a growing place… (monarch adoption)

By Marypat Ehlmann
Member-at-Large and Volunteer Coordinator, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Boy with magnifying glass looking at caterpillars

Examining the monarch caterpillars

In early/mid-April the St. Louis region received our first wave of monarchs migrating north. This was unexpected and about 4-6 weeks before most milkweed in neighborhood yards was tall enough to support feeding a brood of very hungry caterpillars.

As usual the female monarch butterflies laid eggs on as many various native milkweed varieties as they could find (some small plants in ground and some fuller plants in garden centers).

On April 14, at A Growing Place Montessori School, my classroom gained two milkweed plants both with eggs aboard. Then as a plea was heard to help with the monarch baby boom, our classroom adopted 15 of the tiny striped larvae, now totaling 19 caterpillars, to feed, clean up after, and eagerly observe.

Just as described in How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak, for the next two weeks larva ate milkweed leaves, pooped (called frass), rested, outgrew one skin for a larger size, and then ate some more. Thanks to several friends and neighbors, milkweed leaves were harvested, served fresh, and quickly eaten by the brood. Did I mention in this hectic time, three more caterpillars hatched?

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We need help raising abundance of early baby monarchs

Blog by Susan Burk
Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

A woman and a man looking for eggs on plant

Susan and Fred Burk looking for monarch eggs
Photo by Marcia Myers

[Editor’s Note: At the end of the gathering on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, Fred and Susan Burk were busy counting monarch eggs. They need our help as these early monarch eggs are now hungry caterpillars!]

It is unusual to have monarchs visit the St. Louis area in the spring. We normally see them as they are migrating south in late summer. This year, possibly because of storms in Texas and Oklahoma, they were “pushed” north and east. Problem with the early arrivals is that our milkweed has not started growing yet and there is not enough milkweed to feed the cat’s.

Female monarchs visited my yard on April 9, and because there were more than a hundred butterfly and marsh milkweed potted plants in my backyard, they had a great time laying eggs, which started hatching on April 16 and 17.

So far we have collected more than one hundred tiny caterpillars!

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Even my tiny wafer ash tree provides habitat

Cleared yard area

Newly cleared planting area in the backyard
Photo by Dawn Weber

[Editor’s Note: This story was posted originally on the Bring Conservation Home blog on September 19.]

By Dawn Weber
Board Member-at-Large, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

On Sunday, September 18, I spent a few hours planting new trees and shrubs in an area that was previously covered in English ivy, wintercreeper, and bush honeysuckle. One of the trees was a wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata), planted in hopes of providing habitat for the giant swallowtail butterflies. Wafer ash is one of the host plants for the giant swallowtail. I also planted small prickly ash trees (Zanthoxylum americanum) for the same reason.

When a plant is a butterfly’s host plant, it means that it is a plant (or THE plant, in some cases) that eggs can be laid on, that will provide food for the new caterpillars, which will become butterflies and continue on to repeat the cycle. By planting the host plant, we support the entire life cycle of the butterfly.

The prickly ash trees were planted a couple of years ago, and the overall native garden planted for three years, but I’d never seen a giant swallowtail butterfly.

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Rain during a butterfly ID workshop? No problem!

By Dawn Weber
Board Member-at-Large, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

warsaw_mapOn May 23-25, 2016, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) hosted a Butterfly and Skipper ID workshop in Warsaw, MO. Warsaw, in case you’ve not heard of it, is located south of Sedalia near Truman Lake, on the western side of the state. Because the workshop was almost three hours from St. Louis, I wasn’t sure who would attend or if I would know anyone. I was very happy when I walked through the door and saw Bob Siemer and Ann Earley also attending!

More exciting than that, I met several people who, up until that point, I’d only known “electronically”, via various Facebook groups, even some folks from Audubon Arkansas. Also, there were attendees from MDC, Forest Park Forever, the Butterfly House, Missouri Prairie Foundation, and several Missouri Master Naturalists chapters.

The workshop leader was Jim Wiker, a research associate of the Illinois State Museum and an affiliate of the Illinois Natural History Survey. He is a well-known Illinois lepidopterist (a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths), senior author on the definitive guide to the sphinx moths of Illinois, and an author of another book on the skipper butterflies of Illinois.

The registration for this workshop opened in December of 2015 and filled up quickly.

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Book Review: Gardening for Butterflies

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects

Xerces Society
Timber Press: Portland OR, 2016
287 pages

Reviewed by Carol Boshart
Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Book Cover Gardening for ButterfliesWritten by the Xerces Society which is dedicated to invertebrate protection, this book is designed for both novice and veteran home gardeners, as well as for larger-scale land managers and developers whose goal is to facilitate and enrich diversified ecosystems to attract and protect butterflies and moths as well other insects and interdependent wildlife populations. The authors express significant concern about the precipitous decline in the Lepidoptera order, and seek to “provide a blueprint for…change” in recruiting gardeners for help in reversing this alarming trend.

Included in the book is an overall view of butterfly characteristics by families, with outstanding detailed photographs depicting their strikingly-colorful wing patterns, body designs, and egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis formations. An added bonus in this book is that there is also a chapter devoted to notable moth families with accompanying informative photographs and commentary.

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Milkweed’s toxins protect butterflies

By Marcia Myers

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Not only does this amazing plant act as a nursery, provide nectar, and serve as an important food source, it provides extra protection from predators. Both monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) store cardenolides, toxins obtained from their milkweed (Asclepias spp.) diet.

Why aren’t the butterflies poisoned? Monarchs and queen butterflies developed enzymes that are “almost entirely immune to cardenolides’ toxic effects”. An article titled, “Butterflies Weaponize Milkweed Toxins” in The Scientist discusses the findings of recent research from Proceedings of The Royal Society B which indicate that the cardenolides-resistant enzymes arose not to specifically encourage the caterpillar to eat more milkweed but to make themselves poisonous to natural enemies.  The milkweed provides the toxins.

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Pros and cons of raising monarchs

By Marcia Myers

Hundreds of monarchs cover a tree trunk as they overwinter in Mexico

Monarchs meeting in Mexico

Monarch butterflies are in serious decline, so raising and releasing them must be good, right? It would seem so, but some experts have concerns.

On October 8, “a group of 10 monarch researchers and conservationists from across the U.S. issued a statement highlighting concerns with the release of commercially raised and other mass-reared monarch butterflies and recommended against the practice.”

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The buckeye and the slender-leaved false foxglove

By Cori Westcott of Bring Conservation Home

Buckeye caterpillar

Buckeye caterpillar – Photo by Dr. James C. Trager

While enjoying the expansive vista of a prairie, my eye stopped upon a strange looking little creature just beyond the boardwalk. A buckeye (Junonia coenia) caterpillar was dining upon a slender-leaved false foxglove (Agalinus tenuifolia), formerly a Gerardia.

The false foxglove flowers from August to October and was in the middle of its flowering time. Its pink, tubular-shaped bloom has five petals. Like its name, the leaves are indeed very slender.

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A Case for Pussytoes

By Dawn Weber

American Lady butterfly on Prairie Pussytoes

American Lady butterfly on Prairie Pussytoes – photo by Dawn Weber

Pussytoes is a low-growing native groundcover with understated spring blooms and silvery-green leaves that resemble the soft pads of a cat’s paw. Field or prairie pussytoes, botanically named Antennaria neglecta, are native to the north east and north central US as well as much of Canada. Just a few inches tall, they appreciate full sun to light shade, and dry to average soil.

Without a doubt, there are showier native plants. So why make room in your garden for this unassuming little plant? Because pussytoes is one of the host plants for the American Lady butterfly.

American Lady butterflies need pussytoes. Tiny just-hatched caterpillars cannot travel very far for food, so the female butterfly lays her eggs on a host plant that the new caterpillars can eat.

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St. Louis Native Plant Garden Tour – Registration is open!

Flyer for the first St. Louis native plant garden tour

Click to view the full flyer

Registration is now open for the St. Louis Native Plant Garden Tour on Saturday, June 20 from 9 AM to 3 PM.

Take a self-guided tour of 10 residential native plant gardens in central St. Louis County. Various locations in Brentwood, Clayton, Glendale, Kirkwood, Webster Groves and more.

  • Sun, shade, butterflies, birds, dry sites and wet
  • Traditional and natural designs
  • Take pictures and ask questions

Cost: $20 per person. Proceeds benefit the tour organizers: St. Louis Audubon’s Bring Conservation Home program and Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter

Registration for this year’s event is closed. Stay tuned for information about next year’s tour.