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/

Discovering Honeybees

Discovering Honeybees: Bee Approaching Sunflower Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Bee Approaching Sunflower
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
I was a bit surprised when I met a local beekeeper who insisted she’d never eat any honey except that produced by bees in the mountains above Cache Valley. It made sense that the taste of honey would be determined by the flowers where the bees collected nectar and pollen. It turns out the Forest Service issues permits to local beekeepers to put hives around Tony Grove

Wanting to know more, I dropped into the Honeyland store in Cache Valley and was soon mesmerized by the active cut-away hive on display. It was a teacher’s dream come true – hundreds of bees – all diligently on task. Wide-eyed, I watched as a bee flew in at the bottom of the screen through a tunnel under the window looking very much like a bike rider with two full paniers She deposited the full sacks of pollen and then she began to dance. This took me quickly to the internet to learn more.. The bees dance is called a “waggle dance” – a straight line calibrated to communicate how far away the food source is, and a circular return arc to orient the path to the food. The waggle dancing bee can direct her sisters to a food source up to five miles away.

  • It takes 550 worker bees visiting 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.
  • Top speed for a bee is 15 mph.
  • Each honey bee makes one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

  • I soon returned to the store’s cut away hive and finally found the queen – a bit tricky as she looks like all the others except she’s one and a half times bigger. I watched as she dipped her tail into one hexagonal cell after another. On a good day a queen will lay 2,000 eggs.

    Busy, busy bees working together to set aside enough honey to feed themselves during the winter.

    The poet Dick Paetzke once called honey “the soul of a field of flowers”

    Mountain honey looks and tastes a little different than honey made by bees pollinating Cache Valley alfalfa. Both are incredibly delicious.

    Aristotle got it right: “Honey is the nectar of the gods.”

    This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
    Text: Mary Heers

    Additional Reading

    https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/

    Burlew, Rusty, Honeybee Suite, https://honeybeesuite.com/

    Honeybee, National Geographic Kids, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/h/honeybee/

    About The Honeybee, American Beekeeping Federation, https://www.abfnet.org/page/PollinatorFacts

    Utah Beekeepers Association, http://www.utahbeekeepers.com/

    Moab Bee Inspired Gardens, Utah State University, https://beeinspired.usu.edu/about/

    Bee Fest 2020, Sponsored by Catalyst Magazine and Utah Museum of Natural History,
    Recorded Facebook Livestream: https://www.facebook.com/events/2719162278365095/?post_id=2757236484557674&view=permalink
    SLC Bee Fest Homepage: https://slcbeefest.com/?fbclid=IwAR3xJ4E-WMNm5hizCKiajsmu0brmG1kMKEwgS0IcWij0RwpjLYTdOu4bODs

    Sphinx Moths

    Big Poplar Sphinx
    Pachysphinx occidentalis
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    White-lined Sphinx
    Hyles lineata
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    White-lined Sphinx Caterpillar
    Hyles lineata
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    I vividly remember the first time I saw one – a small winged creature whirring from flower to flower in the evening light, its long tongue dipping for nectar within tube-shaped blooms. I was mesmerized, and struggled for a closer look.

    If you’re thinking that I must have seen a hummingbird, you would be making a very common mistake. A mistake, in fact, that has given this critter one of its many nicknames. The winged wonder I saw that summer night was a sphinx moth, also called a hummingbird or hawk moth because of their large size and bird-like characteristics.

    In all stages of their life, these insects are large. Caterpillars grow to a robust 4 inches in length and adult wingspans can measure more than 5 inches. Sphinx moths are also some of the fastest insects on earth and have been clocked flying at over 30 miles per hour. Their size, speed, and flying ability reflect those of the hummingbird so closely that they are commonly misidentified.

    Sphinx moths are a beloved sight in many Utah gardens. However, they also hold a bit of a devious surprise. The larvae, or caterpillar, of one common species of sphinx moth are well known by vegetable gardeners. They are large and bright green with a distinctive horn near their hind end. Like the adults, these larvae go by many names, the most common being the tomato hornworm. Hornworm caterpillars, unlike their adult counterparts, are not beloved by gardeners. They are voracious beasts with the ability to strip the vegetation off a tomato or pepper plant in one day.

    Aside from our garden plants, young hornworms of other species feed on a variety of vegetation including willow, poplar and cottonwood trees. Adult moths rely on a host of flowers such as columbine, honeysuckle, larkspur and evening primrose. Here in Utah you might come across one of a handful of different species in the sphinx moth family including the five-spotted hawk moth and the white-lined sphinx. Look for them in the late summer evenings as daylight begins to fade. But be sure to look twice to avoid mistaking them for something they’re not.

    And the next time you find a hornworm on your tomatoes, maybe just relocate the little bugger so that you can enjoy it once metamorphosis changes the beast into a beauty.

    For more information and pictures of our native sphinx moths, visit our website at www.wildaboututah.org. Thank you to Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

    For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.
    Credits:

    Photos: Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
                Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
    Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

    Additional Reading:

    Cranshaw, W.S. 2007. Hornworms and “Hummingbird” Moths. Colorado State University Fact Sheet 5.517. Found online at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05517.pdf

    Buchman, Steve. 2010. Pollinator of the Month: Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths (Sphingidae). US Forest Service. Found online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hawk_moths.shtml

    Sphinx Moths

    Big Poplar Sphinx
    Pachysphinx occidentalis
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    White-lined Sphinx
    Hyles lineata
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    White-lined Sphinx Caterpillar
    Hyles lineata
    Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
    Colorado State University
    bugwood.org

    I vividly remember the first time I saw one – a small winged creature whirring from flower to flower in the evening light, its long tongue dipping for nectar within tube-shaped blooms. I was mesmerized, and struggled for a closer look.

    If you’re thinking that I must have seen a hummingbird, you would be making a very common mistake. A mistake, in fact, that has given this critter one of its many nicknames. The winged wonder I saw that summer night was a sphinx moth, also called a hummingbird or hawk moth because of their large size and bird-like characteristics.

    In all stages of their life, these insects are large. Caterpillars grow to a robust 4 inches in length and adult wingspans can measure more than 5 inches. Sphinx moths are also some of the fastest insects on earth and have been clocked flying at over 30 miles per hour. Their size, speed, and flying ability reflect those of the hummingbird so closely that they are commonly misidentified.

    Sphinx moths are a beloved sight in many Utah gardens. However, they also hold a bit of a devious surprise. The larvae, or caterpillar, of one common species of sphinx moth are well known by vegetable gardeners. They are large and bright green with a distinctive horn near their hind end. Like the adults, these larvae go by many names, the most common being the tomato hornworm. Hornworm caterpillars, unlike their adult counterparts, are not beloved by gardeners. They are voracious beasts with the ability to strip the vegetation off a tomato or pepper plant in one day.

    Aside from our garden plants, young hornworms of other species feed on a variety of vegetation including willow, poplar and cottonwood trees. Adult moths rely on a host of flowers such as columbine, honeysuckle, larkspur and evening primrose. Here in Utah you might come across one of a handful of different species in the sphinx moth family including the five-spotted hawk moth and the white-lined sphinx. Look for them in the late summer evenings as daylight begins to fade. But be sure to look twice to avoid mistaking them for something they’re not.

    And the next time you find a hornworm on your tomatoes, maybe just relocate the little bugger so that you can enjoy it once metamorphosis changes the beast into a beauty.

    For more information and pictures of our native sphinx moths, visit our website at www.wildaboututah.org. Thank you to Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

    For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.
    Credits:

    Photos: Courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
                Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
    Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

    Additional Reading:

    Cranshaw, W.S. 2007. Hornworms and “Hummingbird” Moths. Colorado State University Fact Sheet 5.517. Found online at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05517.pdf

    Buchman, Steve. 2010. Pollinator of the Month: Hawk Moths or Sphinx Moths (Sphingidae). US Forest Service. Found online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hawk_moths.shtml