The Hort Report - September Edition

The Hort Report - September Edition

Photo Credit: Mike White

Bulbs and Corms and Tubers – Oh My!

Bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes are buried treasures that burst open in the Spring displaying floriferous bouquets of colour to welcome the season. Crocuses celebrate the melting snow, trumpeting daffodils hail the sunshine, and tulips cheerfully rejoice the arrival of warmer days. No doubt you’ve received your favourite bulb catalogue in the mail by now and are gleefully perusing through the pages, checking off your favourites. Let us help you with your choices!

Bulbs

Tulips, Daffodils and Lilies are a rounded modified stem with fleshy layers storing nutrients for the impending growth season. The bulb is shaped to a point similar to a tear drop and wrapped in a papery tunic (except for Lilies) with a basal root plate that anchors the plant snugly in their home.

Pollinator magnets:

  • Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) are one of the earliest blooming bulbs known to flower before the vernal equinox, poking their little heads up above the melting snow; they are a honeybee favourite!
  • Striking vivid blue Iris reticulata heads follow close behind; another honeybee favourite!
  • Gigantic Allium balls serve as nectar lollipops; a favourite of most pollinators.

Corms

Gladioli and Crocuses have a round modified stem that usually looks like a little mini-pumpkin which stores food; corms do not develop layers of growth rings like bulbs do. The towering spires of Gladioli are available in a myriad of colours but are not hardy - they can be lifted and stored indoors for the winter. Hummingbirds are attracted to the vertical buffet of flowers. Colourful heads of Crocuses will burst through the soil in late March to early April and provide many pollinators, especially honeybees and bumble bees, with an ample load of life-sustaining pollen and nectar.

Tubers

Tubers like Begonia, Cyclamen, and Potato, have a modified stem with several growth points called “eyes” without a tunic or basal plate. The nodes do not bear roots like rhizomes do. Tip: planting them on their side takes away the guess-work as to which is the top of the tuber!

Rhizomes

Canna, Lily of the Valley, and Bearded Iris are horizontal stems of modified storage organs from which vertical above-ground growth takes place similar to ginger root. Nodes do bear adventitious roots. Perennial bouquets of Iris blooms are capable of producing a kaleidoscope of colour in early summer; they require lots of garden real estate as they multiply by producing more rhizomes so be sure to divide them every few years.

 

Check off your favourites in the bulb catalogue today and plant your little gifts before the ground freezes. The delicate treasures that cannot survive the toils of winter such as Cannas, Dahlias and Gladioli can be stored indoors until the ground is warm enough for planting. Alternatively, in early Spring you can get a head start by planting them indoors in pots and placing them in a sunny window allowing them time to establish a root system and peak their heads up through the soil in their search for Spring! Happy shopping!

 

Have questions about planning your spring garden? Email us at horticulture@cambridgebutterfly.com. Enjoy!

 
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Monarch Population Status Update

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It has been a banner summer for the Monarch butterfly!

 

We've been getting a lot of feedback from butterfly enthusiasts across southern Ontario who are all reporting seeing more Monarchs than last year. Certainly we have also observed more butterflies and caterpillars on our milkweed than the last two years combined, which is great considering the delayed spring made for a rather slow start for Monarchs this year.

 

The annual migration will be starting very soon, if it isn't already slowly taking place. There are still caterpillars and chrysalides out there on wild milkweed, so don't be surprised if you see adult Monarch butterflies right until the end of September. Over the next few weeks, adult Monarchs will begin a 4000-5000 km one-way journey to the Transvolcanic Mountain range in Mexico where they will overwinter.

 

While it seems like there's been an increase in their numbers this summer, it's still important to remember that the Monarch population has experienced a huge decrease over the last 15-20 years. It is still currently listed as a species of Special Concern on the Species at Risk (SAR) list, although it has been recommended by the COSEWIC committee to be listed as endangered.

 

Because of citizen science projects like the tagging program through MonarchWatch, we are able to have information and gather data on the Monarch population. Tagging adult Monarchs before they begin their migration is one of the best ways to help scientists monitor population dynamics.

 

Don't know what tagging a Monarch looks like? Watch our video below and come out to our annual event, Monarch Tagging Weekend! Learn more about the amazing story of the monarch butterfly, their migration, and how you can help.

 

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The Hort Report - August Edition

The Hort Report - August Edition

Photo Credit: Mike White

The Ecosystem of a Garden

By now your garden should be alive with pollinators – both winged and terrestrial critters. You’ve probably noticed many plant pests lurking around your lush foliage and feasting on your floriferous buffet and you’re scheming and plotting their demise. Hoards of aphids are sucking the life out of your Cup Plants and Roses. Who you gonna call? Bug Busters!

 

Gardens are ecosystems full of a variety of plants and animals that all serve a specific purpose and rely on each other in order to stay alive. A monoculture of arching Ash trees used to line many roadways but this lack of diversity made them vulnerable to plant pests who didn’t have far to wander in order to find their targets and had very few predators. Previously, it was Elm trees that were almost eradicated. Luckily, landscape planners are becoming more conscientious about planting a diverse population of trees in order to help maintain nature’s balance.

 

So - before you bring out the heavy artillery, look carefully at your plants, because predators may have the pests already in their cross hairs!

  • The pollen of Linden trees, Goldenrod and Marigolds will attract adult Soldier Beetles (closely related to Fireflies) which are not only a valuable pollinator but at the larval stage can clear out an infestation of aphids and other soft-bodied insects in no time!
  • By their 4th week of life, Ladybug larvae will have chowed down on at least 5,000 aphids, scale insects and plant mites making them, not only valiant warriors, but also prime candidates for competition eating.
  • Don’t be too pristine about tidying up your gardens because a garden of mulch and rocks provides the perfect terrain for Ground Beetles involved in a ground force attack on cut worms, slugs, snails and Colorado Potato Beetles.
  • Lacewings are opportunistic and will strategically lay eggs near unsuspecting aphid or whitefly colonies. During their 15 – 20 day lifespan, the larvae (a.k.a. aphid lions) obliterate their prey with non-stop pincer-like jaws.

However, all of these efforts can be thwarted by the army of ants, that deliberately farm aphids, scale and mealy bugs, taking advantage of their honeydew, and will not only defend them from predators but will move them to new targets.

This calls for the Special Ops team:

  • Spiders contrive intricate webs as ants stumble into their woven prisons. Water spiders also keep mosquito larvae in check.
  • Birds serve the airbourne operations, setting their target and swooping in from the skies.
  • Frogs are snipers, lying in wait, lashing out their whip-like tongue retrieving the enemy with a skill, precision and speed 5 times faster than you can blink an eye.

While the battleground metaphors are cheeky, it’s a battle that isn’t meant to be won completely by either side. Mother Nature is the commander of both and balance is the goal. The more plant diversity, the more diverse the wildlife, and the healthier your garden!

 

Have questions about pest control in your pollinator garden? Email us at horticulture@cambridgebutterfly.com. Enjoy!

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Fun in the Arizona Desert!

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Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference 2017 - Tuscon Arizona

We might be biased, but we think entomologists or "bug geeks" are some of the friendliest and most fun people to hang out with. Similar to any kind of hobby club, when you get together with a group of like-minded individuals who are all passionate about the same things you are, it makes for a great time!

 

Last week, our Executive Director, Adrienne, and our Naturalist, Andalyne, spent 5 days in Tucson, Arizona at the Invertebrates in Education & Conservation Conference (IECC). This is an annual convening of folks from all over the world (although primarily North America) who work with insects and arthropods. Participants include representatives from butterfly conservatories, insectariums, zoos, and universities.

 

Over the five-day conference, attendees could participate in workshops, presentations, and field trips. Here's a glimpse into what it's like hanging out with fellow bug geeks at the IECC conference.

 

Day 1: Tuesday

 

Tuesday they arrived in Tucson where it was hot and rainy because it is still the monsoon season there, which means risks of flash floods but lots of insect diversity! That night they heard from keynote speaker Clay Bolt about his video project working with the endangered Rusty-Patched Bumblebee.

 

Day 2: Wednesday

 

Wednesday was the first day of field trips! Andalyne and Adrienne travelled to a nearby canyon up in the Catalina mountains to explore a desert hillside with oaks and cacti. After 4 hours, they had turned up: scorpions, blue fungus beetles, beautiful butterflies, a walking stick, and even a praying mantis. There were also some ants - Andalyne got stung by a harvester ant, one of the most venomous of all North American stinging insects. It was pretty painful, but at least now she has bragging rights!

 

That evening was the first night of blacklighting, which is an all-time favourite thing to do: you put up a UV blacklight behind a big white sheet and you sit back and watch moths and other awesome night-flying insects come in! It's also a great social activity, where attendees get to meet each other and talk. The light attracted a wide variety of insects including sphinx moths, jewel scarabs and owlflies.

 

Day 3: Thursday

 

Another favourite part of the conference is the presentations, which started Thursday and ran through Saturday. Andalyne and Adrienne heard from 24 different presenters sharing information on topics like how to raise rhinoceros beetles, captive rearing of threatened butterflies like the Quino Checkerspot butterfly, and educating youth with special needs about bugs.

Thursday was also another field trip up into the Madera canyon, which is a hotspot for insects. They stayed out past dark to put up blacklights to draw in moths, beetles and more but unfortunately the outing was cut short - some thunderstorms rolled in over the mountains and they had to get out before there was flash flood!

 

Day 4: Friday

 

Friday morning was the second day of presentations. One organization shared about how they started a county-wide pollinator project to install 250 pollinator habitats, and someone from a relatively new butterfly house in the western US talked about a butterfly citizen science project they've involved with. It is amazing to see everyone so dedicated to both education of insects as well as conservation and citizen science.

 

Friday afternoon, Andalyne participated in an afternoon workshop to learn how to rear black soldier flies. These flies are a food source for other critters at many of our facilities, and some places around the world are even raising them as human food! It's an economical way to raise protein in-house, and a great introduction to the role that insects play with the recycling of compost into protein food.

 

Day 5: Saturday

 

The last day of the conference. On Saturday morning there were a few more presenters; Andalyne and Adrienne learned how to raise Goliath Beetles and keep a leafcutter ant colony! There was also a roundtable session where all attendees involved with animal husbandry (raising invertebrates) got to ask each other questions and learn from each other. The knowledge we've gained year after year simply from talking with fellow colleagues in our field is amazing! We can't wait to participate again next year!

 

 
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The Hort Report - July Edition

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Photo Credit: Mike White

Planting Perennial Pollinator Gardens

We were going to use the title “Butterfly Gardens” but that wouldn’t be accurate. Once you plant a garden loaded with golden pollen and delectable nectar, you will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, hoverflies and other animals that all serve as significant cogs in the ecosystem wheel. These insects and birds are attracted to the plant’s sweet nectar and, in turn, leave with a dusting of pollen to carry to the next target, and alas! Pollination!

Tips for Success:

  1. Wind Shelter: A sheltered area will serve our winged workers well as navigation in a windy locale can prove challenging.
  2. The right soil: Any well-drained soil provides a stable foundation for the season long buffet.
  3. SUNSHINE! Sunny areas are best since many of the pollinators are solar-powered and nectar flows more freely powered by the sun’s warmth.
  4. Water: A reservoir of water such as a pond or water feature which over-sprays puddles, enjoyed by butterflies and birds alike, are a welcome addition to any garden.
  5. Host Plants: Adding host plants for caterpillars to devour helps attract even more butterflies to the area as they scrupulously scout for safe places in which to lay eggs.

Gardening for the Seasons

Early Spring:

While patches of snow still linger on the lawn, Snow Drops (Galanthus) are the first harbingers to welcome the masters of all pollination – the honeybee. You will also find them celebrating all over the Crocus blooms. Allium raises their large round colourful heads attracting pollinators for miles around, and Lungwort (Pulmonaria) will satisfy the hummingbirds until you get the feeder out.

 

Spring:

Sweet Honeysuckle is the next star of the show with their fragrance of their blooms wafting through the air. Towering spikes of Lupines and Foxglove welcome bumblebees and honeybees as well as hummingbirds, and we have personally witnessed a battle between a hummingbird and bumblebee over the territory of Penstemon blooms!

 

Summer:

No garden is complete without the fragrant umbels of Swamp Milkweed flowers, which serves as both host and nectar plant for the majestic Monarch butterfly. The next show originates from panicles of Phlox blossoms teeming with the entire gambit of the pollination squad. Butterflies roost on lovely masses of Coneflower followed closely by the golden yellow glow of Rudbeckia.

 

Late Summer:

Lofty heads of Joe Pye Weed provide a late summer feast for gossamer-winged friends and their bumble buddies. Ecstasy is the only word that describes bumblebees rolling in a profusion of Japanese Anemone pollen. The season then culminates in a plethora of Goldenrod plumes and sprays of daisy-like Asters that dispatch Monarch butterflies on their way to their winter paradise in Mexico.

 

Have questions about planting your pollinator garden? Email us at horticulture@cambridgebutterfly.com. Enjoy!

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Searching for Ontario’s only Endangered Butterfly

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The Mottled Duskywing (Erynnis martialis)

Mottled Duskywing Photo Credit: Jessica Linton

Supporting butterfly conservation research, especially in our region, is very important to us here at the Conservatory. One such research project we’re involved with is the conservation of Ontario’s only endangered butterfly, the Mottled Duskywing.

 

On Saturday June 3, our Naturalist along with a group of researchers and naturalists, gathered at Pinery Provincial Park to conduct a survey this rare butterfly. The survey was led by Mottled Duskywing expert, Jessica Linton (Terrestrial & Wetland Biologist at Natural Resource Solutions Inc.)

 

This small brown skipper-type butterfly is currently the only listed as an endangered Species At Risk in Ontario. It depends on only two types of host plants – New Jersey Tea and Red-root – which are only found in pine-oak savanna habitat. This is a habitat that once was widespread in southern Ontario but has been mostly wiped out due to urbanization and habitat mismanagement.

 

There are only a few small populations of the Mottled Duskywing remaining, and the survey could help determine if there are any others out there! Pinery Provincial Park has the right habitat, and it even has the right host plant, so it is possible that the butterfly might be found there as well.

 

After some researchers had spent an entire week in the park mapping out where the host plants were growing, on June 3 our team split into groups to do a full-sweep of the park to see if any of us could find a Mottled Duskywing.

 

Did we find any? Unfortunately not. There hasn’t been a record of a Mottled Duskywing since the 1980’s, so it wasn’t too surprising that we didn’t see one. But we did see lots of other cool things: several other species of Duskywing, including the Juvenal’s and Dreamy Duskywing, Spicebush swallowtails (a southwestern Ontario specialty) and even a Harvester, which are not very common either. We stumbled upon a sleeping Whip-poor-will (a type of night-flying insectivorous bird), and an Eyed Click Beetle. Pinery Provincial Park really is a beautiful, highly diverse park that’s a great home for wildlife.

 

So what happens next for the Mottled Duskywing? Researchers will continue to monitor the known populations, as well as work toward rehabilitating habitat. The conservation research continues!

 

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Monarch Mania!

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The Monarchs are Back!

The children & grandchildren of the overwintering Monarchs in Mexico have traveled thousands of kilometres back up through the United States and into Canada and are now being seen at their northernmost limit. The northern limit of monarchs is determined by the range of their host plant, milkweed, on which they lay their eggs, which can be as far north as Thunder Bay.

 

We found our first Monarch eggs of the season on June 5th on Common Milkweed that grows on our property. The caterpillar in the photo below is only a few days old!

 

 

The Monarchs that are seen laying eggs now are the great, great grandchildren of the monarchs that flew down to Mexico in the fall of last year. Monarch butterflies have two different generations: the winter generation that overwinters in Mexico lives for 6-8 months, and the summer generation that typically lives 6-8 weeks.

 

 

 

Our six voracious caterpillars did not stop eating for two weeks straight! The caterpillar below on the left is around 14 days old and made its J shape (below, right) shortly after the photo was taken! The caterpillar then sheds its skin to form its chrysalis.

 

 

 

We now await our first Monarchs of the summer to emerge on Canadian soil! The grandchildren or great-grandchildren of these monarchs will fly back to Mexico in the fall dreaming of the next Canadian summer!

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Cecropia Moths

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It's that time of year again - the Cecropia moths are emerging from their cocoons!

 

Cecropias overwinter as pupae, snuggled in their cocoons until the warmer weather signals to them that it is time to emerge as adult moths.

 

Like most silk moths, Cecropia moths lack mouth parts so they only live for a couple of weeks. They live to reproduce - females can lay several hundred eggs! The caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants including maple, birch, and apple trees.

Check out the video below:

 

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The Hort Report: June Edition

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What a wonderful time of year - we get to enjoy the fruits of our labours while the gardens are still bug-free!

Now Showing:

Blankets of Moss Phlox, Rock Cress and Perennial Alyssum paint a lovely canvas this Spring. Other than requiring an occasional replacement plant they are generally maintenance free and enjoyed by many species – mostly humans.

Coming Soon:

The Peonies are about to pop and the Clematis have begun to climb. Peonies are a favourite of ours, not only are the explosion of blooms a sight for sore eyes but the foliage can serve as greenery for your flower vases all season long. Some Peonies aren't very well behaved, you may want to use a cage for support. There is one Clematis, ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ that always seems to require assistance finding the trellis so we gently weave the delicate growth through the framework and make occasional visits to monitor its progress. This is a good time of year to catch them early before they start growing astray.

Garden Maintenance:

There are a couple of time-dependent tasks to be completed in early June. Once the tulips have withered, you can “pop” them by grabbing the spent flowering stem and giving them a yank. You’ll get the occasional stubborn plant that hangs onto its bulb and you’ll have to stamp it back into the soil but, all in all, the garden will fill in around the former early spring glory.

Also, the new growth on the Mugo Pines will require “candling” which is simply pruning back the new growth to help maintain this dwarf evergreen shrub’s lush, full and even growth. Removing half the new growth tip will suffice to help the plant develop new growth buds. You can meticulously prune each and every candle by 50% or you can give it a massive hair cut using your hedge clippers as we do! Cutting into the woody growth won’t promote new growth so don’t wait until it’s too late!

Most importantly, it’s time to keep all of the Hummingbird feeders clean and full for the little avian jets who have moved into the neighbourhood. If you remove a couple of the yellow ports on the feeder, the Orioles will be able to access the sweet nectar as well. These feathered friends provide season-long entertainment among your nurtured paradise!

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National Volunteer Week!

National Volunteer Week!

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We love our volunteers! Each year during National Volunteer Week, we like to shine the light on our wonderful volunteer team and we invite you to join us in giving them a heartfelt "Thanks!"

Did you know that we usually have between 12 - 24 volunteers as part of our amazing team? They devote anywhere between 2 - 6 hours of their time each week to come in and help make the Conservatory an awesome place.

Our volunteers lend their skills and passion in a variety of ways: educating and sharing with visitors about the butterflies and bugs, keeping the gardens healthy and beautiful, or caring for our live animals (birds and bugs alike). 

We asked several of our volunteers the following questions so they could share with you why they enjoy volunteering:

1) Why did you choose to volunteer at the Conservatory?
2) How long have you been volunteering? What are some of the jobs you do?
3) Why do you like volunteering at the Conservatory?
4) What's one of your most memorable experiences while volunteering?
5) Why do you think volunteering in your community is important?

Brooke

volunteer brooke

  1. I love working with animals and teaching others about nature. I had been to the conservatory before and loved interacting with the bugs.
  2. Volunteering for just over one year. I help in the morning preparing to open, like sweeping the paths and putting out fruit trays. Handling live bugs and providing information about them to guests is a lot of fun. I've also started doing story time, reading books to children and connecting them to some fun facts about the bugs. I like talking with guests about the emergence window and how surprised they often are to find out that the butterflies hanging there are real and alive.
  3. I love seeing the butterflies and being surrounded by nature, even if it's inside. It's great to see how excited guests are about meeting bugs, or watching someone overcome their fear and pet one.
  4. Introducing hissing cockroaches to guests from a senior home. They were so interested in learning about the animals and asked great questions, fearlessly touching the bugs. They really wanted to learn, and their enthusiasm was contagious as other guests arrived and met the cockroaches too.
  5. Volunteering is important to support organizations that provide important opportunities to the community. It's also a great way to gain experience in a field, or be active in a totally different type of work.

volunteer joel

Joel:

  1. Because I like to play with bugs! I like to teach people about bugs. And Cheecho's pretty great.
  2. (Volunteering for one year) Play with bugs! Feeding and caring for the birds, feeding the butterflies, and socializing with Cheecho. I do the interpreting and the sharing the bugs with people.
  3. Bugs?
  4. I like the unexpected things that happen, like when we found a toad near the pond. Making friends with Cheecho and feeding him fruit in the mornings was an accomplishment.
  5. I think it's important to support an organization or community that you believe has a positive impact on people.

Hillary:

  1. I chose to volunteer at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory because I instantly loved the atmosphere. After my first visit I thought to myself "I want to work here." I applied to volunteer right away. I am happy in my role and I have thoroughly enjoyed my volunteer experience thus far. I am a huge insect enthusiast and animal lover, which is wvolunteer hillaryhy Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is the place for me!
  2. I am a Nature Interpreter. My main responsibilities include engaging guests through insect encounters (handling live insects), sharing information, and preparing interpretation stations. I also assist with daily upkeep and maintenance of the conservatory such as feeding insects, misting habitats, filling nectar bowls, and sweeping. I have been volunteering at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory since May 2016 so I will be coming to the one year mark shortly. 
  3. Volunteering at the Conservatory is a lot of fun and always puts me in a great mood because it is a really positive environment. I love spending time with the insects and birds. I have learned so much during my time working at the Conservatory and I love sharing that information with guests. I enjoy the company of the staff and other volunteers, everyone is very laid-back and upbeat. I always look forward to my shift, it is the best part of my week!
  4. One of my most memorable experiences volunteering at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory was the recent Swallowtail project. To see the entire life cycle was truly fascinating. It was really cool to see the butterflies laying their eggs when we introduced their host plant. Then came the caterpillars which were so cute, I love the snake-like camouflage and I enjoyed learning about their osmeterium. I also had the opportunity to watch a caterpillar make a chrysalis which was an amazing experience.
  5. I think volunteering is a great way to give back to our community and make a positive impact. When you are volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about, it makes it even better. 

Our volunteers are one of the reasons why visiting the Conservatory makes for an awesome experience! Next time you visit, please take the time to thank a volunteer for all they do. 

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Butterflies in Winter

Butterflies in Winter

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Butterflies are sun-lovers, so much so that they can be considered little solar-powered beings who are dependent on the warmth to stay active and fly around.

So how on earth could be a butterfly be flying around in winter? It may seem like a strange concept but it’s not uncommon for our Naturalist to receive multiple calls through fall and winter from people who find themselves with an unexpected winged friend in their living room or basement!

How does this happen? You may remember our previous blog article on swallowtail caterpillars and how they overwinter as a chrysalis. This is a common way for butterflies and moths to “hibernate” until the warmer weather returns.

In this stage, although they are dormant (not moving or eating), they are still very much alive and in tune with their surroundings. Their development is dependent on the ambient temperature: in order to remain dormant until the appropriate season, the butterfly-inside-the-chrysalis must stay cold.

Sometimes the chrysalides are brought into our warm homes, usually inadvertently. House plants that have been put out for the summer had caterpillars living on them, even Christmas trees or other cut foliage, these are some of the vessels that can transport a chrysalis from freezing temps to balmy dwellings.

The warmer temperature signals to the butterfly inside the chrysalis that it needs to speed through its development and emerge, “thinking” that spring must be here because it's so warm! Suddenly a winged, adult butterfly is flapping around inside the house, and there’s still snow on the ground.

There are also some butterflies that overwinter as an adult by simply sleeping in the loose bark or branches of a well-sheltered tree. The Comma or Question Mark are two good examples of this type. It takes even less time for them to “wake up in the warmth” and become active.

What can you do if this happens to you? First, try to identify it as one of these species - see some examples below. You can always email photos to our Naturalist if you're unsure!

 

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Species that overwinter as pupae: Swallowtail (shown right), Sulphur, Moths (Polyphemus moth above left),

  • If it’s a species that overwinters as a chrysalis, then the butterfly will probably only live a couple weeks (which is typical of an adult butterfly). You can keep it warm, feed it nectar (a sugar:water solution), and have it as an indoor guest for awhile if you wish.
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mourning cloak butterfly

 

 

Species that overwinter as adult: Comma (above left), Question Mark, tortoiseshells, Mourning Cloak (above right)

If it’s a species that overwinters as an adult, you have two options:

  • You can find a sheltered place somewhere in a forest (a fallen log, piece of bark, pile of leaves) and let the butterfly go there. It will go back into dormancy for the rest of the winter and re-awaken in the spring.
  • The butterfly can be gently slipped into an envelope and placed in the fridge or your garage – somewhere it will stay cold – and in the spring, you can release it. This a perfectly normal procedure that many entomologists perform for keeping cold-hardy insects dormant.
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Messengers from the Mangrove Forest

Messengers from the Mangrove Forest

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Imagine yourself in a lush, coastal mangrove swamp in Malaysia. There are stilted trees, thorny vines, and lush foliage so thick you can hardly see ten steps in front of you. In the water at your feet live endangered dugongs, and in the trees above you call proboscis monkeys, who also depend on this unique mangrove ecosystem.

Suddenly, out of the dimly lit foliage around you drifts a delicate, lacey white butterfly! In a wild and dense forest such as this, a graceful butterfly such as the Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) seems almost other-worldly, and yet coastal mangrove forests are their native home. Perhaps this is why locals of the Malayan peninsula refer to these ethereal animals as “messenger butterflies”, thought to carry words from spirits to the land of the living.

What kind of messages could these butterflies be bringing with them? In Asia, moths & butterflies are held in high esteem as being the souls of those passed-on who have come back to protect their loved ones. In Malaysia, locals watch every spring to see if the white or yellow butterflies are sighted first: if it’s the yellow butterflies, it brings a good omen for abundant milk & butter for the upcoming year.

Since the country of Malaysia is one of the oldest rainforests in the world (next to the Amazon), it has many trees that are prized for their wood, which has led to deforestation and degradation of the unique ecosystem. Perhaps the sight of a Rice Paper butterfly can carry the message of conservation & hope for a forest that is in peril, and is the home to more than one endangered species.

The Rice Paper does carry a literal message, written in the patterning on their wings. The bold black & white coloration is a warning to would-be predators of a toxin contained in their body. Their slow, not-a-care-in-the-world flight may make it seem like they could care less about their surroundings, but in fact, their flight style is for a reason: to advertise the warning pattern and be sure the message is clear.

Since finding these black-and-white butterflies in their natural habitat is a rather rare sighting, it’s especially unique to step into a tropical Conservatory where literally hundreds fill the air. For several decades now, the Rice Paper has also been raised on butterfly farms (to avoid over-collecting of wild populations) and are then shipped as chrysalides to conservatories and display houses around the world, including ours right here in Cambridge, Ontario.

Watching these butterflies float & sail around in our own small tropical forest that is the Conservatory, their relaxed flight can't help but relay a certain message of peace and calm. The charm of a Rice Paper can also be experienced when they dip down low to frequently land on visitors who are wearing bright colours (see photo below). This has earned the Rice Paper a reputation as being one of our friendliest butterflies.

The Rice Paper is a year-round resident in our Conservatory, and one that we specially feature during December & January for our Flight of White exhibit. This time of year, we fill the air with literally hundreds of these beautiful butterflies. Come surround yourself with these peaceful “butterfly messengers” and perhaps you’ll receive a special message of your own, meant just for you.

 

rice paper butterfly 400x350

rice paper butterflies attracted to red shirt 400x350

 

 

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Monarch Population Update

Monarch Population Update

monarch arrival journey south

Photo from Journey North Monarch Blog - Homero Gomez, Nov 2016.

 

Monarchs have arrived in Mexico! Almost like clockwork, they were reported as arriving in sanctuary areas on Nov 1 & 2, just in time for the local Day of the Dead celebrations.

There have been speculations on how this year’s overwintering population will compare to the last. Every summer MonarchWatch issues a prediction, based on the numbers from the previous year, the weather patterns, and how the northward spring migration fared.

Unfortunately the predictions weren’t great for this fall’s overwintering population, and it seems that they won’t be far off the mark. A slow-start spring combined with a hot, dry summer has hit the monarchs hard. The overwintering population is expected to be similar to the numbers from 2014, which was the lowest recorded year.

monarch population chart 2016

A lot of it has to do with the low numbers of 1st generation monarchs that moved northward in the spring. If the summer population doesn’t get a strong chance to get the numbers up before the fall, then they are less likely to have a good start for the winter population. Of course the decline in breeding habitat (milkweed) doesn’t help either.

In Ontario, we are at the farthest north of their range, and each year we seem to be seeing less monarchs. With climate change affecting our seasons and growth times, it may be the monarchs won’t bother (or be able to support) coming as far north as they once used to.

Because of citizen science projects like the tagging program through MonarchWatch, we are able to have information and gather data on the monarch population. Tagging is the best way for scientists to get a good population estimate. They’ve found that there is a positive association between the number of monarchs tagged and the size of the overwintering population. (If there’s more monarchs out there to tag, then citizen scientists can tag more.

Based on the numbers coming in so far of monarchs that were tagged this fall season, it does seem that the population is starting on the low side. After an optimistic spike in the overwintering population last year, this is doubly disappointing that the monarchs will be taking a serious hit again this year.

However, it goes to remind us of the importance of tagging monarchs! If it weren’t for hundreds of people volunteering their time to tag butterflies, we wouldn’t have all this data and knowledge. Here are a few interesting facts about tagging:

  • There are estimated to be 10-40,000 untagged butterflies for every 1 monarch that is tagged.
  • It can take volunteers and paid staff 2-4 hours to find just one tagged monarch amongst all the untagged individuals in Mexico.
  • Of the 1.2 million monarchs tagged between 1998-2015, only about 14,000 were recovered, some which were reported years after the date they were tagged. This is recovery rate of less than 2%!!
  • The El Rosario sanctuary in the Michoacan area of Mexico is the largest overwintering population of monarchs. The reserve covers about 56,000 hectares and the overwintering monarchs tend to take up less than 5 hectares of this sanctuary.
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Help - it's almost winter & I found a caterpillar!

Help - it's almost winter & I found a caterpillar!

black swallowtail caterpillar

Every fall we receive calls from concerned individuals who have found a caterpillar late in the season, and are wondering what will become of it with the advent of the cold weather. Quite often the caterpillar in question is the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), which is commonly found in vegetable gardens feeding on carrot, dill or parsley plants.

If you encounter one of these caterpillars in the fall, not to worry! You can leave the caterpillar to do it's own thing. They are more than adept at dealing with the cold.

Butterflies are tougher than we give them credit for. They can fly 1000’s of kilometres to overwintering locations, lay hundreds of eggs within a matter of days, and they can do it all within a few short weeks of their adult lives. Plus, they can freeze solid, then thaw out and become alive again. Can you??

Insects are the original experts of cryopreservation (freezing for lengthened periods of time to wake up again in the future). With the good ol’ Canadian season of winter, these cold-blooded (or rather ecothermic) animals have had to come up with a way to survive the coldest part of our year. They contain natural antifreeze chemicals in their body which allow them to partially solidify (like controlled freezing), and then defrost in the spring to continue on with their life cycle.

Because insects like butterflies experience 4 distinct stages in their life cycle, that gives them 4 ways in which they can wait out the winter. Some butterflies hibernate as a caterpillar; very few hibernate as an adult butterfly; most overwinter in the chrysalis stage. 

The Black Swallowtail is one such butterfly. See a photo below of the well-camouflaged chrysalis (pictured left) the caterpillar will form, often pupating in a horziontal position, suspended upside down from the plant stem. Not until the spring of next year will the adult adult butterfly emerge (pictured right).

So if you find a caterpillar in your garden - first, rejoice that you have habitat which obviously attracted a mother butterfly to lay eggs! Second, leave it outside - usually it's best to let nature do it's thing, and the caterpillar will find a place of its own to make a chrysalis. If desired, you can keep it in a container to wait & watch the butterfly emerge next year. But be careful to keep it in the cold! They'll emerge too early if it's in the warmth of your house, thinking it's already spring. 

 

Black Swallowtail Chrysalis Megan McCarty 2008 wikimedia commons

eastern black swallowtail public domain pixabay

 

 

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Creepy Crawly Arachnids

Creepy Crawly Arachnids

Halloween is the celebration of the creepy, the fanfare of the phantasma! Out come the decorations, the ghosts & the skeletons, the spider webs, the gravestones. This spooky season brings to mind animals that naturally lend themselves to “creepiness”: rats, ravens, bats, black cats (a recurring theme of black & dark colours), even spiders and scorpions.

Why do we view them as creepy? Is it because they have too many legs, the potential to do us harm (for some of them), or because they’re simply misunderstood? Regardless of the reason, insects & their close cousins, the arachnids (8-legged invertebrates), admittedly are easy to classify as creepy.

Here at the Conservatory, we regularly host a variety of some of these “creepy crawlies,” which we’ve spotlighted for the Halloween season. Meet our top 4 Creepy Crawly Arachnids and how they tie in to this spooky time of year. 

 

 vinegaroon whip scorpionVampire Vinegaroons: Dracula wasn’t the only one to possess massive munchers! Vinegaroons, also called tailed whip scorpions, have huge “jaws” that look like they can give a mean bite. Despite the intimidating appearance of these large mouthparts (actually called pedipalps), they are not strong enough to even puncture human skin. The pedipalps are more like an enlarged lower lip, used similar to another set of legs to grab & manipulate small prey (such as crickets) and draw them into their jaws. In fact, vinegaroons are similar to vampires in that they are only interested in the liquid insides of their prey. Vinegaroons are the original vampires of the desert.

 

glowing scorpionSpooky Scorpions: While many might agree that scorpions are spooky enough on their own, they have yet another trick up their exoskeleton – they glow in the dark! Under UV light, all scorpions fluoresce an unearthly purplish-blue colour. The exact purpose (if there is one) for this fluorescent capability isn’t well known, but there are some theories that include reflection of UV to avoid overheating and finding a mate in the dark of night. Move aside ghosts – scorpions have a leg up on you when it comes to ethereal glowing. 

 

black widow spiderScarlett the Black Widow: Out of all the creepy crawly arachnids, this may be the one whose reputation certainly precedes itself. The Black Widow has a reputation for possessing a strong venom, although it has been found that they do not necessarily inject venom with every bite. It is true that females occasionally will eat the male after mating, although how often this occurs in nature (not lab conditions) is not known. Despite her kind being extremely shy, Scarlett does command a certain amount of respect. This is one small spider than can potentially pack a mean punch!

 

rosie tarantula spiderTerrible Tarantula: As if spiders aren’t creepy enough, they also come in extra-large size! Tarantulas have an intimidating appearance and because of their venom, have led to people considering them to be rather terrible. Yet these spiders tend to be rather gentle giants. Rosie the Tarantula, is our Chilean Rose-hair, and is a real gentle lady. Her slow, careful gait as she walks belies her scary persona. Tarantulas in general are much more timid than people assume, and only bite if provoked. Rose-hair tarantulas are particularly of a non-terrible nature, but large spiders of this kind tend to make people react in fear.

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Bug of the Week: Praying Mantis

Bug of the Week: Praying Mantis

It could possibly be one of Ontario’s most impressive looking bugs. Sought after by many young naturalists, and never failing to impress the older ones as well, is the famous Praying Mantis.

While this insect is one of the most familiar found in a garden, yard or field, it’s interesting how recently this insect came to be in Ontario. The European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) was introduced from Europe (as its name suggests) and was first brought into the US in 1899, but took some years before it made it across the Great Lakes into Ontario.

The Praying Mantis is one of the best designed insect predators, camouflaging well with the greens & browns of a wildflower field. They have superb eyesight, with two huge compound eyes that have brilliant depth perception and are great at detecting motion. Their front raptorial legs are designed to lash out in a split-second to grab prey, and are covered in spines that prevent escape.

Both females and males can be either green or brown. Females tend to be larger in size with shorter antennae, and have more segments on their abdomen. Both sexes have wings as adults and can fly, although they’re rather clumsy at it.

Mantids are fully grown as adults (up to 3 inches) in the late summer and fall, making them easy to find at this time of year. The mantids grow all spring and summer as nymphs, but they’re much smaller and harder to find until they become winged adults at the end of the season.

Females will mate and lay eggs in a brown eggcase (ootheca) that looks like hardened styrofoam, usually on plant stems or branches, but can be anything from rocks to fence posts to forgotten pieces of clothing (see above right)! All adult mantids die when the colder weather arrives, but the next generation is waiting in the egg stage until the following spring, when up to 300 small mantis nymphs can erupt from a single ootheca.

Watch for these amazing insects before the autumn comes to an end. Their ootheca are often easily spotted during winter, when the green foliage has died back. Happy bug-hunting!

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Insects are Animals Too!

Insects are Animals Too!

When most people think about animals, the first creatures that come to mind are often elephants, zebras, dolphins, or puppies. But did you know that insects such as butterflies, stick bugs, cockroaches, and bees are also animals?

In biology, scientists use a system called taxonomy to sort and classify all living things. This system was designed by Carl Linnaeus in 1735 and ranks living things into groups, with each group getting increasingly specific. These groups form the sequence:
Kingdom -> Phylum -> Class -> Order -> Family -> Genus -> Species

There are six different Kingdoms: Eubacteria & Archaeabacteria (bacteria), Protista (weird microscopic organisms), Fungi (mold, mushrooms, yeast), Plantae (plants), and of course, Animalia (animals).

The Kingdom Animalia is then split into several Phylum, including Echinodermata (starfish and sea cucumbers), Mollusca (clams, oysters, squid, octopuses, snails), Chordata (things with a spinal chord – fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), and Arthropoda.

The Phylum Arthropods include all of our favourites here at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and is broken down into several Classes which include Arachnida (spiders and scorpions), Diplopoda (millipedes), and Insecta (all insects!).

So for example, if you took Jenny our Malaysian Jungle Nymph and compared her scientific classification to your pet dog, you can see that they are both in the Kingdom Animalia, just different types of animals!

So happy #WorldAnimalDay to all our animal friends here at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory! On your next visit, be sure to ask our Nature Interpreters for more cool facts about our animals – we love to help you learn new things! We are open 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Sunday throughout the winter, closed Mondays after Thanksgiving.

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The bees are swarming!

The bees are swarming!

Our honeybees in the Observation Hive have had a good season: they’ve experienced such a population boom (upwards of 10,000 bees!), they need more space - so they’re swarming!

beeswebIt sounds scarier than it is, but a honey bee swarm is essentially half of the hive moving house. The colony has become so crowded, it’s becoming too difficult to make enough food for everyone and raise all their young. The colony divides into two groups, and one will leave to begin a new colony elsewhere. This also means the workers need to raise a new queen – a honey bee hive cannot survive without a queen. Either the new queen will leave with the swarm to go start a new colony, or the new queen remains behind while the old, original queen leaves.

A swarm looks impressive because many of the workers will converge around the entrance to the hive, sometimes forming a “beard” or huddle of bees (sometimes as large as a basketball!). They are scouting out new potential locations, and deciding amongst themselves where to relocate to. Interestingly, the swarm will not leave until each bee has agreed on the same location. Swarms look aggressive and scary to people, but the honey bees are actually quite docile at this time. It is not recommended, but some people have been known to go up to swarms/huddles of bees and stick their hands into the mass – and not be stung at all! A swarm does not mean a hive is unhealthy – in fact, it (usually) means the opposite, that the hive has been doing so well they’ve run out of room!

If you ever see or experience a swarm near you and are unsure what to do, check out the Ontario Bee Rescue for help. http://www.ontariobeerescue.com/services.html Good luck to the swarming honey bees, and we wish them a happy life in their new location.

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The Amazing Cicada Emergence

The Amazing Cicada Emergence

Some people hit the road to go see their favourite band perform in concert; some people hit the road to get away for a few days with friends or family. Other people (like our Naturalist, Andalyne) go on a road trip to witness the mass emergence of a famous bug!

Perhaps you’ve heard of the 17-year Periodical Cicada, who according to its name, lives to the ripe old age of 17 years. Most of its life, however, is spent entirely underground eating and growing as a young nymph. Then, in its 17th year, all at the same time, the nymphs climb out of the soil to moult into winged adult cicadas. They only live for a few more weeks in order to mate, and then they die. There are several different broods of Periodical Cicadas across the central and eastern U.S., and they’re all different generations. So, each year a different brood of cicada nymphs reaches maturity and emerges as adults: in 2014, Brood 22 emerged in the states of Kentucky and LA, and in 2015 Brood 23 emerged in several mid-central states.

This year, the Cicada emergence (Brood 5) was in parts of Ohio and West Virginia – one of the closest locations to Ontario, and Andalyne couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this natural phenomenon. And what an emergence it was! Andalyne’s timing was perfect to see cicadas coming out of the ground and moulting into adults (they do this similarly to butterflies, where they have to spread their new wings and let them dry before they can fly). She also got to hear thousands of males up high in the trees singing to attract females.

For some people, this mass emergence can be somewhat annoying (they are very loud!) and even a little terrifying. But it is still a pretty awesome spectacle that draws nature enthusiasts and insect-lovers from all over North America to be part of the experience.

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Observing Butterfly Courtship Behaviour

Observing Butterfly Courtship Behaviour

longwing butterflies courtship small

People love to look at butterflies, but have you ever watched them for more than a few minutes? Their colours & patterns can be dazzling to watch, and so can their behaviour.

In a concentrated environment like a tropical butterfly Conservatory, where there can be upwards of 2000 free-flying butterflies on any given day, it’s quite easy to sit back, relax, and watch how they interact.

One of the most intriguing (and sometimes most amusing) behaviour to witness can be that of courtship. Each species of butterfly has their own display or "dance", which may be performed by both sexes or just the male. These courtship displays help to ensure that butterflies mate with their own species, and communicate receptivity. Think of it as the first date for butterflies to begin to get to know each other.

Then there’s the use of pheromones. Pheromones are species-specific, which also ensures that butterflies find the correct mate. Often it's the males which release a pheromone that acts to both facilitate receptiveness in females and communicate his desirability as a mate. The male will often hover over the female, wafting the pheromone over her – she will signal by body posture and behaviour if she receptive of his attentions.

rice paper tara harvey

 

Some males have specialized scales on their wings that produce the pheromone; others have special hairs on the side of their thorax. The Rice Paper, however, possesses these 

rather spectacular “hair pencils” which they extend from the tip of their abdomen. These hair pencils are what release the pheromones.

A recent visitor, Tara Harvey with Let’s TalkScience, was lucky enough to photograph this fascinating butterfly behaviour between two Rice Papers (photo right)! You can see the male hovering on the right with his hair pencils extruded, while the female sips from a Lantana flower.

You can watch for fascinating behaviour like this and more when you visit the Conservatory. Our friendly interpretive staff are happy to point out things to watch for and explain what you can see. And as always, feel free to share with us your photos and comments!

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