Tag Archives: Habitat

Florida Panther Crossing

Florida panthers must navigate traffic, maneuver around walls and traverse ever growing human populations in the Florida panther’s habitat in south Florida. Here are panther crossing signs warning drivers in Naples, Florida, to watch for panthers.

I would have loved to have seen a Florida panther in the wild while in Florida this past winter, although it’s best that they remain away from people.

Florida Panther crossing signs show the perilous route that Florida panthers must take to traverse their territory. They must cross busy streets flanked by walls and navigate through the ever growing construction of homes in South Florida.  There are wildlife refuges for panthers to live in, but their actual territory is much larger, and even in refuges they can be hit by cars. The panther currently occupies only 5 percent of its former range.

Florida panthers are the larger of Florida’s two native cat species (panthers and bobcats). The Florida panther is an endangered population of the cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests of South Florida in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Panthers are listed as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act.  There are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  There has been some progress in increasing the panther population since the 1970s and 1980s, when it was estimated only 20 to 30 panthers remained in Florida.

As the human population of Florida continues to grow, panthers will find it harder to find a place to live.  Twenty-one million people currently live in Florida; 16 million lived in Florida in 2000. It is one of the fastest growing states and is the third most populous. People are attracted to Florida because of its climate and long coastline, and I can’t blame them.  I enjoyed a month there this year.  Along with Hawaii, Florida is one of only two states that has a tropical climate, and is the only continental U.S. state with a tropical climate. It is also the only continental U.S. state with a coral reef named the Florida Reef.  Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, approximately 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers).

In 1982, the Florida panther was chosen as the Florida state animal.

Florida Panther Population Update.

About the Florida Panther.

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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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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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