Tag Archives: Flint Hills

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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Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills

 Cowboys herded cattle during the music of \

SYMPHONY in the FLINT HILLS   A symphony concert in a pasture?  Hmmmm?  Concert veterans Matt and Sue R. told us about the Kansas City Symphony’s third annual concert in the Flint Hills of Kansas on June 15.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

I love the symphony, but I thought of some drawbacks.  Chiggers, mosquitoes, snakes.   And Kansas summer weather.  It changes from hour to hour.  Hot, humid, thunderstorms, lightning, mud, floods, even tornadoes. Take your pick.   I experienced nearly all of them at Girl Scout camp……

(Later, I discovered a hazard I hadn’t thought of, though I should have known better.  Cowpies!  I stepped in one.  I worried about the other possible calamities for nothing.  I returned home unscathed without even a sunburn!)

Another attraction was our friends who had a vacation house on Lake Wabaunsee, which wasn’t that far away from the concert site.  The lake is interesting its own right because it was built by the CCC crews during the Great Depression, and cabins there housed German prisoners of War during World War II.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This year, the concert was just south of Council Grove, a three-hour drive from our house.  The location changes every year for variety and because the audience of five thousand people can do a lot of damage to the land, even if only for a day. 

 Matt and Sue, the old friends who’d gone to the second annual concert, did the hard work of dialing for tickets, which were sold out within an hour. 

To get to the concert area, we walked a mile from the parking lot, hauling our chairs, soft coolers full of food and drink, hats, sunblock, umbrellas, bug spray and cameras.  There were wagons and shuttles for those who couldn’t make it on foot.  Or were smarter than I was.  Our group arrived early enough to sit close to the stage, but Sue pointed to an an area at the top of the hill.  She knew that the higher you sat, the better to enjoy the sweeping vista.  She was right! 

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The symphony patrons are seated in front on hard seats that they paid extra for, but the cheap seats are the best. 

In the afternoon before the concert, experts gave talks in tents on many Flint Hills topics, such as archeology, Kansas birds, ranching, geology, the prairie grass and wildflowers. You learned something, and you got out of the sun.  (More about the Flint Hills below.)

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Now, we’ll go live.  Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, honorary chair, greets the crowd.  The first half of the program features Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ) and works by Chadwick and Copland.

Matt and Sue R.

Matt and Sue R.

 As the sun sinks in the west (sounds like a Zane Grey Western), it’s still hot, humid and sunny.  Cowboys herd a river of cattle on a hillside as the Symphony plays “The Great Westerns Suite,” a medley of powerful music from four western movies.  The setting sun brushes everyone and everything with gold. My eyes tear up as the theme to How the West Was Won fills the valley.  I loved that movie as a girl.  I still love it.  (Spoiler alert) I cry over Jimmy Stewart’s death yet again.  “Oh, Linus,” I can still hear Carroll Baker’s character say.  Also featured is music from The Magnificent Seven, Silverado and Dances With Wolves.  I’m a sucker for every western archetype.  Sue later discovered that the cattle drive — so perfectly timed — was not part of the program.  We’d thought the arrival of the cattle was choreographed to match the magestic western music. Instead, the cattle had broken free from their alarmed cowboy escorts and headed toward the music on their own!

Brooke.

Brooke watches the cattle make their way toward the music, which we later discovered was not choreographed as we'd thought. Sue R. said that the cattle broke free from their alarmed cowboy escorts. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The sound is huge, but you can still hear the chirp of crickets and appreciate the rolling hills and rhythm of the cattle as they flow across the land.  It makes you think of corny phrases like “The hills are alive with music.”  Everything is grand. The music, the view, th"Ashokan Farewell" plays as the sun sets.e history.  The real tear-jerker is the last song on the program, Ashokan Farewell, the theme from the Ken Burns miniseries, The Civil War.  The Kansas State Song, Home on the Range, plays as we prepare to leave.  Everyone knows the words…..

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after an inspiring day. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

 

THE FLINT HILLS —I’ve lived in Kansas since I was two, but I haven’t spent much time on the Kansas prairie after my days at Girl Scout camp.  The Flint Hills are a band of hills stretching through the center of Kansas into Oklahoma, comprised of limestone and shale.  Zebulon Pike named the hills for the flint-like chert stone he saw in the limestone.

I studied prairie grass in college botany classes and driven through the Flint Hills at least a hundred times on the Kansas turnpike, which bisects it, but until I walked through the tall grass itself I didn’t realize how beautiful and diverse it is.  And it definitely isn’t flat.  Geologist Rex Buchanan can tell you by looking at each hill what layer of rock lies underneath.

Prairie once covered a third of the North American continent.  The largest portion of virgin tallgrass prairie lies in the Flint Hills, which escaped plowing because it’s so rocky.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the first national park devoted solely to the preservation of the nation’s prairie heritage, is 11,000 acres near Strong City.Blue Wild Indigo, a wildflower in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Flint Hills.  It was used as a dye. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Not so long ago, the tallgrass prairie reached into eastern Kansas, where I live.  Tallgrass prairie once blanketed Mount Oread in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas.  There’s plenty of rainfall for trees, but fires periodically killed the trees and shrubs.  Modern man keeps the natural fires from burning the trees (and the buildings.) Now mature trees are everywhere in eastern Kansas, making it look more like Missouri than it did when Quantrill’s raiders swept in.  

My backyard, which is a mile from Missouri, is part of that state’s oak – history forest and has walnut, redbud, mulberry, hickory, hackberry, elm trees, plus the Campanile on the campus of the University of Kansas, surrounded by trees where once there were none. Photo by Cathy Sherman.oaks– burr, shingle and chestnut.

On the KU campus, an acre was devoted to the tallgrass prairie that once prevailed there (I don’t know whether it’s still there), but you need thousands of acres to make a prairie.  And it’s a living thing, too, made up of hundreds of different species of plants, animals and insects.  A fire every now and then burns out the shrubs and trees and regenerates the grass and wildflowers. Lightning used to start the fires. Now, mostly ranchers do.

One April I was driving to Wichita for an Easter weekend.  As I passed through the Flint Hills during a controlled burn, huge dark flakes began to cloud my windshield.  It was snow, tinged with ash.  Ranchers burn every spring, and it doesn’t take long before the hills are green again.

 

Symphony in the Flint Hills websitewww.SymphonyintheFlintHills.org   

Interesting websites about the prairie:

Tallgrass Prairie National Preservewww.nps.gov/tapr  

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Kansas Wildflowers www.kswildflower.org 

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas — www.nature.org/Kansas

Kansas Wildlife & Parks www.kdwp.state.ks.us
 

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Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills Cattle Drive — The Magnificent Seven Theme

Flint Hills Symphony & cattle drive

The theme to “The Magnificent Seven” at the Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills concert on June 14, 2008, near Council Grove, Kansas.  www.symphonyintheflinthills.org

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