It’s World Habitat Day. Don’t you love these “recognition” days, helping us remember and think about important stuff? Well, maybe some aren’t so monumental, but Habitat/habitat, regardless of where and how you live, is the biggest issue we’ve got. It covers everything. Continue reading
Happy World Bee Day!
Wow! Are there more than honey bees out there and are they ever busy. Wild bees all over the world are pollinating all kinds of plants that benefit not only us, but every ecosystem.
Sam Droege of the USGS Bee Identification and Monitoring Lab put together this terrific slide show celebrating native bees. The images are from the lab’s permanent research collection.
“25 Facts About North American Wild Bees.” How many of these facts are news to you? I counted 7. Most interesting to me are #4, #13, and #21.
Like all pollinators, native bees are in trouble – even more so than honey bees. What can we do to help these often over-looked wonders? Plant the native plants of your area, not cultivars, if possible. Check online for native plant societies in your area. They will have lists.
Confession: my yard has lots of non-native plants the bees love, but there’s no way of knowing whether they contain the level of nutrients the bees need to be their best. We’re working to add more straight native plants so all our pollinators (and other critters) benefit.
It’s a day to open our eyes and ears and give a big nod of gratitude to these insect “workhorses” of the planet.
Here are a few photos of the wild bees active in my yard during spring and summer. I’m still learning species, so not all are identified.
Two days ago, I spotted a single Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly sunning on a pile of wood chips. With all the rain we’ve had, seeing even one butterfly is an early treat.
Stepping out this afternoon, dozens of butterflies filled the sky, buds, and blooms on our rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and New Zealand tea trees (Leptospermum). Traveling north from the Mojave desert up to the Pacific Northwest, some Ladies (and their gents) have veered off their normal interior CA migration route to skim along the coast. Ours may not mirror or rival the Southern California explosion, but I’m ecstatic!
Here on the Northern CA coast, the nights have been cool, so native spring-flowering plants are slower to get started. My manzanitas and huckleberry are coming along, but not getting a lot of action. So far, honey bees from the neighbor’s hive and the native “Yellow-faced” bumble bees ( Bombus vosnesenskii) are the only active bee species I’ve seen around the yard. Hover flies are busy, though. Everyone love the rosemary, grevillea, and teas. Anna’s hummingbirds have been here all year, and they’re now having to share resources with the Allen’s.
Are you seeing Painted Ladies or other butterflies already this spring?
If you want to contribute your P.L. sightings to science, check out this project at Iowa State University: vanessa.ent.iastate.edu
Butterfly common name – scientific name; Host plants; Adult food = host and nectar plants
• Red Admiral – Vanessa atalanta Nettle family (Urticaceae) including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), tall wild nettle (U. gracilis), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), pellitory (Parietoria pennsylvanica), mamaki (Pipturus albidus), and possibly hops (Humulus); Prefer sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and bird droppings; visiting flowers only when these are not available. Then they will nectar at common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa, among others.
• Painted Lady – Vanessa cardui More than 100 host plants noted; favorites include thistles, hollyhock and mallow (Malvaceae), and various legumes (Fabaceae); The Painted Lady prefers nectar from composites 3-6 feet high, especially thistles; also aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweeds.
• West Coast Lady – Vanessa annabella Mallow family (Malvaceae) including tree mallow (Lavatera), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea), bush mallow (Malvastrum), mallow (Malva), alkali mallow (Sida), checkerbloom (Sidalcea), and hollyhock (Althea); Flower nectar.
• American Lady – Vanessa virginiensis Plants in the sunflower family everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), plantain-leaved pussy toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), wormwood (Artemisia), ironweed (Vernonia), and burdock (Arctium); Flower nectar almost exclusively, including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch.
Want to start your own I Spy! garden watch? Download a free poster or link to lots of gardening and pollinator ID resources section from my new workbook, I Spy! Who’s Using My Garden? A Pollinator Garden Workbook.
Walks in my pollinator garden are always “I Spy” adventures. I’m tracking which pollinators are using the plants, flowers, and extra water and food resources I’ve provided. These include two hummingbird feeders. A few days ago another group of “I spy” eyes locked onto the feeders . . . honey bees. Maybe they’re from a wild colony or domesticated bees from a neighbor’s box. Either way, a scout made it back to the hive to do its boogie, woogie, waggle dance and map out the way to a sugar fest in my yard. Continue reading
It’s the middle of National Pollinator Week. We’re headed for the heart of summer and peak pollinator activity. I hope things are buzzing, fluttering, and chirping at your house these days. They are around here. Spring and early summer are my favorite seasons with pollinators scouting out and feasting on our garden and local wildland flowers. Each bloom contributes to the lives and renewal of some of the most valuable and vulnerable species on the planet.
So, I was dismayed when my daughter told me someone was stealing sunflowers from her wildflower/pollinator patch. We decided her best response was to turn upset into an educational opportunity. She put up a poster I’d designed for an event and added a Please Don’t Steal sign. We made packets of California poppy, sunflower, and hollyhock seeds she collected last year and put them in a “Take one” box in her front yard. The neighbors were delighted.
Last year on Earth Day I was raising a sign for rational thought and action in the March for Science. This year, I’m spending it on my knees in my garden planting for pollinators. All pollinators: bees, birds, butterflies, moths, flies, bats, beetles – indeed all flying insects face increasing risks each year from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease.
Last week’s House of Representative committee amendments to the proposed Farm Bill would seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act, allowing the unrestricted use of pesticides, many proven to harm or kill the species we depend on.
There are many ways to counter pollinator losses. Certainly, politically, but also by making your home, garden, and behaviors pollinator friendly.
Find information on pollinators
On the heals of devastating hurricane Harvey in Texas, Irma barrels toward Florida this weekend, putting thousands of people, domestic animals, and wildlife, including endangered sea turtles, in jeopardy. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities that care for injured turtles have been working ’round the clock, preparing for the worst.
According to Dr. Charles Manire, veterinarian and director of research and rehab at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, FL, past experience proves there’s no safe place in Florida for sea turtles in a hurricane—especially corkers like Irma. In this video he anticipates the Center turtles’ move well inland to the Georgia Aquarium.
I visited the University of Texas’ non-public facility, Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) in Port Aransas, Texas while researching my novel, Elizabeth’s Landing. Unfortunately, the facility sustained severe damage, but I was glad to hear the wildlife in its care and the staff were unhurt.
Other key nesting and conservation facilities like Padre and South Padre Islands south of Corpus Christie escaped a Harvey hit.
HOW HURRICANES AFFECT SEA TURTLES
Destructive impacts of a hurricane begin before the storm reaches shore. The storm’s wind energy mixes warm surface and deeper cold waters, lowering salt levels. Wave size increases, damaging underwater formations and stirring up tremendous loads of sand from the bottom. The food web for numerous species can be altered, short and long-term.
Relocating sea turtle eggs is done but it is delicate, even under ideal conditions. Once the storm hits land, storm surges have deadly impacts on existing nests or nesting turtles. Eggs can drown or become exposed, scattered, and destroyed. Adult or emerging hatchlings are also at high risk.
However, according to Joe Scarola, a biologist for Ecological Associates Inc., a company that monitors sea turtle nests, Irma’s timing comes when the majority of eggs this season have already hatched. Nesting season continues through the end of October in Florida, so there’s a chance more eggs will be laid. Still it’s hard not to imagine thousands of recently hatched, 2″ turtles aren’t having a harrowing experience in today’s raging seas.
The very good news is it’s been a banner year for Florida sea turtle nests. Loggerhead Marinelife Center reports over 19,000 loggerhead, green, and leatherback nests on four beaches it monitors. Other groups also report many more nests in their regions.
Rehabilitating and protecting sea turtles is very expensive. Please consider a donation of any size to the organizations working valiantly to save them. Find one in your area here.
NOTE: If you come across eggs or stranded sea turtles of any size, report them to a local wildlife authority or sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation organization.
Sea turtle conservation continues to make progress, but most species are still in deep trouble around the world. Understanding the turtles’ entire life cycle is critical to moving these species away from extinction. Until recently, we had little to no data on where the babies went after hatching.
New technology and dedicated scientists have now cracked the case. In celebration of World Sea Turtle Day, I recommend this illuminating video produced by Changing Seas. Babies found!
Nesting for many sea turtles is going well this season — a thumbs up and huzzah to everyone, working to aid, repopulate, and love these wonderful creatures.
On the downside, poaching activities for sea turtle eggs and meat continues in Asia, Mexico, and countries like Costa Rica, where volunteers were seriously threatened last month by a gang perhaps linked to drug trafficking. In some cultures, sea turtles, like other wild (many threatened or endangered) species’ parts or eggs are believed to have aphrodisiac properties when consumed. Apparently, there are risks (of more than a belly-ache) in that special Saturday-night-delight meal.
Changing or creating newer, healthier beliefs of any sort is difficult. Perhaps news out of Popular Science (written by Jason Tetro) will send winds of change around the globe: sea turtles can be dangerous to your health and to the health of those you love.Along with Salmonella and e Coli, Tetro reports:
“One of the bacterial genera found within the turtle microbial population is Vibrio. It’s best known for V. cholerae species, the cause of cholera. But another species, V. parahaemolyticus, has been growing in prevalence across the globe. It causes gastroenteritis, wound infection, ear infection and has the potential to cause scepticemia. A third species, V. alginolyticus is less concerning as a pathogen but has caused close to 10% of Vibrio infections at least in one American study.” Jason Tetro
And some of these diseases are resistant to antibiotics, leading, in some cases, long-term implications for the patient. Bacteria that may cause illnesses in people live on the outside of sea turtles, too.
As research on sea turtles continues, it’s time to get the word out, to shift to new belief systems. Someone, please, find a an invasive weed and spread the word it’s the new, better Viagra. May bundles of otherwise useless vegetation sway, drying in the breeze, in once sea turtle slaughter huts.
Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas
Katy: What’s new, now that you’re two plus weeks in?
Marcail: I house-sat during Christmas and took Franca with me. She liked it there because the house was warmer than mine. She also had plants to sit on. Sometimes when I got home after work, I’d find she’d fallen off the plant I left her on. Didn’t hurt her, but there were cats in the house, so I made sure they couldn’t get to her.
Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.
Marcail: I just started a Facebook page for Franca.
Marcail: I don’t know how old she is, but I have a feeling she’ll make it to warmer weather. Of course I’m hoping to release her. I definitely do not want to keep her as a pet. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve seen so far. I didn’t think she would be so quick to use her legs and wings, and she’s getting stronger. I’m pretty sure she won’t die, unless it’s her time.
Katy: How will you know when it’s time to let her go?
Marcail: I don’t know what conditions prove that she’s able to be released, but I want to see that she’s confident walking, confident flying, and able to find her own food without me putting it in front of her face. I think that would be proof that she can live on her own. My goal is to get her to feed on her own and fly. Then she’s on her way.
Katy: Those sound like reasonable goals. She’s done so well so far. Since she might be around for a while, are you going to make a habitat for her?
Marcail: At this rate, I’ll probably have to get some kind of small cage or terrarium for her to live in until spring. She’s getting more confident walking around and trying to use her wings. I don’t want her to get into trouble.
Katy: I’ve learned a lot following you and Franca. Can you sum up your experience so far?
Marcail: She’s a lot stronger than I thought. I was afraid she would be much more breakable and easily damaged, but she’s not. Caring for her doesn’t take as much time as I expected. I don’t take her to work, so I don’t feed her for a long time during the day. Still, she’s able to make it and keep her strength until I get home. I’m always glad for weekends or holidays where I can stay home and spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of time put in, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of times I’ll feed her and keep her warm while I’m watching a movie and I don’t notice how much time it takes. I feel like I make it work for my lifestyle and schedule. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but she seems to be doing well anyway.
Katy: Given fall-hatched Monarchs can live up to eight months, she might be hanging around your house another four or five. Enough time to learn a lot more about this beautiful butterfly and her species.
UPDATE: Franca’s beautiful life came, as far we can tell, to a natural end on January 25th. I’m grateful for the chance to have this closer look at the lives on Monarchs.
Visit (and Like) Franca’s Facebook page to keep up with her. I created a puzzle, using a photo of a Monarch (female!) who stopped by my garden this year.
Thanks, Marcail and Franca for allowing me to share your story. I’ll be preparing my garden (with native milkweed and flowers) and anxiously watching for Monarchs this spring.
There is tons of information about Monarchs on the Internet. I found some unusual, fun facts. See how many questions you can answer.
1) Franca got caught in a bad rain storm. What is one strategy butterflies use to wait out a storm?
2) Butterflies come in a range of colors, so why are Monarch’s orange?
3) What is a major difference between Monarchs that make the longest migration from Canada to Mexico and shorter migrations(or none), like the Western or resident Puerto Rican groups?
4) What body part(s) help a Monarch fly in the right direction during migration?
5) What is “puddling”?
6) Are Monarchs found in other places than North America?
7) What is the Monarch called in Australia?
8) What bird is immune to the toxin in Monarchs?
1) They hang upside down from a branch, wings folded tight, so the rain will run off their bodies.
2) The color is a warning signal to predators (like birds) that they’ll get a yucky (toxic to some species) mouthful if they chomp down on a Monarch. This is called an “aposematic” signal. Monarch caterpillars only eats milkweed, which contains a poison. The caterpillar’s body stores the poison and passes it on to the adult butterfly during metamorphosis. The Viceroy butterfly doesn’t rely on milkweed, but its color pattern mimics the Monarch’s. It probably sends the same, “better not eat me” message. A color variation where the Monarch’s normally orange areas are replaced by greyish white, originally appeared in small numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. A consistent 10% of Oahu, Hawaii’s population have this coloration.
3) New research shows size matters if you’re flying long distance. Look at the difference between these Monarchs (top left one is a male-note black scent sacs on underwing and thinner veins). The larger set makes the long migration, the smaller set never migrates out of Puerto Rico. BBC Earth News article, here.
4) Butterfly ‘GPS’ found in antennae The antennae and brain work together to get Monarchs where they need to go. The butterflies use “a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their “Sun compass” when they migrate. The antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently,” while regulating the brain process. “It’s becoming…clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece.”
5) When a butterfly takes in moisture and nutrients from damp soil and wet gravel.
6) Yes, two species are wide-spread. Populations are found in New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, and New Caladonia. In Europe: the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Also India, Ceylon, Central America and Northern South America-including along the Amazon. And in Hawaii. From: Carnavora Forum.
7) The Wanderer
8) The Black-headed Grosbeak. Other birds, like orioles and jays eat select, less toxic parts of the body. Mice seem less affected by the toxin, too.
Please don’t plant “tropical” milkweed, as there is concern it might be contributing to health issues in Monarchs. Replace it with native milkweed, at the least, cut it back every fall, so it’s not blooming. Read about the issue, here.