Butterfly Habitat Network: Focus on the Prairie


(Regal Fritillary photographed by Steven Glynn in 2015)

Want to help us conserve the butterflies of the prairie? You can donate and choose the Butterfly Habitat Network location of your choice, or just join and become a member!

This first of our seven part series will focus on one of our Butterfly Habitat Network (BHN) satellite locations. Today, let’s focus on the Prairie, a landscape with some butterfly species that really need our help: Poweshiek Skipperling, Dakota Skipper, Otoe Skipper, Regal Fritillary, and ‘Pawnee’ Leonard’s Skipper. We’ll look at two pieces. First, our Executive Director Marcus B. Gray takes a look at the conservation challenge for this area, and then we have a classic NABA piece by Barry Williams on the plight of the Regal Fritillary.
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The Plight of the Prairie – and its Butterflies
by Marcus Brandon Gray
In the years surrounding World War II, Aldo Leopold wrote about how our natural heritage was resigned to roadside ditches, cemeteries and other “odd areas.” Since the time of settlement in the Great Plains, land conversion has been the status quo. My own ancestors were party to the complete redesign of the Missouri landscape. It’s part of the reason I became a Wildlife Biologist in the first place. This land has given so much to us, it’s time to give something back.

Vast prairies once stretched across the Midwest from the Great Lakes to the Dakotas. The occupied range of prairie chickens, wolves, cougars, bison, elk and dozens of lesser-known animal and plant species was decimated. Only in my lifetime have eagles, beaver, otter, rattlesnakes, black bears and cougars begun to recolonize – many with assistance of state wildlife management agencies and an aging human population “moving to town” or otherwise off the land. These are the more adaptable fauna that are able to recover once government-sponsored removal campaigns were abolished.

The latest concern from the avian world is the marked decline of the bobwhite quail. Loss of native prairie and intensive farming practices have eliminated the “odd areas.” Quail were able to adapt for a time, benefitting from hedgerows while prairie chickens lost out; although they held on while farms were small. Quail are suffering significantly from the conversion of hayfields and pasture to fescue coupled with the bulldozing of hedgerows. In the East, the opposite is the case – too many trees. Butterflies share many of the same habitats critical to game animals, neotropical migratory birds and grassland birds. Waterfowl nest in the upland grasslands used by butterflies. When resident game bird enthusiasts decry roadside mowing or fund projects to create brood habitat, they are promoting butterflies. What are young birds eating in those forest openings touted by the ruffed grouse hunter or golden-wing warbler watcher? Insects. Caterpillars to be specific.

The excessive use of pesticides is putting the final nail in the coffin for several species. Reduced to fragments of their former habitat, these prairie remnants are subjected to over-management for conflicting objectives. Use of prescribed fire too frequently has also been raised as a concern to the already debilitated populations of rare butterflies and its use rarely considers the influence it has on non-migratory or primarily sessile butterfly species. While prescribed fire can be a welcomed stewardship tool, for rare prairie butterflies (most of which do not migrate, unlike the well-known Monarch), it can spell disaster for an already-crippled population. The recommendation of butterfly biologists is that fire treatments be implemented in such a way as to minimize mortality of caterpillars, pupae and adults by burning only 1/4 to 1/3 of a site at any given time so as to provide adequate refugia to foster recolonization.

The factors impacting these populations are complex and hard to generalize across the entire Great Plains but the story is well-documented for the tall grass prairie. Busting sod in 1850 was one thing. Our forebearers were striving for a better life and we owe a debt to them for that in one sense. However, there is little excuse for plowing native prairie in 2016. The tiling and draining that has gone on in the last fifteen years in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota is obscene. We should have learned from prior mistakes, learned from the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. As additional pressures are put on producers to grow more food for an increasingly urban and disconnected public, we have real challenges to face in our food system and the people who grow our food for that matter. Farmers are aging and even with an interest in farming the operating capital, equipment and land costs are driving the intensification of agriculture. It’s like we have begun a reaction we are unable to stop.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is a 501c(3) organization dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of wild butterflies. NABA is gravely concerned with the precipitous decline of prairie butterflies, including but not limited to: Poweshiek Skippering, Dakota Skipper, Pawnee Leonard’s Skipper, Regal Fritillary and Monarch. Poweshiek Skipperling is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as Endangered. We’re talking extinction here, folks. The butterfly is down to just three known sites in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota The Dakota Skipper is listed as Threatened, is rapidly declining and will likely be lost if something is not done. Other species won’t be far behind. The grasses and forbs critical for the life history of these butterflies are controlled with widespread glyphosate and other herbicide use. Systemic and topical pesticides employed to control true insect pests are adversely impacting whole assemblages of native organisms. Extirpation of large mammals, namely bison and elk have removed major drivers of ecological function from the landscape. Butterflies are the canary in the coal mine for landscape-level impacts to the ecosystem. As the butterflies go, so go other wildlife.

With partners, NABA proposes creation of the North American Prairie Collaborative to develop a series of prairie reserves with the intention of restoring ecological processes that these butterflies evolved with. The idea is to secure funding to purchase contiguous parcels of sufficient size which will allow the group to explore bison serving as a keystone species once again, where compatible. Other programs within this initiative will work to canvass for Congressional designation of a butterfly semi-postal stamp, promote native vegetation establishment on public and private lands via USDA cost-share (conservation payments) and securing matching contributions from partners. Furthermore, conservation easements or leases will be used to increase the overall amount of habitat available for the prairie ecosystem while enhancing the working nature of farms and ranches in the region. Finally, butterflies will be reintroduced to make use of the newly-available habitat.

This collaborative has the potential to bring in non-traditional partners and develop innovative approaches to complex problems. NABA envisions participation from resident game bird organizations, large mammal groups, zoos, institutions of higher learning, state and federal agencies, tribal entities and more. There are some good efforts underway independently but there is a need for coordination to improve effectiveness. For more information about how to get involved, contact the author (Marcus Gray, Executive Director for NABA) at gray@naba.org.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) is a 501 c(3) non-profit entity headquartered in Morristown, NJ. The organization’s largest project is the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX. Through an active Chapter system and engaged membership, NABA works locally to promote on-the-ground conservation work and institutes policy initiatives to further its mission. For more information visit http://www.naba.org. Connect with us on social media @NABAButterfly.

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Winter 1999:
Regal Fritillaries in a Tailspin
a Story of East and West DNA and the Urgent Need for Conservation of a Flagship Species by Barry Williams
http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabasep/99_W_article.HTM

 

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Happenings: Andover Memorial Hall Library Butterfly Photography Exhibit

The Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts is displaying several of Howard Hoople’s butterfly photographs during the month of November. You can visit the library to see the exhibit in person ( see http://www.mhl.org/artists for location, hours, etc.). Or you can see the twelve photos Howard chose (out of about 55,000 taken so far!) for the show at:

Ward 2013-06-28 - 28

[Mike: Howard happens to be our Massachusetts NABA chapter president! Check out this awesome series of photographs; can you identify all of the butterflies?]

Events: Tallahassee Hairstreak Chapter 2017 Planning Meeting: Sunday, December 11, 2016

There will be a meeting on December 11th at 2:00 PM at the home of Dean and Sally Jue (3455 Dorchester Ct., Tallahassee) to plan our chapter’s 2017 programs, activities, and events. If you have suggestions for the 2017 calendar, please pass the information along to any of our chapter officers. Their e-mail addresses are on our chapter website at http://www.naba-hairstreak.com/contact.html. If you want to attend the meeting, please e-mail Dean at djue.hairstreak@gmail.com so we can accommodate you.

Events: Central Arizona Chapter Meeting Saturday, November 19th

The North American Butterfly Association’s Central Arizona Butterfly chapter invites you to join us for a free and exciting meeting on Saturday, November 19th, from 2-4pm that will recap our efforts, field trips and meetings of the past year. Members will show-off their most beautiful, interesting photos of butterflies, moths or caterpillars in a photo presentation. We will be selling our 2017 butterfly calendar, field guides, jewelry and butterfly related art. We will also trade host plant cuttings and seeds, and have our yearly raffle. There will definitely be time to socialize with light refreshments provided. Meeting will be held the at Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren, 2450 N. 64th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85257 (On the NW corner of Oak and 64th St. This is about one mile north of the Desert Botanical Garden).

For more information about the Central Arizona Butterfly Association please visit http://cazba.org/default.aspx

Butterfly Gardening: Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

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(The awesome Hackberry Emperor, Asterocampa celtis)

We don’t often think of trees when considering planning a butterfly garden, which is to overlook their importance as host plants for some caterpillars. Today let’s look at the Common Hackberry, also known as the American Hackberry.

A relative of the Elm tree, hackberry trees are adaptable to a wide range of light and moisture levels. Often planted for its purple-red fruit that attracts a wide variety of birds, hackberry can be used as a native alternative for Chinese and Siberian Elms.


(map of Celtis occidentalis from bonap.org: dark green squares mean the species is present in county and native, light green means species is present and not rare, yellow means species is present but rare, and blue means the species is native, but adventive in state)

Importance as a caterpillar food source: Hackberry trees provide many butterfly species with caterpillar food. Although the activity is usually high above easy viewing levels, some guidelines for caterpillar identification are:

  • Tawny Emperor caterpillars eggs are laid in large groups of 200 to 500 on hackberry bark or leaves. The young caterpillars feed in large groups.
  • Hackberry Emperor caterpillar eggs are laid in small groups ranging from one to twenty.
  • American Snout caterpillar eggs are laid in small groups.
  • Caterpillars of the Question Mark butterfly live alone on hackberry leaves.
  • Mourning Cloak caterpillars live together in a web while eating hackberry leaves.

Importance as a butterfly nectar source: Hackberry is used as a nectar source but its popularity varies by location.

The following article originally appeared in Butterfly Gardener (Vol. 14, Issue 1, Spring 2009). NABA member Lenora Larson has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.

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Is there a perfect tree? Consider the magnificent hackberry tree, Celtis occidentalis. Many species of butterflies consider it the perfect caterpillar food plant, including the Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor and the darling American Snout. About every five years, we are blessed with huge eruptions of Hackberry Emperors. Leave your car window open, and fifty will perch on your steering wheel, enjoying its saltiness.

Birds also celebrate hackberry trees. Winter residents such as yellow-bellied sapsuckers, wild turkeys, and mockingbirds depend on the persistent berries. In fall and again in spring, great flocks of migrating cedar waxwings swoop onto the hackberry tree to gobble berries while discussing their journey in that distinctive musical twitter.Hackberry fruit And our beautiful fox squirrels eat both the leaf galls and the fruit. I have personally taste-tested the sweetness of the dark red berries, a thin flesh around a single nutlet.

Landscape designers effusively praise the hackberry tree and rate it “superior.” Like other members of the elm family, it creates a shady canopy, growing to 60 feet with a 40 to 50 foot spread. This American native’s resistance to pollution makes it the perfect urban tree. From zone 3 to Florida’s zone 9, hackberries flourish in any type of soil: acidic, alkaline, clay or loamy or sandy. Bring on the flood or the drought, hackberries thrive. Mature hackberry trees prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade.

Garden designers yearn for four-season interest. The May flowers are an insignificant green, but the pale green spring leaves and yellow fall foliage are attractive.Hackberry Bark Even better, the “geographic” bark provides that scarcity, winter charm. Stomping through the snowy forest, a hiker can easily identify hackberry trees by the light gray bark arranged in deep, corky furrows that look like mountain ranges.

This beautiful native tree feeds animals, grows under tough conditions and harvests as attractive hardwood for furniture and flooring. How can we even question this tree’s perfection? In a word, berries. Hackberries. They are spread far and wide by birds and have at least a 300% germination rate. (OK. The book says 34%, but it seems like 300%). From June to October, I’m patrolling my gardens for seedlings. If you don’t tug the seedlings out the first year, they resist all but the strongest arm. And by the third year, even Round-up requires multiple applications to eradicate the pesky upstarts.

We were so close to perfection! Is there a solution? Yes, “stooling:” the cutting of trees and shrubs to the ground each winter. Butterflies agree with this strategy because the caterpillars prefer the tender leaves of the newly stooled growth to the tougher leaves of an adult tree. My one huge mature specimen keeps everyone provided with winter food. With sharp eyes and luck, all seedlings are eradicated each spring, except for a lucky few that choose their landing spot well. These are maintained as stooled specimens that don’t bear berries and provide succulent leaves for the caterpillars. Stooled specimens are short-lived and after four or five years, they give up in frustration over not being allowed to achieve their genetic potential. No problem, because I can count on the choice of hundreds of replacements each spring. Perfect!

Lenora Larson gardens and hosts butterflies in the cruel winds and clay soil of Eastern Kansas.

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Common Hackberry Cultural Requirements
USDA Hardiness Zone: 2 to 9
Bloom Period: Not applicable
Bloom Color: Not applicable
Plant Height: 60 to 100 feet
Plant Spread: Rounded crown
Light Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Moisture: Moist but well drained
Animal/Pest Problems: None

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Opportunities: Postdoctoral Position on Plant-Pollinator Interactions at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research

Postdoctoral Position on Plant-Pollinator Interactions at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research

Penn State’s Department of Entomology and Center for Pollinator Research seeks a Postdoctoral Research Associate to lead a USDA-SCRI funded project examining pollinator interactions with ornamental plant species. The candidate should have extensive experience in (1) working with honey bees (2) evaluating foraging behavior of bees (3) palynology and (4) use of molecular tools to identify plant species from pollen samples. The candidate should have excellent written and oral communication skills, the ability to collaborate with and coordinate the efforts of a large team of researchers from different universities, and a track record of publishing his/her work in scientific journals and presenting to broad audiences. Preference will be given to candidates with a PhD in Entomology, Biology, or related field. This is a one-year appointment, with possibility of extension. For more information, please contact Christina Grozinger, Professor, Department of Entomology, Penn State University, cmg25@psu.edu.

Apply at https://psu.jobs/job/67504

Humans of NABA: Alexander R. Meza

Our Humans of NABA series continues, with the National Butterfly Center’s groundskeeper and educator, Alexander R. Meza!

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Six years ago I was a sales representative getting paid ten dollars an hour selling home décor internationally, inside an air conditioned office. Living inside for half a decade I became depressed and unsatisfied. My mind and body were thirsty for something new, something exciting.

One day a good friend of mine mentioned a bird walk at the National Butterfly Center and, thinking nothing of it, I decided to give it a try. The next day I chose to return to work and immediately announce my two-week notice.

It’s been almost one year, now, observing nature and all its wild creatures. Feeding Green Jays and fox squirrels every morning with wild seeds and making fresh banana brew for the emperors and crackers in the hackberry trail.

Working at the National Butterfly Center and with the Captain has awakened my passion for nature photography and has changed my life. It feels great tending to a plant and talking to it only to see it bloom for you the very next morning.

I believe that nature is my therapy. I feel spiritually connected to the plants and wildlife, and I feel God led me to volunteer here, which ultimately led to my permanent job. I love having picnics under the Monarch Palapa and seeing all the chachalacas and queens circle around me.

My goal is to travel not only South Texas, but the world photographing wildlife. I dream of capturing something no one has ever seen before with my camera. I want to go back to school and get a degree in ornithology and be known for environmental conservation. I hope to one day help the people of South Texas wake up and realize that the Valley is not a boring place, but a wonderful, magical place full of insects, mammals, colorful birds and reptiles.
I am doing my part to protect this land for future generations to come. Me and my camera will change the world.

alex

Events: Broward County Butterfly Chapter meeting Nov. 15th

The Broward County Butterfly Chapter, BCBC, invites you to their Nov 15, 2016 meeting. Rose Bechard-Butman presents “How to Create a NatureScape, a Habitat to Attract Wildlife and Butterflies.” Rose is the NatureScape Broward Outreach Coordinator; a Certified Arborist; a Master Gardener and National Wildlife Habitat Steward. She serves on many local boards and organizes programs and community projects that support sustainable landscapes and wildlife habitats. Meeting starts: 7pm, social hour: 6.30pm at the Broward County Extension Office, 3245 College Ave., Davie, FL 33314. For further info visit our website: www.browardbutterflies.org or email BCBCmail@gmail.com.

Events: Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club

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The Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club will start with a pot-luck supper at 5:30 pm on Saturday, October 22, at Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Visitor’s Center, 414 Massasoit Rd, Worcester, MA 01604. During this meeting we will celebrate the 25th ANNIVERSARY of the founding of the club. In lieu of a guest speaker, we’ll encourage attendees to reminisce about the special moments in the club’s history. Be prepared to share the funny, inspiring and meaningful experiences you’ve had that have made the club a special part of your life. And if you’re not a member of the club, you are most welcome to join us anyway if you’re interested in learning about this very special group of butterfly advocates