Tag Archives: Entomology

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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Camouflage #Fail

Katydids are usually heard, but not seen. With their leaf-shaped green wings they blend in perfectly with greenery. This katydid didn’t get the memo.

I rarely see katydids, unlike their grasshopper distant relatives, which boldly munch on my flowers and vegetables. Katydids are more reclusive, heard but not often seen.  They are related to crickets, another noisy insect.  Katydids’ green leaf-shaped wings help them to blend in with the greenery. This “katydidn’t” get the memo. He (or she) was resting on the sidewalk, where he definitely didn’t blend in. How long before a hungry bird finds him?

True Katydid.
About the katydid family.

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Bite Me!

I’ve been harvesting a small bowl of raspberries every day for more than a week. The first day, I counted four chigger bites. You’d think that would be a warning, but no! Day two, I picked up 100 chigger bites. I’ve finally wised up by wearing bug spray, changing my clothes and scrubbing my skin right after each picking session. A big price to pay, but the raspberries are delicious!

I don’t take my own advice.  Another year of berry picking, another year of chigger bites.  I don’t like to cover myself in chemicals every time I pick a few berries on my raspberry bushes and thought I could handle a few chigger bites as a result of going unprotected.  So much for that flawed plan.  Now, I’m covered in chigger bites. I’m about to go out of my mind with itching, even though I’m taking prednisone and smearing on cortisone cream. So I didn’t avoid chemicals, after all.

This is a chigger, enlarged about 1,500 times. Chiggers are red until they are engorged, when they turn yellow. They feed on our dissolved skin cells, not blood. (Photo — Dr. W. Calvin Webourn, the Ohio State Acarology Laboratory.)

My son claims he doesn’t get chigger bites, or at least he’s not allergic to their bites. The allergic reaction is what causes the welts.  I look as if I have measles! Can’t scientists find a way to make me less tasty or less allergic to chigger bites? Maybe I should have made that my life’s work.  My son is very allergic to poison ivy, though, while I seem to be immune.  Poison ivy has invaded my raspberry bushes, so at least I don’t have to worry about suffering from that scourge. (I’m stopping here to knock on wood.)

This is an earlier post I wrote about my struggle with chiggers. You’ll wonder how I could have forgotten this terrible ordeal and not protected myself.   All about Chiggers.   And being victimized by fire ants Ouch! That Hurts!

Poison ivy flourishes in the berry patch. You can see it in the lower center of the photo. I’ve sprayed it with herbicide. But the poison ivy just grows even more luxuriantly! To add insult to injury, it may even be hosting chiggers.

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Monarch Watch Spring 2012 Open House and Plant Sale

Chip Taylor's Doppelganger greets visitors at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Sale. Dr. Taylor is the director and founder of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Chip Taylor’s Doppelganger greets visitors at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Sale. Dr. Taylor is the director and founder of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Hundreds of people visited the open house and plant sale at Monarch Watch on Saturday, May 12, at the University of Kansas. About 4,000 plants were for sale for butterfly gardening, including plants to nurture both caterpillars and adults. Many of the plants are native to northeast Kansas.  Monarch Watch, founded by internationally renowned entomologist Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor, is dedicated to the education about, conservation of and research about Monarch butterflies. It works closely with schools and with researchers. I’ve posted several articles and photographs on this blog about Monarch Watch.  Here’s my post about the 2009 Monarch Watch Spring Open House.

Here’s an article about about a previous Fall open house.  Be sure to check the Monarch Watch site for the dates of the fall open house and the butterfly tagging event, both in September. You can find more of my articles by doing a search for “Monarch Watch” or “butterflies” in my search box.  Here’s the official Monarch Watch site.

Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, talks with visitors at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Sale at the University of Kansas. Here, a KU faculty member on his way to commencement activities stops to buy some tropical milkweed plants.

Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, meets with visitors at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Sale at the University of Kansas. Here, a KU faculty member on his way to commencement activities stops to buy some tropical milkweed plants.


Many of the butterfly plants for sale at the Monarch Watch open house are native to northeast Kansas.

Many of the butterfly plants for sale at the Monarch Watch open house are native to northeast Kansas.


Here are some photos of the Monarch Watch garden on the campus of the University of Kansas. The garden is a way station to provide milkweeds, nectar sources and shelter needed to sustain to Monarch butterflies as the migrate through North America. People are encouraged to create their own Monarch way stations and pollination gardens. Monarch Watch sells plants for butterfly gardens at its annual Spring open house.

Here are some photos of the Monarch Watch garden on the campus of the University of Kansas. The garden is a way station to provide milkweeds, nectar sources and shelter needed to sustain to Monarch butterflies as the migrate through North America. People are encouraged to create their own Monarch way stations and pollination gardens. Monarch Watch sells plants for butterfly gardens at its annual Spring open house.


A child poses for a photograph in a Monarch Butterfly at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Annual Open House and Plant Sale. Lots of activities were available for children to enjoy.

A child poses for a photograph in a Monarch Butterfly at the 2012 Monarch Watch Spring Annual Open House and Plant Sale. Lots of activities were available for children to enjoy.


Children select their Monarch caterpillars, which they will take home with a milkweed they have purchased from the plant sale.

Children select their Monarch caterpillars, which they will take home with a milkweed they have purchased from the plant sale.


People wait in line to buy their plants at the 2012 Monarch Watch annual Spring open house and plant sale.

People wait in line to buy their plants at the 2012 Monarch Watch annual Spring open house and plant sale.


A boy proudly shows off his Monarch caterpillar, which he will take home with a milkweed plant to sustain it.

A boy proudly shows off his Monarch caterpillar, which he will take home with a milkweed plant to sustain it.


Awaiting its new home in my garden, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar hangs out on a tropical milkweed plant I bought at the Monarch Watch plant sale. When you buy a large tropical milkweed, you got a caterpillar, too. I've always had good luck attracting Monarch butterflies to tropical milkweed plants in my garden, although the plants don't survive the winter.

Awaiting its new home in my garden, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar hangs out on a tropical milkweed plant I bought at the Monarch Watch plant sale. When you buy a large tropical milkweed, you got a caterpillar, too. I’ve always had good luck attracting Monarch butterflies to tropical milkweed plants in my garden, although the plants don’t survive the winter.

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Ouch! That Hurts!

White and Yellow Rose with Honeybee Postcard postcard
Here’s one of the roses I was photographing  in Texas when I was stung by fire ants. 

Birdwatchers have a life list of birds they want to see. I, unfortunately, am ticking off a list of different type — arthropods that have bitten me. So far, I’ve been bitten or stung by ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, chiggers, a wasp, a bee, a horsefly and now fire ants. Please no more bug bites! When I was a kid, one of the scariest movies I saw was “The Naked Jungle,” about an attack of army ants on a South American plantation.

Recently, I was photographing roses in a Texas rose garden in when my sandal-clad feet started to itch. I looked down and saw tiny ants milling over my feet. I brushed them off, did some scratching and thought that was the end of it. Most ants rush to protect their queen when an invader (me, in this case) appears, but fire ants, an invader to North America, attack.  They inject a toxin when they sting.

Here's where a fire ant stung me on my toe. I have several of these, they hurt, and they haven't improved in ten days.

My brother-in-law, whose legs are peppered with the tiny scars of fire ant bites, told me that fire ant bites produce pustules. I looked at my toes. No sign of any damage. But then three days later, the pustules appeared. They are more ugly than painful, although they do hurt and itch. There goes my career as a foot model.

Now I know why Texans wear cowboy boots, even if they never get near a horse or cow.  About Fire Ants.

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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

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