Category Archives: Natural History

Bountiful Butterfly Garden

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

As summer draws to a close, our neighborhood butterfly garden is now a flowering paradise finally crowded with bugs and animals. During June, July and August, the garden reminded me of a dinner party where few of the guests showed up, despite the mass of plants that bloomed all summer. We did get a lot of rabbits, who found the young plants very tasty and ate them almost to the dirt.  Joan, one of the hardest working neighborhood gardeners, built cages around the tender coneflowers and tropical milkweed plants so that they’d have a chance to provide food for other animals, and of course to be beautiful for our enjoyment.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

I’ve seen many types of butterflies in the garden this week.  The two species I plant specifically for are the Monarch Butterfly and the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  We plant food plants for the caterpillars and lots of flowering plants that butterflies and other pollinating insects prefer for nectar. For Black Swallowtail caterpillars, we plant bronze fennel and parsley. Monarch Butterfly caterpillars will only eat milkweed, and they sometimes are picky about which kind of milkweed.  Tropical milkweed is the most popular milkweed in our Kansas City area garden, and it has lovely scarlet and yellow flowers, too. Unfortunately, it’s an annual in our climate so it has to be re-planted every spring. I buy my plants from Monarch Watch on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, at their plant sale in May. Monarch Watch sells a lot of plants for butterflies and other pollinators.  Their butterfly garden is worth visiting.  They also have an open house in September every year.

Protecting and fostering pollinators is good for the environment and for our food supply. A large percentage of our food plants must be pollinated to produce a crop. On a recent visit to the garden, a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed by me. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are also pollinators, also visit the feeder at my house.

The Monarch butterfly population is in serious decline, so I would encourage everyone with a yard to plan a butterfly garden.  To find out more click on this link: Monarch Watch.

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn't provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn’t provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

Advertisements

15 Comments

Filed under Butterflies, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Kansas City, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography

Sue, The Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue in the Main Hall

Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois.

When I visit Chicago, Illinois, I like to visit my old friend Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. In early April, my husband and I got re-acquainted with Sue when we were in the city for a wedding.  We braved unseasonably cold weather, high wind (well, it is Chicago, the Windy City) and some snow and ice to see the old gal.  She looks pretty good for 67 million years old, although she does admit to some cosmetic help.

When I was refreshing my memory about Sue’s many attributes and history, I was thrilled to read that the T rex mural on the wall behind Sue is by John Gurche, a University of Kansas graduate. I’d met John Gurche years ago while I was at KU and am always happy to discover one of his works. I bought his dinosaur stamps, and of course I never used them on an envelope. (What would happen to the U.S. Postal Service is all of the stamp collectors suddenly used all of their stamps as postage!)  Gurche’s work is featured in museums and in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and the Boston Globe. He was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Sue again, so I will get my next fossil fix at the KU Museum of Natural History.  And one of these days I’ll post my story about a dinosaur dig I went to in Wyoming near Newcastle.

About Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

 

Dinosaur Stamps

John Gurche’s U.S. Postage Dinosaur Stamps.

About John Gurche.

 

 

11 Comments

Filed under Biology, Natural History, Paleontology, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

See You Later, Alligator

Alligator Hazard on the Golf Course Postcard

Alligators are an added hazard on this South Carolina golf course.

Alligators are common in the wetlands along the coast of America’s South — Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.  Large alligators can be found swimming in and basking along the edges of golf courses and neighborhood ponds.  We saw many on recent trips to South Carolina.  At first alligators are both a thrilling and a chilling sight, but you do get used to seeing them.  But don’t get too complacent! Though alligators usually shy away from humans, it’s wise not to get too close. They can hurt or even kill you.  There are alligator warning signs everywhere. Dogs can never run loose, either. I used a telephoto lens, but even so I may have been too close.  You never know what’s lurking just below the surface.  On a Florida ranch, an 800-pound 15-foot-long alligator recently was killed.  It had been eating cattle that came to a pond to drink.

A mother alligator keeps a watching eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. The most danger to a baby alligator is from adult alligators.

A mother alligator keeps a watchful eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina, where a large number of baby alligators are living. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. One of the biggest dangers to a baby alligator is an adult alligator.

Alligators are Dangerous!

Alligators are Dangerous!

My friend Anita took me to a pond in her neighborhood, where there were dozens of baby alligators — an alligator nursery.  A mother alligator rested in the water along the bank while the young alligators of various sizes swam in the pond and napped on the banks.  On the opposite side of the pond, Snowy Egrets gathered in the trees.  It was breeding season, and the egrets had grown filmy plumes that they fanned out in a mating display.  Anita noted that they looked like angels.  They did!

Hunters once killed these birds for these plumes to adorn ladies’ hats, which caused the numbers of these gorgeous birds to plummet. Now protected in the United States by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the snowy egret population has rebounded.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is a real stick for comparison.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is also a real stick floating in the water.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

Although abundant now, alligators were also threatened due to extensive hunting. Once hunted for their hides, alligators today are threatened mainly by habitat loss and encounters with people. They are hunted for their skin (for leather goods) and for their meat. Before hunting was controlled in 1970, an estimated 10 million alligators were killed for their skins.

Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the "alligator nursery" pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

Snowy Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the “alligator nursery” pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I'm assuming it's the same one.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I’m assuming it’s the same one.

Alligator Swimming in a South Carolina Pond Poster

This alligator, about five feet long, had been sunning himself (or herself) on the shoreline on a pond opposite our house on Seabrook Island, but when friends and I walked onto the deck of our house, he began to swim over to investigate us. He rested in the water for several minutes in the water just below us, seemingly staring up at us. It was a little unnerving even though we were safe on the deck!

About Alligators.

About Snowy Egrets.

8 Comments

Filed under Friendship, Natural History, Photography, Travel

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise retreats into his shell as tourists in another group gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands to learn more about this magnificent creature.

I visited the islands with my family in April 2015, and we toured the highlands was our first day.  It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots. Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

4 Comments

Filed under Animals, Biology, Environment, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

I Gotta Crow About Kauai Chickens

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying.  His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying. His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

Clucking and crowing chickens, crashing waves and whirring helicopters are the sounds I’ll always associate with Kauai, the oldest of the main inhabited Hawaiian islands.

Every morning during our too-short visit to paradise, my husband and I awoke to huge waves crashing on the beach in the bay outside of our house and the crowing of roosters.

A mother hen and her chicks would make the rounds of the neighborhood several times a day. First, you’d hear the cheep cheep cheep of the chicks and then the occasional cluck of the mother as they pecked their way through the grass and bushes of the yard.

Helicopters were often crossing the sky to take tourists to view the many incredible sights, which have often been filmed for movies (“Jurassic Park,” is one example.) I’ve only been in a helicopter once — to fly over Maui almost 20 years ago. It was gorgeous, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to get into a helicopter since. My husband and I did take a boat trip on this vacation. First time I ever got sea sick. (More about that later…)

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Chickens were everywhere! Other islands have wild chickens, (A rooster showed up for my son’s beach wedding in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands) but Kauai has CHICKENS. On every trail, on the beaches, in shopping center parking lots, on the sidewalks outside of restaurants, in parks, in churchyards, every neighborhood, everywhere. They are gorgeous and colorful. They are descended from the Junglefowl that the ancient Hawaiians brought with them centuries ago. They’ve bred with other types of chickens that others have brought to the island, but have mostly retained the gorgeous Junglefowl coloring. The chickens have no predator, other than man and cats, so they thrive.  People say they aren’t good to eat, so they are mostly even safe from humans. There are mongooses on some of the other islands, such as the Big Island and Maui, which eat chickens and eggs. There are mongooses on St. John, too. But mongooses were never introduced to Kauai.

Here’s What I Wrote About The Mongoose in an Earlier Post.

Here are some of my chicken photos. Yes, I do like to take photos of chickens, maybe a little too much.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3 Comments

Filed under Animals, Birds, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

Don’t Be a Silly Goose! Fly South for the Winter!

Whose idea was it to spend winter here?

Recently, I was walking Loki, the family dog, when I saw a flock of Canada Geese (a gaggle ?) on a frozen pond in my Kansas City area neighborhood. It was a beautiful sight. The low afternoon sun cast a golden glow onto the melting water, reflecting the geese and the yellow foliage of grass and cat tails. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t see the goose poop scattered artistically across the frozen surface. I took the dog home and returned with my camera. The geese don’t like paparazzi, so they headed to the opposite side of the pond.

These geese like the neighborhood.  After a heavy snow, I saw the geese gathered on a golf course, taking advantage of a lack of golfers.

About Canada Geese.

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

8 Comments

Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Humor, Kansas City, Natural History, Photography

Massive Fire Near Yosemite National Park

A giant sequoia towers above visitors to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne is one of three named sequoia groves in Yosemite.

A giant sequoia towers above visitors to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne is one of three named sequoia groves in Yosemite.

A year ago (September 2012) my husband and I visited Yosemite National Park, a magnificent place.  Here are some photos from the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is near the Rim Fire, California’s fourth largest fire since 1932. It’s burning an area more than seven times larger than San Francisco (about 368 square miles), according to an NBC story. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that the Rim Fire was 75% contained Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

The Yosemite park staff posted this on its Facebook page: Giant sequoias are resistant to, and thrive on, frequent small fires that naturally burned every several years. In order to protect the giant sequoias from the extremely intense Rim Fire, crews performed some protective work in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias just over a week ago (as you can see in this video). Since then, firing operations in the area have provided additional protection. So, while fire maps show the Tuolumne Grove within the fire perimeter, the giant sequoias are safe. 

You can see the video by clicking on Post by Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park Facebook Page

Why a Century of Fire Prevention Means Trouble for Yosemite’s Giant Sequoias

Click on any thumbnail to see a much larger size in a slide show, including Tuolumne Signs in a readable size.

Yosemite National Park video.

3 Comments

Filed under Conservation, Natural History, Photography, Travel