Monarchs

Monarchs: Freshly Emerged Monarch Butterfly Courtesy & © Amanda Barth, Photographer
Freshly Emerged Monarch Butterfly
Courtesy & © Amanda Barth, Photographer
I have always been fascinated by insects, and even as a young child I felt a deep sympathy for these misunderstood creatures. Before I had vocabulary to describe the revolving diversity I witnessed as a kid, I recall a sense of nostalgia for the moths, cicadas, bees, and butterflies who appeared in great numbers and animated various plant types around my city. Their ebbs and flows offered clues and added nuance to the flowers, trees, and a change in the weather. When I was young they seemed like part of the changing seasons, reliable and abundant, but I came to recognize how delicate and precarious their existence is, and the consequences of their decline.
My path in insect conservation led me to Utah, where a similar fond sentiment is shared for the summer arrival of monarch butterflies, and where a sense of alarm is growing over their rapid disappearance. People don’t see these orange and black beauties dancing around their gardens anymore. Their kids have fewer chances to witness the magic of metamorphosis playing out on a milkweed plant.
In fact, monarch butterflies are facing a dire situation across the country, with their numbers plummeting dangerously close to extinction levels. Two major populations occupy North America—the Eastern and Western population—that carry with them the innate behavior of migration between summer breeding and overwintering grounds. Their international migration routes effectively include parts of southern Canada, nearly every state in the U.S.A., and a corridor of eastern Mexico. With a range this vast, questions about threats and habitat needs are difficult to answer. It is a challenge to coordinate data collection on their distribution and implement appropriate recovery efforts. This month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list monarch butterflies as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, after years of nationwide data collection and conservation strategy planning.
Whatever the Service’s decision may be, the monarch is just one prominent example of a trend of disappearing insects. Our understanding of our relationship to these fragile creatures becomes clearer as they vanish, and the systems we rely on to produce food, recycle nutrients, and keep our air and water clean are showing tremendous signs of breakdown.
I wish I could offer a glimmer of hope in the face of this crisis. I wish I could share my love for insects, and spiders, and other “creepy crawlies” that people fear, because our lack of understanding prevents us from seeing their value and the respect they deserve. What I can offer is some insight into what sort of actions need to be taken.

Support through Funding
For western monarchs in particular, the population is very near collapse, with projected numbers this winter around 6,000 individuals (down from 30,000 the last two years, and 1.2 million in the 1990s—a population loss of 99.5%). Efforts to restore critical early spring habitat for western monarchs leaving overwintering sites are focused in the foothills and Central Valley of northern California, and this emergency action needs support through funding. Organizations committed to taking immediate action include the Monarch Joint Venture and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Support through Political Will
Before the pandemic hit this year, a House bill was introduced to provide support for western monarch conservation. The Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act (or the MONARCH Act) of 2020 would establish a Rescue Fund through the USDA that would provide grant support to states implementing the conservation strategies of the Western Monarch Conservation Plan of 2019. Momentum on passing this bill stalled as focus on COVID became priority, but lawmakers must be reminded that these actions are still critical to the existence of our beloved western monarch butterflies.
My hope is that we see monarch declines as a wake-up call to act collaboratively, that our collective misunderstanding of all insects and their valuable roles in our lives can be remedied through curiosity, outreach and conversation, and that we find ourselves delighting in the chance to share our reverence of these creatures with all generations, young and old.

My name is Amanda Barth, the rare insect conservation coordinator for Utah’s Department of Natural Resources, and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Amanda Barth, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Amanda Barth, Rare Insect Conservation Coordinator, Utah Division of Natural Resources/Quiney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Additional Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Merkley, Jeff (Sponsor), S. 3304 (IS) – Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2020, [US Senate] Committee on Environment and Public Works, https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/BILLS-116s3304is/
https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-116s3304is/pdf/BILLS-116s3304is.pdf

Assessing the status of the monarch butterfly, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, December 15, 2020, https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/ssa.html

Rott, Nathan, Trump Administration Postpones Listing Monarch Butterfly As Endangered Species, NPR, Dec 15, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/15/946827294/trump-administration-postpones-listing-monarch-butterfly-as-endangered-species

http://utahpollinatorpursuit.org/ a.k.a. https://sites.google.com/view/utahpollinatorpursuit/
Utah Pollinator Pursuit is a cooperative project between Utah Department of Natural Resources, Wild Utah Project, and Utah State University

Van Tatenhove, Aimee, Exploring Declining Monarch Butterfly Habitat In Eastern Utah, UPR Utah Public Radio, September 8, 2020, https://www.upr.org/post/exploring-declining-monarch-butterfly-habitat-eastern-utah

Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Utah, https://sites.google.com/utah.gov/monarchconservationinutah/
Utah Pollinator Pursuit is a cooperative project between Utah Department of Natural Resources, Wild Utah Project, and Utah State University

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

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

Liberatore, Andrea, Insect Mimicry, Wild About Utah, September 12, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/insect-mimicry-2/

Insect Musicians

Insect Musicians: Katydid Courtesy US FWS, Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Katydid
Courtesy US FWS
Dr Thomas Barnes, Photographer
It gives me great pleasure to take a moonlight walk on these warm summer nights, serenaded by a gazillion insect musicians. Pulsing in unison with a background of cricket chirps, it reminds me that summer is waning and I must enjoy what remains!

As birds grow silent with nesting season past, I become aware of the gradually intensifying chorus of the inset tribe- a cacophonous mixture of chirps, trills, ticks, scrapes, shuffles, and buzzes. What a joy to behold these choruses of males, serenading females of their own species until cold weather dampens the chorus and heavy frost finally brings it to a close. Crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and cicadas are prominent songsters. They can be found in trees, shrubs, lawns, fields, woodlands—nearly all habitats, and sometimes inside our homes.

My USU entomologist friend recommends the Snowy Tree Cricket as a champion night chorister here among the insects. It’s “snowy” name is derived from its pale coloration causing it to appear white. Snowy Tree Crickets sing from brushy understory plants at forested margins or within open woodlands. During cold spells, they can be found close to the ground on the trunks of small trees where they find a warmer micro-climate. It is also referred to as the “thermometer cricket” due to its accuracy of giving the temperature in degrees F. Just count the chirps for 15 seconds and add 40.

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
The Spring and Fall Field Crickets are next in line as musicians. They look very similar to each other, but are two different species. The season they appear helps identify them. Another difference is their life histories. Fall Field Crickets overwinter as eggs while the Spring version as nymphs.

Spring Field Crickets develop quickly when warm weather arrives and adults typically appear and begin singing and mating in late spring, continuing until late June or early July when they finish laying eggs and die off. In contrast, Fall Field Crickets hatch in the spring, and adults don’t appear and begin singing until mid to late July, after which they continue singing and mating into the autumn, when they are finally killed by frosts. In most areas of overlap, there is a period of silence in midsummer when neither species is heard.

Finding and identifying a singing insect can be a fun challenge. With the help of a flashlight and considerable patience, you will be able to track down individual singers, and perhaps even view a singing performance firsthand! Many are small and well camouflaged in their green and brown coats, and they sit motionless when singing, blending into their surroundings. Many sing only in the dark of night. Use LED lights as their spectrum seems to enhance finding them.

Check out these glorious beings at songsofinsects.com.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Katydid, Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas Barnes, Photographer
Images: Jerusalem Cricket, Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hershberger, Wil & Elliott, Lang, Songs of Insects, https://songsofinsects.com/

Montagne, Renee, Insect Sounds: Telling Crickets, Cicadas And Katydids Apart, NPR, September 8, 2015, https://www.npr.org/2015/09/08/438473580/insect-sounds-telling-crickets-cicadas-and-katydids-apart

Rankin, Richard, Bug Bytes, Reference Library of Digitized Insect Sounds – USDA ARS, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/3559/soundlibrary.html

Utah Fireflies

Utah Fireflies: Firefly Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Firefly
Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Hi, My name is Christy Bills, I am the entomologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

I am excited to talk about the Utah Firefly citizens science project. A lot of people are surprised to know that we have fireflies in Utah, but we actually have them in 20 of the 29 counties, that we’ve discovered so far. People are often surprised that they’re here, and they think that they’ve just arrived but they haven’t. They like to live in marshy areas, and they are only adults from late May to early July, so that’s why people often don’t see them, because people aren’t usually recreating in marshy areas.

Utah Fireflies: Flashing Firefly Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
Flashing Firefly
Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls
The firefly citizens science project asks people to report when they see them to the museums website, and that allows us as researchers to know where they are so we can track their activity. We’ve been collecting data on them for 4 or 5 years and learning more about them over that time period.

I’ve actually gone through old newspapers that have been digitized online, and looked for any reference to fireflies or lightning bugs, and I have found zero reference dating back 100 years. However, when you actually talk to people in rural communities who have pastures and farms, it turns out anecdotally a lot of people know about them. This is a really wonderful way of people bridging the academic rural divide, and finding out that people in these communities have a wealth of knowledge that we can draw from, and they’ll say, “Oh yeah my grandpa always had them in the orchard,” or “We always knew that they were there,” so it turns out people always knew about them. Not a lot of people, but enough people.
People have anecdotes about knowing about them in urban areas, where there are clearly not anymore because of development and light pollution. That helps us also know what factors make them go away.

More information about the project is available, at NHMU.UTAH.EDU/fireflies.

I’m Christy Bills and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Image: Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls, Photographer
Featured Audio: Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Christy Bills, Entomologist, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/newsdesk/experts/christy-bills

Report:


Report your sighting


Sources & Additional Reading

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

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

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

Buschman, L L. Biology of the firefly Pyractomena lucifera (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Florida Entomologist 67.4 (1984): 529-542. https://journals.flvc.org/flaent/article/view/57962 (click on PDF for full text)

Lloyd, James E., 1964. Notes on Flash Communication in the Firefly Pyractomena dispersa (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 57, Number 2, March 1964 , pp. 260-261. (James Lloyd is a leading authority on fireflies. He retired from academic duty at the University of FL, but here is a web page with some of his wisdom and musings. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/lloyd/firefly/

(Boston) Museum of Science Firefly Watch
Volunteers help citizen scientists track firefly occurrences.
https://www.mos.org/fireflies

National Geographic. Firefly (Lightning Bug) Lampyridae, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/firefly/

Phys.org news service. Jun 26, 2012. Romancing the firefly: New insights into what goes on when the lights go off. http://phys.org/news/2012-06-romancing-firefly-insights.html#inlRlv

Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F., James E. Lloyd, David M. Hillis. 2007. Phylogeny of North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): Implications for the evolution of light signals. In Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45 (2007) 33-49.

Utah State University Insect Collection has over 117 cabinets housing approximately two million pinned insects and 35,000 microscope slides. Location: Room 240, Biology and Natural Resources Bldg.; Telephone: 435-797-0358
https://biology.usu.edu/research/research_centers/insect-collection

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

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Green-eyed Dragonfly Courtesy Pixabay Guenther Lig Photographer
Green-eyed Dragonfly
Courtesy Pixabay
Guenther Lig Photographer
A few days ago a friend invited me to join him on a dragonfly odyssey high on a ridge in a canyon east of Smithfield, Utah. What we observed can only be described as a natural phenomenon.

At 6 am, the sun was just cresting the Bear River Range as we arrived at our destination. We dropped off the ridge to search small cliff bands of Lake Bonneville conglomerate for our quarry. We were not disappointed.

Hundreds of dragonflies were just beginning to launch from the cliff bands to being their daily hunt. As many were still plastered to the rock face awaiting the critical temperature to activate. I was mesmerized while sun-lit wings glowed gold and silver. Questions filled my head. Why so concentrated far above the canyon bottom in this strange rock? At what temperatures are they active? How many species occupy this small space? How can there be enough prey to support this high population? How far do they range from this rest in their daily forays? A good research thesis for a USU grad student!

An updated Utah faunal list contains 94 species dragonflies and damselflies, or Odonate, with 5000 recorded world wide.

Odonates are aquatic or semi-aquatic as juveniles existing up to 6 years in their aquatic state. Thus, adults are most often seen near bodies of water and are frequently described as aquatic insects. However, many species range far from water. They are carnivorous throughout their life, mostly feeding on smaller insects.

Odonates can act as bioindicators of water quality because they rely on high quality water for proper development in early life. Since their diet consists entirely of insects, odonate density is directly proportional to the population of prey, and their abundance indicates the abundance of prey in the ecosystem. Species richness of vascular plants has also been positively correlated with the species richness of dragonflies in a given habitat. If one finds a wide variety of odonates, then a similarly wide variety of plants should also be present.

Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
In addition, odonates are very sensitive to changes to average temperature. Many species have moved to higher elevations and latitudes as global temperature rises and habitats dry out. Changes to the life cycle have been recorded with increased development of the instar stages and smaller adult body size as the average temperature increases. As the territory of many species starts to overlap, the rate hybridization of species that normally do not come in contact is increasing. If global climate change continues many members of Odonata will start to disappear. They are one of the first insects to develop

Trivia: With 300 M years of flight evolution, dragonflies are supreme – longest nonstop distance (11,000 miles across oceans), helicopter maneuvers, eat and have sex on the wing, and near 40 mph top speed. They are amazingly efficient hunters with 95% success. And sight- 30,000 lenses allow 360 degree range and can see in ultraviolet light.

There wingspan can range from less than an inch to 6 inches and lifespan from a few weeks to a year. In Indonesia they are eaten as delicious snacks and considered good luck if one lands on your head.
This is Jack Greene for BAS- and boy am I wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Guenther Lig, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/dragonfly-wings-insect-nature-3456317/
Audio:
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Dragonflies, Wild About Utah, July 21, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/dragonflies/

Morse, Susan, Dragonfly Spotting on Wildlife Refuges, Nov 14, 2019, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/dragonfly-spotting-on-wildlife-refuges.html

Wild Utah, Dragonflies and Damselflies, https://www.wildutah.us/index_dragon.html
Eight-spotted Dragonflies, Wild Utah, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_d_skimmer_8_spotted.html

Dragonflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf/wildlife_and_habitat/dragonflies.html

Order Odanate, Dragonflies and Damselflies, Bugguide.net, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, https://bugguide.net/node/view/77

Report Dragonfly and Damselfly sightings, much like eBird to:
Odonata Central, https://www.odonatacentral.org/#/

Paulsen, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West, Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Princeton-Field-Guides/dp/0691122814/

Kavanagh, James (Author), Leung, Raymond (Illustrator), Dragonflies & Damselflies: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar, Widespread North American Species, Wildlife and Nature Identification Pamphlet, Waterford Press, April 9, 2018 https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Familiar-Widespread-Naturalist/dp/1583554750