Aug 022016
 

I was doing maintenance in the vegetable garden today and found three very large and healthy Tomato Hornworms which will soon pupate and become a Five-spotted Hawkmoth. I placed them on some tomato seedlings that came up in the compost pile as the larvae have a sweet tooth for the fruit in preference to the foliage.

Bill Snowden, Ennismore

Manduca quinquemaculatus – Five-spotted Hawk Moth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

Manduca quinquemaculatus – Five-spotted Hawkmoth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

 Five-spotted Hawk Moth (hornworm) Wikimedia

Five-spotted Hawkmoth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

Tomato Hornworm (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm 2 (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm 2 (Rick Stankiewicz)

Aug 022016
 

I got a picture of this Giant Swallowtail butterfly today (August 1, 2016)), a species I had never seen before. So again, something unusual has popped up at Curve Lake!  I did some reading and these butterflies are moving northward. Reports thus far say that they are now found at Point Pelee and the northernmost report is from Ottawa.

David Beaucage Johnson

Note: Giant Swallowtails are a newcomer to the Kawarthas, too, and now appear to be well established. D.M.

Giant Swallowtail - David Beaucage Johnson - Aug. 1, 2016

Giant Swallowtail at Curve Lake – David Beaucage Johnson – Aug. 1, 2016

Jul 292016
 

I saw my first Giant Swallowtail of the year in the garden today, hovering around the phlox. I checked the dill plantation but there were no larvae. No Monarchs have been seen.

Bill Snowden, Ennismore

Note: I saw my first Giant Swallowtail today, too, just east of Havelock.  Giant Swallowtails in the Kawarthas lay their eggs on Hoptree and Prickly Ash.  D.M.

Giant Swallowtail on phlox - Tim Dyson

Giant Swallowtail on phlox – Tim Dyson

Giant Swallowtail on phlox - August 18, 2014 - Drew Monkman

Giant Swallowtail on phlox – August 18, 2014 – Drew Monkman

 

Jul 162016
 

I have not seen a Giant Swallowtail this year at all. Although I haven’t kept count of Monarchs this year, I did see my first one  on May 29th – my earliest ever – and my second on June 2nd.  The first was near Warsaw, and the other, near Stoney Lake. I’ve been back to photographing moths again. I find it an interesting thing to do in different and diverse habitats. There is much diversity of species from down off the shield between the Warsaw/Lakefield farmland, to the oak/pine belt just on the Shield around the north side of Stoney Lake. I’ve seen a few new species (new
to me) this year, and some regarded as “rare or uncommon” by Covell in his “Moths of Eastern North America”.

Tim Dyson

Giant Swallowtail on phlox - Tim Dyson

Giant Swallowtail on phlox – Tim Dyson

 

May 192016
 

The Kawarthas is home to at least 100 species of butterflies, 135 kinds of dragonflies and damselflies and a thousand or more different moths. Learning to identify the more common species is a great way to connect to the natural world around us and get kids interested in nature.

Butterflies

Who has not been enchanted by butterflies – the delicate, colorful wind danc­ers that are the hallmark of a warm spring or summer day? Belonging to an order of insects known as Lepidoptera, butterflies are easy to observe and turn up everywhere from woodland trails to backyard gardens. In fact, butterfly-watching also adds a whole new level of enjoyment to gardening. Compared to birding, which can involve getting up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of peak avian activity, identifying and photographing butterflies is a more civilized affair. Butterflies are rarely on the wing before 8 am and are most active on warm, sunny days.

Getting good looks at butterflies is easiest with a pair of binoculars, especially those that focus to within six feet or less. A camera with a zoom lens also comes in handy. By taking a picture of the butterfly, you can identify it later. Lots of excellent guide books and apps are available such as the “ROM Field Guide to the Butterflies of Ontario” and the “Audubon Butterflies” app. Some butterfly-watchers also use a net for catching hard-to-identify species such as skippers, which tend to be very similar. The butterfly can be transferred to a plastic viewing jar and then released.

Here are a few additional suggestions to keep in mind.

1. To find a given species, research the time of year it flies and its preferred habitat. Spring azures, for example, are most often seen in May; Canadian tiger swallowtails are active in June, while many of the fritillaries are observed in mid-summer.

Spring Azure - male - Wikimedia

Spring Azure – male – Wikimedia

2. Roadsides and wetland edges can be particularly productive, as long as there are sufficient flowers in bloom.

3. Learn to identify the plants that attract butterflies, either for nectar or as “larval plants” on which to lay eggs. Among the most important are the milkweeds.

Coral Hairstreak on Butterfly Milkweed

Coral Hairstreak on Butterfly Milkweed

4. Watch for butterflies basking in the sun on gravel roads (e.g., anglewings) and tree trunks (e.g., satyrs). Some species are attracted to animal dung and muddy puddles, which serve as a source of minerals, amino acids and nitrogen.

5. Be careful not to cast a shadow on the butterfly, since this will usually cause it to fly away.

6. Pay special attention to the butterfly’s size, wing shape, color and pattern­ing. The pattern on the underside of the wing, usually visible as the butterfly feeds, is especially important for identification purposes.

Moths

If you would simply prefer that insects to come to you, then moth-watching may be your thing. Mothing, as it is sometimes called, can be as simple as leaving on the porch light and checking periodically to see what’s clinging to the screen door. Unlike butterflies, most moths are nocturnal. However, there are exceptions. To distinguish moths from butterflies, remember that butterflies have club-like knobs on the ends of the antennae and usually perch with their wings held upwards. Moths, on the other hand, perch with their wings outspread and have antennae that closely resemble bird feathers.

While a simple incandescent light will attract some moths, the most effective bulbs are those that project light in the UV spectrum such as a black light CFL. Grow bulbs, designed for plants or aquariums, also work well. An even more effective option is to use a mercury or sodium vapour bulb, which broadcast an extremely bright light and draw in moths from further away. Set the light up in front of a wall or, even better, a white cotton sheet where the moths can land and be studied at close range.

Not all moths, however, are interested in lights. Some are nectar-feeders and will come to bait such as over-ripe bananas. A particularly effective way to entice moths is with a syrupy “goop.” One mixture calls for one over-ripe banana, a dollop of molasses, a scoop of brown sugar and a glug or two of beer. Mix the ingredients in a blender and spread the concoction on a tree trunk or a hang­ing rope. Check regularly after dark to see what has been attracted. With any luck, species such as Catocala (underwing) moths will show up. During the day, the bait may also attract butterflies.

Gallium Sphinx moth - June 4, 2016 - Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth – June 4, 2016 – Gwen Forsyth

A lot of the fun in mothing comes from taking pictures of the insects. Be aware, however, that using a flash may create washed-out images. A way to get around this is to carefully catch the moth in a small container, put it in the fridge overnight and take a picture the following morning using natural light. Place the moth on a pleasing background such as a leaf or a piece of bark. Make sure your camera settings are ready, because you will only have 30 seconds or so before the insect warms up enough to fly away. Placing a ruler beside the moth for one of the shots serves as a simple size reference.

Moth identification can be challenging, so keep in mind the following tips:

1. Start by focusing your ef­forts on the larger moths and those that stand out from the rest because of their large size and distinctive colours and markings (e.g., giant silkworm moths, sphinx moths).

2.  Take note of how it holds its wings when at rest. Are they spread out to the side or tent-like over the back? The former is probably a moth in the family Geometri­dae while the latter likely belongs to the family Noctuidae.

3. Once you have a rough idea of what family the moth might belong to, look more closely at the patterns on its wings and compare these to the photo­graphs in a guide such as “Peterson Field Guide to Moths” by Seabrooke Leckie.

4. Keep in mind the time of year. Like butter­flies, the moths you see change with the seasons. Knowing a given moth’s flight period will help to narrow down the species.

5.  Look at the range maps and make sure the species occurs in your area.

6. Check the type of host plant (larval food plant) the moth requires. If, for example, a given moth lays its eggs on plants that don’t grow in the Kawarthas, you can probably discount it.

 

Almost everything that applies to butterfly-watch­ing is also pertinent to the observation of dragonflies and their close cousins, damselflies. Collectively, these two groups of insects are known as the Odonata or simply “odonates.” Like butterflies and moths, there is a great deal of species diversity, and they, too, make wonderful subjects for photography.

On warm, sunny days, dragonflies and damselflies can be found around any wetland, lake or river. Many species are also attracted to meadows, roadsides and backyard gardens. In addition to using binoculars and a camera to help with identification, it can be fun to catch the insect in a butterfly net. It can then be transferred to a transpar­ent jar or plastic bag. Despite what many people think, dragonflies cannot sting you and their “bite” – on the rare occasions when this happens – is usually more startling than anything else. Here are a few simple suggestions to get started as an odonate-watcher.

1. Learn the different dragonfly (e.g., darners, skimmers) and damselfly (e.g., bluets, spreadwings) families. Knowing the family will greatly narrow down the choice of possible species.

Male Ebony Jewelwing, a species of damselfly (D. Gordon Robertson)

Male Ebony Jewelwing, a species of damselfly (D. Gordon Robertson)

2. Pick up a copy of “The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and Surrounding Area”. Written by local naturalist Colin Jones and illustrated by former Peterborough resident Peter Burke, it covers all of the species you are likely to find in the Kawarthas.

3. For dragonflies, take special note of overall size, eye position (e.g., do the two large eyes touch each other?) as well as any patterning on the thorax, abdomen or wings.

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly - Margo Hughes

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly – Margo Hughes

4. Remember that the male and female in many species can be quite different.

5. As with common moths and butterflies, you may want to start collect­ing odonates to have a small reference collection. Doing so will not have any impact on the population. Guidelines for proper collecting (e.g., using glassine envelopes) can be found online.

You will find more ways to develop a stronger connection to the natural world in my new “Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning” which I co-wrote with Jacob Rodenburg, executive director of Camp Kawartha. The book will be available in June.

 

 

 

Feb 182016
 

Even people who don’t like winter will grudgingly admit “well, at least, there’s no bugs.” Guess again. Insects are indeed out and about in the winter woods. The good news, however, is that the species you’re most likely to encounter ‑ the minuscule snow flea ‑ has no interest in humans. Even better, like the return of cardinal and chickadee song, its presence is a sign that spring is fast approaching.

The snow flea (Hypogastrura nivicola) is not related to true fleas such as those your dog or cat might bring home

Snow fleas in a deer track - Sheba Marx

Snow fleas in a deer track – Sheba Marx

. It belongs to an ancient group of wingless invertebrates called Collembola, commonly known as springtails. Along with other species of springtails, snow fleas are among the most abundant insects known to science. Tens of thousands can be found in a square metre of soil. For most of the year, they live beneath the forest floor, dining on algae, leaf mould and other fungi. They are part of a group of organisms known as decomposers, which turn organic material into soil nutrients that are essential for plant growth. This, in turn, allows other animals to feed on the plants, which are the foundation of the food chain.

On mild, mid- to later winter days, snow fleas take advantage of the melted area around the base of trees to spread out on the surface of the snow. They will also make their way to surface via the deep tracks of deer. I often see them on or adjacent to the trails of the Kawartha Nordic Ski Club on Highway 28, near Haultain. They sometimes congregate in such numbers as to turn sections of the trail black. If you crouch down for a closer look, what initially appears like particles of soot or pepper will start jumping about in front of you, often completely disappearing from view.

Olympic jumpers

Only about 1 mm in length, snow fleas accomplish their incredible leaps thanks to a forked appendage called the furcula, which is attached to the tip of the abdomen. Most of the time, it is folded under the abdomen and held in place by a tiny latch, or tenaculum. When the snow flea decides its time to move, it arches its body, thereby releasing the latch. Loaded with elastic energy, the furcula swings down and sends the tiny insect catapulting skyward. It can, in fact, hurdle itself an amazing 13 centimetres, which represents 65 times its body length. In human terms, that’s like being able to jump the length of a football field!

How do they survive?

Insects are exothermic, which means that their body temperature and activity level depend on the air temperature. The cold usually renders them inactive. The snow flea, however, has overcome these limits and thrives in sub-zero environments. First of all, its black coloration allows efficient absorption of heat from the sun. The microclimate in the sheltered spaces between the ice crystals is also substantially warmer than the surrounding air. In addition, four hundred million years of evolution have allowed snow fleas to produce a kind of natural anti-freeze. Researchers at Queen’s University have actually synthesised this protein, which is unlike any other previously known to science. They hope that similar proteins may be used for storing transplant organs. By preventing the formation of ice crystals in tissues, organs could be stored at lower temperatures and therefore remain available for transplants over longer periods.

Mysteries remain

What are snow fleas doing out on the snow, when most self‑respecting insects are overwintering as eggs, larvae, pupa or inactive adults? It was once thought that they emerged to feed on microscopic algae, bacteria and fungi on the snow’s surface. This, however, has been disproved. A new hypothesis is that by late winter they have reproduced to a point where space is at a premium. The overcrowding means that some have to escape to the surface, where they simply wander around aimlessly until colder temperatures force them back under the snow and into the soil.

There is also some doubt whether snow fleas are even insects. Their primitive anatomy has much in common with hexapods, an even more ancient group of invertebrates from which insects are believed to have evolved. Like countless other areas of science, so much about snow fleas remains shrouded in mystery.

Stoneflies

Another insect to watch for at this time of year is the winter stonefly. On mild, sunny days, adult stoneflies can be seen crawling over the snow in areas close to running water. They are weak fliers and do not stray far from the water’s edge. Like gray squirrels, skunks and great horned owls, stoneflies seek out partners early in the season to beat the spring mating rush. After mating, the female returns to the frigid water of the stream to lay her eggs.

Stonefly (note tail-like appendages) Wikimedia

Stonefly (note tail-like appendages) Wikimedia

The stonefly’s life cycle is quite unusual. After the eggs hatch in the spring, the larvae bury themselves in the mud of the streambed, where they lie dormant all summer. In this way, they avoid dangers such as fish predation, low summer oxygen levels and fluctuating water flows. They emerge from the mud in late November, grow quickly into the adult stage and are ready to mate by mid‑winter.

One species commonly seen along Jackson Creek in Peterborough is the small winter stonefly (Capnis genus). I often find them on the snow adjacent to the creek. This stonefly is black, measures about eight millimetres in length, and folds its wings flat over its back. It has two prominent tails (cerci). Since stoneflies require clean, moving water to survive, their presence is usually an indicator of good water quality. In some jurisdictions, winter stonefly numbers are closely monitored to gauge the health of rivers and streams.

There are a couple of other insects to watch for if you’re out in the woods this winter. Snow scorpionflies (Boreus brumalis), dark-bodied insects about seven millimetres in length, are active on mild winter days. Look for them on or near the moss in which they develop. Males have only rudimentary wings, while females have no wings at all. The latter have a prominent ovipositor, however, which is used for laying eggs.

Near streams, keep an eye open for the wingless winter crane fly (Chionea genus). At first, you may dismiss it as a lost spider, but a quick count of the legs ‑ six instead of eight ‑ will prove that it is indeed an insect. Its dark‑brown colouration makes the winter crane fly easy to see against the snow. You may be familiar with the crane flies we see in summer. They look like giant mosquitoes with a wingspan of about three centimetres and extremely long legs. The winter crane fly has evolved as a wingless, smaller‑sized version of its summer cousin with special adaptations to winter life.

To the curious and mindful observer, there is far more going on in the winter woods than first meets the eye. As with so much in nature, it’s mostly a matter of being patient and paying attention.

 

 

 

Jan 012015
 

If you think from reading the title that you are about to read an excerpt from a steamy romance novel, I am afraid you might be disappointed.
If, however, you have an interest in where moths go during the cold months, then I hope you`ll find the following of interest.

Frozen, quiet, and white, is the landscape at this time of year.
The silent, still air may, for a time, be infiltrated by the laughter of a nuthatch, the flute-like snort of an alarmed deer, or the the warble
of a pair of ravens as they roll through the sky together in early-season courtship. And what about the night? Apart from the occasional hoot of an owl, the mournful lament of distant coyotes, or the sudden crack of a tree as it freezes, much of the winter night seems to be truly asleep.

Although there actually is a lot going on during this sleepy season, there are moments when the lack of sounds brings back not-too-distant memories of the seasons of more abundant audible presence. What natural sounds do we not hear during the winter?
“Most”, I think, would be the best word to answer that question. For instance, many more than half of the bird species that breed here, have flown to distant southern lands, and have taken all of their various chatter, chirps, and songs with them.

Spring-singing amphibians (the frogs and toads) too, have disappeared into mud and leaf litter, and have retreated into a silent absence. We generally do not hear anything from them for months. (Though I now have heard at least once, a spring peeper within every month on the calendar. This will occur in any of the colder months if the temperature rises enough above freezing, and maintains for enough consecutive days and nights, that a few of the little frogs are able to thaw out and utter occasional and very weak “peeps”).

So, what about the insects? In the frozen grip of winter, we no longer hear the piercing grind of the cicadas of summer, the chirps of crickets of early autumn, nor the springtime rattle of June Bugs as they bang about out on the porch after dark. Similarly, (and one of my favorite sounds), the whirling rush of moth wings as they circle my head beneath the porch light, is absent now as well. But, on this frozen January day, “Where have all of those moths gone?”, you might ask. Well, not only are they here, but depending on the species, most are over-wintering in various stages of their life cycles.

Some species, (like the cutworms and other noctuids), and depending on the species, over-winter as adults, or as eggs, as larvae, or as pupae,,, and many are indeed alive and well in the Kawarthas right now! Other species may only be here in one form or another throughout the winter months, while others are believed to only migrate into Ontario each spring/summer season. In the case of the latter, it could also be that some migrate out of the area before winter arrives, and/or otherwise die off here completely each fall.

It is not at all uncommon to see the familiar “Woolly Bear” caterpillar on a mild late autumn (or even mid-winter) day. I have seen them crossing roads, crawling about in the garden, and sometimes moving around through piles of stacked firewood.
And most often during the same milder days that I have heard the much-out-of-season Spring Peeper frogs call out.

Woolly Bear caterpillars are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, which is a member of the family “Arctiidae”, and this species over-winters in the larva stage. There is an old wives’ tale that suggests that you can predict the severity of the coming winter, based on the thickness ratio of brown to black colour bands of the Woolly Bears’ bristly coat. Though it may be fun to fancy such an idea, it is simply not true. As the larva sheds its skins throughout the fall, they begin with much more black, and acquire more brown in the last skin stage, (which is called an instar), as they head into late fall. So, if you see a Woolly Bear in September, it might indicate the approach of an entirely different kind of winter, than if you saw the very same individual in November.

Woolly Bear - Wikimedia

Woolly Bear – Wikimedia

A large number of moth species found in this area over-winter in the egg stage. About thirty of these are members of one of my favorite groups – the Catocala, or “underwing moths”. As winter weather deposits snow, ice accretions, and all manner of frozen water upon the branches of trees, beneath the icy coating lies much tiny, suspended life in the form of fertile moth eggs. “Moth seeds” is what I like to call them.

I have, and with great difficulty, managed to find these eggs on occasion, but it is not something I would recommend that one should try, unless one has at least as much patience, as they do a desire to see them. They are most often found in cracks and furrows in the bark of outer branches, where they were “glued” by the female moth with a special adhesive that each egg has to pass through as it is layed. As is the case with all the underwing moths, the eggs have been layed on the various host trees, specific to the particular species of moth, so that when they hatch in May and June, (and once the leaves are out), the proper food is just a short crawl away for the tiny larvae.

So, enough explanation about the very difficult-to-find moth eggs in winter. Lets look for something much easier to find. The Saturnids, (silkmoths), spend their winter here in the pupa stage. Some species in this area, like the Imperial Moth, the Pink-striped Oakworm Moth, and the Rosy Maple Moth, are “earth-pupators”. These are some of the many species of moths that, as larvae, burrow into leaf litter and soil before splitting out of their final larval skin and thus, become a pupa. They wiggle about until they have shaped somewhat of a small, earthen chamber, which to a point, hardens some by the time the pupa has completely transformed . In the case of the saturnids, they will stay in these chambers until the earth has warmed enough in late spring and early summer, and then will split out of the pupal shell, find their way back to the surface, and climb something high enough that their wing veins can fill with fluid and harden without worry of drying mis-shaped, as they might if they were to come into contact with something inhibiting free, open-air expansion.

Some of the other silkmoths, (the species of silk-spinners giving the group its common name), as mature larvae, will find a place on a twig, and spin a silken outer cocoon. Once it has completely covered itself in its outer “sleeping bag”, it will spin a sort of cylindrical container inside the rough outer layers. The inner wall of this will become very hard and smooth. When the caterpillar is ready, it will shrink somewhat, and then split out of itself, and become a naked, brown pupa. This too, will soon harden, and although it may wiggle inside a little when warmed by the sun, it will otherwise be still until spring. Species that you may spot in the winter either attached lengthwise on, or hanging from branches, are the cocoons of Cecropia Moth, Columbia Silkmoth, Polyphemus Moth, and Promethea Moth. The cocoons of others like the Luna Moth (and sometimes Polyphemus), though usually wrapped with silk in the green leaves of the host trees in the late summer, tend to fall to the forest floor in October with the rest of the leaves that fall from the trees then. They are not so often well-secured by silk to branches as some of the other species mentioned.

The Cecropia, Columbia, and Promethea cocoons however, have a strong silk wrap, and to the trained eye, can be quite easy to find in the winter as they are visible on leafless trees. Promethea and Columbia larva rarely wander when it comes time to spin their silken cocoons, and most are usually found on the same individual tree whose leaves nourished the caterpillars throughout the summer. The larvae of the Columbia Silkmoth consume the deciduous needle-like leaves of the Tamarack, and the silken cocoons of that species are most often found on the upperside of very horizontal Tamarack branches in winter.

The hanging, spindle-shaped cocoons of Promethea are most often found hanging near the tips of their two favorite larval host trees – the White Ash, and the Black Cherry. I have found them on a few other species before, but more than 90% of them in this part of the world can be expected to be found on the ashes and cherries. There is often from one to a few Promethea cocoons on a tree, but once in 2007 I found no less than nineteen cocoons on a single small Black Cherry tree!! (Though some were old and vacant, it should be noted that the whole combined lot no doubt represented at least a few generations).

Promethea cocoon close-up - Tim Dyson

Promethea cocoon close-up – Tim Dyson

The largest cocoons, (out of which will eventually come the largest moths), are made by the Cecropia larvae. They will either stay put on their host tree, or some will wander off a fair distance before finding a branch or twig upon which to spin a winter sleeping bag. These can be quite large, (up to 4X10cm), and more often than not, are found to be rather solitary compared to Promethea cocoons. If you are hoping to see Cecropia cocoons in winter, groves of Speckled Alder (a popular larval host tree of the species) along lakeside marshes, and in river floodplain habitats are very often good places to start.

If you happen to find one of these, (and it’s minus 25 out when you do), don’t worry too much for the “moth-to-be” contained within. Even though the naked little pupa inside is only wrapped in silk,,, it is wrapped in so much of it, (and is cold-blooded), that it is far more protected from the cold than you are in your many layers of heavy winter clothing. Even if you feel sorry for the moth inside, it is not a good idea at all to bring the cocoon indoors. Once it spends some weeks in a warmed house, it will complete development, and the moth will emerge many weeks before it would have done if left outside in the natural environment where you had found it. It is best to just leave it be, and return, (daily if you can), in late May if the spring has been particularly warm, or during the first week of June, if it has been a cool-to-average spring. They emerge in the morning, and you can see them then, in full splendor! Later that evening, they will take off, mate, and continue their kind.

Aug 142014
 
Yellowjackets drinking nectar on a flower (Bob Peterson photo)

Yellowjackets drinking nectar on a flower (Bob Peterson photo)

As pleasant as a late summer picnic might be, there always seems to be a handful of unwanted guests. Like corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes and blueberry pie, hornets and yellowjackets are often part of a late summer outside meal. They would be little more than an annoyance if it wasn’t for the fact that they can deliver a painful sting.
People often refer to all black and yellow stinging insects as “bees.” However, bees have a more robust build than wasps and are quite hairy. Their hind legs are flattened for collecting and transporting pollen. Wasps, on the other hand, have a slender body with a narrow waist, more cylindrical legs and appear smoothed-skinned and shiny.
Yellowjackets and Bald-faced Hornets are the most common types of wasps that we encounter in the Kawarthas. They are both members of a family of insects known as the Vespidae, which, in turn, is part of the much larger order Hymenoptera, or bees, wasps and ants. Most of the Vespidae are social wasps that nest in colonies. The terms “hornet” and “yellowjacket” are loosely used for many types of Vespids that build paper nests and have black and yellow (or white) markings on the abdomen.
Like honey bees, Vespid wasps live in “societies of heavily armed females,” as Tim Tiner and Doug Bennett describe them in their book “Wild City.” To understand how these societies are structured, we need to go back to last fall. Having mated and carrying a year’s supply of sperm, young queen wasps spend the winter hibernating alone in crevices. When spring arrives, each queen begins the process of starting a new colony by gathering wood fiber to masticate into a pulp, which dries into a paper-like nesting material. Depending on the species, the nest will be located in an underground cavity or aboveground attached to trees or buildings.
The queen starts the nest by constructing several hexagonal, egg-carton-like cells suspended from a short stalk and enveloped with a paper covering. She then proceeds to lay an egg in each cell. A week or so later, the eggs hatch and the busy queen must then feed the larvae small pieces of protein rich food such as bits of caterpillar or carrion. After about 12 days, the outer skin of the worm like larvae hardens into a tough casing. The developing wasp is now called a pupa and will undergo a radical change in form. Pupae do not eat.
After another 12 days, an adult wasp emerges from each of the pupal cases. All of these individuals are sterile females called workers. They immediately begin to work for the queen, enlarging the nest, gathering food and taking care of the new young. However, not all of their hard work is altruistic. In an amazing exchange of material called trophallaxis, the larvae secrete a sugar material relished by the workers. The queen, all the while, continues to lay eggs.
As most everyone knows, the workers are armed and dangerous, especially when they perceive a threat to the colony. Because these females are also sterile, they do not use their ovipositor as an egg-laying tube. Rather, it has been modified into a stinger, which is able to pierce the skin and inject a small amount of venom. Unlike Honey Bees, which have barbs on the stinger that cause it to break off when pulled out (thereby killing the bee), wasps lack these barbs and can therefore deliver multiple stings over the course of their lives. Wasps tend to be most aggressive in late summer, maybe because of the large number of offspring in the nest, which offers a great nutrient jackpot to predators like raccoons, skunks and bears.
As fall approaches, something unique happens. Sensing the shorter days, the queen begins to lay unfertilized eggs that will develop either into males (drones) or into new queens. These individuals will go on to mate, but only the newly fertilized females have the ability to overwinter. The rest of the colony dies including the hardworking queen with the first hard frosts of fall.
One of the most commonly-seen Vespid wasps is the Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula malculifrons). It can be identified by the triangular, black “anchor-shaped” marking on the segment of the abdomen nearest the thorax. The triangle has a narrow black stem or neck, which extends to the upper edge of the abdomen. Yellowjackets usually nest in the ground, often in an abandoned animal burrow. As summer ends, there is a frantic search for food to feed the thousands of larvae still in the nest. Caterpillars are the larval food of preference but these wasps will also turn to dead insects and to human foods as a source of protein for the colony. Adults also need sugar in order to fuel the energy requirements of their own bodies. In addition to what they receive through trophallaxis, some of their favorite sources of sugar include flower nectar (especially goldenrod), ripe fruit and aphid honeydew, which is usually gleaned from tree leaves. However, as we know all too well, wasps are also attracted to the same sweet drinks as humans. Hot, dry summers provide the best breeding conditions for wasps, because this kind of weather also means high survival rates for the insects on which wasps feed. Under these conditions, yellowjacket colonies can expand rapidly. Some will have as many as 4,000 to 5,000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells by summer’s end.

Eastern Yellowjacket eating aphid honeydew (Drew Monkman)

Eastern Yellowjacket eating aphid honeydew (Drew Monkman)

The Bald faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is another common Vespid. It is a little larger than a yellowjacket and has a mostly black body with yellowish white markings on the side and face. Hornets catch our attention because of their habit of building globular paper nests in trees. All summer long, colonies of these insects chew the fiber of trees and boards. Like yellowjackets, they turn the fiber into a saliva soaked pulp that dries into the fine, grey paper walls of the nests. The nest starts out small but grows in progressive layers over the course of the summer. A large colony can harbor up to 600 individual hornets by September. They are a species that needs to be treated with respect.
After the first few weeks of frost, it is safe to open an old hornet to see the intricate design and various levels of nesting tiers. There are usually some cells with dead larvae and pupae, as well. No wasps, including the new queens, ever overwinter in the nest.
Usually by late August, egg laying ceases in yellowjacket and hornet colonies and there are fewer larvae to feed. Consequently, the workers are no longer receiving sugar from the larvae in exchange for protein. They therefore start to abandon the nest to satisfy their own all-consuming sweet tooth. With a sugar fix in mind, wasps will sometimes descend upon family picnics, backyard barbecues and schoolyards full of juice-drinking children. These “bees”, as kids mistakenly call them, can be a real problem, especially around open garbage pails full of discarded juice containers.
Like all living creatures, wasps play an important ecological role. Because most Vespids prey on insects and other arthropods, they help to control the numbers of many pest species. It takes a lot of bugs to feed a hungry brood. Yellowjackets also scavenge dead insects to feed their offspring – an important ecological service, too. Some species of wasps are also important pollinators. Fig trees, for example, depend entirely on wasps for pollination. In fact, the relationship between fig trees and fig wasps is one of the best examples of co-evolution in the nature. The fig shaped the wasp and the wasp shaped the fig. Wasps are just one more example of how the natural world never ceases to amaze.

Bald-faced Hornet - Wikimedia

Bald-faced Hornet – Wikimedia

Bald-faced Hornet nest (Ian MacDougall)

Bald-faced Hornet nest (Ian MacDougall)

 

Jul 172014
 

In my last column, I began a discussion about the importance of our native bee species. It is becoming increasingly clear that native wild bees – not just Honey Bees – are vitally important pollinators for our food system and ecosystem health in general. The bad news, however, is that bees are under siege from many quarters. This week, I’d like to take a closer look at the life cycle of these fascinating insects, the threats they face and how landowners and gardeners can provide help.

furry-faced mason bee exiting a nesting hole - photo by Orangeaurochs

Furry-faced mason bee exiting a nesting hole – photo by Orangeaurochs

Life cycle
Almost three-quarters of wild bees (most species of the Halictidae, Apidae and Colletidae families) nest in the ground. Nests are typically located in well-drained areas with minimum plant cover and a southern exposure. Look for a straw-sized hole with a “slag” heap of excavated soil around the perimeter. Andrenidae (miner bees) and Megachilidae (leafcutter, orchard and mason bees), on the other hand, are cavity nesters and often lay their eggs in the hollow part of a stem or in a hole excavated in wood.
To understand a typical native bee’s life cycle, let’s take the example of the squash bee, a ground nester. Adults first appear in July, having over-wintered as pupae. When squash and related plants flower and pollen and nectar are available, the female excavates a nest 12 to 22 centimetres below the surface of the soil. She will make five cells, depositing an egg and a pollen ball in each cell. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the pollen and eventually pupate. Development stops at this point and the baby bee will remain in the pupal or “resting” stage until the following July, when it emerges as an adult. Females may construct more than one nest in a season. Males live outside of the nest and have nothing to do with domestic duties.
Bumble bees are a notable exception to the typical native bee life cycle. Their behaviour resembles that of Honey Bees. Unlike the latter, however, the only bumble bee to survive the winter is the queen. She enters hibernation -or diapause as it is called in insects – already mated. When she emerges in the spring, she begins foraging for pollen and nectar and, depending on the species, makes a nest in the ground or in some kind of cavity. Typical nesting sites include rodents’ holes, rock piles and cavities in a tree or wall. For the first few weeks, the queen will raise only worker bumble bees, who are much smaller in size. Later in the season, however, the queen will stay in the nest and become solely an egg-layer. In the fall, she will begin to produce males and a generation of new queens. The job of the males is to mate with the queens – preferably from another population. The old queen will then die, as will the workers and the males. The only bees that will survive the winter are the young, mated queens. Because bumble bee colonies only survive one season, they are much smaller than Honey Bee colonies.

Leafcutter bee on goldenrod -  Bob Peterson

Leafcutter bee on goldenrod – Bob Peterson

Decline
Despite the 400 or so species of native bees in Ontario, there have been serious declines in many populations. For example, the once-common Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is now on the provincial Species at Risk list with a designation of Endangered. As you might expect, human activity is the main reason for these declines. The negative impacts often come as a side effect of modern management practices on farms, in greenhouses, along road allowances and even in our gardens. Among the practices that reduce food sources for bees are the cutting of hay fields at first bloom (to achieve maximum nutritional quality in the hay), the removal of hedgerows (to facilitate the use of large machinery on fields), the elimination of weeds from roadsides and field margins (many weeds are great sources of nectar and pollen) and the use of new flower varieties in gardens (often bred not to produce pollen and/or nectar). Nesting sites, too, are often destroyed or made inaccessible as a result of cutting back raspberry canes, using mulch in gardens, removing dead trees and, once again, eliminating hedgerows. It is also thought that bees that are managed for pollination on a large scale (like bumble bees in a greenhouse) are having a large impact. This happens when disease-carrying individuals escape into the wild and spread the disease to wild bee populations.
As has been widely publicized, a more direct cause of population decline is the use of pesticides. They may kill adult bees directly, affect their behaviour and efficiency as foragers of pollen and nectar, affect the development of brood that is feeding on pesticide-tainted pollen and/or weaken the bees and make them more vulnerable to disease. Neonicotinoids (neonics), a neurotoxin, appear to be especially dangerous. New research from the University of Guelph and Imperial College shows that neonics harm bumblebees by impairing their ability to learn how to collect pollen. Bumble bees probably even suffer more damage than Honey Bees from exposure to these pesticides, since their colonies are so much smaller. Neonicotinoid pesticides are commonly coated on agricultural seeds for crops such as corn and canola to protect the plants from insect pests such as aphids. Fortunately, Ontario plans to eliminate the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides and move to a permit-based system. A study by Friends of the Earth also found the pesticide in more than half of the garden plants tested at Home Depot outlets across Canada. Home Depot has now announced that it plans to begin labelling all plants that contain neonics.

Wild bee conservation
If you are a landowner, you can do a lot to protect wild pollinators such as bees. The size of your land matters little, since many species will even thrive in small urban spaces if encouraged to do so. Here are a few suggestions for getting started.
• Stop using pesticides. In addition to neonics, the insecticide Furadan is extremely toxic to bees. For more information on pesticide toxicity, visit the OMAFRA website.
• Take time to become aware of wild bees already foraging and/or nesting on your property. If they have pollen balls on their hind legs or are covered in pollen, they are bees! Remember, though, that native bees can come in all sizes, colours and shapes.
• Leave any hedgerows or other natural areas on your property undisturbed.
• Plant mostly native flowers, shrubs and trees. Some of the best choices include wild apple (Malus pumila), willows, chokecherry, staghorn sumac, raspberry, Joe-pye weed, goldenrods, asters, evening primrose, common sunflower (Helianthus annus), purple coneflower, pumpkin/squash, lamb’s ears and comfrey. Soil-improving crops, too, like clovers, alfalfa and buckwheat provide a veritable feast of nectar and pollen. Make sure the plants you buy are pesticide-free such as those sold by GreenUp Ecology Park in Peterborough.
• Establish and protect suitable nesting sites. Reserve some south-facing slopes and field margins for this purpose. Keep any grass cover cut short. Some species will also nest in sandy areas, including abandoned sandboxes. If you grow raspberries, don’t destroy the old stems, but keep them in vertical bundles in the garden for at least a year. Not only will yellow-faced and leafcutter bees use them for nesting, but you will have a stable population of pollinators. You can also make artificial nests for stem-dwelling bees, including mason and leaf-cutters, by bundling together the hollow stems of Phragmites (also called Common Reed – found along roadsides). Cut 20 stems to a variety of different lengths of about six to eight inches, bundle them together with string and place them in a plastic pail or similar container lying on its side. This provides protection from the elements. Attach the pail to a branch or post, so that the stems face east or southeast. For more detailed instructions, click here to see a great video at  by Susan Chan of Farms at Work. Xerces.org also provides information on building a variety of native bee nesting structures.
You can also purchase commercially-made bee nesting tubes from websites such as www.crownbees.com Their BeeEndeavour Kit has been recommended to me. This website is an excellent resource for native bee information in general and has a great newsletter. I also recommend picking up a copy of A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario by Susan Chan. It is available at the Avant-Garden Shop or by contacting Chan herself at sue@farmsatwork.ca Avant-Garden also carries bee nesting structures.

nest for stem-dwelling bees made out of Phragmites - Kim Zippel

Nest for stem-dwelling bees made out of Phragmites – Kim Zippel

Jul 032014
 

One of the joys of tuning into nature is discovering the many amazing organisms that exist right under our nose and often go unnoticed until someone points them out. When it comes to flying under the radar, there are few better examples than Ontario’s native bees. Susan Chan, a pollination biologist and expert on native bees, lifted the veil on this fascinating world when she spoke recently to the Peterborough Field Naturalists. Susan is the program manager of an organization called “Farms at Work” and is working with regional farmers and landowners to protect and encourage these wild pollinators.
As Chan explains in her informative handbook “A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario” (available at Avant-Garden Shop) bees are keystone species in that they have a disproportionately large effect on the environment relative to their abundance. Thanks to their role as pollinators, bees provide an essential link in the reproductive cycle of plants and therefore help to feed and sustain all living things. Simply put, they allow us to eat. Anything that consumes seeds, fruits or vegetables, depends on pollinators. This includes not only human beings but countless other species as well.
A few words about Honey Bees is a logical starting point to any discussion of pollinators. Native to Europe and Asia, Honey Bees are domesticated insects in much the same way that cattle are domesticated mammals. They have been bred over the centuries to serve humans. However, it now appears that much of the pollination work that is normally attributed to Honey Bees may actually be carried out by native bees and almost go unnoticed. Susan is therefore hoping to give our native bees the recognition, respect and protection that they deserve.

Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectaring - by Margot Hughes

Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectaring – by Margot Hughes

Pollination
In order to tell the story our native bees, we need to begin with the story of pollination itself. Its purpose is simple: to allow plants to set seed in their ovaries. First, a little basic botany is in order. The anther, or male part of the flower, produces pollen. Pollen from wind-pollinated species like grasses and many kinds of trees is light and dry and therefore easily dispersed through the air. However, pollen from insect-pollinated plants like fruits and vegetables is oily and heavy, so that it will adhere to the bodies of pollinators. The female part of the flower consists of an ovary, which contains ovules. The ovary is connected by the style to a sticky structure called the stigma. At the base of most flowers there is also a nectar-producing organ called a nectary.
Simply put, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma, usually between two different plants of the same species. When a pollinator such as a bee brushes up against the stigma, pollen on its body may adhere to the stigma’s sticky surface. The pollen grain will then grow a tube down through the style to the ovary, where it fertilizes an ovule and produces a seed. Not surprisingly, there is a payoff for the insect, too. Nectar and pollen provide food for the bees – both for the adults and the larvae in the nest.
The best insect pollinators are the hairy ones, and the hairiest of the insects are the bees. Their hairs pick up and hold on to pollen. Our native bees go one step further, however. They offer the added benefit of being active when Honey Bees – the “divas” of the bee world – don’t dare set foot outside the hive. Many of our native bees, on the other hand, are out at the crack of dawn, during cool weather and sometimes even in when it is raining. For example, squash bees become active at 4 a.m. when squash flowers open!

Bee-watching
So, who are the native bees? In eastern Canada, they are represented by some 400 species, grouped into five families. Of these, about 300 are important as pollinators. Unfortunately, most do not have common names, although they live and forage in fields and gardens throughout the Kawarthas. The five families are the Halictidae (sweat and pearly-banded bees), the Apidae (squash, carpenter and bumble bees), the Colletidae (cellophane and masked bees), the Andrenidae (miner bees) and the Megachilidae (leafcutter, orchard and mason bees). The majority of these bees are solitary, which means there is only one female per nest. In other words, most do not live in colonies. Nor do they sting, swarm or make honey. Bumble bees are the one exception. Numbering about 15 different species in Ontario, they can deliver a sting and they are colonial. However, the colonies only exist for one breeding season, and the amount of honey the bees make is minimal.

Halictid bee on Sundrop blossom - Drew Monkman

Halictid bee on Sundrop blossom – Drew Monkman

Although native bees can be found most anywhere there are flowers, identification to the species level is challenging. The only identification guide that presently exists is limited to the bumble bees. Entitled “Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States”, you should be able to download the PDF by going to http://bugguide.net/node/view/595902. Alternatively, you can contact Chan at sue@farmsatwork.ca and she will send you the PDF herself. This guide applies equally well to Ontario. Even the bumble bees, however, can be hard to identify. One reason is sexual dimorphism, which means that the male and female are often quite different in size and colouring. Queen bumble bees are large -think thumb-sized – and are the ones you see flying about in the spring. The small bumble bees that are so common in July and August are workers and are much smaller. Probably the most common species in the Kawarthas is the Common Eastern Bumble Bee. The thorax and thorax end of the abdomen are both pale yellow in colour. The rest of the body is black. You should also watch for the beautiful Tri-colored Bumble Bee. Two orange stripes on the abdomen make it quite distinctive.
For the other native bees, Chan suggests learning to identify them to the family or, in some cases, the genus level. Here are three easily recognizable varieties to get started. Most Halictidae bees are very small, often no larger than two grains of rice. Luckily, some are metallic green and therefore quite distinctive. I was able to find these quite easily in my perennial garden. If you grow squash, zucchini or pumpkins, you will likely see squash bees. In the afternoon, when the flowers are wilted, gently open the flower with your fingers. If you find a bee inside, it will be a male squash bee. Chan guarantees that “once you’ve met them, you’ll fall in love!” Approximately the size of Honey Bees, squash bees are grey-striped and have a somewhat flattened abdomen. In late summer and fall, you should be able to see miner bees on sunflowers and goldenrod. They have extremely hairy back legs and therefore end up with “pantaloons” of pollen on their legs. An excellent collection of native bee photos can be found at www.discoverlife.org/ Look under the Apoidea to find bees. BeeSpotter is another useful on-line resource for photographs. Go to http://beespotter.mste.illinois.edu/

Tri-colored Bumble Bee on goldenrod - Drew  Monkman

Tri-colored Bumble Bee on goldenrod – Drew Monkman

Native bees can be found most anywhere there are flowers. This includes perennial gardens and sunny meadows. Raspberry patches can be especially good, as can sunflowers. A great place to see bumble bees is at a blueberry farm in mid-May. Kelly’s Berry Farm north of Bancroft is one such location. The tallgrass prairie and Black Oak savanna at Alderville First Nation also has a great diversity of bumble bees.
Remember, too, that there are many bee look-alikes on flowers. Flower flies, for example, can look surprisingly bee-like. However, they have only two wings and hold them at an angle out from the body. Bees, on the other hand, have four wings. They are folded over each other and fit neatly across the back. Unlike flies, bees are also hairy. As for wasps, their bodies are narrow-waisted, slender and smooth.
Next week, I will look at the life cycle of native bees, why they are vulnerable and how landowners can protect and encourage these wild pollinators.

 

 

Jun 122014
 

 

Over the past couple of weeks, the milkweed plants in my perennial garden have literally bolted out of the ground. The Common Milkweeds already have flower buds, and the patch of Butterfly Milkweed is much larger than it was last year. However, as I admire these remarkable plants, I can’t help but wonder whether Monarch butterflies will ever visit them this year, because the forces working against this iconic insect are many. Still, maybe there is room for a least a little optimism. Last Saturday, the first Monarchs to arrive back in the Kawarthas flitted over the Carden Alvar near Kirkfield, and there is finally serious talk of a recovery plan for the Monarch.
Back in January, the overwintering numbers reported by World Wildlife Fund Mexico were discouraging. The total area occupied by Monarch colonies at overwintering sites was only 0.67 hectares, compared to a 2004 – 2014 average of 3.51 hectares. This is the smallest overwintering population ever recorded. According to Dr. Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, the main reason for the decline is the loss of Monarch habitat, which really means a loss of the milkweed plants on which the species depends. The finger of blame can be pointed primarily at the adoption of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops. The invention of HT corn and soybeans has made growing more efficient, since it allows farmers to spray and kill off everything else – clearly bad news for milkweed and Monarchs.

Monarch Butterfly - Terry Carpenter

Monarch Butterfly – Terry Carpenter

When tilling was used to control weeds in the corn and soybean fields of the Midwestern United States, some milkweed survived the process. However, with the adoption of HT crop lines, the use of glyphosate has all but eliminated milkweeds from these habitats. Healthy Monarch habitat in the Midwest is crucial because this region produces more Monarchs per acre than anywhere else on the continent. In other words, Monarchs are losing the milkweed in the most important part of their northward migration route, namely the area bordered by Kansas in the southwest, the Canadian border to the north and Ohio to the east.
According to Taylor, the acreage of corn and soy has increased by 20 million acres over the last seven years. This increase is largely due to the demand for ethanol, which has had the effect of driving up the price of corn. In much of the Corn Belt, farmers have removed hedgerows and narrowed field margins, with little habitat remaining for any form of wildlife. Grasslands, including some of the last remaining native prairies, rangelands, wetlands, and even conservation lands – have been plowed under to produce more corn and soybeans. Most of these acres formerly contained milkweeds.
Taylor estimates that since 1996, urban development has also eaten up at least 17 million acres of habitat that was once used by the eastern North American population of Monarchs. He also points out that there are habitat losses due to excessive mowing and use of herbicides along roadsides. These were significant milkweed and monarch habitats in the past. In many areas, milkweed is still listed as a noxious weed. In Ontario, however, milkweed has now been delisted as a noxious weed.
Taylor concludes that, in total, at least 167 million acres of Monarch habitat have disappeared since 1996. This is an area almost equal in size to the entire state of Texas! Because of the economic forces involving crop production and human population growth, these losses will continue. It is clear that if our goal is to save the Monarch migration, ways must be found to mitigate the loss of Monarch habitat.
New research from University of Guelph has come to the same conclusion as Taylor. The researchers suggested that Monarch populations were four times more sensitive to the loss of milkweed on their breeding grounds than the loss of the forested habitat in which they spend the winters. Using their model, the scientists found a 21 percent decline in milkweed abundance between 1995 and 2013. The largest declines, namely those in the American Midwest, line up with the largest declines in the butterfly population.
Weather, too, plays a role in how well Monarchs fare. 2012 and 2013 both deviated from normal with 2012 being too hot and 2013 being too cold at critical times during the butterfly’s life cycle. The poor weather further contributed to low overwintering numbers. Monarch numbers will rebound, but only if the weather cooperates AND there is sufficient milkweed. On a more positive note, Taylor believes that while we will never get back to the large populations of the 1990s, there is still enough milkweed to produce Monarchs in sufficient numbers to colonize 3-4 hectares of the forests in Mexico. However, this will require favorable weather conditions over the next several years – something that is far from certain in this time of climate change.

Monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed - Jane Zednik

Monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed – Jane Zednik

A Recovery Plan
Although Monarchs can be found throughout the U.S. and southern Canada in the summer months, most of the population utilizes two critical areas, which Taylor calls the “milkweed/monarch corridor”. They are 1) the spring breeding area of Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas and 2) the upper Midwest or Corn Belt. Monarchs arriving in the spring breeding area in March lay eggs on milkweeds, and most of the adults that develop as a result of this reproduction move northward into the upper Midwest in May and early June. They eventually spread out over the north from the Dakotas to Ontario and even on to the Maritime Provinces. However, it is the production of the Monarchs in the Corn Belt that is critical. Tagging data has shown that most of the Monarchs reaching the overwintering locations in Mexico originate from the Corn Belt.
Taylor’s vision is that the Monarch migration can be saved if there is commitment to offsetting on-going losses of habitat by planting milkweeds and nectar plants in areas from which they have been extirpated. This will require the development of greater capacity to restore milkweeds than exists at present. It will also depend up marketing and outreach to engage citizens, government agencies, corporations, farmers, nurseries and schools. Taylor believes that offsetting the annual habitat loss will require the establishment of at least 5-15 million milkweeds via the planting of seeds and plugs.
Some heavyweight support for a recovery plan was announced at this year’s NAFTA summit in Toluca, Mexico. The leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada agreed to take measures to “conserve the Monarch butterfly as an emblematic species of North America.” More than 100 scientists, Nobel Prize winners and environmentalists had written to Pena Nieto, Harper and Obama before the summit, calling on them to establish a “milkweed corridor” through the three countries. The petitioners called for the massive planting of milkweed along roadsides and toxin-free buffer zones in Canada and the United States.
So, it’s simple. If we want Monarchs, we need to plant more milkweed, and to protect the milkweed we already have. The real battle, however, is restoring milkweed in the all important “monarch/milkweed” corridor of the U.S. Visit http://monarchwatch.org/ for information on all aspects of Monarchs and their future. You can also make a vitally important financial contribution by clicking on “Chip in for Monarch Watch!”