Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas, Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer
Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas,
Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer

A few months ago, on a trail run in the Bear River range in Northern Utah, I became engulfed in a cloud of butterflies beyond anything I had experienced before. Milbert’s totiseshells and Swallowtails were the primary species. This is the year of the butterfly. I have seen many eruptive populations both in Northern and Southern Utah. Especially in the tortoiseshell family in the North and bumper crops of Field Crescents at Cedar Breaks National Monument in the south.

This has given me pause to reflect on how climate change may be influencing their populations. As I described in an earlier Wild About Utah reading, over half of Utah bird species are showing considerable stress from a changing climate. Might the same be occurring for the Lepidopterans, or butterflies?

Many studies have shown that that butterflies are among the species that have responded the most to climate change, usually in the form of northward or elevation range shifts. There are many documented instances of disruption of essential interactions of butterflies with their food plants. Recently, a number of researchers have warned, that the common biological effect of shifting towards earlier time to reproduction can have multiple and cascading effects. Species lacking adaptability may have reduced fitness, increased mortality and disrupt a whole food web which had evolved to thrive when there was a synchronous timing of resources that can no more be found. Climate change can also effect flight times of butterflies. The warmer temperatures will result in more generations of multiple brooded species. But how this will effect egg laying periods and other life traits that are determined by photoperiodism is unknown.

With a warming climate, butterflies at the highest elevation site are appearing with increasing frequency. Those that normally breed at 7000 feet now breed at 9000 feet. This upslope movement can cause a time lag problem because plants move more slowly than butterflies. If butterflies don’t have the plant resources they need, they cannot breed at these higher elevations. This may explain the low numbers of butterflies I’ve noted in my outings at Tony Grove lake in recent years.

In order for conservation plans to be developed, there is a pressing need for a better understanding of how climate effects Lepidopterans and their essential interactions. There is much we still don’t know. With more information, on these intricacies, we can better design more effective plans.

A month ago, I found myself in England assisting a team of Darby University faculty and students for pollinator research which included butterflies and moths. European scientists are well ahead of the US in the understanding of patterns of butterfly response to climate change. We must step up to the challenge if we and future generations are to continue enjoying butterflies for years to come.

Later this month I will be leading a butterfly field trip to Tony Grove lake followed by joining a University of Washington PhD student on Mount Rainier to study butterfly populations. …my small contribution towards maintaining healthy numbers of these marvelous creatures that brighten our day and make significant contributions towards maintaining ecosystem stability.

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah.


Pictures: Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Utah Public Radio
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Denali’s Butterflies – Denali National Park & Preserve, https://www.nps.gov/dena/learn/nature/denalibutterflies.htm

Crescent (Phyciodes sp.) Butterflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Montana, US FWS, https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147574863



All About Butterflies, Enchanted Learning, http://www.zoomwhales.com/subjects/butterfly/allabout/

Andrea Liberatore, Monarch Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 13 Sept 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/monarch-butterflies/

Jack Greene, Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 4 July 2016, http://wildaboututah.org/butterflies/

Andrea Liberatore, Insect Mimicry and Camouflage, Wild About Utah, 31 July 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/insect-mimicry/

Bugguide, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University,
Species Phyciodes pulchella – Field Crescent, http://bugguide.net/node/view/24562
Species Aglais milberti – Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – Hodges#4433, http://bugguide.net/node/view/30387
Family Papilionidae – Swallowtails, Parnassians, http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=swallowtail

Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home

Build Community Wildlife Habitats Ron Hellstern See also: http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Build Community Wildlife Habitats
Ron Hellstern
See also:
Most people appreciate viewing impressive forms of wildlife, such as Desert Bighorn Sheep in Zion, or Wolves and Grizzlies in Yellowstone, but they may not completely understand the quiet contributions that are being made to earth’s ecosystems every day by the small creatures around our own neighborhoods. These little ones help us in many unseen ways.

It is estimated that one third of the food that humans eat has been provided by small pollinators such as Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Bees. Having these creatures in our own yards can produce hours of entertainment, and education, as we observe them working feverishly among our flowers, shrubs and trees.

Many citizens, and cities, are diligent in providing beautiful landscaped areas for these pollinators to gain nourishment as they work to increase the production of flowers and fruits.

A couple of quick tips as you decide to help these workaholic animals:
You can make your own hummingbird food by mixing one cup of sugar to four cups of water. Never put food coloring in hummingbird feeders. It can be harmful to them, and the red color of the feeder will automatically attract them. You should also use native, fertile plants in your landscaping design. And, unless you have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, be assured that they are far more interested in gathering pollen than sacrificing their life to sting someone. Most people can work right alongside bees in their flower gardens. Wasps are another story.

So, as you design, or alter, your property to be more usable by pollinators and songbirds you can be rewarded by the National Wildlife Federation through their Wildlife Habitat Certification program. If you provide food, water, shelter and a place to raise young…you are eligible to have your yard certified. Remember, we’re not talking about Mountain Lions and Elk, just pollinators and songbirds. If you have a birdfeeder, birdbath, and shrubs or trees you qualify.

Nobody inspects your property. Go to their website at (www.nwf.org) and complete the simple application listed under Garden for Wildlife and, for a one-time fee of only $20, they will send you a personal certificate for your home, and a one year subscription to the National Wildlife magazine. They also have metal signs that you can post to show others that you care about wildlife. Once you see the value in this, encourage neighbors to do the same. In fact, you can have portions of your entire community certified as wildlife habitat as did Nibley City in Cache County. They were the first city in Utah to do so by certifying 100 properties, and they are ready to help others around the State to join them in this rewarding effort.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, or harvesting from your own garden, remember that a lot of that food would not exist without our diligent pollinators.

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Certify Your Wildlife Habitat, National Wildlife Federation, Accessed 20 July 2017, http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Certify: http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215

Mayfly Life Cycle

Mayfly Nymph Courtesy Robert Henricks, Photographer Found on VisualHunt.com Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Mayfly Nymph
Courtesy Robert Henricks, Photographer
Found on VisualHunt.com
Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
It’s commonly believed that mayflies live for only one day. If you visit a cold, clear river in the spring or early summer, you might see what is known as a “mayfly hatch,” when millions of delicate, glassy insects suddenly appear on the surface of the water, take to the air, and then fall into the river later that day and apparently drown.

The truth is mayflies live for much longer than one day, but like many other aquatic insects, their life cycle consists of a long period during which almost nothing happens, followed by a sudden and dramatic burst of activity.

The mayfly begins life as an egg so tiny it’s nearly invisible to the naked eye. The egg sinks to the bottom of the river, and a couple weeks later a mayfly nymph hatches. Speckled and primitive-looking, the nymph simultaneously resembles a crab, shrimp, and troglodyte. For one entire year (and in the case of some species, two years), they grub around the streambed eating algae and hiding from trout. Lift a rock from a mountain stream and turn it over–if the stream is unimpaired by pollution or water quality problems, you’ll likely see a mayfly nymph doing what it does best: waiting in the mud for its birthday.

Mayfly Imago Courtesy J Schoen, Photographer Found on VisualHunt.com Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Mayfly Imago
Courtesy J Schoen, Photographer
Found on VisualHunt.com
Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
In the spring, when its big day arrives, the nymph leaves the blackness of the streambed and heads for air and sunlight. But the nymph is so small and weak, the water’s surface is like a rubbery membrane that it must pierce and wriggle through. Then the nymph sheds its skin and emerges as a dull-colored and clumsy flying insect called a “sub-imago,” or what fly anglers call a “dun.” Practically weightless, they stand on the water, drifting downstream likes fleets of tiny sailboats as they wait for the UV light of the sun to harden their wings so they can fly away.

Mayfly Imago Courtesy Audrey Zharkikh,, Photographer Found on VisualHunt.com Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Mayfly Imago
Courtesy Audrey Zharkikh,, Photographer
Found on VisualHunt.com
Licensed through CC BY-SA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
It’s difficult to overstate how fragile and helpless a mayfly dun is. As the mayflies float up through the current, fight their way out of the water, and then surf along the waves, fish gorge themselves on them. When the mayflies get airborne, there are swallows and other birds to worry about. Even strong breezes and rough water can be catastrophic to duns. Luck is the only thing they can rely on.

But if the mayfly can escape the river and hole up in the bankside vegetation for just a couple hours, its skin will split open again, and a bolder, stronger creature will emerge. Now called the “imago” (fly anglers call them “spinners”), this stage can fly faster and more skillfully than before, and they use this agility to accomplish their final acts–find a partner, mate in mid-air over the stream, and deposit the seeds of a new generation in the water. Then, exhausted, the spinners die and fall back into the river, where the fish feed on them once again.

And so it’s easy to understand why some people mistakenly believe that mayflies live for only one day–by the time we see them emerging, they have only one day left to live. It’s almost as if, after a lifetime of staying home, the mayfly suddenly decides it’s time to get out and see the world, find love, and have a family, but they have to do it all that same day. Is there a lesson for us in the life cycle of a mayfly? Something about not waiting too long to do the things you want, or living every day as if it’s your last? The answer to this question, and possibly others, can be found by visiting cool, clear mountain streams in the springtime or early summer.

For Wild About Utah this is Chadd VanZanten.

Photo credit #1: henricksrobert via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA
Photo credit #2: jschoen2000 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA
hoto credit #3: andrey_zharkikh via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA
Text: Chadd VanZanten

Additional Reading:

Craig Macadam, The mayfly’s lifecycle: a fascinating, fleeting story, The Freshwater Blog, May 16, 2011, https://freshwaterblog.net/2011/05/16/the-mayflys-lifecycle-a-fascinating-fleeting-story/

Biology 5445, Entomology (Feener), http://courses.biology.utah.edu/feener/5445/Lecture/Bio5445%20Lecture%2005.pdf

Distribution of mayfly species in North America, List compiled from Randolph, Robert Patrick. 2002. Atlas and biogeographic review of the North American mayflies (Ephemeroptera). PhD Dissertation, Department of Entomology, Purdue University. 514 pages and information presented at Xerces Mayfly Festival, Moscow, Idaho June, 9-12 2005, https://www.usu.edu/buglab/Content/Mayflylist.pdf

June Fireflies

Click for a larger view of a firefly, Courtesy Wikimedia, Bruce Marlin, Photographer, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
Courtesy Wikimedia,
Bruce Marlin, Photographer
Licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution-
Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Most people are fascinated by unusual displays of light. Meteor showers, solar eclipses, and the stunning Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are grandiose in scale and mesmerize onlookers. But people are also enchanted with the small life-forms that create their own light.

Bioluminescence, the production of light by living creatures, is an incredible phenomenon produced by certain mushrooms, scorpions, millipedes, bacteria, snails, worms, beetles, and nearly half of marine life including single-celled plankton, jellyfish, octopi, and fish. Some are also fluorescent by absorbing light rays and then emitting them as a different color.

But today we will focus on fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, which are actually beetles.

How, and why, do these creatures produce their own light? Scientists are still learning how the process works, but basically it is a chemical reaction involving luciferin, a light-emitting compound, being catalyzed by an enzyme and reacting with oxygen to release cool, light photons.

The “why” part is primarily for locating mates. But other species could also use it to lure prey, as a method of escape, and to warn predators.

The nighttime hours of late Spring and early Summer months are prime time for firefly activity. They live around wetland areas where the soil is moist and will start flashing when the sky is dark. Females remain fairly stationary atop tall grass and watch for males who fly around flashing various light signals. When a female approves of a suitor’s signal, she will respond with her own glow pattern which allows the male to find her. After mating, the female will lay eggs in the moist soil or leaf litter where they won’t dry out. The eggs usually hatch in 3-4 weeks.

The larvae live in the soil hunting worms, snails or slugs. At this stage they may actually begin glowing. They live in the soil for one or two winters before pupating and undergoing metamorphosis into the adult stage. And the purpose of the adult stage is primarily breeding.

While we enjoy seeing these insect “shooting stars” it is critical to avoid trying to capture them since the Utah populations are small and fragile. (Photos are available online on many websites if one needs to see them closeup.) Walking on the soil can kill the eggs or larvae, and light from automobiles, street lights and flashlights can disrupt their ability to see the flashing of their prospective mates. While the “Firefly Citizen-Science Project” from the Natural History Museum of Utah indicates sightings at more than 50 locations, careless actions, as well as loss of critical habitat, are actually causing a decrease in populations across the country.

Let’s do our best to be good stewards of the earth and only “observe” the amazing firefly.

This is Ron Helstern with Wild About Utah.


Image: Courtesy Wikimedia, Bruce Marlin, Photographer, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Reported Sightings:

24 June 2017
Today while waiting for local city fire works we saw a lighting bug or two. We are in West Haven.

Report your sighting

Additional Reading

Holly Strand, Firefly Light, Wild About Utah, 20 June 2013, http://wildaboututah.org/firefly-light/

Clayton Gefre, Sparks Fly: Researchers track firefly populations across Utah, The Herald Journal, http://news.hjnews.com/allaccess/sparks-fly-researchers-track-firefly-populations-across-utah/article_270ac8b9-3d3f-5a01-9b5b-ac22e89a54bb.html

Natalie Crofts, New Website Tracks Utah Firefly Sightings, KSL, https://www.ksl.com/?sid=34439516

Utah Museum of Natural History, Firefly Citizen Science Project, https://nhmu.utah.edu/fireflies