Species Spotlight: Monarch Butterfly

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Beautiful and bold, butterflies have captured the interests and imaginations of people for millennia. Few have been as iconic as the Monarch butterfly. With a historic range spanning over 3,000 miles across North and Central America, as well as the northern part of South America, it is also the most well-traveled. Every spring, millions of these winged wonders make the journey north as far as Canada from their wintering spots in Mexico.

It’s one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena, as no living Monarch has ever made the journey before, and yet they reliably fly in the same direction, year after year. By the time they reach the northernmost part of their range, five generations of Monarchs will have lived, bred and died, leaving their offspring to carry the torch. This final generation, born in late summer, will be the lucky ones to migrate south to overwinter for eight months before beginning the journey north again the following spring.

Monarch on a goldenrod – Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

As many of us have seen, the Monarch is a mid-sized butterfly with a distinctive orange and black wing pattern accented with white spots. Predators should take care not to confuse it with the strikingly similar Viceroy, whose hind wings have a black line that the Monarch lacks. This small difference is important to note, because the Monarch is toxic. Its caterpillars have an equally distinctive appearance, their stout bodies banded with yellow, black and white. Because Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, the caterpillars grow up eating nothing else – rendering them their toxicity.

Largely the result of habitat loss, there has been a nearly 90% decline in the population of the Eastern monarch, which is the largest subset of the species and that which carries its migration into Michigan. The loss of habitat includes breeding grounds across the U.S. and overwintering habitat in Mexico, as well as a variety of habitats in which to rest and refuel on their exhaustive journey. This is a grave concern, as pollinators supply 1/3 of the world’s food and 3/4 of its flowers, and apart from being lovely, Monarchs are one of the most common and widespread butterfly species.

Few insects are as beloved as the Monarch. Several initiatives are underway to preserve the necessary habitats to sustain their populations, including the Monarch Joint Venture and Journey North. The Michigan Nature Association is hosting its annual Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5k at Mayor’s Riverfront Park in Kalamazoo on Sunday, October 1 to promote efforts to preserve Monarch habitat throughout Michigan.

Partnership logo

Contact Jess Foxen at jfoxen@michigannature.org to learn more, or register online. The fee for adults is $25, children $10, and includes a t-shirt and participatory medal. If you’re more into pizza than running, you can also show your support for the majestic Monarch by showing this flyer with your order at Blaze Pizza at 5015 W Main Street in Kalamazoo on September 30th from 3-7pm. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to MNA to support their mission of preserving Michigan’s natural heritage.

Read more about MNA’s involvement with Monarch conservation and keep current on other important news with the Fall 2017 publication of Michigan Nature magazine!

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Saw-Whet Owl Banding at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

The Michigan Nature Association recently hosted a project to track saw-whet owl migration at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. The project leader and head owl bander was Selena Creed, who has years of experience banding raptors in the Mackinac Straits.

Saw-whet owl migration routes are well-documented along the Great Lakes shoreline, but the routes they take through inland Michigan are less understood. Given that the Sharonville State Game Area and surrounding wooded complex (which includes Lefglen) represents one of the largest contiguous habitat blocks in southeast Michigan, researchers believe it was likely they would be moving through here if they travel inland.

This year a total of 13 saw-whet owls were captured across five nights using mist nets and an audio lure. This is more than enough to prove that saw-whets are using Lefglen Nature Sanctuary and the larger surrounding habitat complex as an inland migration route through Michigan!

Selena and the team examined mostly female and hatch year owls, but were treated to a couple second year/after second year/male owls as well. One owl was a recapture that had been banded earlier this fall at Hillardton Marsh, Ontario – Selena states that recaptures are somewhat rare.

Thank you to Gary Hofing for taking very high-quality photos that provide great documentation of the banding process and measurements/data collected from each bird, including how they are aged using a blacklight to see wing molt pattern.

Water Quality Partnerships, Poweshiek Skipperling, and Dragonflies: this week in environmental news

Local land conservancies, Watershed Council partner up to safeguard water quality (The Livingston Post): Local land conservancies, including the Michigan Nature Association, and the Huron River Watershed Council joined forces in 2014, to help private land owners protect natural areas with the potential to impact water quality. This month, the partnership will hold information sessions throughout the Huron River’s watershed so that land owners can learn about the land protection process and register for free land assessment tools. The Huron River is considered Michigan’s cleanest urban river. It owes this designation both to historic land conservation efforts and to the watershed’s remaining natural areas.

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Reared Poweshiek skipperling. Photo: Erik Runquist/Minnesota Zoo.

Stopping Extinction of a Prairie Butterfly – Poweshiek Skipperling (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service): The Poweshiek skipperling was listed as endangered in 2014. Prairie loss and degradation led to the initial decline of the species, but causes of the recent sharp decline remain a mystery. It is suspected that several threats may be responsible, such as an unknown disease or parasite, climate change, or use of pesticides. Research has begun in an effort to narrow down the cause or causes of the decline.

Superheroes build homes for bats (Great Lakes Echo): The Organization for Bat Conservation in Bloomfield, Michigan teamed up with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and crew to raise funds and awareness for bat conservation. The set from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is getting recycled wood to auction off in the form of bat houses. The auction will be held on EBay and the money from the sales will go to the Save the Bat campaign.

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This Pantala dragonfly is a male from Japan. Photo: Alpsdake/Wikipedia

Tiny dragonfly species crushes long-distance migration record by riding high-altitude winds (Mother Nature Network): Barely an inch and a half long, the Pantala flavescens dragonfly flies across continents and oceans. Pantala dragonflies are found all over the world. Biologists recently discovered that it’s not just that some Pantala dragonflies migrate long-distance from here to there, but rather that the worldwide Pantala population is one giant gene pool, and individuals from all corners of the world are freely interbreeding. More research will be needed to gather the evidence necessary to fully prove this new hypothesis about travel via high-altitude winds, but the dragonfly’s roughly 4,400-mile migration range puts it well ahead of any other migratory insect.

Lake-effect snow, monarch butterflies and the climate: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA does a quick recap of news related to nature and the environment. Below are a few stories you may have missed this week in environmental news:

Monarch butterflies near a plot of tropical milkweed where doctoral students at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology are monitoring the insects. Credit Stephen Morton for The New York Times

What is lake-effect snow? Hint: it involves a lake (TIME): A timely look at the science behind lake-effect snow. Brr!

For the monarch butterfly, a long road back (The New York Times): Researchers at the University of Georgia are studying the human effects on migratory behavior of monarch butterflies. The recent efforts of amateur conservationists to replenish declines in milkweed may be part of the problem – in many cases, the milkweed available for planting is an exotic species that may lead to unseasonal breeding.

Long-eared bat listing gets pushback (Great Lakes Echo): Timber industry advocates and bat conservationists are at odds over the federal protection of the northern long-eared bat. Fish and Wildlife Service officials recommended the listing and have distributed guidelines on how to best log forests without harming bats. These recommendations suggest restricted logging from April through October, which led to pushback from the forest industry.

State of the Climate: Global average temperature is highest on record for October (NOAA): The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for October at 0.74 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average of 14.0 degrees Celsius.

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.

 

Brockway Mountain Challenge Yields Success

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

An autumn view from Brockway Mountain. Photo by J. Haara.

An autumn view from Brockway Mountain. Photo by J. Haara.

In only seven months, MNA has been able to surpass its fundraising goal in order to protect more of Brockway Mountain, adjacent to the James H. Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Keweenaw County.

In 2013, Eagle Harbor Township protected 320 acres of Brockway Mountain near the Klipfel Nature Sanctuary. Brockway Mountain is one of MNA’s top conservation priorities, and MNA learned of an opportunity to protect an additional 77 acres adjacent to this addition shortly after the acquisition.

MNA was able to raise $150,000, to protect the additional acres on Brockway Mountain. MNA had until December 2014 to meet this goal, but has been able to surpass it thanks to dedicated members and donors, including a special matching challenge grant by Donald and Karen Stearns. The organization has extended an invitation for the public to attend a meeting on June 21 from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. and a hike atop Brockway Mountain at the Klipfel Nature Sanctuary afterward.

The meeting will be held at the Eagle Harbor Community Center in Eagle Harbor, Mich. Lunch will be provided at the meeting and guests can RSVP by contacting Danielle Cooke at (866) 223-2231 or dcooke@michigannature.org.

Stewards and volunteers work together to maintain the Klipfel Nature Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

Stewards and volunteers work together to maintain the Klipfel Nature Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

The Klipfel Nature Sanctuary currently sits atop the bluff of Brockway Mountain and boasts a scenic coastal drive allowing for easy access to the area and an outstanding view of scenery and Lake Superior. Keweenaw’s harsh winds make the semi-alpine habitat an inhospitable climate for many plants but creates a unique ecological environment where sedges, grasses and wildflowers grow.

In the springtime, Brockway Mountain is a great place to bird-watch as the raptors make their way to their Canadian breeding sites. These birds can be observed in flight close along the cliffs, a distance much shorter than normally observed.

MNA continues to extend protection to Brockway Mountain, whose drive has been described as one of the most scenic coastal drives in the United States. MNA has been successful thanks to many generous donations and will be able to continue preservation of Brockway Mountain’s legacy of beautiful vistas and unique ecological composition.

 

Farm bill, drops in Monarch migration and invasive species: this week in environmental news

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A Monarch Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and country. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news.

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear (The Washington Post): The number of Monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico from the United States in the winter is at a record low since 1993, experts say. There are a number of reasons that could be the cause, but the believed main culprit is herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops that are leading to the killing of milkweed, the butterfly’s main food source. This years extreme weather patterns are also playing a significant role.

White Lake to be first Area of Concern in Michigan removed from list this summer (mlive): White Lake should be removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list by the summer of 2014 due to efforts to bring awareness and routine cleanups to the lake and surrounding areas. White Lake would become the first of 14 lakes of concern in Michigan to be removed from the list. Efforts included cleaning up the shoreline to make the lake more ascetically pleasing and removing drinking water pollution.

Sleeping Bear bill likely headed to House floor (record eagle): Legislation has been introduced to protect 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a wilderness area, which is important to northern Michigan’s tourism industry and conservation. The bill has made its way closer to reaching the U.S House of Representatives this past week.

Farm bill heads to vote; US Sen. Debbie Stabenow talks about how it could affect Michigan (mlive): A five-year farm bill was announced that will extend crop insurance for apple and tart cherry farmers in Michigan. The frost that occurred in 2012 destroyed 90 percent of the states crops and the new bill will allow disaster assistance for farmers who were affected by this. Also, when farmers sign up, they are agreeing to adopt better conservation practices to benefit the land and the Great Lakes.

Cold spells may kill some but not worst invasive bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent study found that this severe winter we are experiencing may lead to the death of some invasive species of insects. The emerald ash borer, though, seems unaffected. The storms happened later in the winter resulting in animals acclimating to the weather and the cooler temperatures so they become less affected. MSU professor Deborah McCullough hopes that the cold will kill off other harmful species that are less immune to the weather like the mimosa webworm.