Archive for the ‘Family Resources’ Category

How Pollinators Feed the World

Pollinators are more than just bees. There is a whole variety of insects and animals that do this important job. Pollination literally feeds the world, from the plants meant for human consumption to the ones animals all over the globe depend on.

This article published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives us a refresher course in the mechanics of what pollination really is. It also gives some beautiful examples of some of the animals that make it all possible.

Original article published here.

 

Wings of Life

woodland swallowtail butterfly
A woodland swallowtail butterfly visits a buttonbush. (Photo: Rick Hanson/USFWS)

 

You may not realize it, but we owe most of our fruits, crops and flowers to animals. Yes, animals. All day long in the growing season, insects and other creatures carry pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing them in the process and helping to feed the planet.

Oh, sure, wind and water carry pollen, too. But their role is tiny, compared to the work done on the wing. Bees lead the pack as living pollen transport units. Other important pollen carriers — or pollinators — include flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.

So consider: When you help feed pollinators, you help sustain the world.

Watch a stunning video on the beauty of pollination.

a simplified look at pollination
The birds and the bees: An illustration offers a simplified look at pollination. (Credit: Kids Growing Strong)

 

Remember how it works? (It’s okay. We needed a refresher, too.) A stalk-like structure called the anther, located in the male part of a flower (called the stamen) makes pollen. For fertilization to occur, that pollen has to get to a flower’s female part, called the pistil (where seeds are made).

This is where a bee, bird, bat or other creature comes in. When the animal stops at a flower to feed on nectar or pollen, some pollen grains stick to its body. At the next flower stop, some of those grains brush off on the top of the pistil, called the stigma. Pollen grains on the stigma grow tubes down to the ovary, and fertilization begins. Mission accomplished.

Don’t worry. There’s no test. You can help feed pollinators even if you don’t remember the fine points of plant biology.  Every effort counts.

See a video on flower pollination.

A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen
A Hunt’s bumblebee collects pollen from rubber rabbitbrush at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Bees are the ultimate pollinators — focused on their job and built for it, too. Other insects, while important to the process, move pollen more by chance.

“Bees are the only insects deliberately seeking pollen as a food; it’s their main source of protein,” explains Wedge Watkins, wildlife biologist at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Missouri. “All these other animals are visiting the flower to get at its nectar. In the process of that, they stick their face or some other body part into the flower and accidentally get pollen on them.”

Bumblebees have developed an ingenious method to get pollen: They shake it loose by vibrating at just the right frequency — called buzz pollination. Some bees are specialists – able to use pollen from only one kind of flower.

Most bees also stock their nests with pollen to feed their young. “They store it in a variety of places — on their legs and on their abdomen,” says Watkins. “They carry it back to nest, mixed with nectar. They deposit it in ball shape and lay an egg on it. The egg develops into larva. The larva eats that pollen and pupates into an adult.”

Female bees do all the pollen gathering, and have hairy legs and abdomens adapted to the task. Male bees are thinner and much less hairy; their primary job is fertilizing the female and creating the next generation.

When you see bees buzzing in your wildflower garden – or around the flowers on your windowsill – it’s a sign things are going right.

A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees
A simplified graph charts the decline of honeybees in the United States. (Chart: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire/Anna Giles)

 

For many Americans, the first warning sign that pollinators might be in trouble came from reports — beginning in 2006 or so — of losses  of honeybee colonies. Although honeybees are not native pollinators (more on this below), they face some of the same stressors as other pollinators.

These include habitat loss, disease, parasites and increased pesticide use. One group of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, arouses particular concern. These, in wide use since the mid-1990s, make whole plants — including their nectar and pollen — toxic to insects. In 2014, the National Wildlife Refuge System decided to phase out the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on refuge lands.

In response to the bee-loss reports, the U.S. Agriculture Department began conducting annual surveys of honeybee colony health in 2009. USDA surveys showed that the number of managed U.S. honeybee colonies dropped from 5 million in 1945 to 2.5 million in 2014.

For people more focused on the health of native bees, the picture is less simple. “We have little or no population data on the 20,000 species of native bees in the world,” says Watkins. This includes the 4,000 or so species in the United States.

Lamar Gore
A monarch butterfly feeds on showy milkweed at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

The monarch butterfly, beloved by many, has become a symbol of pollinators in trouble.

For decades, hundreds of millions of the familiar orange-and-black butterflies flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer upon their return from Mexico. Their population has dropped by as much as 80 percent in recent years. That decline has coincided with the widespread loss of their host plant (milkweed) and nectar sources (wildflowers) and the increased use of neonicotinoids tied to agriculture and development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with schools, communities and partners across the nation to plant more native milkweed and other nectar sources.

In August 2014, the Service received a petition to list the monarch under Endangered Species Act. The Service is expected to make a recommendation on the request by June 2019.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help.

One good first step: Plant some wildflowers. Even a pot of coneflowers can help.

“Making a space for wildflowers at any level is helpful to pollinators,” says Watkins. That holds true, he says, “whether you have a farm, a garden or you’re in an apartment in the city and setting out a pot of black-eyed Susans on your balcony or windowsill.”

While monarch caterpillars rely solely on milkweed for food, the adult butterflies feed on many different kinds of flowers. Ensure a continued nectar supply by planting a variety of flowering plants. Include plants that flower at different times of the growing season. Find out which plants are right for your part of the country here or here.

Brian Lubinski
A rufous hummingbird feeds at a flower at Seedskadee Refuge. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

 

Birds can be pollinators, too. In the continental United States, hummingbirds are especially important pollinators of wildflowers.

Hummingbirds seek out nectar-producing plants by color, not by smell. They’re attracted to the colors red, yellow and orange.

Perennial plants that attract hummingbirds include bee balms, columbines, trumpet creeper, daylilies, cardinal flower, sages and lupines.

Ricardo Colon-Merced
The lesser long-nosed bat is an important pollinator of cacti in the American Southwest. (Photo: Courtesy of Bat Conservation International/Bruce D. Taubert)

 

Surprised? Don’t be. Bats are important pollinators, too. “More than 520 flowering plants depend on bats as pollinators,” says Micaela Jemison, communications director for Bat Conservation International, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s 1,300-plus bat species. “Many species of bats have elongated snouts and long tongues specially adapted to eating and dispersing pollen.”

In the desert Southwest, the agave plant relies mainly on long-nosed bats to pollinate its flowers. The tequila industry relies on the bats, too; without agave reproduction, there would be no tequila.

Read more about bats as pollinators here.

Read about some of the other animals that can be pollinators, too.

Lisa Hupp
A bee seeks out pollen from a coneflower. (Photo: Jamie Weliver/USFWS)

 

Honeybees are not native to North America. European settlers brought hives with them for honey production in the 1600s.  Today, commercial honeybees play an important role in the production of many important crops.

But many see honeybee decline as a danger sign for native bees and other pollinators.

“The reality is that because honeybees are an agricultural commodity, they have political horsepower,” says Watkins. “Without the attention being paid to honeybees, we probably wouldn’t have attention being paid to native bees.”

Reggie Forcine
The rusty-patched bumblebee, once common across much of the continental United States, received federal protection in March as an endangered species. (Photo: Dan Mullen/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

In March, Bombus affinis, aka the rusty-patched bumblebee, earned a dubious honor. It became the first bumblebee species to be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Once abundant across 28 states, the rusty-patched bumblebee has declined dramatically since the late 1990s. Now, only a few small, scattered populations remain in nine states and one Canadian province.

Placing the bee under federal protection, says Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius, “will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline” and save the bee from extinction.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
Members of Girl Scout troops 5912 and 6149 display soil-covered hands after starting 80 native plants at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 2015 planting was meant to help monarch butterflies and other native pollinators. (Photo: Lisa Cox/USFWS)

 

Restoring native habitat – including milkweed and wildflowers – comes naturally to national wildlife refuges. Refuge staff involve school groups and Scout troops in planting efforts. While kids get their hands dirty, they learn how they’re helping pollinators and why that matters.

Here are some Refuge System properties with pollinator gardens that you can visit.

Contact your local refuge to find out how your group can take part in a pollinator planting effort. Scroll down this page to see listing by refuge name or zip code.

LouAnn Speulda-Drews
In Philadelphia, Terry Williams from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum helps community activist Regina Young create a raised bed for a new neighborhood pollinator garden. Williams is the refuge’s Student Conservation Association community crew leader. Young is executive director of Empowered Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood nonprofit. (Photo: Lamar Gore/USFWS)

 

Many refuges also help local communities build pollinator gardens closer to home.

Working together with neighborhood partners, urban refuges in cities such as Philadelphia and Houston are using such projects as bridges to area residents who are eager for more connections to nature.

Want to help your community create a pollinator garden? Here’s how to get started.

campers conduct a water-quality sampling test
A student at Mountain Heritage High School in western North Carolina helps plant a pollinator garden behind her school, with support from the Service and several partners. (Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS)

 

Many schools across the country are joining “Save the Monarch” efforts by creating pollinator gardens in their schoolyards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers help and guidance to some of these school efforts.

Save Our Monarchs, a Service partner, offers free milkweed and pollinator seed packets to all schools that sign up for its pollinator garden program.

 

Some resources on pollination:
Monarch Watch
Monarch Joint Venture
Xerces Society
Pollinator Partnership
Journey North
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Sense of Wonder: Going Outdoors with Kids

From Super Nature Adventures:

2017-05-07-07-07-03It used to be that whenever we went hiking as a family, we were all “Go Go Go”. Did having a kid stop us? No way! We’d strap him into a backpack carrier and head on our way no matter how long the trail.  We were those people who’d brag about how far our kid hiked with us. Four miles, six miles… “oh, he’s good,” we’d say!

Then…well, then he grew too big for us to carry him.

There was whining. There were fits. Sometimes he’d seem tired one moment and be running the next. Or he would do something that seemed designed to unnerve us. One time, he just took off running in the direction of the trailhead as fast as he could. Another time he sat down on the trail and wouldn’t budge.

A while back, we sent out a survey to families about hiking that revealed that the kinds of challenges we were having are pretty much the norm. Lots of you shared stories about your kid rebelling while on the trail. As many of you noted, even if you are committed to getting outdoors, when kids revolt, going hiking with them can feel like a really big slog.

So…What to do about it? 
One resource that has helped us is Rachel Carson’s book, The Sense of Wonder. Carson is someone who is known as one of the founders of the modern environmentalist movement. As such, she has spent much of her career devoted to forging closer connections between people and the outdoors. The Sense of Wonder is great because in that book she focuses on the importance of nature for kids.

Here are a few of our favorite tips from The Sense of Wonder:

  1. “A child’s world is free and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.”  Kids see nature differently than adults. Often, our own sense of wonder has faded or even disappeared over the years. Carson argues that the one of the simplest things we can do to support kids is to rediscover our own sense of awe and share in their joy when they are excited about what they find out in nature.
  2. “Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.” While adults tend to be destination oriented, kids tend often get excited about the beauties in the world that we miss because, as Carson writes, “we look to hastily.”
  3. “It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.” Carson argues that kids must have a desire to learn first, and that our goals as parents should be to build that desire. Or to put in another way, early childhood is the time to “prepare the soil” for the “seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom.”
  4. “Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and fingertips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.” We don’t need to be experts on nature to help our kids forge a closer connection to the outdoors. We do need to use our senses.
  5. Through these actions we can learn as much from our kids about the outdoors as they can learn from us. Children can help us strengthen our own sense of awe. For Carson, this is deeply significant. “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” she writes. Through our sense of awe we find ourselves more connected to something beyond ourselves.

Carson’s advice has helped us to think about hiking from the kids’s perspective. We’ve put a lot of these ideas to work as we’ve been creating our monthly trail packets for Super Nature Adventures.  But you don’t have to only apply this advice to trails. Whether you are hiking with your child to a waterfall, or walking with them to the store, supporting a sense of wonder can help to deepen their connection to the outdoors.
~ Bryna

Michigan Mammals Week is July 10-16!

It’s Michigan Mammals Week next week! That means State Parks across Michigan will be holding special programs featuring our furry friends. These programs are free to the public, but you may need to pay to enter the park. If you have a Recreation Passport, you’re all set!

Check out the announcement below for details and to discover the program that’s right for you and your family.

 

July 5, 2017

Contact: Karen Gourlay, 248-349-3858

Celebrate Michigan Mammals Week at Michigan state parks July 10-16

TExplorer Programshe Michigan Department of Natural Resources will highlight the wonders of Michigan’s mammals during Michigan Mammals Week July 10-16 in a handful of Michigan state parks. The family-friendly programs are free for campers and visitors.

The annual program provides a fun and educational experience for the whole family. The week of hands-on programming will take place in 31 Michigan state parks and will feature hikes, animal tracking programs, games and much more.

Michigan Mammals Week and many other programs are led by state park Explorer Guides and park interpreters who work in the park and present a variety of outdoor education opportunities in more than 30 Michigan state parks Memorial Day through August. These enthusiastic, nature-minded folks lead hikes, activities and programming that shine a spotlight on each park’s unique resources.

To find a program in your favorite park, visit www.michigan.gov/natureprograms and click on the link “Michigan Mammals Week” under Special Programs and Activities. To see all available Explorer programming throughout the summer, view the interactive map or alphabetical list of parks.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Gardening to Support Migrating Insects

The Monarch butterfly is famous for its cross-continental journey from the northern U.S. to Mexico. People have planted milkweed and other flowering plants to support them on their journey. Yet Monarchs aren’t the only insects to make such long trips. Several kinds of butterflies, moths, and dragonflies undertake seasonal migrations, some traveling hundreds of miles.

Just like migrating birds, insects need rest stops where they can find food and shelter before continuing on. What we choose to plant in our own backyards can have a huge impact on butterfly and dragonfly populations.

This article by the Cornell University YardMap program highlights some of our long-distance travelers and the plants that can help them. The original article has some additional tips not listed here.

Gardening to Support Seasonal Migrations of Insects

 

Dara Satterfield, April 25, 2017

Monarch butterflies are famous for traveling long distances each year, but they’re not the only insects that migrate. Many butterflies, moths, and dragonflies take to the air for seasonal migrations, and–although they’re pretty quiet about it–some travel hundreds or thousands of miles.(open_in_new)The success of their journey largely depends on the habitat they encounter along the way. Here, we look at some of these six-legged critters and discuss how even the smallest garden can add fuel to their journey.

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People were once skeptical that insects could migrate long distances. Historically, scientists assumed an organism so small and short-lived couldn’t move more than a few miles. As we now know, they can. Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) in Australia can migrate over 1000 km every spring.(open_in_new) Danaid butterflies (cousins of monarchs) in Taiwan migrate over 300 km in the fall.(open_in_new) Wandering glider dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) cross the Indian Ocean (the image above depicts a beach in India where migrating dragonflies are coming ashore).(open_in_new) The brown planthopper (Nilaparvata lugens), a tiny insect only 4 millimeters long, migrates over 200 km in China.(open_in_new) These are just a few of the hundreds of insect species around the world that make incredible journeys.

dragonfly fixed

By the mid-1900’s scientists finally recognized that insects could move long distances; but still, they assumed insects were being haphazardly blown by the winds, unable to control their direction. In recent years migrating insects like the Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) (open_in_new) provided evidence to contradict that theory, showing, instead, that insects selectively choose directional winds to maximize their speed, allowing some to fly up to 650 km a night. (open_in_new)

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Photo © pingked

Many insect populations have adapted to make round-trip migrations over the course of a year, with the help of multiple generations. Painted lady butterflies, for instance, fly north out of Mexico in the spring to travel to the northern U.S. and Canada; later, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren return south in the fall. Monarchs behave similarly. A handful of insect species engage in single-generation migrations, where the same individual moves during one season and returns a few months later.

 

 

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In eastern North America there are over 30 insect species that migrate north in the spring and south in the fall. Below we describe a few of these migrating dragonflies and butterflies and we also note the butterfly’s’ host plants (i.e. caterpillar food) to inspire your garden selections.

Ribbet collage

Left: Nearly full grown caterpillar of the Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia, on plantain in southern Greenville County, SC, USA Right: Common buckeye butterfly nectaring on a species of aster

Common buckeyes (Junonia coenia)
Large eyespots on all four wings make these butterflies easy to identify. In the spring, buckeyes migrate north from Mexico and the southern U.S. They reach the midwest and northeast by May and breed throughout the summer. Male buckeyes will defend territories with host plants to await the opportunity to mate with females. To keep their patch of land, males chase off anything that moves–even birds that enter their territory. In the fall, the next generation of buckeyes makes a massive migration south to avoid a harsh winter of low temperatures and lack of food. Common buckeye caterpillars survive on the leaves from snapdragons (Antirrhinum), false foxglove (Agalinis), American bluehearts (Buchnera americana), plantains (Plantago) and–my personal favorite–turkey tangle frog-fruit (Nodiflora), among other plants.

Ribbet collage2

Right: American Lady caterpillar – Vanessa virginiensis, Jones Preserve, Washington, Virginia, Left: An American Lady butterfly photographed at the Bob Jones Nature Center in Southlake, Texas in May ’09

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
These butterflies have an intricate cobweb-like pattern on the underside of their wings. American ladies live year-round in the southern U.S. and Mexico and migrate into the northern U.S. and Canada for the spring and summer each year. Larvae munch on leaves of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis), ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and asters (Asteraceae). American ladies are closely related to, and often confused with, painted ladies (Vanessa cardui), which migrate along a similar route in the U.S.

Ribbet collage3

Left: Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar, Phoebis sennae – eating a partridge pea plant, Right: Cloudless Sulfur butterfly on Zinnea

Cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Each spring, these yellow butterflies with pink-edged silver spots migrate from Central America and the southern U.S. into the northern U.S. and Canada. Cloudless sulphurs reach the Great Plains by April and the Midwest by May and June. They can be seen gathering at mud puddles to sip water and salt. Cloudless sulphur caterpillars eat plants in the pea family (Fabaceae). Males relentlessly pursue potential mating partners, but uninterested females may reject males by raising their abdomens in the air, much like turning up your nose. In the fall, a later generation of butterflies returns south, sometimes traveling in enormous numbers.(open_in_new) Sadly, cloudless sulphurs have dropped in numbers since the 1980s in the eastern U.S. Reasons for population declines are not well understood, but habitat loss is a likely cause.

Ribbet collage4

Left: Question Mark larvae Polygonia interrogationis, Right: Question Mark – Polygonia interrogationis, Natchez Trace, Natchez, Mississippi

Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Question mark butterflies, named for a quirky little “?” shape on the underside of their wings and known for their hooked forewing (a.k.a anglewing butterfly), migrate south in massive numbers in the fall along the east coast. Some of the same individuals are thought to return northward into the northeast in the spring where they reproduce, lay eggs, and start the next generation. Plants that support these caterpillars include elms (Ulmus), hackberries (Celtis), nettle (Urtica dioica), and false nettle (Boehmeria Jacq.), but interestingly the females often lay their eggs on non-host plants and when the larvae hatch, they are tasked with finding host plant species to eat. The question mark is commonly confused with the eastern comma butterfly (Polygonia comma), which also have hooked forewings (a.k.a., anglewings) but are currently not known to migrate.

Ribbet collage5

Left: Mourning Cloak, Inner Canyon, Bright Angel Trail, GRCA, AZ, Middle: Mourning cloak butterfly, Right: Mourning cloak butterfly – wings closed

Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
The mourning cloak could just as well be from the wizarding world of Harry Potter as from anywhere. These butterflies look like Potter’s invisibility cloak – and when they close their wings, they “disappear” into a landscape of dried leaves. Mourning cloaks are globally distributed and thought to be the longest-lived of butterflies, frequently surviving 10-11 months. In the U.S., some of these butterflies will migrate into the southeast in the fall while others remain in the north, but little is known about what controls this behavior. The caterpillars consume willow (Salix), cottonwood (Populus), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), elm (Ulmus), and common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis L.).

Ribbet collage6

Left: Red admiral caterpillar, eating a stinging nettle, Right: Red admiral feeding on fallen plums

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red admirals are recognizable from the orange-red bands on both forewings. They live all over the world. In North America, they undertake northward migrations in the spring, colonizing the northeast by April. In October, they appear in massive migratory groups of hundreds to thousands of individuals headed south to Texas and beyond to escape the cold. Males are aggressively territorial over important resources (nettle and false nettle) and will chase off potential competitors. Adult red admirals prefer to consume sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and can be found collecting salts and minerals from bird droppings. In a pinch, they can also nectar on flowers.

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Photo © Anne Reeves

Common green darner (Anax junius)
Green darners are one of at least nine species of dragonflies now thought to migrate each year in North America. Highly recognizable, the green darner has a pale-green face with a darker green thorax, blue abdomen, and clear wings. During August-October these large dragonflies migrate up to 2800 km from eastern North America to southern Texas, and beyond. During this migration, swarms can reach over 1 million individuals. Using small radio transmitters, scientists have tracked these movements and discovered that common green darners can cover up to 140 km per day.(open_in_new) Not all common green darners migrate; some, in northern locations, will delay pupation and overwinter in the water as nymphs, emerging as adults the following spring.

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Photo ©

Wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)
These dragonflies are regular annual migrants in North America, moving from Mexico and the southern U.S. in the summer and arriving into the northern U.S. later than common green darners. They cannot survive the winter in the chilly north, so they return southward in the fall, often traveling at night (presumably to avoid predators). Their pale-yellow face with darker yellow abdomen, dorsal brown stripe, and clear wings make this species of dragonfly easy to identify.

Providing habitat in gardens can go a long way towards protecting these insects and their migrations. Here’s how to make your yard a stopover or breeding site for insect migrants:(1) Plant host plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants for the adult butterflies.
Visit our Explore tab, type in your zip code under “Local Resources”, and a Pollinator Planting Guide for your region can be downloaded. Use this guide for choosing plants for pollinators. A quick summary of those species highlighted above are summarized below.Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.02.18 PM

(2) Plant native rather than exotic host plants.
Recent scientific studies suggest native plants provide the best support for butterflies. For monarchs, for instance, the natural seasonality of native milkweeds helps to maintain butterfly migration and health. In contrast, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), an exotic plant not native to the U.S., can grow year-round in some places and has been linked to high infectious disease risk for monarchs. We suggest planting native milkweed like swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) whose blooms are more seasonally aligned with monarch lifecycles.

(3) Avoid insecticides.
Synthetic pesticides, including neonicotinoids, can kill butterfly caterpillars. Alternatives to synthetic pesticides include insecticidal soaps (such as those from potassium salts of fatty acids), which can be sprayed on plants when no caterpillars are present and rinsed off with water.

(4) Contribute to citizen science.
Much of what we know about butterfly migration is thanks to the help of citizen scientists. Want to help and contribute to these citizen-science projects? Check out Monarch Joint Venture’s Monarch project list.

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Photo ©

Scientists have a lot more to learn about insects (including ~5.5 million estimated species(open_in_new)) and their migrations. In some cases, insect migrations provide ecological services, like nutrient cycling and pollination, which we are only beginning to understand. As we learn more,we can support these insect migrants through gardening in the spring and fall. If you want to pledge to support pollinators and dragonflies, check out our Planning Tool and let us know about your best intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Warriors

Winter is tough. Freezing temperatures, windy days, lots of snow, and little to eat can make anyone’s day miserable. We have the advantage of having nice warm houses to take shelter in. Animals aren’t so lucky. So how do they deal with it?

The National Wildlife Federation’s blog has highlighted 10 animals they have deemed “winter warriors.” These animals have a variety of adaptations to beat winter’s deep freeze. Check out the article below to learn more about them.

 

Top 10 Winter Warriors

Adapted to Harsh Winter Conditions

Winter is a challenging time for those of us who aren’t so fond of the cold. Every year we break out the heavy coats and scarves to keep warm, but what do animals do?

Let’s take a look a ten “winter warriors” of the animal kingdom with incredible adaptations to help them withstand the unforgiving winter elements.

Polar Bear

polar bear cub

Polar bear cub. Photo by tableatny via Flickr.

Polar bears live in the frigid north where winter temperatures average around -40 °F, but can sometimes drop as low as -92 °F (-69 °C). Thankfully, they have a few unique tricks up their sleeves to combat the cold. To start, those pretty white bears we love so much are not actually white! Polar bear skin is black, which helps them to retain heat by absorbing more of the sun’s rays. Their two layers of fur, on the other hand, are transparent and the longer outer layer is hollow and reflects light, giving them a white appearance. Under their skin is a layer of insulating fat up to 4.5 inches thick!

Wood Frog

wood frog

Wood frog. Photo by Ontley via Wikimedia Commons.

Wood frogs literally freeze during the winter months. They stop breathing and their hearts stop beating, but they produce a special glycerol-based substance that acts as antifreeze and prevents ice from forming within their cells. If the water within a cell were to freeze, it would expand and the ice crystals would tear the cell apart, killing the frog. Through this process, nearly 70 percent of the frog’s total body water is converted to ice. This adaptation allows the wood frog to surive even in the Arctic.

Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverine. Photo by Per Harald Olsen/NTNU.

Many of the species on this list are increasingly at risk from a changing climate, and the wolverine is no exception. These rare and elusive mammals have dense fur and snowshoe-like paws for walking on deep snow. They live within a “refrigeration zone” in high-altitude, snow-covered peaks. Wolverines also use the snow as a natural refrigerator to store food to get through the late winter and early spring. When temperatures rise and snow melts, they lose the ability to store food and may risk starvation.

Red flat bark beetle

Red flat bark beetle

Red flat bark beetle. Photo by Katja Schulz via Flickr.

Red flat bark beetles are extremely cold-tolerant. Similar to wood frogs, they produce high levels of glycerol in their blood which keeps the water in their bodies from forming ice crystals. In addition, red flat bark beetles also dehydrate their cells, allowing them to survive in temperatures in which the antifreeze chemicals alone wouldn’t be enough to keep them from freezing. Red flat bark beetle larvae have been recorded surviving in temperatures of -238 °F (-150 °C). That’s one impressive insect!

Reindeer

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Reindeer. Photo by Alexandre Buisse via Wikimedia Commons.

Reindeer are masters of the tundra. Their hooves are like multi-purpose tools that act as snowshoes for walking, paddles for swimming, and shovels to help them dig for grasses. But even more impressive is the adaptation developed in their eyes, which turn from gold in the summer to blue in the winter to help them see at lower light levels. Imagine changing your eye color with the changing seasons!

Arctic woolly bear moth

Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar

Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar. Photo by Mike Beauregard via Wikimedia Commons

The Arctic woolly bear moth lives a unique lifestyle. As caterpillars, they will lie dormant when temperatures are below 59°F (15 °C). It only gets warmer than that in the Arctic for a short time each year, which means these caterpillars have a limited time to become active and to feed and build up the resources necessary to pupate. This means it takes approximately seven years for a caterpillar to successfully pupate into a moth. The Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar also expels water from its body to prevent cell death in freezing temperatures.

Black-capped chickadee

black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee. Photo by Minette Layne via Flickr.

Black-capped chickadees are about 5 inches long and weigh barely more than a Sharpie marker. So, how, you might ask, does an animal so small make it through winter in the northern U.S.? Aside from storing food and roosting in small, protective tree cavities, black-capped chickadees have two important biological adaptations: nocturnal hypothermia and metabolic regulation. During winter nights the chickadees will enter a state of hypothermia, effectively allowing them to lower their body temperature in order to store energy. This adaptation is complemented by the ability to increase their metabolic rate, which increases their heat production in order to accommodate winter temperatures. Together, these behavioral and biological adaptations make black-capped chickadees tiny but formidable winter warriors.

Lynx

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Lynx. Photo by Keith Williams via Wikimedia Commons.

Lynx live in remote northern forests in North America. They have long, thick fur that acts as an insulating winter coat. Their large paws let them to walk on the snow with ease and allow them to silently stalk their prey. Lynx populations are dependent upon prey populations — particularly the nimble snowshoe hare — so adaptations like their impressive noses help them thrive. Not only do they have a powerful sense of smell, but their noses also help them determine the temperature so they can seek refuge before a storm hits.

Arctic fox

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Arctic fox

Don’t let their cute pointy ears and fluffy tails fool you; arctic foxes are tough! They have incredibly thick fur and a bushy tail that can wrap around them like a scarf, keeping their noses warm. Their short legs, ears, and snout help retain body heat, and the dense fur on the bottom of their paws prevents heat loss through their feet and helps them gain traction on the ice. Arctic foxes use their acute sense of hearing to locate prey deep beneath the snow, and refrain from drinking water in the winter as not to lower their core temperature. Instead, they get water through their food. Their metabolic rate only starts to increase at -58 °F (-50 °C) and they don’t start to shiver until temperatures reach -94 °F (-70 °C). Burrr!

Tardigrade

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Tardigrade. Photo by Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill.

There are a number of impressive species on this list, but perhaps none more so than the tardigrade. This extremophile, affectionately called the “water bear” or “moss piglet,” is a microorganism no more than 1.5 mm long that is found in many ecosystems around the world, from mountain tops to rain forests to the deep sea. It can withstand temperatures ranging from -328 °F to 304 °F (-200 °C to 151 °C). It can even survive the vacuum of space! Tardigrades do this by undergoing a process called cryptobiosis, in which all metabolic activities halt. This would mean certain death for most animals, but not the tardigrade! It has the ability to reverse the cryptobiosis when conditions become more favorable, which is pretty darn cool.

Hidden Signs, the Fun of Tracking

Winter can be miserable for many. You may not like the cold, the snow, the endless cloudy days, or the shortness of day length. Yet there are lots of fun things to do outside in winter and tracking is a great one.

Tracking is an easy activity that anyone can do, requires only a little skill and a bit of patience. And a sense of curiosity, let’s not forget that one. And winter is a great season to start exploring. Snow makes a great surface for animal tracks. You can even make a game out of it. Where do you think this animal was going? Where did it come from? How many do you think there were? You can make guesses about its life and daily travels.

Not to mention that you can learn more about your animal neighbors from their tracks. You may see evidence of an animal you had no idea was even around, especially when it comes to our furry friends who come out at night.

This blog post from the National Wildlife Federation gives you a few tips on how to tackle this activity. If you want to get even better at your identification, a field guide is a great place to start and the Waterford Press’ Pocket Naturalist line creates some great ones at a reasonable price. These are folding field guides that highlight the more common animals or plants in a region. Plus, it’s laminated so no worry about it getting wet! Here’s the one on Animal Tracks.

So next time you’re out on a walk, take a look around. You never know what (or who) you might find.

 

Searching for Signs of Winter

To many New Englanders, winter is defined in inches – inches of snow that is. By that account, you wouldn’t be surprised that winter has so far come as a disappointment to many, but especially to winter sport enthusiasts. Yes, New Englanders looked on with envy as mid-Atlantic states were recently hit heavy with multiple feet of snow; that illustrious powder.

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Signs of bobcat near a site in Pittsford, VT. Photo by Northern Stewards

Although skiers and riders would most certainly disagree, I might argue that the current snow conditions here in Vermont have been absolutely perfect… for tracking wildlife that is! Wildlife enthusiasts are delighted by the light dusting we continue to receive atop a thick crust of snow, the perfect combination to observe wildlife impressions left behind.With these ideal snow conditions, the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Office has headed out with Northern Stewards to conduct tracking surveys at 24 sites throughout Vermont where the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Team is using wildlife cameras to document the movement of wildlife in proximity roadways. We are observing a fisher continually use a culvert in Glover, a bobcat that is ever-present in the Pomainville Wildlife Management Area in Pittsford, VT, coyotes, snowshoe hare, and much more.

Tracking surveys are often incorporated with wildlife camera monitoring to help reinforce the interpretation of wildlife movement and to mitigate against a camera’s potential to produce false negatives. For example, a camera may fail to detect a bobcat moving through the area, but while surveying the area we might find evidence of a bobcat via a track or sign.

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Several fisher tracks leading in and out of a culvert in Glover, VT. Photo by VTFWD

Canine or Feline Tracks

A distinguishing feature of any canine, from coyote to fox to Yorkshire terrier, is that you can always draw an “X” through the features. The front two toes are evenly aligned and the entire print is nearly symmetrical. Unlike canines, feline tracks are asymmetrical. The front two toes are not aligned and one will be further forward than the other – similar to how we have one finger that is longer than the others.

On the other hand, a bobcat, leopard, or domestic cat – any species of the felidae family – will also always leave a track surrounded by a “hair halo.” On a perfect impression, you can also draw an “M” on the leading edge of the heel pad. Just remember, “M” for “Meow”!

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POP QUIZ: Can you identify what family of species belongs to these? Photos by Northern Stewards (right) and Steve Gifford (left)

Join the Action!

If you are interested in the chance to observe wildlife, I’m happy to inform you that you don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t even have to travel far! Wildlife tracking is a fun, interactive activity for all ages and can offer a whole new perspective on how you see and value the land around you. Best of all, you don’t need to be an expert – all you need is a little bit of curiosity and the right approach.

A Few Tips to Get Started:

  • Get outside! The best time to observe wildlife is during the morning and evening hours.
  • Shhhhhh, be quiet. It’s often easier to hear wildlife before you see it so try to remain as quite as possible.
  • Stay downwind. Take notice of the way the wind is blowing and always try to face into the wind. Many animals have a keen sense of smell and standing upwind can quickly alter them of your presence. Try to also avoid wearing perfumes or other strong scents.
  • Patience is virtue. Slow down and take the time to stop, listen, look, and wait. Make your self comfortable and settle in.
  • Pick a good spot. Are you looking for a species in particular? Know what you are looking for and the best habitats to find it. Always remember to get permission if venturing onto private property.
  • Don’t forget to look up! From moose bark scrapes to tracks in the snow, there are a number of clues that can be found all around you – from the forest floor to the canopy.
  • Be prepared. Pack an appropriate field guide to help identify what you see and always dress appropriate for the weather. It’s important to wear a lot of layers during the winter. Bring a notebook, camera, and binoculars if you have them. If you are venturing alone, always be sure to let someone know where you are going and long you anticipate to be.
  • Respect Wildlife. If you encounter wildlife, always keep your distance. Do not approach, follow, or feed wild animals. If you want a closer look, bring a pair of binoculars with you.

Keep in Mind

From backyard bird feeders to the underside of a log, wildlife is all around you. So while your snowshoes, skis, and board collect more dust than snow this year, I encourage you to venture outdoors and look for signs of wildlife. Whether you’re hitting the trails or investigating your own backyard, happy hunting!

Winter Fun at Home

It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun.

In fact, winter can be a great season to get outside. Snow makes a great surface for finding animal tracks, the lack of leaves makes spotting birds and squirrels easier, and the quiet you find in the woods in winter can be very peaceful and inspiring. Then there are all the winter recreation possibilities – skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, making snowmen and snow angels, snowball fights, etc. All you need to do is be prepared for the cold to have a good time.

But you don’t have to venture out to the forest for winter fun, you can make your own at home!

What is the best part of winter? Snow of course, and you can find that anywhere in Michigan this time of year. This post by Science Friday gives you activities on how to collect, preserve, and even make your own snowflakes. Intrigued? We were.

Check out the Science Friday post here. The article is an excerpt from “Mamma Gone Geek” by Lynn Brunelle.

Snowflake, by Steve Begin/flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0