert from the University of Missouri at Columbia from 1974 to 1980.  Some of the Natural Trap specimens are on display at K.U.’s Museum of Natural History. Paleontologist George Blasing featured Dr. Martin and the Natural Trap in Episodes Nine of “Jurassic Fight Club” on the History Channel. Dr. Martin has also appeared on NOVA.
I’ve kept up with Dr. Martin through the years and have written about K.U.’s dig of Jurassic dinosaurs near Newcastle, Wyoming. (More on that in a future post.)
Below is a story I wrote that appeared in several newspapers in 1975, including The Kansas City Star.  Except for a few minor editing changes, the story appeared as published below.

AUGUST 1975 — The western foothills of Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains are arid, red and rocky, peppered by clumps of pungent sage brush and dwarfed juniper trees.

A few cattle graze on the sparse grass, and an occasional deer bounds through a ravine, but the harsh terrain supports few animals.

It wasn’t always so desolate.  In the Pleistocene Epoch, 10,000 years ago and earlier, the Big Horn foothills teemed with large mammals.  It was a wetter climate.  The seasons were more moderate, the land more lush and more forested than today.

Herds of bison, horses and camels grazed on the meadows, stalked by fleet, long-legged bears and cats.  Mammoths lumbered through the valleys.  Bighorn sheep cropped hillside grasses.

The hills are limestone and pocked with caves and hollows.  One cave mouth was open to the sky at the end of a finger of land, affording no escape for a panicking herd pursued by a fast-moving predator.  This narrow peninsula was flanked by canyons which funneled predator and prey toward a rise, and then they all plummeted into the hole.  Hungry wolverines and jackal-like dire wolves, catching a tempting whiff of rotting meat, crept daringly on a ridge of melting snow along the edge and tumbled below.

Here the crew digs in the Natural Trap Cave. Working hours were short because the crew relied on natural light, which only fell in the cave from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Daylight was augmented by a few lamps.

As thousands of years passed, the cave gathered a scrambled mass of victims, preserved in layers, until a severe change in the climate wiped out most of the large mammals above, ending the cave’s carnage.

 Today (1975), paleontologists and anthropologists from the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri – Columbia are making an easier descent to the bottom of the cave to return the bones of those Pleistocene animals to the surface, where they become the survivors of their age.

A grate covers the opening of the Natural Trap to keep modern animals and people from falling in.

The hole, known as the Natural Trap, is a vast 85-foot-deep dome-shaped limestone cavern (karst sinkhole).  Tens of thousands of years ago part of the cavern’s roof fell in, making it a death-trap.

The names of the Pleistocene mammals in the trap may sound the same as some of the modern-day Big Horn animals — bighorn sheep, bison, bear — but the Pleistocene specimens were larger, different animals. The Pleistocene versions often had longer legs. The modern counterparts of other animals also found in the Natural Trap are smaller, such as wolves, wolverines and pronghorn antelope.  Other animals found in the Trap, such as horses, camels, American lion, mammoth, woodland musk ox and American cheetah, all went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene.

“I don’t think we have a good potential in a specimen from the cave that is a good ancestor of any animal now in the area, ” Dr. Martin said.

Humans, who hunted the large Pleistocene mammals for food, partly has been blamed for their extinction, but most of the evidence points to climatic change as the cause, not only in North America but world-wide, Dr. Martin said.

The paleontologists are studying soil samples and bone deposition, looking for clues to the climatic fluctuations of the past, useful in anticipating future climate changes.  The types of animals found in the trap probably will indicate the climate at the time since animals migrate to their favorite climates, Dr. Martin said.

In the forefront are Dr. Miles Gilbert, left, and Dr. Larry Martin, right, sorting a tray of specimens.

The specimens from the trap went to K.U. Museum of Natural History, which has the tenth largest vertebrate paleontology collection in the country.

There have been some remarkable finds, such as the cheetah-like cat, which has the characteristically long radius and ulna limb bones of the modern-day cheetah and has been found nowhere else in North America, Dr. Martin said.

“The cheetah-like cat found in the cave is the first good evidence that there was one in North America,” Dr. Martin said.  There were several cheetah-like cat specimens found in the trap with the small cheetah canine teeth, necessary to give more space in the nose area. To run as swiftly as it does, the cheetah requires a large lungful of air.

Larry Martin digs in one of the areas staked out in the Natural Trap.

The short-faced bear specimen is one of the most spectacular finds do far (as of August 1975), Dr. Martin said. The beat was a long-legged open country animal, adapted for running and more carnivorous than modern-day bears. (A fight between a short-faced bear Arctodus simus and an American lion Panthera atrox near the Natural Trap is featured in episode nine of the History Channel’s “Jurassic Fight Club” in 2008.)

The bones of horses are the most abundant specimens found. Many seemed to have landed on their feet, snapping their leg bones. The cave’s fine limestones preserved the bones well, but most were broken from the initial impact or later by roof fall and other carcasses.  To find the bones fragment, the crew sieves all of the dirt from each five-by-five section.  The pieces are then painstakingly washed, scrubbed with toothbrushes and sorted at camp. Some are glued there, the rest to be assembled at K.U.

Temporary scaffolding is erected and dismantled each summer, the most dangerous part of the expedition, Dr. Gilbert said.  The group couldn’t afford permanent scaffolding.  Many team members prefer to drop into the cave by rappelling, which was the only way to enter the cave before 1974. There is a natural ledge just below the cave opening from which it’s easy to rappel. Climbing out by jumaring on a rope is a much more strenuous exercise, so everyone climbs up the shaky scaffolding to get out of the cave.

The scaffolding rests in a depression where deposits continually are eroded by rainfall even though the annual precipitation averages less than 15 inches. Bones remain intact in a mound to the east of the scaffolding where the crew lie on their sides and stomachs picking at the dirt, ice picks and whisks brooms.  Dig sites were selected at random until a few productive sections were located.

The dining tent at Armpit Camp.

There are possibly 30 feet of deposits to excavate, Dr. Gilbert said. Specimens could be as old as 50,000 years at the bottom, but there’s no way to tell except to dig there.

“I personally don’t want to dig the entire cave,” Gilbert said.  “I’d like to leave a third or half of it for the future to investigate when they have better technology to understand it.”

George Blasing’s Blog “Dinosaur George” is on my blogroll at the right.

History Channel’s Jurassic Fight Club

About Larry Martin.

About the Pleistocene Epoch.

When the crew wasn’t working, there were classes about the area’s plants, animals and history. Some of us could barely stay awake after a late-night trip exploring another cave, which required climbing in and out by rope. We were led by a geologist mapping the caves for the U.S. Geological Survey. He liked to scare us by leading us into a cavern and then ask us which way we’d come. We never knew. Another time he told us to turn off our acetylene head lamps. It was very dark and unsettling to be so far under the earth. A couple of times while exploring caves we felt the earth shake from dynamite blasts and worried that more rocks would fall from the ceiling to join those on the cave floor.

Armpit Camp.

This is a section of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area north of the Natural Trap.

 

Sign at the opening to the Natural Trap, which is now closed.

An update: Natural Trap to Be Reopened. and The Daily Mail: The Natural Trap to Be Reopened.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Environment, History, Natural History, Nature, Paleontology, Science, Travel, University of Kansas

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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Assassin in the Garden

A Wheel Bug hangs out on a bronze fennel, which is the home of one of his favorite meals, the soft bodies of Black Swallowtail Caterpillars.

A Wheel Bug, an assassin bug, hangs out on a bronze fennel, which is the home of one of his favorite meals -- Black Swallowtail Caterpillars. This is a young Wheel Bug, which hasn't yet formed the characteristic wheel protrusion on its back.

Every day, I watch the progress of the Black Swallowtail (BST) caterpillars on my huge bronze fennel plant, which is home to a lot of other insects, including this character (see photo) who seemed to be hanging out and doing nothing while sitting on a fennel flower.  Very suspicious.  I thought he was up to no good.  He gave me this look that said:  “Hey, Lady, Don’t look at me.  I’m just minding my own business.”  Yes, exactly. What was his business?  What did he eat?  He wasn’t sipping flower nectar like the bees and wasps and occasional butterfly.  I confess after a couple of days, I gave the fennel a shake and this bug tumbled to the earth.  The next day I saw him slowly making his way back to the top.  I don’t know how much I should interfere to protect “my” BST caterpillars. Was this a “good” bug or a “bad” bug?

I emailed Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas about this bug.  Jim Lovett replied: “Looks like an immature wheel bug to me (Order: Hemiptera; Family: Reduviidae)…if you’re not familiar with this bug be sure to check out some images of the adult. It’s a neat little critter that always captures people’s attention – “little” of course is relative; adults wheel bugs can be 1.5 inches long. They use that piercing/sucking beak to puncture their prey (and can inflict a painful “bite” on us humans if mishandled). FYI – all hemipterans (the “true bugs”) have piercing/sucking mouthparts.”

I asked whether this bug would eat a BST caterpillar.

 Jim’s answer:  “Yes, it would. It is a common predator on caterpillars (and other soft-bodied insects) of all sorts.”

Here’s a link Jim suggested: Wheel Bug.  The Wheel Bug is the largest member of the Assassin Bug family and is related to stink bugs.  Mean and smelly!  But useful, too, because they eat a lot of damaging caterpillars.

 The next day, the Wheel Bug disappeared and so did a few of my smaller BST caterpillars.  I hope Mr. Wheely didn’t eat my caterpillars! 

To learn more about butterflies and caterpillars, click on Monarch Watch.   My most recent post on raising BST and Monarch caterpillars is here:  Survivor — Caterpillar Version.

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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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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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Monarch Watch

Gimme Shelter!  A monarch butterfly escapes the rain in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch.

Gimme Shelter! A monarch butterfly escapes the rain in the greenhouse at the annual Monarch Watch fall open house on the University of Kansas campus.

You can’t keep butterfly lovers away, even when it’s raining.  More than a thousand people, a lot of them children, showed up for the annual Monarch Watch fall open house on Sept. 6 at Foley Hall at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  That’s almost twice the usual number of visitors, according to entomologist Orley “Chip” Taylor, director of Monarch Watch.

Newly hatched Monarch butterflies cling to Chip Taylor's hat and beard as they harden their wings.  Taylor is the founder of Monarch Watch.

Newly hatched Monarch butterflies cling to Chip Taylor’s face and hat as they harden their wings.

The butterflies weren’t very active because of the damp weather, but the caterpillars still munched away on their favorite plants.  Caterpillars can be picky eaters, something children can identify with.  For example, the Monarch butterfly caterpillar will only eat milkweed plants, which contain poisons that make the Monarch toxic to animals that might eat it.  Fortunately, there are more than 140 species of milkweed. Unfortunately, there are fewer milkweed plants every year because of habitat destruction.

Taylor created Monarch Watch in 1992 to educate people about and to foster the conservation of Monarchs in North America. What Monarchs need most is a place to live and plants to eat in both their larval and adult phases.

“We’re losing 6,000 acres of viable habitat every day to development,” Taylor says.

Monarch Watch educates thousands of students and adults every year about Monarch migration, tagging, milkweed favorites, the life cycle of the Monarch and more.

The program encourages people to create pollinator habitats in their gardens.

“If you create the right environment, pollinators will come,” Taylor says.

Visitors stroll through the Certified Pollinator Garden during the annual open house at the Monarch Watch Headquarters.

Visitors stroll through the Certified Pollinator Garden during the annual open house at the Monarch Watch Headquarters.

Why should we care about pollinators?  According to the organization Pollinator Partnership, almost 80 percent of the world’s food crop plants depend on pollination.  Birds, bats and insects, such as bees, butterflies, beetles and mosquitoes, transfer pollen from flower to flower.  Without them, there wouldn’t be much for people to eat.

Last year, I had to hand pollinate my acorn squash with a paint brush because there weren’t enough pollinators to do the job. I learned a lot about the sex life of squash.  Since then, I’ve planted a lot of plants to attract bees and butterflies.  These plants produce beautiful blooms, so we can enjoy them, too.  Birds can also eat the seeds.

In addition to providing nectar plants, gardeners (that means everyone with a yard) should provide food plants for caterpillars.  They need to eat, too.  The caterpillar eating your parsley or dill will transform into a gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly, so don’t kill it.

More than 450 monarch butterfly chrysalides were given to children so they could watch a butterfly emerge. Here, Chip Taylor tells parents that 100 more will be available soon.

More than 450 monarch butterfly chrysalides were given to children so they could watch a butterfly emerge. Here, Chip Taylor tells parents that 100 more will be available soon.

Years ago I did kill some black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars that were chewing through my parsley.  I didn’t know what these caterpillars were, but ignorance is no excuse. Still, humans seem to have a natural revulsion to creepy crawly creatures, particularly those on their food plants. We need to resist that and learn more about these useful creatures. The sad thing is that I rarely use much parsley, anyway.  Now, I plant parsley and fennel just for caterpillars as seen in my post on Black Swallowtail butterflies and caterpillars.

I don’t kill caterpillars anymore, although I might make an exception for the tomato hornworm, which can devastate a tomato plant.  I saw a tomato hornworm on a tomato plant in the greenhouse at the open house.  I thought: They’re even raising hornworms!  The tomato hornworm, which can grow up to four inches long, turns into a hawkmoth, which almost looks like a hummingbird from a distance.

A Certified Pollination Garden at Monarch Watch's headquarters at KU shows visitors what kinds of plants attract pollinators.

A Certified Pollination Garden at Monarch Watch at KU shows visitors what kinds of plants attract pollinators.

This month, Monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains begin their long migration to mountain forests in Mexico, where they spend the winter.  Unlike most other insects in temperate climates, Monarch butterflies can’t survive a long, cold winter.  Monarch butterflies travel up to three thousand miles, much farther than all other tropical butterflies.  Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the same trees, according to Monarch Watch.

Somehow, the Monarchs know their way, even though the butterflies returning to Mexico (or California for west coast Monarchs) each fall are the great-great-great grandchildren of the butterflies that left the previous spring, according to Taylor.  No one knows exactly how this homing system works. Taylor talks about the Monarch migration and tagging Monarchs is this 2006 story.  New York Times story about Monarch Watch and the Monarch Butterfly Migration. Monarch Watch volunteers will be tagging Monarch butterflies east of Lawrence this month.  Taylor expects numbers to be lower than previous years, possibly because of a cooler spring.

Chip Taylor demonstrates how to hold a Monarch butterfly for tagging.

Chip Taylor demonstrates how to hold a Monarch butterfly for tagging.

The last Monarch hatch of the season is biologically and behaviorally different from earlier generations in the summer. It won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring.  It must fatten on nectar to make the long journey.   That’s why providing nectar flowers is so important.

Monarch Watch helps people to create certified pollination gardens and waystations that provide the right mix of nectar and food plants.  So far, more than 2,000 waystations have been certified, but many more are needed to provide resources throughout the year for monarchs as they move across the continent, Taylor says.  The waystations are also home to many other insect species, as well as birds.

Taylor and the members of Monarch Watch are advocates for all wildlife.  I first interviewed Taylor thirty years ago for a story about killer bees, so he knows about insects with a bad reputation, too.  As we move around and alter the landscape, we alter the mix of insects and animals that can live there.  Human activity sometimes makes it harder for the beneficial insects to survive.

“We use the charisma of Monarch butterflies to get people interested in other pollinators,” he says. What’s good for pollinators is also good for other animals.

This honeybee finds nectar on a tropical milkweed in the pollination garden at Monarch Watch on the KU campus.

This honeybee finds nectar on a tropical milkweed in the pollination garden at Monarch Watch on the KU campus.

Leave some wild areas in your yard, he suggests.

“Some people get into trouble with their neighbors for creating a more diverse, abundant landscape,” Taylor says. “But a wild and wooly garden provides a lot of food and protection for wildlife.”

City and suburban dwellers are often afraid of wildlife, but Taylor assures people that most pollinators aren’t dangerous.

“You practically have to pick up a bee in your hands to get stung,” he says.

Some public and private institutions are taking the lead.  The Kansas Department of Transportation has greatly reduced mowing along the right of way of some of its highways to restore the native grasses and wildflowers there.

The Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas, has restored sixty acres of its campus to natural prairie.

Among good sources of nectar:

  • impatiens
  • marigolds
  • lilacs
  • azaleas
  • sunflowers
  • ageratum

    Scary and beautiful is this Pipevine Butterfly caterpillar in the Monarch Watch greenhouse.

    Scary and beautiful is this Pipevine Butterfly caterpillar in the Monarch Watch greenhouse.

  • asters
  • butterfly bushes
  • purple coneflowers
  • zinnias

Caterpillar food plants include:

  • milkweeds
  • hackberry trees
  • snapdragons
  • willows
  • hollyhocks
  • members of the carrot family
  • thistles

To learn more go to www.pollinator.org or www.monarchwatch.org

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