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Monarch Migration & prepare houseplant for home life again.
September 08, 2008

Last week was something else weather wise.

We had the warmest three day stretch of the summer, including the hottest day of the year.

Two days later we barely get into the 60's, making Thursday the coolest day since May.

Add to that, 3 inches of well needed rain that was left over from Hurricane Gus.

The week was capped off by some awesome late summers days in the 70's that had a hint of Autumn in the air.

I know, it could be worse in many ways.

Ike is looming for some of you.

Try and get the little fur kids to go outside and do their thing when it is raining (the wimps). Keet would have nothing to do with it and Ziggy the poodle pup would give you those sad puppy eyes look.

Nature won out as they finally were forced to go.

To the right is a picture of my Siamese twin Calla. A quirk or freak of nature will cause such thing to happen.

We've all had something bloom as a twin.

American goldfinches are at their peek right now. Non-stop peeps and cries for mom and dad to feed them.

Adult sized birds squawking and flapping wings a million times a minute is so cool to see.

And the numbers is what makes it so impressive.

In northern latitudes goldfinches have the one brood.

As seed eaters, they all nest around the same time and all fledge around the same time.

Because of this, there aren't territories to fight over and protect, so they all show up to feed at once.

Or so it seems.

No matter, I sure get a kick out of it all.

I haven't seen or heard the fledgling Red-tail-hawk lately. Though the hawks are still around.

A few swallows still bless me with their presence, though i expect them to be gone any day now.

Eastern kingbirds are now present, as they sit on snags, utility poles etc. and fly out to snag insects and go back to their perch.

Though I have but a few hummingbirds it seems like I have many more, as the little balls of energy are everywhere right now.

And if you notice, they are bulking up now.

Take some time to observe your birds and you will discover different personalities.

Some are more aggressive, some passive, some more daring, friendly....................

You get the idea.

No matter where you live, there is always something going on in the natural world.

This isn't really garden or wildlife related, but it is about plants.

House-plants that is.

Judy of Clio, Michigan asked about preparing houseplants for winter.

So here goes........

For the past several months some of your house-plants have been enjoying the long summer days and fresh air from your deck, porch or patio.

Soaking up the sun and living large.

However, now it may be time to think about bringing your house-plants in before the frosts and freezes come ( little later on for warmer climates and zones).

Face it, some of your house-plants don't want to hear the word yet alone have temperatures get close to the magic number.

Believe it or not, you should prepare your plants for the dreaded task of coming back inside.

The first order of business is to check for any kind of insects.

You don't want to bring in any tiny live stock that will weaken your plants and infest you indoor plants.

A good two to three weeks before you begin bringing them in, start spraying with an insecticidal soap or other friendly solution.

This will kill off adults and larvae that are living on the plants.

But what about things below the surface of the soil?

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any natural or organic solutions for this.

However, there are systemic house-plant insecticides that will take care of eggs and larvae below and aid in killing insects as well.

Bonide makes a powder and granule form of this product and I'm sure there are others out there.

Okay, preventive maintenance is taken care of.

Now you begin to acclimate your plants to their new environment.

Last spring, you probably took your plants in and out for several days and hours at a time to get them use to the sun's rays and possible cooler temperatures.

Well, you do the same thing in reverse to get them acclimated to the lack of light and dry air your home offers.

By doing this, the shock to your house-plants will be minimized.

Now understand this, expect your plants to lose some foliage within a couple of weeks from moving inside for the winter.

That is a plant's way of kicking and screaming or maybe holding its breath because it is having fun and doesn't want to come in.

Yes, even though you know better.

This happens no matter what, simply from a bit of shock and adjustment to the new surroundings.

Less light and dry air will do that to most house-plants as they are moved inside.

Don't worry, your plants will bounce back.

Begin a new feeding and water schedule according to that plant's needs.

There, a few basics on getting your houseplants plants ready to come back in.

The same basics go for garden plants you want to bring in for the winter.

Now to the main feature........

For a newsletter this may seem a bit long, but in many ways very informative and I hope helpful as well.

Be sure to read the whole thing on Monarchs, you will come away knowing more about migration and Monarchs.

Trust me.

The amazing Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

We learn at a young age that these Monarchs migrate, and truly are the only insect of North America that migrates long distance.

Indeed, the Monarch is the only true migrating butterfly of North America.

Unlike most other insects in temperate climates, Monarch butterflies cannot survive a long cold winter. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots.

Monarchs West of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast.

Those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to the forests high in the mountains of Mexico.

From Nova Scotia and Maine, Ontario, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Saskatewan, Alberta, Montana, Washington, British Columbia and parts between.

The Monarch's migration is driven by seasonal changes.

In late August and early September, the urge to move takes flight.

Day-length and temperature changes influence the movement of the Monarch.

In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America.

Yes, we are blessed to have these insects and the oportunity to experience all that they do.

They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year.

Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roost, often to the exact same trees.

Their migration is more the type we expect from birds and some mammals.

However, Monarchs make the trip just once.

It is their great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren that return south the following fall.

Some other species of butterflies and moths travel long distances, but they generally go in one direction only, often following food.

This one-way movement is properly called emigration.

In tropical lands, butterflies do migrate back and forth seeking food as the seasons change.

When the late summer and early fall Monarchs emerge from their pupae, or chrysalides, they are biologically and behaviorally different from those emerging in the summer.

You might say they are like adult sized kids. Big enough, but not able to reproduce right now.

The shorter days and cooler air of late summer trigger changes.

In the northern extremes of its territory, this occurs around the end of August.

Even though these butterflies look like summer adults, they won't mate or lay eggs until the following spring.

Instead, their small bodies prepare for a strenuous flight.

Otherwise solitary animals, they often cluster at night while moving ever southward.

Like birds, they take off when there is abundant food and warm weather. No pushing the panic button to head South

But, if they linger too long, they won't be able to make the journey; because they are cold-blooded, they are unable to fly in cold weather.

40 degrees above zero and they are paralyzed

Fat, stored in the abdomen, is a critical element of their survival for the winter.

This fat not only fuels their flight of one to three thousand miles, but must last until the next spring when they begin the flight back north.

Some researchers now believe that Monarchs conserve their "fuel" in flight by gliding on air currents as they travel South.

How Scientists Study Monarch Migration:

In 1937, Frederick Urquhart was the first scientist to tag Monarch butterflies in a quest to learn about their migration.

In the 1950’s, he recruited a handful of volunteers to help in the tagging and monitoring efforts.

Monarch tagging and research is now conducted by several universities with the help of thousands of volunteers, including school children and their teachers.

One tagged butterfly was tracked along a 1,870-mile route. Originally tagged on September 18, 1957 in Highland Creek, Ontario, it was spotted again in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, four months later.

In 1998 at least 35 butterflies were reported with tags. One such butterfly had flown at least 1,844 miles southwest from where it was tagged in Campbell, MN, to its roosting spot in El Rosar io, Mexico.

And this is as the crow flies,

Experts now know Monarchs don't fly in a straight line.

The tags used today are small adhesive stickers, each printed with a unique ID number and contact information for the research project.

The tag is placed on the butterfly’s hind-wing, not impede flight.

A person who finds a tagged Monarch can report the date and location of the sighting to the researcher.

The data collected from each season’s tags provides scientists with information about the migration path and timing.

In 1975, Frederick Urquhart is also credited with finding the Monarch’s wintering grounds in Mexico, which were unknown until that time.

The site was actually discovered by Ken Brugger, a naturalist volunteering to help with the research

Energy-Saving Strategies:

Scientists discovered that migrating butterflies actually gain weight during their long journey.

They store fat in their abdomens, and use air currents to glide as much as possible.

As they migrate southwards, Monarchs stop to nectar, and they actually gain weight during the trip!

Often they will stay for several days at what are called waystations.

Several butterflies will feed and sleep together in these waystations until the time is right to move on.

Your yard may very well be one of these important stops. If not and you would like it to be, start adding nectar flowers that attract Monarchs and offer protection from the weather.

I digress.

These energy-saving strategies, together with feeding on nectar throughout the trip, help the migrants survive the arduous travel and long stay over before heading North in the spring.

Indeed, some northern, tagged butterflies that were captured in Texas two months later, weight an incredable 60% more than pre or early migration weight.

The Day of the Dead:

The Monarchs arrive at their Mexico wintering grounds by the tens of thousands in the final days of October.

Their arrival coincides with "el Dia de los Muertos", or the "Day of the Dead," a Mexican traditional holiday that honors the deceased.

The indigenous people of Mexico believe the butterflies are the returning souls of children and warriors.

How do they do it?

The phenomenon of long-range bird migration is a well-known one, but not in the insect world.

Also, among birds their migration route is a round-trip one, which they make more than once in their lifetimes.

For the Monarch it is strictly a one-way trip for each butterfly.

How do these creatures do it?

The "Creator's" mystery of the mechanisms involved in this remarkable phenomenon has apparently been resolved by a team of scientists who did this by exploring the infinitesimal butterfly brain and eye tissues to uncover new insights into the biological machinery that directs this delicate creature on its lengthy flight path.

The research team, led by Prof. Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, included Dr. Oren Froy, now of the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Others involved were from the Czech Academy of Sciences and the University of California, Irvine. Their latest findings were published in a recent issue of Neuron magazine, constituting a continuation of their earlier work, published in the journal Science.

In short, a global effort.

While light in general is essential to the functioning of the "biological clock" in the butterfly brain – governing its metabolic cycles, including its "signal" to migrate.

The researchers discovered that it is specifically the ultraviolet band of light that is crucial to the creature's orientation.

The butterflies have special photoreceptors for ultraviolet (UV) light in their eyes which provide them with their sense of direction.

They proved that this ultraviolet "navigation" is crucial by placing butterflies in a "flight" simulator. When a UV light filter was used in the simulator, the butterflies lost their orientation

Further probing revealed a connection between the light-detecting navigation sensors in the butterfly's eye and its brain clock.

It was shown that input from two interconnected systems – UV light detection in the eye and the biological clock in the brain -- together guide the butterflies "straight and true" to their destination at the appointed times in their two-month migration over thousands of miles/kilometers.

Amazing how our "Creator" makes and designs things and allows for us to discover some of his handy work.

Survival of the fittest

Science Daily (Mar. 11, 2005)

Monarch butterflies in eastern North America have one of the longest migrations of any species, with a survival-of-the-fittest trek that can take them thousands of miles from Canada to Central Mexico.

A new Emory University study has found that these journeys may be the key to maintaining healthy monarch populations at a time when habitat loss and other environmental issues could curb the ability of the butterflies to make the trip.

Emory researchers discovered that monarch butterflies infected with a protozoan parasite flew slower, tired faster and had to expend more energy flying than healthy monarchs.

These results, published in the March issue of Ecology Letters, may explain why parasite burdens are much lower in migratory monarch populations compared to year-round residents -- an effect that possibly occurs in other migratory species as well, explains Sonia Altizer, lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor of environmental studies at Emory.

Some Good News

We know every year like clockwork, Monarch butterflies in The United States and Canada pack their bags in late August and September and head to Mexico for their winter break.

The annual migration is a huge tourist attraction, and Mexico is working to further support it by expanding their nesting areas and curbing illegal logging in the region.

In 2007, with little fan fare, Mexico's President Felipe Calderón pledged 4.6 in American money toward advertising and equipment for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which covers a 124,000-acre (50,000-hectare) swathe of trees and mountains that for thousands of years has served as the winter nesting ground to millions of orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies.

Calderón said the plan would encourage tourism to an impoverished area where illegal logging has been rampant. The logging has depleted the foliage where insects – a.k.a. butterfly food – reside.

Fortunately, a staff of rangers "equipped with assault rifles and body armor," have been searching for gangs of lumber thieves, and their work has helped decrease logging in the area by 48 percent.

If nothing else, we must glad that tourism was the trigger that inspired Calderón to protect the forests and the butterflies as a result.

The Monarchs return to just 12 forested mountain tops in central Mexico, where they form colonies in which millions of butterflies cluster on the trunks and branches of the trees.

The western population overwinters in various sites in central coastal and southern California, notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.

Despite protected areas and reserves, illegal logging and other human-induced environmental changes have damaged and depleted the unique, critical Monarch habitat and pathway.

Although the butterfly is not in danger of extinction, its unique multi-generational migration spanning the continent is now recognized as an “endangered biological phenomenon”.

Since there are very few overwintering sites where the adults aggregate in great numbers, their populations become vulnerable.

Logging, development, and agriculture are the most serious threats.

Because Monarchs depend upon a wide range of habitats in Canada, Mexico and the United States, conservation of the migratory Monarchs requires trilateral cooperation due to threats to the butterflies' habitats throughout the flyway.

In 2007 the countries’ environment ministers called for the development of a North American plan to protect the Monarch.

Its objective is to maintain healthy Monarch populations and habitats throughout the migratory.

Now here is when ytou can expect more Monarchs in your region.

Latitude.... Midpoint..... Peak in monarch abundance

49..............26 August......... 18-30 August

47............. 1 September...... 24 August -5 September

45............. 6 September.......29 August - 10 September

43............. 11 September....... 3 - 15 September

41............. 16 September....... 8 - 20 September

39............. 22 September....... 14-26 September

37............. 27 September....... 19 September - 1 October

35............. 2 October.......... 24 September - 6 October

33............. 7 October.......... 29 September - 11 October

31............. 12 October......... 4-16 October

29............. 18 October......... 10-22 October

27............. 23 October......... 15-27 October

25............. 28 October......... 20 October - 1 November

To attract Monarchs and other butterflies to your yard, you must first have a butterfly friendly yard.

Plan for next year by planting lots of flowers and offer other amenities to attract these flying wonders of the insect world.

Well, I told you this was a long letter, but you wont find all that information in one spot on the web.

Hopefuuly you didn't fall asleep or delete everything before your finished.

Before I go, I depart with a thought of the week. so here it is.

The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish Writer

Imagine, all the work you do that no one notices or takes for granted is actually making our world a beeter place.

Now that should make you smile.

While your smiling, why not share it with others?

Smiles can often go unoticed, but make a huge difference don't they?

Smiles help all of us feel better and that is a good thing.

It's time to fly for now my friend.

As always

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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