Tag Archives: Caterpillars

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.

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

How You Can Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly on White Swamp Milkweed Postcard  Monarch Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed Flower

Food and habitat for butterflies are dwindling every year.  You can help by planting milkweed for the monarch caterpillars to eat and nectar plants for butterfly nourishment, says Chip Taylor, entomologist at the University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a milkweed plant in our neighborhood butterfly garden. Beautiful golden dots adorn this treasure.

In May of 2012, several people in my neighborhood started a butterfly garden in one of our common shrub beds.   We got a late start, and the summer of 2012 was hot and dry, so we didn’t see much butterfly activity.  Fortunately, the winter of 2012-13 was wet, and the perennial plants revived and then thrived.  We  added more plants, which did so well that they need to be divided and moved apart in 2014 — if they survive the winter.  This summer, I counted a lot of black swallowtail caterpillars, as many as 20 at a time on bronze fennel and parsley plants.  I only saw a few monarch butterfly caterpillars, although the garden has four large milkweed plants.  Hopefully, next year the monarchs will find our garden.  I may order some caterpillars, too.  Here’s the link for ordering Monarch caterpillars: Monarch Rearing Kit.

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Click on this link for more information: One Beautiful Thing You Can Do to Help Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Watch Website.  Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration.

Monarch Watch Shop.

I’ve written many posts about butterflies and Monarch Watch.  Here’s one about the fall open house at Monarch Watch, which includes a lot of photographs: Butterfly School at Monarch Watch Fall 2009 Open House.

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Welcome to My Caterpillar Ranch

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk.  Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk. Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I used to freak out when I saw a caterpillar on one of my plants. Now, I’m disappointed when I don’t see them. And now how do I feel when I see them? So happy!

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant.  The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to.  I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food.   The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant. The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think it was the same one) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to. I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food. The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Many of the plants in my garden are members of the carrot family, which are the food source of Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. I’ve planted bronze fennel, parsley and dill, plus there’s wild Queen Anne’s Lace nearby. So far, the BST butterflies have only laid eggs on the fennel, so I was happily surprised when I found a large caterpillar on a dill plant, which is fifty feet from the rest of my butterfly garden.

The next day the caterpillar was gone, another casualty or was it pupating somewhere? Then I found a caterpillar struggling to crawl in the grass in the middle of my lawn. Where was he going? If he was from the dill plant, he’d already crawled more than 50 feet. I gave him a lift on a stick and stuck him on a fennel plant.  Then he pupated there.

I'm giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick.  I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate.  Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he'd be stepped on.

I’m giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick. I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate. Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he’d be stepped on.

About the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

What do Black Swallowtail Caterpillars eat?

I'm amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn.  If he was from my dill plant, he'd already traveled more than 50 feet.

I’m amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn. If he was from my dill plant, he’d already traveled more than 50 feet

This is one of the few times I've seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar.  Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don't mind me puttering around.  The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange "forked gland", called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake's tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn't smell anything, so I'm lucky.

This is one of the few times I’ve seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don’t mind me puttering around. The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange “forked gland”, called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake’s tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn’t smell anything, so I’m lucky.

Here's a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left.  To the right you can see a spider in its web.

Here’s a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left. To the right you can see a spider in its web. Butterflies have many predators at all stages in their development.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It's amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant.  The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It’s amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant. The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

Here's one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

Here’s one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard.  He seemed exhausted from his travels.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard. He seemed exhausted from his travels.

Below is a beautiful adult Black Swallowtail Butterfly, which I photographed on a coneflower in my garden. In addition to host plants for caterpillars, you also need many nectar flowering plants to attract and feed the adults. Bonus: Nectar flower plants are also beautiful!  From Monarch Watch: Tips on how to start a Butterfly Garden.

Click on any photo thumbnail below to see it full-size and in a slide show.

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Filed under Butterflies, Gardening, Insects, Nature, Photography

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

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

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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Filed under Animals, Biology, Education, Environment, Family, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Random, University of Kansas

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Blackswallowtail butterfly on bronze fennel.

A black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar chews on the bronze fennel in my garden.

I’ve been chasing butterflies with my camera — actually, there was just one black swallowtail butterfly.  I saw the first one of the season today, and it’s September 5.  What happened to the rest?  I’ve seen one monarch, a handful of yellows and possible even a zebra butterfly.  I spotted dozens more last year in the neighborhood by this time. 

Why does this matter?  Butterflies are among that essential group of animals called pollinators, necessary to transfer pollen to fertilize nearly 80 percent of our food crops.  Some, like bees, are disappearing at a rapid rate.  Without pollinators, there wouldn’t be much to eat.

I’ve planted enough flowers for a 24-course butterfly banquet. I’ve got butterfly bush, butterfly weed, stonecrop, coneflowers of all kinds, asters, zinnias, phlox…….yum, yum.  When I finally spotted a black swallowtail today, he or she flitted about the weed-whacked vegetation on the golf course — no nectar flowers there.  While just on my side of the fence, I had the Country Buffet awaiting….What’s the deal?

Black swallowtail butterfly.

This is the first black swallowtail butterfly I've seen this year. I couldn't get it to pose on a flower.

I did follow the progress of about two dozen black swallowtail caterpillars on my bronze fennel (a member of the parsley family) throughout the summer  — evidence that butterflies did flutter in and lay eggs, probably while I was sitting at my computer complaining online to fellow “butterfly nerd” friends that there weren’t any butterflies.

I’m heading soon to the Pollination Garden open house at the University of Kansas.  I’ll find out what’s going on with butterflies this year and let you know. To learn more, go to the links to Pollinator Partnership and Monarch Watch on my blogroll.

If you were a butterfly, could you pass this up? Delicious!

If you were a butterfly, could you pass this up these flowers? Delicious!

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Filed under Biology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, University of Kansas