Malacomosa Dance

Malacomosa Dance: Caterpillar Distraction Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Caterpillar Distraction
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
My father’s first caterpillar encounter has always been a bedtime favorite. The story goes that a plump fuzzy one was crawling on his picnic blanket one afternoon. I would imagine him watching its five pairs of prolegs innocently undulating along. Then, Dad ate it, hairy bristles and all. My first encounter was almost as tasty but longer-lasting because it came from the pages of Eric Carle’s picture book classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. A recent New York Times article reporting the author’s passing reveals that Carle’s interest in crickets, fireflies, and other insects was sparked as a child by peeking under bark or stones walking in the wild with his father.

Western Tent Caterpillars Malacosoma californicum, Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Western Tent Caterpillars
Malacosoma californicum
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
There’s nothing like a caterpillar, green or woolly, slinking along in the dirt or hanging by a thread from overhead branches, to distract a group of young outdoor learners. I resist the urge to caution them that there are poisonous caterpillars in the world, and we play. Yet, how many times have I encountered a silky mass in the limbs of a chokecherry, stopped and watched the caterpillars wiggle and twitch, and wished that I knew more about them? The magic for me of being out in the forest meadows this time of year is coming home with more questions than answers. So, becoming a novice lepidopterist, I focused this week on learning about caterpillars, butterflies, and moths. The frenzied dance of this caterpillar, what I think is known by the lyrical name Malacomosa, is not to draw me in for a closer look; the tent caterpillar senses a predator is near and gets the whole gang going. Soon these gorging wigglers will be settling into silky cocoons and emerging as moths. According to Eric Carle’s website, he intentionally had his butterfly come from a cocoon rather than a scientifically-accurate chyrsalis because it sounds more poetic, and my budding readers appreciate being able to more easily stretch and blend cocoon sounds anyway. We do use the word caterpillar, though, for both moth and butterfly larvae, but that is where many of the similarities end.

Drab Moth, Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
(Not so) Drab Moth
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Butterflies get noticed because they flutter during the day, while moths are typically more active by night. In fact, when I am outside I turn to my Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies because I never thought to purchase a book on identifying moths. The first thing it says to do is look at the antenna. A butterfly antenna has a club tip, and often a moth has thick and feathery antennae to help it pick up scents flying around at night. Butterflies have names like swallowtail, fritillary, metalmark, and checkerspot, and moths just rhyme with sloths. Compared to butterflies, moths are generally smaller and drab in color. Drab? I met a moth resting on a twig once that was anything but drab. Its chunky abdomen was striped black and the most vibrant tangerine orange imaginable, and I was mesmerized. Moths should get more love, especially when you know that there are so many more kinds of moths than butterflies to enjoy. Consider getting out to notice the wonder of moths with other citizen scientists for National Moth Week 2021 this July 17-25.

Writing from the Central Utah Writing Project, I am Shannon Rhodes and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Brock, Jim. Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. http://www.kaufmanfieldguides.com/butterflies.html

Carmel, Julia. Eric Carle, Author of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ Dies at 91., The New York Times, May 26, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/26/books/eric-carle-dead.html

Eric Carle Official Website. https://eric-carle.com/

Florida Museum of Natural History. Butterflies and Moths. https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2017/02/Butterfly-Educators-Guide.pdf

Forest Health Protection. Western Tent Caterpillars. 2011. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5303047.pdf

National Moth Week. https://nationalmothweek.org/

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Monarch Waystations

Monarch Waystations: Monarch Caterpillar, Under Watch By Young Eyes Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch Caterpillar, Under Watch By Young Eyes
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
In the northeast region of Utah nestled between the Wellsville Mountains and the Bear River Range, Cache Valley and the surrounding landscapes begin to show the first signs of spring. Wildflowers emerge on the hillsides, birds return to the valley floor and various native plants produce and deliver the timely first round of regional food sources to host our diverse pollinator populations. I am eager this year to see if we will get to experience the return of the beloved monarch butterfly, an iconic long-distance migrator that has made a noticeable presence in our valley for generations. Unfortunately, with numbers critically low for the third consecutive year, their return to Utah’s summer breeding grounds remains uncertain.

Monarch on Sunflower Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch on Sunflower
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Scientists have been tracking the population of western monarchs by conducting overwinter counts of individuals clustered in the California coastal regions. During the annual 2020 Thanksgiving Count, experts reported a dismal low of only 1,914 individuals. Counts from the two previous years hovered around 30,000 individuals, the threshold that was predicted to result in a crash of the western migration. With less than 1% of the historical population remaining (which use to report in the hundreds of thousands to over a million), this has become a troubling trend. The primary reasons for the decline in the population have been attributed to loss of historical habitat, increase in pesticide use and both direct/indirect impacts of climate change.

Monarch with Habitat In Progress Sign Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch with Habitat In Progress Sign
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Now more than ever sanctuary habitats containing milkweed and native nectar sources play a vital role in the ultimate success of the monarch migration. Many people have chosen to contribute to this conservation movement through the establishment of Waystations. Monarch Waystations offer the promise of protected habitats with the establishment of adequate seasonal resources dispersed between overwintering sites and summer breeding grounds. The idea is the more Waystations created, the better connectivity between habitats, the more robust the migratory pathway. The added benefit of additional resource sanctuaries for critical pollinator populations which ultimately determine the success of our agricultural industry is noteworthy.

Monarch Waystation Sign Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch Waystation Sign
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Waystations can be integrated into a variety of existing landscapes, including home gardens, business establishments, government buildings, local parks and schools. In the state of Utah, there are 59 registered Monarch Waystations. I host Waystation 26876 through Monarch Watch, #44 in the state. 5 specific criteria are needed to certify a Waystation (through monarchwatch.org): 1) A designated space, minimum of 100 square feet; 2) Native milkweeds (to serve as host plants); 3) A variety of seasonal nectar sources (natives preferred); 4) A water source and: 5) Shelter. The commitment to avoid the use of pesticides is also critical for success.

Milkweed Seed Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Milkweed Seed
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Local movements and backyard organizations have become monumental in the collection and distribution of regional milkweeds and native nectar plants. If you are looking to start a Waystation of your own, that would be a good place to start. With the monarch’s recent designation as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act, and their listing put on hold (as “warranted but precluded” due to lack of funding), we are in a race against time to save the migration. My backyard will continue to provide a reliable source of habitat plants for as much of Utah and it can support. As I package up another round of Showy milkweed seeds (Asclepias speciosa) destined for a Utah classroom, I remain hopeful. Our next generation of environmental stewards, under the careful guidance of passionate enthusiasts, is paving the way as they witness the plight of the monarch unfold before their very eyes.

This is Jenny Dowd with Western Monarch Pollinator Pathways, and I’m wild about Utah

The Wild About Utah archives are managed by the Bridgerland Audubon Society: https://wildaboututah.org

Milkweed in Bloom Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Milkweed in Bloom
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
Courtesy RAE Environmental Inc., raeenvironmentalinc.org,
Beginning Audio: Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text: Jennifer Burghardt Dowd https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Waystation #26876 in River Heights, UT.

For Information On Registering a Monarch Waystation:
To meet the criteria required for certifying a garden as an official Monarch Waystation, please visit Monarch Watch: https://monarchwatch.org/waystations.

Monarch Caterpillar Feeding on Milkweed Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch Caterpillar Feeding on Milkweed
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Schools can contact RAE Environmental Inc. to find out how to participate in their Utah School Monarch Waystation Program (https://raeenvironmentalinc.org)

October Milkweed Giveaway:
Locally sourced native milkweed varieties can be obtained through the month of October by visiting https://raeenvironmentalinc.org/need-seeds

Additional Resources:
Western Monarch Advocates, Utah News: https://www.westernmonarchadvocates.com/utah

Monarch Joint Venture, Monarch Migration: https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/monarch-migration

Western Monarchs Call to Action: https://xerces.org/western-monarch-call-to-action

Monarch Caterpillars Feeding on Milkweed Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Monarch Caterpillars Feeding on Milkweed
Courtesy & Copyright 2020, Jennifer Burghardt Dowd, Photographer
https://raeenvironmentalinc.org
Western Monarch Conservation Plan: https://www.wafwa.org/Documents%20and%20Settings/37/Site%20Documents/Committees/Monarch/Western%20Monarch%20Butterfly%20Conservation%20Plan%202019-2069.pdf

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

Barth, Amanda, Wild About Utah, Monarchs, Wild About Utah, December 14, 2020 https://wildaboututah.org/monarchs/

Hellstern, Ron, The End of Royalty?, Wild About Utah, April 24, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-end-of-royalty/

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/journey-north/

Full Moon Serenades

Swainson's Thrush & Western Meadowlark Courtesy US NPS Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark) Combined by Patrick Kelly
Swainson’s Thrush & Western Meadowlark
Courtesy US NPS
Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush)
Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Combined by Patrick Kelly
The serenades around where I live begin early. Today it was during the full moon at 3am, in a break from the blessed rain. The chorus is mostly of robins, but one voice sticks out as new; a call I do not know; a love letter to curiosity of who could make such a call. I have hope that I’ll be able to find who sings like a Geddy Lee who has found Xanadu. It isn’t the first mystery bird I’ve encountered though.

I do remember my first, how can one not, that first call which bamboozled and hypnotized me years ago, both awakening and soothing that inside of me which makes me human. I used to live in a small cabin in the middle of Alaska, and during the eternal summers I’d hear this bird’s haunting call lull me to sleep. It was a Weddell seal of the woods. A UAP that sang.

At first, I didn’t want to know who it was filling the woods with quicksilver honeydew, drop by drop. I somehow felt that the magic would be lost, that by knowing the source I would ruin the spring. But then one day, the music maker appeareth. He was brown, squat, with a small thin beak, just sitting on a spruce branch at my eye level. When he sang, I found I was not disappointed. The Eden of unknowing bliss was not left behind. Instead, where once I saw an it, now I saw a thou. He was singing. The noble, sylvan Swainson’s Thrush.

This trend continued on for me, and once I moved to Utah, I found even more new strange songs. I learned to let the choir sing from their perches, and wait for them to show themselves. The newest singer I discovered was last summer, out in the last intact meadows which border the Bonneville Shoreline trail in Cache Valley, fast disappearing to the grind of half-acre plots and four-car garages which confuse godliness with gaudiness. In their loss, also deplete becomes their song.

Once I heard this new serenader, an avian Van Halen, I began repeating the trail just to hear his song. Like the thrush, which at this point was many years prior, his song seemed to have no source, it simply emanated from the golden grasses and muted sage which, pressed by wind, created a woven mat of gestalt terroir and echoed off the small crevices which led to the mountainsides.

So days and weeks went by as I hiked with my dogs. I’d keep an ear to the pastures and when I heard him, or his premonition upon the wind, I’d freeze and bend in. And sure enough, a certain day came where on this hike I listened, heard, and then saw him. Speckled brown back, golden chest with a black chevron, perched atop a scrubby little juniper calling into the wind. A Western Meadowlark at work.

So if this summer you hear a new sound in the full moon morning and don’t know who makes it, don’t shy, ignore, nor give up. The best thing you can do is to keep listening and keep waiting, be it your first or just most recent. Eventually the caller will pull the curtain back of their own accord and be revealed. So here’s my wish of good luck to you, that you will find what you’re listening for out in the world.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service(NPS) Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) & Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Audio: Courtesy US NPS Media / David Betchkal (thrush) & US NPS & MSU Acoustic Atlas/Jennifer Jerrett (meadowlark)
Additional Audio Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin.
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon & Cache Hikers, site per Sarah Ohms, https://logancanyonhiking.com/bonneville.htm

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Cache Hikers, http://www.cachehikers.org/Descriptions/BonnevilleShorelineTrail.html

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Official Site(2016), http://www.bonnevilleshorelinetrail.org/

Swainson’s Thrush, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Thrush/overview

Swainson’s Thrush, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/bird/swainsons-thrush/

Swainson’s Thrush, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/SwainsonsThrush.htm

Western Meadowlark, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Meadowlark

See Western Meadowlark in Sagebrush Communities in the Intermountain West, Bird Habitat Guide, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/SagebrushGuide.pdf

Western Meadowlark, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternMeadowlark.htm

Nibley Firefly Park

Nibley Firefly Park: Luci the Firefly from  The Mystery of Luci’s Missing Lantern by Melissa Marsted and illustrated by Liesl Cannon Courtesy & © Liesl Cannon, Illustrator
Luci the Firefly from
The Mystery of Luci’s Missing Lantern by Melissa Marsted, illust. by Liesl Cannon
Courtesy & © Liesl Cannon, Illustrator
Just imagine waking from a very long sleep into a bright May morning in Cache Valley. This is the story of Luci, a western firefly, told charmingly by Melissa Marsted and illustrated by Liesl Cannon in their new children’s book, The Mystery of Luci’s Missing Lantern. After completing her transition from a larva to an adult firefly, Luci notices she has no light. She flies up Logan Canyon looking for her missing lantern, where the animals she meets encourage her to keep looking. But its a bluebird on top of Mt. Naomi, the highest point in the canyon, who turns Luci around and sends her back to where she was born, the Nibley Firefly Park.

Author Melissa Marsted and Illustrator Liesl Cannon at the Stokes Nature Center Book Signing Courtesy & © Mary Heers
Author Melissa Marsted and Illustrator Liesl Cannon at the Stokes Nature Center Book Signing
Courtesy & © Mary Heers
There Luci finds her light. She sits down near the top of a tall blade of grass, and suddenly males fly by, flashing their lights, trying to get her attention. Luci discovers she can flash back. It’s a party – a big courtship dance.

You can see the story unfold if you visit the Nibley Firefly Park after dark. But please tread carefully. For fireflies, this is their Grand Finale. It has taken two years for them to grow from larvae to flying adults. Now they are choosing a mate. By July they will have laid their eggs in the nearby marshy ground and their life cycle will come to an end.

Any artificial light brought to the scene (such as flashlights and car headlights) seriously disrupts the courtship flashing. If you visit the Nibley Firefly Park this summer, please keep your light to the barest minimum, and – enjoy the party.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Western Firefly Project: A Community Science Initiative, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/citizen-science/fireflies

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Bills, Christy, Utah Fireflies, Wild About Utah,Sept 7, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/utah_fireflies/ AND
Bills, Christy, Fireflies, Wild About Utah, May 15, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/fireflies/

Hellstern, Ron, June Fireflies, Wild About Utah, June 19, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/june-fireflies/

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

Marstad, Melissa C, Author, & Cannon, Liesl, Illustrator, The Mystery of Luci’s Missing Lantern, Lucky Penny Publications, LLC, Mar 16, 2021, https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Lucis-Missing-Lantern/dp/1945243805