Tigers: Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer
Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer

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

Western Swallowtail Butterfly Seeking Salt From Soil, 6/24/2017 Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer Western Swallowtail Butterfly Seeking Salt From Soil, 6/24/2017
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer

The year of the tiger. Our mountains, canyons, and valleys are replete with tigers-there’s no escaping them, tiger swallowtail butterflies! Even my grandkids captured one, which entertained them for days. It had a damaged wing and preferred crawling to flying. It’s angelic beauty transfixed the onlookers. Although injured, it hung on for a week- about the average life span of an adult butterfly.

The normal range of the western tiger swallowtail covers much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico south. Individuals occasionally turn up in eastern North America, though it is generally replaced by the similar eastern tiger swallowtail.

Western tigers emerge from winter chrysalids between February and May, the date depending on the temperature. They are seen earlier in the more southerly and coastal parts of their range. These are high energy butterflies, rarely seen at rest.

The females lay up to a hundred eggs on a wide variety of host plants including willows, aspens, ashes, poplars, alders, and cottonwood. The eggs are deep green, shiny, and spherical. They are laid singly, on the undersides of leaves. The caterpillars emerge about four days later.

The caterpillars molt five times, eventually reaching a length up to 2 inches before pupating to adults. In summer, the butterfly can emerge as quickly as 15 days after the caterpillar’s pupated, but when the caterpillar pupates in the fall, the butterfly does not emerge until the spring. For camouflage, the young caterpillars, strangely resemble bird poop as they hatch. Once they begin to molt, they turn bright green in color, with large, yellow eyespot marks studded with black and blue pupils. These fake eyes may frighten predators, along with retractable, iridescent, horn-like structures on their head.

To harvest nectar, a butterfly unfurls its proboscis, a tube that functions like a straw and is coiled below the head when not in use. It inserts the proboscis into the flower and sucks up nectar by rhythmically contracting the muscles in its head. Sugars in the nectar provide energy for flight, defense, reproduction, and other daily activities.
Tigers also obtain nutrients and replenish fluids through “puddling,” where they congregate in large groups on mud or wet sand around puddles, streambanks, or on piles of fresh manure. I’ve observed puddling many times, always a levitating experience! Here they take up salts, proteins, and minerals. Salt is scarce in the butterfly diet, but is essential for reproduction and flight.

Puddling is primarily a male behavior, and during mating, a male butterfly transfers salt to the female in a sperm package, which she incorporates into her eggs. Researchers have found that sodium increases reproductive success in some butterfly species. During puddling, groups of males are conspicuous to females seeking mates. Males also patrol at treetop level looking for mates, swooping down to intercept females.

Thus, if you see a tiger, don’t be alarmed, just relax and enjoy their exquisite beauty and fascinating behaviors.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah, and its puddling tigers!!

Image: Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer, https://www.fws.gov/media/western-tiger-swallowtail
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Agyagos, Janie, Attracting Butterflies, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd899349.pdf

Backyards for Butterflies, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, State of Ohio, Publication 5089, January 2020, https://ohiodnr.gov/static/documents/wildlife/backyard-wildlife/Backyards%20for%20Butterflies%20pub089.pdf

Carroll, James, 2006, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails gathered at mineral trace along Blackwater River tributary in Western Florida, BugGuide.net, https://bugguide.net/node/view/79626

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio canadensis, [Click to second picture to view puddling], Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program, https://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=IILEP94250

The Bees and the Birds

The Bees and the Birds: The Bee Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
The Bee
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

The Bees and the Birds: The Bird [A Mallard Drake] Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer The Bird
[A Mallard Drake]
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

March is a thrilling month to be in an elementary school. Besides fifth grade maturation sessions, shamrocks pop up and many spotlight the impact of Dr. Seuss. Besides green eggs and ham eaten by children wearing tall red and white hats, we read and re-read books filled with fanciful characters and rhymes that roll off the tongue. I learned this year along with my students that Dr. Seuss’s father was the superintendent of parks in Springfield, Massachusetts, so naturally young Theodor took his sketchpad and pencil to observe and record whenever he could. When an animal lost an antler at the zoo, he would use it to craft a sculpture just as whimsical as the imaginative ones in his books. He called them pieces of The Seuss System of Unorthodox Taxidermy and placed them early in his career as promotional advertisements in bookshops. Kangaroo Bird with its teal stripes and pouch-perched hatchling and the Andulovian Grackler’s fur tufts and orange bill intrigue me. He also painted the stunning “The Birds and the Trees” featuring a white flock flying between red and pink palm trees that inspired the Dadake Day in “Oh the Thinks You Can Think.” As we studied Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” released 50 years ago this year, students noted how many birds appeared in the pages, leading us to do a Seuss bird scavenger hunt, our version of the birding counts chronicled in Mark Obmascik’s “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession” (that’s f-o-w-l).

I do know I was lucky to teach once on a fifth grade team with a man students called Mr. J. Among many other things, he taught them how to recognize and identify birds. He preserved a time each day to review birds they had learned and add facts about a new species, how it looks, how it sounds, and how it behaves. He could display photographs and even silhouettes; students knew the shapes enough to identify them. He could play short audio clips, and students shouted out the corresponding birds too. I’ve discovered since The Bird Song Hero app that provides a spectrogram showing pitches visually that allow people like me another way to memorize those various bird songs. I remember I popped in the day they were discussing how our loggerhead shrike impales insects, rodents, snakes, and lizards on fences and really anything sharp and off the ground. When we took them on the bus through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, I couldn’t believe my ears as kids with binoculars and without them were confidently shouting, “I see…” and tallying on their clipboards. For weeks that spring I would find students at recess peering up in the sky above the schoolyard doing the same thing. When I marveled at this phenomenon, Mr. J. smiled. “You know, Shannon, it isn’t about the birds. It’s about being aware.”

So often his “It’s about being aware” mantra pops in my head, like it did this week when my students huddled around our class pet cage housing a bee that emerged early from my Crown Bee tube “free-bee” from a recent science-teaching conference. Just like Dr. Seuss’s Bee-Watcher-Watchers, these six- and seven-year-olds eagerly missed romping in the fresh powder playground to watch a bee perched on a strawberry. I’ve done the same thing, standing mesmerized, lost in thought, watching a bee on a western coneflower, repeating the Seuss rhyme “Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky.”

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.


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

Additional Reading:

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

The Art of Dr. Seuss Collection. The Birds and the Trees. https://www.drseussart.com/the-birds-and-the-trees

The Art of Dr. Seuss Collection. The Bee-Watcher. https://www.drseussart.com/illustration-art/the-bee-watcher

The Art of Dr. Seuss Collection. The Seuss Collection of Unorthodox Taxidermy. https://www.drseussart.com/taxidermy

Bird Song Hero. https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/bird-song-hero/bird-song-hero-tutorial

Cane, Jim. The Native Bees of Utah. July 7, 2011. Wild About Utah. https://wildaboututah.org/the-native-bees-of-utah/

Kervin, Linda. Shrikes. October 31, 2013. Wild About Utah. https://wildaboututah.org/shrikes/#:~:text=Utah%20has%202%20species%20of,with%20their%20thick%20hooked%20bill .

Newberry, Todd & Holtan, G. (2005). The Ardent Birder: On the Craft of Birdwatching. Random House LLC. https://www.amazon.com/Ardent-Birder-Birdwatching-Newberry-2005-10-01/dp/B01FGJKGUS?asin=1580087159&revisionId=&format=4&depth=1

Obmascik, Mark. The Big Year. https://www.markobmascik.com/books/ and https://www.audubon.org/content/mark-obmascik

Seuss, Dr. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973). New York: Random House.https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/42980/did-i-ever-tell-you-how-lucky-you-are-by-dr-seuss/

Seuss, Dr. Oh the Thinks You Can Think. (1975). New York: Random House.https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/43101/oh-the-thinks-you-can-think-by-dr-seuss/

You and I and the Winged Things

You and I and the Winged Things: Late Autumn Evening Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
Late Autumn Evening
Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
One of the greatest magics of these late autumn evenings is that of midges, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and bugs which flitter about in the humble stratosphere of their world between the intermittent cold snaps. They loop and spiral, as if on spiritual roller coasters, gently refracting the setting sun through and upon their bodies so that they seem to glow and become prescient of the night’s stars soon to bloom. When the cool November sun begins to set low, I can look out amongst the naked shrubs and thinning trees, the tall shaggy grasses and dead kaleidoscopic leaves, and see those hidden creatures who only dance in unlovely places the splendid slow waltz of autumnal joy.

Through the cascading shadow, the dance of the waning wing-bearers becomes even more dramatic. As the sun continues to slide below the mountains, the insects increase their pace it seems, and then begins the cataclysm of the birds. Small gray and off-gray birds with different flecks, inflections, songs, and hearts, though unified as the kind that would easily build a good hardy nest in an old dilapidated mug, begin diving through the midges and gnats and flies and mosquitoes. The birds are trapeze artists. Starting from a perch in a nearby tree, they swoop with grace through the air in a dramatic arc. At the nadir of their swing, the snare roll abruptly halts, a sharp inhale of silence descends like thunder and is followed in quicktime by a cymbal crash as the acrobats catch their purse in midair. Then, gently arching back up to the adjacent branch across, a great applause raptures. Like this, the birds dive and breach, avian orcas earning their rich protein in preparation for the imminent changing of the season. The horizon of thin times drives the orchestra of life onwards.

As I watch the fading insects, bugs, winged things, and other wonders I ponder as to why many see them as pests. In the evening glow, it seems an impossible identity for these fellow inhabitants of our world. Do people fear them? Not understand them? Believe they belong in one place and not another? Watching them in that moment, the thought escapes my mind and I am glad. I am glad to forget their supposedly assigned state, and I instead reforge my memories anew in the present, watching them as sparks in the swiftly quenching day. The perpetual creation of the world continues along, with I and you and all we’ve ever known and will know wrapped within it.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy & © Friend Weller https://upr.org/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin https://upr.org/
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

Top 20 Identified Insects, Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/pests/uppdl/top-20-insects

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle: White-spotted sawyer Monochamus scutellatus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
White-spotted sawyer
Monochamus scutellatus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Before E. B. White set about crafting Charlotte’s Web in 1949, according to Melissa Sweet’s biography Some Writer, he was “bringing a pail of slops to the barn” that he loved in Maine and thinking about a time not long before when he observed a barn spider spinning her egg sac and depositing her eggs. Weeks later, when he had brought the egg sac in a candy box to New York City, he found hundreds of spiderlings emerging and realized a story emerging as well. Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web, quotes from a letter White wrote to some schoolchildren: “I didn’t like spiders at first, but then I began watching one of them, and soon saw what a wonderful creature she was and what a skillful weaver. I named her Charlotte.” E. B. White went to Willis J. Gertsch, author of American Spiders and expert at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Insects and Spiders, to learn. He spent a year studying spiders in order to get the story just right.
Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle
In northern Utah last week I made a friend who happened to be a white-spotted sawyer beetle named Monochamus scutellatus. My children and I have been fascinated by these insects for years. If you are the most apprehensive and skittish adventurer in your group, chances are that this relatively large forest insect will glide in, land on you, and courageously stay, as if it had something to say. Like E. B. White and the orb weaver Aranea cavatica, this longhorned beetle and I had a face-to-face chat. What you will notice immediately are his long horns. These antennae were twice as long as the rest of his body, and that’s how you would know he was a male. The antennae of the females, in contrast, are typically only half as long. Both male and female have a distinctive white dot at the base of the wings, an easy way to distinguish them from the invasive Asian longhorned or velvet longhorned varieties.

This white-spotted sawyer said he is often misunderstood because of his appearance. He can’t help looking a bit creepy. He also sometimes gets blamed for damaging forests and wanted to set the record straight. He said that as a grub, he fed on the sapwood of evergreen trees that are already dead or nearing it. In fact, sawyer beetles invade trees following forest fires and in the months following mountain pine beetle attacks. They do not, however, kill healthy thriving trees. Sawyer beetles are, though, responsible for the familiar teeth-grinding sounds one hears in a wooded area as the fleshy larvae scrape with their mandibles.

At the other end of Utah perched in Monticello’s rabbitbrush a few days ago, I met a colony of striking Crossidius coralinus. Instead of mostly black bodies, these longhorn beetles boast vibrant reds and many more stories to tell. Thanks to beetle entomologist Ted MacRae, I am able to understand those stories better. I must admit that I will probably still jump when a longhorned beetle initiates a conversation from my forearm, but I now appreciate its point of view. After all, Charles Darwin suggested that “a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life,” and I will take all the help I can get.

For Wild About Utah, I am Shannon Rhodes.

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

Additional Reading:

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

Cohen, Joel I. Exploring the nature of science through courage and purpose: a case study of Charles Darwin’s way of knowing. SpringerPlus. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5020019/pdf/40064_2016_Article_3053.pdf ​​

Corrigan, Maureen. How E. B. White Spun Charlotte’s Web. Published July 5, 2011, accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/05/137452030/how-e-b-white-spun-charlottes-web

MacRae, Ted C. “Big, Black (and Red), and Beautiful: Mini-review of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group.” Published July 18, 2014, accessed August 13, 2022. Beetles in the Bush, https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/mini-review-of-the-cicindelidia-abdominalis-species-group/.

Rodman, Taryn M. et al. Velvet Longhorned Beetle. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. July 2020. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/velvet-longhorned-beetle#:~:text=Quick%20Facts,%2C%20%20Davis%2C%20and%20%20Tooele%20%20counties

Spears, Lori et al. Invasive Insect Lookalikes: mistaken insect identity. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. October 2015. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/invasive-insect-lookalikes

Strand, Holly. Bark Beetle Mania! Published June 25, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/bark-beetle-mania/

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.melissasweet.net/somewriter

United States Forest Service. Mountain Pine Beetle. 2011. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5299324.pdf

Utah Pests Quarterly Newsletter. Winter 2021. Vol. XV. Asian Longhorned Beetle: not yet in Utah. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/files/up-newsletter/2021/UtahPestsNews-winter21.pdf