Posts Tagged ‘butterflies’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for the Birds. And Butterflies. And…

You might not have much more than a standard city lot for a yard, but even you can make your space a wildlife haven. Simple additions to your yard can make it attractive to birds, butterflies, bees, and others. One of the easiest? Food.

Food is essential to life. Everything eats something. What you choose to provide will depend on what you’re looking to attract as well as what lives in your area. And don’t forget variety. Many animals’ diets change as the year goes on and depending on their life stage. By providing many different food sources you can satisfy your local wildlife through a greater portion of the year and may even attract the attention of something you weren’t expecting.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife website has great resources for the backyard habitat enthusiast. This program not only covers food options, but also other components of good habitat – shelter, water, and places to raise young.

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They even have a handy menu that will lead you through it all.

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So if you have ever thought about how you can help the animals in your neighborhood, surf around this website a little. Hopefully you can find the next great addition to your yard. Your local wildlife thanks you in advance.

 

Help Out Bees and Other Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

Pollinators have been making news. We depend on the numerous insects, birds, and mammals for the majority of the food we eat every day. These creatures serve a vital part of the ecosystem, but they’re disappearing fast.

In North America, most of our pollinators are of the insect variety – native bees, honeybees (and yes, honeybees are not native to the United States), beetles, flies, butterflies, etc. While much of the news stories have been focused on the large-scale problem and several large-scale solutions, there are several things you at home can do to help out pollinators in your very own backyard. No matter the size, any help at all is useful. Think of it this way, if everyone in your neighborhood planted one small plot of native wildflowers, or put one bee block (aka bee hotel), all of those small things would add up to a LOT of good habitat for our little insect friends.

National Geographic has put together a list of 9 simple things you can do at home. Bonus: many of these things help out more than just the pollinators.

9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home

This week the White House released new strategies to boost the insects so crucial to our food supply. Here’s how you can do your part to support pollinators at home.

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By Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic

If you like to eat, you can thank insects—in particular, pollinators such as honeybees, which provide much of the U.S. food supply. Sadly, pollinators in the United States have been in crisis for more than a decade.

Beekeepers continue to report major hive losses each year, while many native bees and other pollinating insects are likely in steep decline—for a host of reasons. This week the White House weighed in on how to make things better, releasing a new National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. (Related: “Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees.”)

Meanwhile, are there things the rest of us can do to help relieve pollinators’ plight?

Absolutely, says Ed Spevak, curator of invertebrates and director of the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. He talked to National Geographic about the best ways regular folks with lawns and gardens, wherever they live, can help the birds and the bees (and the butterflies).

Go Native

Choose native plants in a variety of shapes and colors to encourage diversity. Remember that native wildflowers will be better adapted to your climate than exotics. And one size doesn’t fit all: There are over 4,000 bee species in North America (some 20,000 worldwide) ranging from two millimeters to an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, so blossoms should vary in species and size, too. (Read “Quest for a Superbee” in National Geographic magazine.)

Keep It Blooming

Among your native plants, make sure something is blooming each season (spring, summer, and fall). Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need to feed regardless of the date.

Save the Queen

Newly emerging bumblebee queens need spring-blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees. Bumblebees, unlike, honeybees, have an annual cycle. New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they find a place to hibernate for the winter. When the insects emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies. (See beautiful, intimate portraits of bees.)

Plant Milkweed

Adding milkweed to your garden provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but don’t forget nectar sources for the adults, such as flowers that bloom in late summer. Adults get especially hungry in the fall as they head south to their overwintering sites in Mexico.

Save Money on Mulch

Leave a little bare ground. Most species of bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way (Read more about creating a sustainable home and garden.)

Picture of man opening beehive on a honeybee farm

Bret Adee opens a beehive in Lost Hills, California, home to Adee Honey Farms, the world’s largest commercial beekeeping operation.
Photograph by Anand Varma, National Geographic

Offer Bee Real Estate

Install a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. (Or, build one yourself.) You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t done it for you). This offers habitat to the many bee species that nest in pre-existing holes.

Make a Border

By bordering your fruits and vegetables with native flowers, you’ll improve pollination of your crops and also support bees when the crops stop blooming. It will also attract and support other pollinators such as wasps and hover flies that control crop pests. (See National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 10 gardens.)

Go Easy on the Chemicals

Pesticides can affect more than pests. Adding plants that draw natural pest-eaters (see above) and “companion planting”—including plants that naturally repel pests, such as garlic for aphids and basil for tomatoes—are good strategies to reduce chemical needs, according to organic gardeners. Maintaining healthy soil to keep plants’ immune systems strong can also help.

Get Involved

Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership or the Honeybee Health Coalition. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).