Butterfly Corner

Ryall, M. E., 23 May 2012. Washburn County Register, Butterfly Corner, p. 7

May 14 – What a day for butterflies. I watched a mother monarch butterfly fluttering low to the ground as she searched for milkweed. She located plants near my kitchen garden. I witnessed the butterfly laying eggs on tiny milkweed plants. When you look closely, one will notice that the butterfly tips her abdomen to the underside of milkweed leaves. More often than not, the air current is less windy close to the ground, making it easier for a butterfly to deposit eggs on tiny milkweed.  This wasn’t the only species of butterflies seen. There were Canada swallowtail, black swallowtail, coppers, fritillary, and Milbert’s tortoiseshell butterflies. Monday’s temperature was a balmy 82 degrees Fahrenheit sunny day, a perfect day for butterflies.

Mrs. Janie LaFave's kindergarten class, Shell Lake Grammar School, WI
Mrs. Janie LaFave’s kindergarten class, Shell Lake Grammar School, WI

May 17 – I was a guest speaker at Mrs. LaFave’s kindergarten class at Shell Lake Elementary School. Children love butterflies. Mrs. LaFave teaches students about monarch biology and the butterfly’s life cycle. One student brought in a deceased monarch to show me. Another student raised his hand and proudly told the class that he had raised a painted lady butterfly at home. I was amazed. He said that he fed the adult butterfly sugar water when it emerged as an adult butterfly. The students have such an interest in nature, be it butterflies, bees, or native plants. We did get a bit off topic when the class wanted to tell me personal bee stories. I found that of interest because bees are suffering a decline. It is wonderful that children are connected to nature and insects. Someday these very children will be the next generation to protect the natural world.

Volunteers met at the Visitors Center in Shell Lake. We talked about the Monarch Butterfly Habitat and ways we are working together to bring this rich environmental land based project forward in the 2012 season. Jim VanMoorleham is going to stain the signs that the Tech Ed. class made at Shell Lake School. Joan Quenan is going to buy some white vinegar to start eradicating invasive spotted knapweed. Yes, it is true. Vinegar kills the invasive species; however, it will kill everything around it too. We are not concerned with killing bird’s foot trefoil in area three along with spotted knapweed. Both plants are replacing native species.

The Monarch Butterfly Habitat is alive with crickets. We saw hundreds of monarch eggs on milkweed plants. Milkweed has finally taken off and there are milkweed plants throughout the habitat. All things point to a bumper crop of monarchs at the habitat this year. We will be marking plants and putting up a “Journey North” butterfly screened tent to view the life cycle of the butterfly. Visitors will be able to observe monarch butterfly conservation in action this year.

The plan is to replant a weeded area with a layer of wet newspapers and top soil from Bashaw Nursery. Thank you, Steve Degner, for delivering the enriched soil. We are getting ready to plant a Three Sisters Garden as a teaching garden. People will have an opportunity to learn about healthy organic native crops, corn, beans and squash. Native seed means that seed originated in the Americas. This type of garden allows nitrogen to be added to the soil to replenish good nutrients that corn depletes. The squash is a natural ground cover and holds moisture. Along with this, the group is planning to plant gourds, within the squash family. Hopefully these will produce future gourd bird houses for the habitat.

Butterfly Corner

Published by Washburn County Register, Shell Lake, WI, 16 May 2012

May 8 – Northwood School, Minong, WI. I met with Shelby Ausing, parent of students at Northwood School, Josh Tomesh, principal, and Jean Serum, Administrator. The school is implementing a Butterfly Garden on school property.  I chose the site based on a gentle sloped terrain. Property has native hazelnuts, chokecherry, and Juneberry growing naturally in the background near red pines. The open sandy land is visible from Route 53. Land base is between ½ acre for restoration and up to 1 acre for total habitat. It flanks the school entrance driveway and parking lot. The habitat will be within easy access for students to walk to from grade school and charter school. The habitat will be used as an outdoor classroom.

While walking the site, I pointed out two native wild strawberry colonies; pussy toes, host plant of painted lady butterfly; and violets, host plant of fritillary butterfly. Minor invasive spotted knapweed was evident and will need to be eradicated. The area has been mowed, which will be discontinued to allow native habitat to emerge. Happy Tonics will work in liaison with the school. We will advise with conception, landscape design, planning, planting, and maintenance. Northwood School is an average of 8 miles, round trip, from my home in Minong.

May 9 – JoAnn Flanagan, Oregon, OH, reports, “Saw several monarchs today down at the state park. Had the binoculars out – biggest week in birding there. People from over 47 states in attendance.”

May 10 – Sophie Belisle, Shell Lake, called in the first monarch sighting for Shell Lake. She has followed the monarch’s arrival in Shell Lake for two years.  She received a jade butterfly ring, metal butterfly book mark, and My Name is Butterfly, as gifts for her participation in this year’s monarch tracking.

Mike Carpenter, habitat caretaker, has the shrubs weeded. Open space was created around them.  This will allow them to be visible from Route 63. A layer of wet newspaper and mulch will be added around the shrubs. Residents can use the same technique to kill weeds and allow air to get around shrubs and trees.

May 11 – I saw my first male monarch today. He looked like he was in good shape. Milkweed is up in Minong. Mother butterflies don’t need much, only newly emerged milkweed to lay eggs on. Later in the afternoon, I saw a female monarch searching for milkweed. She will tap the leaves and taste the plant with feet to determine if it is truly milkweed.

Mike Jensen, Lampert Lumber, in Spooner, donated building materials for a garden shed, approved by City Council last fall. Happy Tonics, through a grant from Wisconsin Environmental Education, matched 50 percent of the donation. Bob Forsythe, Technical Education Department, and students at Shell Lake School are building the shed. We are thrilled that Mr. Forsythe and students took the project on as community outreach. To learn more about Lampert Lumber Community Giving visit http://lampertlumber.com/about/community-involvement

Monarch Butterfly Chatbook – The Egg

THE EGG – HUEVECILLO

The male and female monarch butterfly will fly from Mexico to Texas. There they will mate and shortly thereafter die. The mother butterfly urgently needs to find milkweed to deposit her eggs on. This last act will insure the next generation of monarch butterflies. There are four generations that wind their way towards Canada. The fifth generation is the one that lives the longest and returns to Mexico in early fall. How does the butterfly know where milkweed grows?

The butterfly flits over a field or garden looking for milkweed. Watch the flight pattern and you may see a mother butterfly looking for a host plant. Plants have ultraviolet patterns on their leaves and flower petals making them visible to pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. Humans can’t see this but a butterfly can.  A monarch uses a combination of visual and chemical cues to find milkweed.

Once a mother butterfly lands on milkweed, she uses sensory organs in her feet and head to make sure it is milkweed. A monarch may even drum on a milkweed leaf with her forefeet to be certain. The forefeet are located close to the head.   

Notice that there are three eggs on the milkweed plant in the illustration. The mother butterfly carries approximately 200 eggs in her stomach. She touches the abdomen to the underside of a leaf and deposits an egg.  The mother usually deposits only one egg per plant. There is a reason for this. It is probable that the first caterpillar to emerge from an egg will scout for other eggs. A caterpillar is able to defend its own food territory when there is no competition.  Eggs have protein.  Sometimes a mother butterfly is in a hurry and may deposit more than one egg on the same plant. This is known as egg dumping.

By depositing eggs on different milkweed plants, eggs have a better chance of survival if something goes wrong.  There are many risks to milkweed including: Some plants may not be as hardy as others; a storm could destroy a plant; milkweed might be removed because a gardener thinks it is a weed; a land developer could clear cut a large track of land removing all native plants; farmers may plant monoculture crops, genetically engineered crops and may spray crops with pesticides.

There is a loss of approximately 3,000 acres of farmland each year to development. Roadside crews may use herbicides (ER-beh-syds) which poison milkweed, a plant that grows along roadways, one of the major corridors of butterflies. If there is no milkweed along the migration trail, there will be no monarch butterfly migration. This is why it is so important to let milkweed grow.

Monarch Butterfly Chatbook – Milkweed

MILKWEED – SUSTANTIVO

An important way to help the monarch butterfly is to first identify the host plant. Plant Identification has two names: Common and Latin. The birth of the monarch butterfly in the Chatbook frequently refers to common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The italicized Latin name first describes the Genus that is capitalized followed by the species in lower case. Native plants are perennial. Once planted they will start their own colony thus ensuring the future of the plant species.  

In spring, when milkweed is just emerging from the soil, the monarch returns to North America from Mexico. The butterflies will stop along the way in Texas where they will mate. Shortly after mating, the parents will die but not before the mother butterfly lays her eggs.  Butterflies with more than one host plant have a better chance of survival than a monarch with only one host plant. The female butterfly deposits her eggs on milkweed and it is the only plant that young caterpillars or larvae (LAR-VEE) eat.

Common milkweed grows in prairies, along roadsides, in agricultural areas and fields, at the edge of forests and even in one’s own backyard. Milkweed originates in the Americas meaning it is a native plant. There are approximately 100 species of milkweed in North America alone.  It is important to let milkweed grow for the monarch butterfly. Different generations of the monarch butterfly migrate to and from Mexico, North America and Canada each year, an estimated distance of 2,000 miles. Migrating north from Mexico, generations of female butterflies’ will need milkweed all along the migration trail. What is so special about milkweed?

Milkweed has several advantages. The plant has a long taproot which looks similar to a carrot taproot. Taproots can go deep into the earth to reach water; native plants do not need watering once they are established. Depth of plant roots is important in times of drought when there is little or no water. People around the world are starting to learn about Global Warming which can cause drought and severe storms.

Milkweed also contains cardiac glycoside a chemical that is toxic. Monarch caterpillars have the unique ability to eat the toxic leaves without any ill effect. Eating milkweed in its early life stage helps enable the adult butterfly to have a chemical defense against possible predators such as birds.  Often birds will throw up after eating a monarch. Captured bluejays were researched and videotaped as they ate milkweed and afterwards by Anu Uno Chellappau. On the other hand, my friend Anna Martineau Merritt has seen a bird eating a monarch without getting sick. Robert Pyle attests to this too. He watched as orioles ate monarchs at the Mexican Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in El Rosario (55).

Sadly, I saw a monarch in my own garden that was less than 24 hours old. In the late afternoon it was resting peaceably on a bright pink zinnia flower and by early evening the new born butterfly had been attacked and killed by a predator. The wings were left behind but the body was gone. At times birds will eat the body which has nutritious fats. Perhaps a bird ate the body and not the wings where most of the toxins are stored. The butterfly also has bright colors that warn predators it is not good to eat.