Butterflies to look for in Michigan

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

It’s almost hard to believe that a tiny, graceful creature could fly out of a cocoon. Yet every year, the butterfly continues its phenomenon, metamorphosing from a mere bumbling, crawling caterpillar into a sleek, graceful winged insect.

A butterfly’s life

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

The butterfly begins its life in a small ovoid-shaped egg, developing into a caterpillar. The caterpillar grows and hatches out of its egg and must start eating in order to grow. The caterpillar sheds its smaller skin a few times during growth before it begins the “pupa” stage.It forms the chrysalis, the cocoon formed around its body to undergo metamorphosis. The final stage is when the newly formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon, no longer a ground-anchored insect.

For more details about the butterfly’s life cycle click here.

Here are some butterflies common to Michigan, that can be spotted while enjoying Michigan’s nature.

White Admiral

The White Admiral has a 2.25-4 inch wingspan and has a white band in the middle of both wings. Hind-wings also may have a row of blue dashes or red dots toward the edges. The White Admiral is usually found in Northern deciduous evergreen forests. This butterfly likes to eat rotting fruit and nectar from small white flowers.

Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail boasts a wingspan of up to 6 inches, making it one of the largest of its species. The swallowtail can be spotted as a black winged-insect with yellow spots on its edges creating a band across them. The Giant Swallowtail chooses rocky and sandy hillsides near bodies of water. This butterfly likes to get its nectar from several plants including goldenrod, azalea and swamp milkweed.

Monarch

The Monarch is a well-known butterfly with an interesting history. This butterfly is known to migrate from the north to the south including places in California and Mexico during the harsh, northern winter months. The Monarch has black and orange wings with white dots near the margins. The Queen butterfly who is a close relative is often mistaken for a Monarch but is also commonly spotted in Michigan. Monarchs are particular to milkweed plants.

Silver Spotted Skipper

The Silver Spotted Skipper has a small wingspan which can be up to about 2.5 inches. Its wings are a mixture of brown and black, with transparent gold spots and a metallic silver band. They reside in disturbed and open woods, streams and prairie waterways. This butterfly avoids feeding on any yellow flowers but instead eats plants like everlasting pea, common milkweed and thistles.

Little Glassywing

The little Glassywing has an even smaller wingspan than the Silver Spotted Skipper, which can be up to 1.5 inches. The wings are a combination of brown and black like the Skipper. These butterflies prefer to feed on white, pink and purple flowers including common milkweed and peppermint. These butterflies like to live near shaded wood edges.

Endangered butterflies

Two other butterflies that can be found in Michigan are the Karner Blue and the Mitchell’s Satyr. These butterflies are particularly noteworthy in the state because of their endangered status. MNA has profiled these butterflies in the past, bringing awareness to their endangered status in the U.S.

 

Rare butterflies, growing wolf hunt and a wildfire dispute: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

The Poweshiek skipperling. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension.

The Poweshiek skipperling. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension.

Michigan could be last hope for rare butterfly, feds say (Detroit News): The Poweshiek skipperling is a brown and gray butterfly that used to be found in seven states and one Canadian province. It is now found at only one site in Manitoba, two sites in Wisconsin and eight sites across Michigan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing for the butterfly to be put on the endangered species list. This would make it illegal to kill, remove or harm the butterfly that becomes scarcer every year.

Two more wolves killed in Michigan’s first wolf hunt, bringing total to four in slow start (MLive): Four wolves have been killed and reported to the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan’s first wolf hunt. The wolves shot must be reported within 24 hours. Only 43 wolves are to be killed in the wolf hunt from zones in the Upper Peninsula where they are deemed problematic. It is estimated that there are at least 658 wolves in Michigan in total.

Wildfire dispute between sheriff, local fire chief (ABC News): A sheriff in Colorado is claiming the Colorado wildlife was intentionally set, and also said the Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey is being “less than truthful about other circumstances with (the) disaster.” Although there is no evidence, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa is claiming the fire that destroyed 486 homes and killed two people was “human caused” and that Harvey was “covering his own mishandling of the event.”

Report: Climate change threatens to alter big game in Michigan (WKAR): A new report from the National Wildlife Federation is saying climate change could negatively impact many big game species. Frank Szollosi, Great Lakes Regional Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said big game animals in Michigan are seeing changing habitats and an increase in parasite populations due to warmer winters.

Elk’s sad tale a reminder not to feed wildlife (Mother Nature Network): An elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was euthanized after a video of it head-butting a photographer went viral, having over 1 million views. Park officials say they tried many other options before ultimately deciding the elk had lost its instinctive fear of people and had to be put down. Officials believe this is the result of wild animals being fed by visitors in the park.

Wolf hunt, lionfish and protecting butterflies: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A gray wolf. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A gray wolf. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With Michigan wolf hunt less than a month away, debate rages onward (Great Lakes Echo): Wolf hunting in Michigan will be legal for the first time on November 15. The hunt will end on December 31, or once 43 wolves have been killed. Supporters argue the hunt will curb the threat wolves pose to livestock and pets. The conservation group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is collecting signatures to put the Natural Resources Commission’s authority to put the hunt to a vote. If the group collects enough signatures, there will be a statewide vote in November 2014 regarding the hunt.

Lionfish wreaking havoc on Atlantic Ocean (Yahoo): The population of lionfish along the U.S. east coast is growing out of control. The lionfish is a venomous predator that has no natural predators of its own in the Atlantic Ocean. The Christian Science Monitor estimates that at least 40 native species have suffered because of the invasive lionfish. Scientists believe that introducing only six lionfish into the area caused the boom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association suggests the only way to control the population is to capture and eat the lionfish.

Wildlife officials seek protection for Dakota, Poweshiek butterflies (Holland Sentinel): Federal wildlife officials believe two types of butterflies should be classified as threatened or endangered. The proposal to protect the Dakota skipper and the Poweshiek skipperling will be published in the Federal Register. The Fish and Wildlife service wants to designate different sized tracts in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota to protect the Dakota skipper, while designating tracts in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to protect the Poweshiek skipperling.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions drop 3.8 percent (Mother Nature Network): The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced on Monday, October 21 that there was a 3.8 percent drop in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from 2011 to 2012. Although the population increased in 2012, the country released 208 million metric tons less than it did the year before. A milder winter, new car efficiency standards and a continuing switch from power plants run by coal to power plants run by natural gas contributed to the decrease.

Up or down? Which way are Great Lakes water levels headed? (MLive): Officials have considered closing Leland Harbor in Lake Michigan because of record-low water levels that could damage boats and freighters. Although significant rainfall from April to August caused a rise in water levels in the Great Lakes, climate change and manmade alterations have greatly affected the makeup of the lakes. Most studies conclude lake levels will go down in the future, due to climate change. Scientists also predict climate change will cause a continued increase in water temperatures, less ice cover and more evaporation from the lakes.

Species Spotlight: Poweshiek Skipperling

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

To me, one of the most interesting things about the outdoors is its variety. Each species provides a vital link in its habitat, regardless of how small it may be. One of Michigan’s tiny yet fascinating creatures is the Poweshiek skipperling.

Though moth-like in appearance, the Poweshiek skipperling is a small butterfly that resides in tallgrass prairie. Its upper wings are a dark grayish-brown tone, with orange markings on the forewing. A distinctive pale area on the butterfly’s hindwing sets it apart from moth counterparts, as does a dark green stripe on Poweshiek skipperling caterpillars. Males and females are very similar in appearance, as they both have a wingspan of roughly one inch. However, females can be identified by a subtle brand on the forewing.

A Poweshiek skipperling on a black-eyed Susan. Photo: Dwayne Bagdero.

A Poweshiek skipperling on a black-eyed Susan.
Photo: Dwayne Bagdero.

The main flight period for the Poweshiek skipperling is mid June to mid July. During this time, the butterfly can be spotted fluttering low in the grass near nectar sources, especially tending to prefer black-eyed Susan flowers in Michigan. Its flight involves excessive wing movement that exerts little forward velocity, distinguishing the species from other butterflies and moths. This slow, bouncy pattern resembles skipping, which gives the Poweshiek skipperling its name.

The butterfly has been sporadically reported in various areas throughout the Midwest, as far east as Ohio and as far west as Minnesota. In Michigan, the Poweshiek skipperling resides in select prairie fens in the southeast region. These fens are wetland communities mainly composed of sedges and grasses, and are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan. Prairie fens house over two dozen of the state’s rarest plants and animals, including the Poweshiek skipperling.

However, because Michigan Poweshiek skipperlings are limited to this specific prairie fen habitat, they are experiencing a severe population decline and are currently state threatened. Prairie fens are extremely delicate areas, limited by invasive species, gravel mining, and woodland invasion. Without scheduled burn or mow periods, fen plants grow too tall to house this sensitive insect, limiting their survival.

Addressing this concern, MNA protects prairie fens in 14 of its sanctuaries in southern Michigan. In order to prevent the fens from succeeding into forest or shrubland, MNA holds prescribed burns of these areas. Though some of MNA’s especially sensitive fens have restricted access, Lefglen Nature Sanctuary, Lakeville Swamp, and Goose Creek Grasslands are all open to the public. MNA also holds scheduled field trips and work days in many of these areas, including upcoming volunteer days at Goose Creek Grasslands, located in Lenawee County, on June 10th and June 14th.  These visits allow guests to help protect these delicate habitats.