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/

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