Category Archives: Lepidoptera

CECROPIA LOVE AMONGST THE LILACS

NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART TWO

See Part One Here

After spending the winter and most of the spring tightly wrapped in their cocoons of spun silk, the first male eclosed on the last day of May. Burly and beautiful, Cecropia Moths emerge with wings patterned in white crescent spots outlined in rust and black, sapphire blue and black eyespots, waves and wiggly lines in soft woodland hues, and a wide tubular body banded and dotted orange, black and white.

It is easy to tell the difference between a male and female because of the male’s spectacular plume- like antennae.

The females were equally as easy to identify because their antennae are comparatively more slender.

Males rely on their superbly oversized antennae to detect the female’s pheromones.

After each Cecropia Moth emerged from its cocoon and their wings had dried, we placed them on the shrubs around our front porch. The males eventually flew off, but the females stayed in one place and usually by morning we would find a pair, or two, mating in our garden.

They stayed coupled together all day long, uncoupling sometime during the evening. We kept two of the females for several days and both rewarded us with dozens of eggs.

I had read it only takes a week or so for the larvae to emerge from their eggs and was beginning to think ours were not viable, when they began hatching today! In actuality it really took between two and three weeks for the caterpillars to emerge. Possibly the cooler temperatures during this period slowed hatching. The caterpillars are teeny tiny, perhaps one quarter of an inch, black with pokey spines. Charlotte and I collected a bunch of Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana) branches this morning as we prepare to raise another batch of stunning Cecropias.

The adults, both male and female, are short lived. Giant Silk Moths, which include Luna, Polyphemus, Promethea, and Cecropia emerge without mouthparts and cannot eat. Cecropia Moths spend several months in the larval stage, most of their lives as a cocoon, and only a week or two as their beautiful winged adult selves. Giant Silk Moths live only to reproduce.

Threats to Giant Silk Moths are significant. The number one threat is Compsilura concinnata, a tachinid fly that was introduced to North America to control invasive European Gypsy Moths. Both insects are a cautionary tale of why not to introduce invasive species without knowing the full breadth of the harm they will cause. Spraying trees with toxic pesticides that kills both the caterpillars and the cocoons is also a major threat. And, too, squirrels eat the cocoons

Hyalophora cecropia moths are univoltine, having only one generation per year. Our Cecropias began hatching just before the full moon. I have more cocoons and am wondering if this next batch of moths are waiting to emerge prior to July’s full moon.

NORTH AMERICA’S STUNNING AND LARGEST MOTH THE CECROPIA AND WHY THESE GIANT SILK MOTHS ARE THREATENED – PART ONE

Last summer my friend Christine gave me a handful of Cecropia Moth eggs. Nearly all hatched and grew, AND grew, AND GREW. The caterpillars were a whopping five inches in length and the width of a very large man’s thumb before they began to pupate (become a cocoon).

Cecropia Moth Eggs

First Instar

Second and Fourth Instar

Third Instar

Fifth and Final Stage

Cecropia Going Pooh

The Cecropia caterpillar eats the leaves of many trees and shrubs, including alder, ash, birch, box elder, Chokecherry, elm, lilac, maple, poplar, Prunus and Ribes species, and willow. People are always a bit dismayed when I tell them that the adult is born without mouthparts and cannot eat during its brief lifespan. The adult’s only purpose in life is to mate and it lives for about a week or so.

We fed our Cecropia caterpillars Chokecherry (Prunus viginiana), because I knew of a good source where it was growing plentifully.

Cecropia Spinning a Cocoon -The caterpillar pulled some leaves loosely around, but mostly the cocoon is made from its own spun silk. Some spin their cocoons on tree branches and some on the sides of the buildings.

All winter the cocoons lived in glass terrariums on the side of our front porch, which is not enclosed, and which is also out of direct sunlight. The cocoons need to experience normal fluctuations in temperature so that adults will emerge at the correct time of year, when trees are leafed out.

Cecropia Moths are the largest moths found in North America. They are members of the Family Saturniidae. There are approximately 1,500 species of large moths in this family and they are found all over the world. The very largest are found in the tropics, but the wingspan of our Cecropia Moths can reach an amazing 7 inches across (compared to a Monarch, with a wing span of approximately 3.5 inches).

Part Two – emerging, reproduction, laying eggs of the next generation, and how we can help this increasingly rare species.

Cecropia Moths are found east of the Rocky Mountains, in Canada and the United States

MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROTECTIONS UNDER HISTORIC AGREEMENT

Historic Agreement Will Conserve Millions of Acres for Monarch Butterflies and Other Pollinators Across the United States

USFWS-

Efforts to stem the decline of monarch butterflies took a giant leap forward today with the completion of a historic agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago. The agreement encourages transportation and energy partners to participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way and associated lands.

Thanks to the monarch agreement, more than 45 companies in the energy and transportation sectors and countless private landowners will provide habitat for the species along energy and transportation rights-of-way corridors on public and private lands across the country. Participants will carry out conservation measures to reduce or remove threats to the species and create and maintain habitat annually. Although this agreement specifically focuses on monarch habitat, the conservation measures will also benefit several other species, especially pollinating insects.

“Completing this agreement is a huge boost for the conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinators on a landscape scale,” said Aurelia Skipwith, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This is a great example of how the Trump administration is working proactively with our partners in the energy, transportation and agriculture industries to provide regulatory certainty for industry while addressing the conservation needs of our most at-risk species.”

Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are declining due to multiple factors, including habitat loss. Agreements like this offer an innovative way for partners to voluntarily help at-risk species while receiving regulatory assurance and predictability under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is currently evaluating the monarch to determine whether listing under the act is appropriate.

“Restoring this species cannot be done by the federal government alone; cooperation is key. This agreement is essential to ensuring that private landowners embrace practices to protect and preserve monarch butterflies, and those private landowners will benefit from regulatory certainty in return. It’s a true win-win,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. “I am proud that my state of Delaware is engaged in this effort, and I want to thank the CCAA participants for driving this agreement forward and seeing it through to finalization. It’s my hope that, by working together, we can bring monarch butterflies back from brink of extinction.”

“By engaging early in voluntary conservation, utilities and departments of transportation can avoid increased costs and operational delays as a result of a potential listing. This provides tremendous value to industry and will also yield big benefits to the monarch butterfly,” said Iris Caldwell, program manager of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, which will administer the agreement. “Not only is this the largest CCAA in history and completed on one of the fastest timelines thanks to our incredible partners, but it also represents an extraordinary collaboration between industry leaders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that can serve as a model for addressing challenges to other at-risk species.”

“The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) applauds the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the participating energy and transportation organizations to conserve the monarch butterfly across the landscape,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “AFBF appreciates the efforts of Director Skipwith and her staff for their coordination with farmers and ranchers to develop this important conservation tool. This agreement brings greater certainty to those who manage lands in and near rights-of-way while providing essential habitat for the monarch and other pollinators.”

“The signing of this CCAA for monarch butterflies is the culmination of a great deal of work by an amazing public-private partnership, including utilities, state department of transportation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Brian Kortum, director of environmental planning for NiSource. “We are excited by the opportunity this presents NiSource to do our part for monarch butterfly conservation while providing flexibility to our company operations.”

The Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago signed an integrated, nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states.

CCAAs and CCAs are formal, voluntary agreements between the Service and landowners to conserve habitats that benefit at-risk species. A CCAA is for non-federal partners only and provides assurances to participants (in the form of an “enhancement of survival permit”) that no additional conservation measures will be required of them if the covered species later becomes listed under the ESA. A CCA can be entered into by any partner, whether federal, state or local authority, NGO or private individual or corporation. It memorializes the conservation commitment of the landowners, but unlike a CCAA, it does not provide assurances.

The monarch agreement integrates both CCA and CCAA programs so energy and transportation partners and private landowners can provide conservation seamlessly throughout their properties, where there may be a mix of non-federal and federal lands.

In addition, if monarch butterflies are listed as endangered or threatened in the future, the Service would grant permission for “incidental take” (a term under the ESA) to partners enrolled in the agreement. Incidental take includes the unintentional harming, harassing or killing of a listed species and is prohibited under the ESA unless a permit is issued.

The Service was petitioned to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act in 2014 and is required to make a determination on whether a listing is warranted in December 2020.

More information regarding the Service’s monarch butterfly conservation efforts and the candidate conservation agreement with assurances can be found on the Service’s Save the Monarch website.

EXCERPT FROM MONARCH FILM “MONARCH BUTTERFLIES MATING” AND WHY WE PLANT NATIVE WILDFLOWER HABITAT GARDENS!

An excerpt from the forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, shows three of the wildflowers found in our gardens, meadows, and marshes that attracts Monarchs (along with myriad species of other pollinators).

Plant the two milkweeds listed below and you, too, will have Monarchs mating in your garden!

Featuring:

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) that supports southward migrating Monarchs.

Marsh Milkweed (Ascleipias incarnata), one of the milkweeds most readily used by ovipositing female Monarchs.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). A study published last year that shows Common Milkweed is THE milkweed for Monarchs!

Music by Jesse Cook

KIM SMITH NEW YOUTUBE SHOW “GOOD NEWS CAPE ANN!” EPISODE #4

Good News Cape Ann! 

Topics Episode #4

Thank you Friends for watching! Links to topics provided below

 Timelapse sunrise over Salt Island (see end of video)

Ospreys catch a Skate!

Coronavirus – Sending much love and prayers to my family of friends who are suffering so greatly.

Nicole Duckworth’s birthday parade

Time to put your hummingbird feeders out -how to attract hummingbirds and keep them coming to your garden

Cape Ann List of ToGo Curbside Pickup TakeOut Restaurants

Fisherman’s Wharf Gloucester and Sole Amandine Recipe

Gloucester Bites

Allie’s Beach Street Café

Turner’s Seafood

Castaways Vintage Café

Melissa Tarr’s Naan bread

Monarch Butterflies Mating

Piping Plovers nestling

Project SNOWStorm shares

Turkeys in the morning sun and Turkey bromance (correction – there was one hen with the group of toms).

Chocolate-dipped almond biscotti recipe

Please write if there is a Good News topic you would like to share. I am thinking about changing the name of the show to Finding Hope, what do you think about that?

 

EASTERN MONARCH BUTTERFLY POPULATION PLUMMETS BY MORE THAN HALF

How disappointing to see the Monarch numbers plunge to less than half of last year’s population. Scientist Chip Taylor from Monarch Watch predicted lower numbers, but not to this degree. It’s hard to believe, especially after witnessing the tremendous numbers at Cerro Pelon in 2019, along with the beautiful migration through Cape Ann last summer.

Plant a variety of milkweeds and wildflowers to help the Monarchs on their northward and southward migrations

The chief reasons for this year’s loss of Monarchs are decreasing amounts of wildflowers on their migratory route south, bad weather during the 2019 migration, and the continued spraying  of deadly chemical herbicides and pesticides on genetically modified food crops.

As we are all aware, Monarch caterpillars only eat members of the milkweed (Asclepias) family, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup, which is now owned by Bayer), Monarchs are threatened by other herbicides such as Dicamba and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are deadly poisonous to young caterpillars and decrease the health of adult butterflies.

In 2014, conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision on Endangered Species Act protection will be issued in December of this year under a settlement with the conservation groups. The low count of 2019-2020 reinforces the need to protect what we already know to be an endangered species.

SAVE THE DATE: BEAUTY ON THE WING PREVIEW SCREENING AT THE GLOUCESTER STAGE COMPANY!

Dear Friends,

I am overjoyed to let you know that we are having a preview screening of my Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the Gloucester Stage Company on Saturday, April 4th, at 7:30.

Tickets are $10.00 and may be purchased in advance by following this link to the Gloucester Stage Company here.

Thank you to everyone who can come. I can’t wait to share to share my film with you!

LOSS OF HABITAT, THE USE OF PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES, AND CLIMATE CHANGE ARE HAVING A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE BUTTERFLIES

IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION

THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS

Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.

He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.

“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.

That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.

Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.

“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.

He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.

To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.

“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.

Monarch Butterfly Seaside Habitat

SAFE GUARDING THE BUTTERFLIES: FILM INTERVIEW WITH JOEL MORENO ROJAS AND ELLEN SHARP FOUNDERS OF THE BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR PEOPLE PROJECT

In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975.  Trail was at the time time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.

Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.

The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”

I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.  And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.

To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.

To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.

To learn more about and make a reservation at  JM Butterfly B and B click here.