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October 2011

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Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory Newsletter
Friday October 21st, 2011 - NEWSLETTER

In this Issue:

  • Butterfly of the Month

  • Monarch Migration Update

  • Bugs of the Backyard

  • Christmas Party

Butterfly of the Month

The Monarch butterfly
Danaus plexippus

Out of all the butterflies you can see inside the conservatory, the Monarch is the only one species that can also be found in our own backyards. However, the Monarchs you'll see flying around you in our tropical jungle come all the way to us from Costa Rica. There is a resident population that lives in Central America, and our Monarchs have been raised on a butterfly farm in Costa Rica just to be sent up to us.

Although the Monarchs in Central America do not migrate north or south, there has been observed an east-west movement of these butterfly populations. Depending on the season (wet or dry), and if conditions are favourable to breeding, these Monarchs will move between the highland and lowland regions at distances up to 100 km.

Monarch Migration Update

The Monarchs should be mostly gone from Ontario by this time, making their long journey to Mexico for the winter. Unfortunately, the harsh drought in the southern states had made for less than ideal conditions for the monarchs as they'll find less and less food as they travel south. Monarch Watch scientists are concerned that this will be a low population year, with weak butterflies overwintering in Mexico.

Visit the Monarch Watch Blog to read the full migration update.

Read a recent article from The Record on research being done at the University of Guelph by Ryan Norris related to migration in several animals they're studying, including the Monarch butterfly.

Bugs of the Backyard

Its cold outside! Ever wonder how insects gear up for winter?

The Woolly Bear caterpillar is commonly encountered in the fall.

October is always a great season of change. Despite the hints of the chilliness in the cool evenings, this year we have been able to enjoy many days reminiscent of the summer temperatures and sunny skies. After Halloween, however, all bets are off and the days continue to get chillier from there on in. All we have to do is pull out our winter clothes and turn up the thermostats. But animals in the wild must deal with this oncoming cold season in different, extremely varied ways.

You may or may not pay much attention to the rising and setting of the sun, at least so much as to turn on and off lights as needed. Yet this environmental cue of day-length has vital importance to the survival of insects.

Day-length is one of the most universally standard clues to signal animals that a less-than-ideal season is approaching. Dropping temperatures, at least for continued periods of time, also help insects to know that change is inevitably in the wind. It all signals to them a serious, fundamental survival strategy: how to deal with four or five months of temperatures that inhibit growth and reproduction.

Think for a moment of the delicate balance that insects must be sensitive to, taking day-length, temperature, and environmental conditions, such as food supply, as their cues for when to prepare for the winter. For example, if you were a Monarch butterfly in late August, do you start heading south or do you attempt to mate and squeeze in one more generation before the winter sets in? It's a difficult game for insects to play, in which the success of future generations hangs in the balance.

In the world of insects, there are not too many that have chosen the option to leave. Despite the popularity of the Monarch butterfly's story, it is the only one to travel to such great lengths to "survive" our Canadian winters (although I suspect there are some humans that travel almost as far as well). There is a handful of dragonfly species that migrate seasonally, but not near as far as the Monarch.

The insects that remain in Ontario to face the oncoming season have developed many remarkable ways to ensure another generation will arise the following spring or summer. Next month we'll look at exactly how these insects survive the freezing temperatures. You might be surprised at how similar some of their tactics are to ours!

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