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More Deviltry

In the wild, Tasmanian Devils are nocturnal, but they don't mind a little rest and relaxation in the sun.

In the wild, Tasmanian Devils are nocturnal hunters and scavengers. However, they don't mind a little rest and relaxation in the sun, especially after an exhausting tussle over some wallaby chops.

My friends and I fell in love with Tasmanian Devils, irascible carnivorous marsupials that live in the wild only on the island of Tasmania, an Australian state south of the mainland of Australia. 

I'm petting the nice Tasmanian Devil. "Nice devil, nice devil....."

I'm petting the nice Tasmanian Devil. "Nice devil, nice devil....." Though they have a reputation for fighting, they aren't aggressive toward humans if handled correctly.

In the wild, Tasmanian Devils usually are only active at night, when they hunt or seek out carrion.  They can be very nasty-tempered and make a huge noisy fuss when they eat.   You can see why I find them so adorable!  They have their own personalities and are inquisitive.  (Their main inquiry probably is “When is feeding time?”)  Their keepers and the scientists who study them become very fond of the little devils.

A devil gets peeved when a young man's hand got too close to the devil's head.  We both had to count our fingers after that close encounter.  The keeper has raised this devil from joeyhood, and he's used to people, but a devil is a devil, after all!

A devil gets peeved when a young man's hand got too close to the devil's head. We both had to count our fingers after that close encounter. The keeper raised this devil from joeyhood, so the devil is used to people, but a devil is a devil, after all!

If you want to see Tasmanian Devils, you’ll need to visit a wildlife park or zoo in Australia.   There, the devils are happy to greet you during the day.  At some parks, you can even pet a devil.  Just be careful that you don’t reach too close to its head.  We saw devils and many other unique-to-Australia animals at East Coast Natureworld near Bicheno and Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park near Taranna, both in Tasmania.

The only other place outside of Australia where devils can be seen is the Copenhagen Zoo, where they were a gift to Denmark, because Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark,  is from Tasmania.

Many Australian zoos and parks, particularly in Tasmania, are breeding the devils in special quarantined areas so they won’t contract Devil Facial Tumor Disease, an infectious cancer that affects many wild devils.  So far, the disease is incurable.  Scientists estimate that half or more of the devil population has disappeared in the past dozen years because of the disease.

Tasmanian Devils often eat roadkill, such as wallabies, but can also become roadkill themselves.  They travel widely in search of food.

Tasmanian Devils often eat roadkill, such as wallabies, but can also become roadkill themselves. They travel widely in search of food.

Tasmanian Devils play an important role in the Tasmanian environment, plus they are so cute.  You can read more about devils in my previous post, I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil.   That post includes a Discovery Channel video and links to more information.  Below are some videos from our visit to a wildlife park to see the devils.

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Biology, Conservation, Environment, Humor, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel

I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devils are good climbers when they're young.

Young Tasmanian Devils are good climbers. These irascible marsupials can be charming. Isn't he cute!

When my friend Anita told me we could tour Tasmania when we visited her and her husband in Australia, I thought:  “Great, I can see some Tasmanian Devils.” 

I told my daughter (she stayed behind) about the itinerary that included these irascible marsupials, and then I added, “The Tasmanian Devils are dying out.”  Just to say that made both of us tear up.  Thousands of types of animals are threatened with extinction, but the devils could be gone in only a few decades.

This Tasmanian Devil looks menacing, but he's just yawning. Devils can get peevish, though, particularly at meal time when they have to share.  Devils have the strongest jaws per size of any mammal and can completely devour their meals, bones, fur and all. They are stellar members of the clean plate club!

This Tasmanian Devil is showing his "vicious yawn," one of 20 identified devil postures. You get a good looks at his jaws and sharp teeth. Devils have the strongest jaws per size of any mammal and can completely devour their meals, bones, fur and all. They are stellar members of the clean plate club!

I’d read a heart-breaking story last year in the New York Times about a terrible infectious cancer (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) that could wipe out the Tasmanian Devil.  Some scientists think the devil population may have dropped 50 percent or even more in the last dozen years.  The disease is transmitted from devil to devil by biting, which the devils do while eating and mating.  It’s no accident that they’re called devils, although they can also be very endearing. (See Harper’s Magazine link below.  It’s a great article.)

Scientists and wildlife experts are trying to find a cure, but so far they haven’t come close.   Wildlife experts also have set aside disease-free areas for the devils to live and reproduce.  The devil only exists in the wild in Tasmania, an island that’s one of the states of Australia. Since the extinction of the Thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian Tiger) in 1936, the Tasmanian Devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.

Study of the devil’s facial tumor is leading to better understanding of the nature of cancer itself.

At the first wildlife park we visited, my first sight of a devil was a sleepy creature in a burrow. 

“Ahhh, so cute!”Tasmanian Devil sticker.

He (or she) and his friends were soon up and chasing each other in a circle and also checking us out.   They gave us the “vicious yawn,” which scientists think means the devil is thinking: “You don’t scare me.”  The devils looked like small, stocky dogs and ran like raccoons.  It wasn’t until the keeper tossed a fleshy bone to three of them, that their cantankerous side appeared.  Their comraderie disappeared, and they grabbed onto the bone and wouldn’t let go.  They made a terrific racket as they ran in circles, all three gripping the meat in their mouths together.  Usually, devils are solitary but will come together when they find something delicious.

See the devils in action below in the YouTube video from the Discovery Channel.

“More Deviltry,” my second post on Tasmanian Devils. Can’t get enough of the Devils!

Harper’s Magazine Story about studying contagious cancer in Tasmanian Devils.

More information about the Tasmanian Devil.

Devil Worshippers Unite.

Sharing isn't on the menu when three Tasmnaina Devils grab onto the same piece of meat.

Sharing isn't on the menu when three Tasmanian Devils grab onto the same piece of meat. You've never heard such a commotion!

Click on these thumbnails to see cards starring Tasmanian Devils on Greeting Card Universe.

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Biology, Conservation, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Friendship, Humor, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel

Starry, Starry Night

southern-cross-and-pointers1

In the center, the Southern Cross constellation and its two bright pointer stars (at the left) adorn the pale band of the Milky Way in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere.

It was almost midnight when we arrived at Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney for the second time.  In the afternoon, we’d come as tourists to this spot, checked it off our list and hadn’t planned to return.

Old South Light Head.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

“We’ve lived here for decades and never seen this lighthouse, and now we’re seeing it twice in one day,” David said.

Okay, so we weren’t thrilled at this unscheduled second trip  — my fault, I admit — but even the locals had to admit they were charmed to see the lighthouse in action.  I’ve visited a dozen lighthouses, but I’d never seen one at work before.  It was a beautiful summer night in late January.

Armed with flashlights (or torches, as they say), we soon focused on finding Monica’s bracelet, lost on our first trip.  (Yes, my fault.) It had been a long day and a long drive, and we just hoped to find the bracelet and get home to bed.  Overhead, the old lighthouse steadily flashed its beacon.  Beyond was the dark Tasman Sea, pounding on the rocky shore below the cliffs.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia’s first and longest operating navigational light. There has been a navigation aid on this site since 1791 and a lighthouse since 1818.

“I found it,” Monica announced, displaying the bracelet.  That afternoon she’d slipped it off her wrist so that her hand would fit under a fence to retrieve my camera lens cap. (I should buy my lens caps by the gross.)

“That was fast.”  Relieved, we turned to leave, but the night sky was so amazing.

We turned off the flashlights and stared at the heavens.  The pale ribbon of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. Even though we were on the outskirts of  Sydney with its light pollution, the clear, black sky was sprinkled with bright stars.  Despite my poor night vision, I could easily pick out Orion, although he looked a bit askew from this southern latitude.

“See, aren’t you glad you lost your bracelet here? ” I asked.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

Macquarie Lighthouse stands at the southern entrance of Sydney Harbour, which Captain James Cook missed while investigating the coast of Australia.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Monica fired off.  I was sure I could see her smiling in the dark.

She and David pointed to the Southern Cross and to its two pointers stars.  It was then that it really hit me.  Not only was I was 9,000 miles from home, but I was just a tiny blip in the cosmic picture.  I felt exhilarated!

You can’t see the Southern Cross from the Northern Hemisphere, even as the people in the Southern Hemisphere can’t see the North Star.  One of the pointer stars is Alpha Centauri, a star system that is closest to the earth,  “only” 4.37 light years away, which you can’t see from the Northern Hemisphere.

“Hello, neighbor,” I said to Alpha Centauri.  “Nice to meet you at long last.”

This aerial view of Macquarie Lighthouse shows the Sydney skyline in the background.  The lighthouse stands on the south head of Sydney Harbor. This isn't my photograph, though I wish it were!

This aerial view of Macquarie Lighthouse shows the Sydney skyline in the background. The lighthouse stands on the south head of Sydney Harbour. This isn’t my photograph, though I wish I could claim it!

The Down Unders certainly don’t feel that they are at the far end of the world. To them, the stars are as they should be.

I got my bearings at 33 degrees latitude south and felt right at home in Oz.

Who's on top of the world?  It all depends on your perspective.

Who’s on top of the world? It all depends on your perspective.

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Filed under Australia, Friendship, History, Humor, Life, Personal, Random, Sailing, Science, Travel

Orange Sulphur Butterfly on a Sunflower

Orange Sulfur Butterfly and a soldier beetle 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.

Orange Sulfur butterfly and a Soldier beetle 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.

Here’s a bright scene for a cold winter day.   An Orange Sulphur butterfly sips nectar from a sunflower in a field in September.  The field was mowed a few weeks later, and the remaining short stubble is brown and lifeless, showing no sign of the lively community of insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds that once lived there.   A “for sale” is planted in the center.

I emailed several photographs of yellow butterflies to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  Any yellow butterfly around here I’ve been calling a Cloudless Sulphur.  Dr. Taylor says this butterfly is an Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme.) 

“The butterfly looks like a female – males have solid and females spotted margins,” he wrote. 

Dr. Taylor identified the other insect as a Soldier beetle, which is highly prized by gardeners because it eats pest insects, such as aphids and grasshopper eggs.  It’s also a pollinator.  Pollinators are essential to our food supply, but there are fewer and fewer places for them to live.  Thousands of acres are lost daily to development.

Monarch Watch is dedicated to education about and the conservation and research of Monarch butterflies and other pollinators.

An Orange Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

An Orange Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store. You can see its proboscis.

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Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, University of Kansas

Merry Christmas from Nikola Tesla

"American Idol" winner David Cook switched on the lights for the 79th annual Country Club Plaza Lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving 2008. We can thank Nikola Tesla for these brilliant lights.

"American Idol" winner David Cook switched on the lights for the 79th annual lighting ceremony on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City on Thanksgiving 2008. We have the genius of Nikola Tesla to thank for the lighting system itself. Tesla "shed light over the face of the earth."

Forget Albert Einstein. Forget Thomas Edison.  It’s Nikola Tesla you need to thank for many of the revolutionary contributions to physics we use in our daily life.  I’m talking about almost everything you use in your daily life that requires electricity, including the current that runs your television, the lights that brighten your home and even the remote control that changes the channel on your television set so you can get that channel where American Idol” contestants are competing.

 Tesla is often described as the most important scientist and inventor of the modern age, a man who “shed light over the face of the earth.”  His patents and theoretical work formed the basis of the alternating current (AC) electric power we use today.  Among other titles bestowed upon him are “The Father of Physics,” “The man who invented the twentieth century,” “the patron saint of modern electricity” and “the man who invented tomorrow.” 

Tesla amazed the world when his AC electrical system lit up the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He beat out Edison for the contract. The world was forever changed.

His accomplishments and contributions are so great that I can’t list them all, but among them are wireless communication (radio),  AC current, Tesla coil, Tesla turbine, induction motor and rotating magnetic field. He contributed to the establishment of robotics, remote control, radar and computer science, and to the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics and theoretical physics.  He contributed to the understanding of cosmic rays and x-rays.

Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla.

Tesla was also a model of what we see as the mad scientist — conducting electrifying demonstrations and designing “death” or “peace” rays. He had many eccentric personal habits.   He was obsessed about cleanliness and hygiene, needed everything to be in threes and hated round objects.  He loathed jewelry, particularly pearl earrings, and hated touching any hair but his own.  He was enraptured with pigeons and wasn’t social, but was a good friend of Mark Twain’s and got along with many people.  He was fluent in eight languages and had a photographic memory.

He feuded with other famous inventors, such as Edison, who was an early employer, and battled with Guglielmo Marconi over credit for the radio.  In 1943, the United States Supreme Court credited Tesla as being the inventor of the radio.

Tesla was once one of the most highly regarded and famed scientists in the world, but now he has slipped into obscurity.  Occasionally, Tesla pops back into the public eye.  In the recent movie “The Prestige,” David Bowie plays Tesla as a great, if eccentric, inventor.

The rock band Tesla named itself after the inventor and is among those dedicated to restoring credit to this great scientist.

Despite all of Tesla’s patents, he was unconcerned with money and died penniless.  Although he was almost a hermit in later life, he was honored in a funeral ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.  J. Edgar Hoover,  head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation declared Tesla’s papers top-secret, because of possible weapons he may have designed.

You’ve got to check out these websites and the video about Tesla.

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Filed under Communication, Education, History, Life, Movies, Music, Natural History, Nature, Random, Science, Technology

Monarch Butterflies Complete Annual Migration to Mexico

Dec. 3 – Millions of butterflies have found sanctuary in Mexico as they complete their annual migration from North America, according to a Reuters News report.

The Mexican government has plans to massively expand the sanctuaries in the coming years, according to Monarch Butterfly Reserve Director, Concepcion Miguel Martinez.

A news video about the 2008 migration is here.  Monarch butterflies complete their annual migration to Mexico.

Monarch Watch director Orley “Chip” Taylor is one of the scientists interviewed in this article from National Geographic about the Monarch Butterfly migration. Internal Clock Leads Monarch Butterflies to Mexico.  Dr. Taylor is also featured in the New York Times video above.

More about Monarch Watch here.

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 as they harden their wings at the Monarch Watch open house at the University of Kansas in September 2008.

Monarch Butterflies hang out at the scree house at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas in September 2007.

Monarch Butterflies hang out at the screen house at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas in September 2007.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Insects, Kansas, Natural History, Nature, Science, Uncategorized, University of Kansas

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I saw this toad by the side of the road.  I used to see toads all of the time when I was a child, but now it's rare to see them.

Yes, I admit it. I was very excited when I saw this toad by the side of the road last week. When I was a child, I saw toads and frogs all of the time during the summer, but now it's rare to see them even though I'm outside almost as often.

 

This is the Year of the Frog.  Although it’s late in the year, it’s not too late to raise awareness about the serious problems facing amphibians.  Scientists believe that one-third to one-half of the earth’s 6,000 amphibian species, which have thrived for 360 million years, are in danger of extinction.

Habitat destruction is one serious threat, but the most immediate cause is a parasitic fungus called amphibian chytrid, a disease deadly to hundreds of amphibian species.  It is quickly spreading, currently unstoppable and untreatable in the wild. The World Conservation Union called it the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates.

Amphibians are an essential part of the ecosystem as both predator and prey. We can’t lose them.

To learn more go to Save the Frog.

Here’s a New York Times article about infected frogs in the United States.    An effort to save frogs is described in this New York Times article: To Stem Widespread Extinction, Scientists Airlift Frogs in Carry-On Bags.

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Filed under Amphibians, Animals, Biology, Conservation, Environment, Life, Nature, Random, Science

Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Europe, Gardening, History, Humor, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel, Uncategorized

The Mystery of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007.

What I thought was a Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007. Rachel (comment below) says it's a Pipevine Swallowtail.

One day a week ago the bronze fennel was teeming with Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  The next day, they were gone.  Where did they go?  Off to the woods forty feet away?  I worried about them struggling through the grass to complete their life cycle.  It’s a dangerous world.  Birds, lawnmowers, children chasing balls, other insects. 

Black Swallowtail.

I thought this was a Black Swallowtail, but Rachel (comment below) says it's the dark morph female of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Were those caterpillars the last of the year?  I thought so until today when I found a single fairly large caterpillar on the fennel, which was almost chewed clean of leaves.  A tattered looking Black Swallowtail butterfly sailed in and circled the fennel.  I was hoping it would lay some eggs or at least make a nectar stop at a flower. I even had my camera! But the butterfly sailed off again, ignoring my butterfly bush, the phlox, the coneflowers……

Dottie of St. Louis, Missouri, commented on my Monarch Watch post about her certified Monarch waystation.  She follows the process of the Monarchs very closely, photographing them and raising them.  She talks to schoolchildren about the Monarch life cycle. She also “raises” Black Swallowtail caterpillars on fennel and parsley but says a Black Swallowtail chrysalis is very hard to find.

Following the life cycle of a Black Swallowtail has one “hazard” — the caterpillars spray a stinky odor when you touch them. Dottie says her granddaughter doesn’t mind. It makes her giggle. I was slightly tempted to “pet” the caterpillar on my fennel today just to check it out…… 

One butterfly enthusiast confined many very hungry Black Swallowtail caterpillars to a screened area and captured the entire cycle in a photo chronicle.   Here is the photo chronicle of Black Swallowtail butterflies from egg to adult.

Powell Gardens, which is about a half hour east of Kansas City, schedules butterfly events and has a large area devoted to plants that attract butterflies.  The photograph at the top of the page was from a visit I made there in 2007.  The website is Powell Gardens.  To learn more about creating a certified Monarch waystation go to Monarch Watch.  My other posts on butterflies and caterpillars can be found through the search box or by scrolling down.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year?  The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year? The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Random, Science, Uncategorized

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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