All this school vacation week, the Providence Children’s Film Festival is airing an outstanding collection of wonderfully educational and interesting films for families and kids of all ages. Tickets are only $12.50 per film for the entire family. Or you can do as I did and buy a pass, which allows for viewing all films all week long. Beauty on the Wing is playing through Saturday and I will be part of a Q and A at 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. Please vote for BotWing after watching the film. Thank you!
At this moment I am currently watching The Last Lightkeepers. This is a film I have been especially super excited to see largely because I think here in Gloucester we should form a Friends of Gloucester Lighthouses Association. Our lighthouses are in increasingly deplorable condition. I would like very much for we in Gloucester to follow in the footsteps of Rockort’s Paul St. Germain and the Thacher Island Association in restoring our lighthouses and the surrounding grounds.
The Last Lightkeepers – This stunning documentary explores lighthouses across New England (including in Rhode Island) and the sadly decaying condition of many of them. Many abandoned lighthouses haven’t been tended to in decades or since they were replaced by updated tools of navigation. Director Rob Apse captures the beauty of these American sentinels that once defined a nation’s coastline. The Last Lightkeepers highlights stories of individuals currently fighting to preserve these structures while capturing their folklore before the lights go dim forever.
Scene from Beauty on the Wing – Standing atop Cerro Pelón and looking down into a valley of exploding Monarchs
For further reading and some terrific background information, see the following article, published by the NRDC in early February of this year. Scenes from Beauty on the Wing were filmed at the stunning forest at the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly sanctuary.
For a Family in Mexico, a Mission to Protect Monarchs
Siblings Joel, Anayeli, and Patricio Moreno see the future of their community and that of the butterflies that migrate annually to the local Cerro Pelón forest as being intimately connected.
If there’s something that the Moreno family agrees on, it’s that monarch butterflies changed their lives. And not just their own but the lives of most in Macheros, Mexico. The agricultural village of 400 people—whose name translates to “stables” in Spanish, because of the 100 horses that also make their home here—sits at the entrance to Cerro Pelón, one of four sanctuaries in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, established by the federal government in 1986.
It started when Melquiades Moreno de Jesus secured a job as a forest ranger, or guardabosque, in 1982. Six years earlier, National Geographic had run a feature on monarch migration, bringing international attention to the butterflies’ overwintering sites in the mountainous oyamel fir forests some 80 miles west of Mexico City—though locals had discovered the colonies long before outsiders descended on the area. Soon after that publication, the State of Mexico’s Commission of Natural Parks and Wildlife (Comisión Estatal de Parques Naturales y de la Fauna, or CEPANAF) established the local forest ranger positions, employing men from Macheros to patrol the part of the sanctuary that’s in the state of Mexico. (Part of the butterfly reserve also lies in the state of Michoacán.) CEPANAF hired Melquiades several years later and he stayed on, monitoring the butterflies and deterring illegal loggers, for more than three decades.
The village of Macheros; Cerro Pelón is the tallest peak on the right. Ellen Sharp Photo
“When my dad got the job as a forest ranger, it changed our lives,” says Joel Moreno Rojas, the fourth-born of Melquiades’s 10 children. His father’s steady income brought the family out of poverty and afforded the children the chance to go to school. It also instilled a sense of local pride and inspired his family’s commitment to caring for the natural wonder at their doorstep.
Among the Moreno siblings, three have continued their father’s legacy: Joel, Anayeli, and sixth-born Patricio (“Pato”). Pato took over Melquiades’s forest ranger position after his dad’s retirement in 2014. When the monarchs are roosting in Cerro Pelón, roughly from November to March, he spends many days near the overwintering colonies, monitoring them and asking visitors not to disturb the impressive clusters. The butterflies, which have migrated thousands of miles from the eastern part of the United States, are drawn to the oyamel canopy—which provides insulation and keeps out the elements—for their winter rest. “I love it,” says the father of two. “It’s the most marvellous thing that could have happened in my life to have a job like this.”
Pato Moreno at work in Cerro Pelón after a rainstorm. Ellen Sharp Photo
Being among hundreds of thousands of butterflies sparks such an intense emotional reaction that the Moreno siblings say it is impossible to name. When they do find the words, they describe experiencing the monarchs as powerful, beautiful, and emotional. Joel has seen visitors drop to their knees and pray or break out in tears when they first see the butterflies, who some locals believe are the souls of their ancestors, since the migrating monarchs arrive in Macheros right around the first of November, el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
“As Mexicans, we should all be proud of the butterflies,” Pato continues. “I’d like everyone to understand the value of the forest, because it helps us and it helps the butterflies.”
I hope you are doing well and taking good care. I have exciting news to share regarding virtual screening times for Beauty on the Wing at the Providence Children’s Film Festival for my Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island friends. The festival opens at 4pm on this coming Friday, the 12th. Tickets may be purchased in advance and you will then have seven days in which to view. Once viewing begins, you have 24 hours to complete the screening. The tickets are only $12.50.Purchase tickets here. I am going to be participating in a Q and A on the afternoon of Saturday, the 20th, and will let you know more in the next few days.
The festival is showcasing a fantastic lineup of films. I plan to purchase a full access pass and there is also a family access pass option for ten films. The festival takes place during February school vacation week and will be a wonderfully inspiring source of entertainment for you and your family. Here is a link to all the films showing at the festival: FILM GUIDE. Just two of the many films I am super excited to see are The Last Lighthouse Keepers and Microplastic Madness.
I hope you’ll have a chance to watch Beauty on the Wing virtually. The Providence Children’s Film Festival is a truly stellar organization devoted to bringing inspiring and educational films to families in Rhode Island and the surrounding region. More information on how to participate in the Q and A to follow.
Take care dear friends and stay well. Warmest wishes, Kim
This beautiful keepsake for my documentary Beauty on the Wing from the Boston International Kids Film Festival arrived in the mail. I am so deeply honored to be awarded Best Documentary and highly recommend filmmaker friends join, support, and participate in BIKFF and Filmmakers Collaborative.
Butterfly wings come in all shapes, sizes, and degree of flexibility. They have evolved with a range of mechanisms and strategies in flight. Butterflies such as the Silver-washed Fritillary (see video below) and Yellow Sulphur clap their wings frequently, but other butterflies, the Monarch Butterfly for example, does not “clap” their wings every time they take flight. The Monarch’s wings create an open cup shape, operating in more of a figure eight pattern.
Scientist have known about butterfly wing clapping for more than fifty years. I don’t think a mystery has been solved nonetheless, the study from Sweden’s Lund University and articles are interesting to read.
In the above video you can see in the first few frames when the Monarch is taking off that its wings do not clap.
In 2015, when my daughter Liv was living in Santa Monica, she and I took a day trip to the Goleta Butterfly Grove, just outside of Santa Barbara.
Goleta Butterfly Grove
The butterflies were, for the most part, sleeping quietly in the Eucalyptus trees. A few were fluttering about, drinking nectar from the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) growing nearby.
Non-native nectar source for Monarchs, Cape Honeysuckle
The Western Monarch Butterfly demise has been in the making for decades. The Ecaplytus trees the butterflies were roosting in appeared stressed. Eucalyptus trees are not native to California and are highly flammable. I wondered at the time why the forest couldn’t be underplanted with native tree and also wondered exactly what were the trees the butterflies may have historically roosted in.
With unbridled development that has lead to loss of habitat, forest fires, a warming climate, and the use of deadly pesticides and herbicides in this American breadbasket to the world, is it really a mystery as to why the butterflies are nearly extirpated from California.
Lovely update from the Gloucester Daily Times Gail McCarthy for Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. So many thanks to the Times for their continued support for BotWing. I am so grateful and appreciative!
AROUND CAPE ANN: Local artists earn accolades
Around Cape Ann Gail McCarthy January 14, 2020
Gloucester’s Kim Smith, who boasts a love of nature, photography and all things art, has found growing recognition for her film “Beauty on the Wing,” about the life of the monarch butterfly and its intercontinental migration from Canada to Mexico.
Smith spent more than eight years researching and documenting the natural phenomenon, whose more than 3,000 miles includes Cape Ann.
This fall, her documentary was accepted into the Boston International Kids Film Festival, where it earned an award for best documentary.
More recently, “Beauty on the Wing” received an Award of Excellence from the Nature Without Borders International Film Festival and was accepted as an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival, which takes place in February.
“I am overjoyed that ‘Beauty on the Wing’ is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages,” Smith said.
Rockport artist Susan Lynn won the grand prize at the EnPleinAirTEXAS competition with her painting titled “Peace on the River.”
“It was overwhelming to get the grand prize because there is a stellar group of painters in that competition every year,” she said. “It was humbling, and I was very honored to be recognized in that group.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that Monarchs are indeed threatened with extinction, but will not be added to the US list of Endangered and Threatened Species. The official designation is “warranted, but precluded,” which means they fall in line behind 161 other species considered more endangered.
Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester
From USFWS –
What action did the Service take? We have made a 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on a thorough review of the monarch’s status, we determined that listing is warranted, but a proposal to list the monarch is precluded at this time while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
Is the monarch federally protected now? No. Our 12-month finding does not protect monarchs under the ESA at this time. We first must propose the monarch for listing as either an endangered or threatened species, gather and analyze public comments and any new information, and using the best available science, make a final decision and publish a final rule. That process is deferred while we work on higher-priority listing actions.
What is a 12-month finding? Under the ESA, when we receive a petition to list a species, we first make a 90-day finding, in which we evaluate the information in the petition to see if it is substantial enough to begin a review of the species’ status. If it is a substantial finding, we then prioritize the species in our evaluation process, and at the appropriate time, we begin a status review. The culmination of that review is a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.
Who petitioned the Service to list the monarch? The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and a private individual petitioned us in 2014 to list the monarch. We made a positive 90-day finding in December 2014 and launched the status review in 2016.
Read more questions and answers here on the USFWS website –
I hope you are well and staying safe. The happiest of news is that a vaccine is on the way. I am praying with all my heart that you all stay healthy between now and when we will be vaccinated and protected by herd immunity.
On a lighter note, I am delighted to share that Beauty on the Wing received an Outstanding Excellence award from the Nature Without Border’s Film Festival, and even more excited to share that we are an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival. The Providence Children’s Film Festival takes place in mid-February (we don’t yet have the dates to share). The best news is that the film is geo-blocked to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which means film friends in Massachusetts will be able to participate in virtual screenings. More information to follow, as soon as the schedule is made public.
I am overjoyed that Beauty on the Wing is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages.
Take care dear Friends and stay well. Better days are sure to come.
The festival went very, very well. The organizers, Laura Azevedo and Natalia Morgan from Filmmakers Collaborative, working with WGBH, did an extraordinary and outstanding job producing an online film festival, no easy feat, but especially during a global pandemic! I was able to view many of the films and they were wonderfully entertaining and inspiring. I am so proud Beauty on the Wing was a part of the BIKFF 2020!
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever that may be during these most challenging of days.
A recent article in the NYTimes, “Don’t Get Between a Caterpillar and Its Milkweed,” reviews the paper, “Aggression Is Induced by Resource Limitation in the Monarch Caterpillar,” authored by Collie, Granola, Brown, and Keene. Monarchs raised in a laboratory were given varying amounts of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars, they claim, lunge aggressively towards each other in greater and greater frequency as their milkweed supply was decreased.
In all the years I have been filming Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and in the wild, I would never have thought to describe the caterpillar’s behavior as fighting, aggressive, hangry, lunging, or head butting.
Monarch caterpillars use their sense of touch smell, and taste to eat their way from leaf to leaf. When another of its own kind is encountered on the same milkweed leaf, Monarchs in the wild pull back and reposition themselves on the leaf, barely missing a beat.
Monarch caterpillars do this same “pulling back” when brushed up against. I think it is more of a sensory response because caterpillars can barely see. Their simple eyes, called ocelli, only differentiate light from dark and cannot form an image. When a group are feeding in the same area, their behavior upon encountering one of their own kind is more characteristic of bumping into each other rather than aggressively defending their territory.
Towards the end of the summer, when milkweed leaves may be in shorter supply, caterpillars in the wild will eat the seedpods and even the stems of milkweed plants rather than aggressively battle for food.
Monarch caterpillars do not have the ability to “fight.” Their greatest defense against predators is the the caterpillar’s bright color and striped patterning, warning birds of its toxicity.
Every species of caterpillar has evolved with its own species-specific form of visual self-defense, visual against birds that is. Camouflage, mimicry, pokey spikes and spines, or brilliant colors and patterning are examples of defensive visual cues. Some caterpillars look like they are a sploge of bird poop (discouraging an attack from an avian predator) and some like leaves on a tree.
Swallowtail caterpillars have evolved with an osmeterium, a sort of forked appendage that everts when the creature feels threatened. The osmeterium resembles a snake’s tongue, also discouraging avian predation.
Black Swallowtail orange osmeterium
Some caterpillars are thought to be cannibalistic however, I am not sure cannibalism is the correct word because that suggests the act of willfully eating one of their own kind.
Pipevine Swallowtail eggs are deposited by the female butterfly in clusters and the early instars continue to feed in a group.
Pipevine Swallowtail eggs and caterpillars
Around the third or fourth instar, they will devour each other if not enough food for is available. Caterpillars taste like the leaves they eat. Doesn’t it seem natural that if a caterpillar cannot see what it is eating, it would simply eat whatever is in front of it if the ‘whatever’ tasted of its food plant? I wouldn’t call this aggressive behavior, the cat is simply using its sense of taste, smell and touch to locate readily available food.
Aggression is triggered by limited food availability
Aggression peaks during the late stages of caterpillar development
Food represents a limiting resource for the growth and developmental progression of many animal species. As a consequence, competition over food, space, or other resources can trigger territoriality and aggressive behavior. In the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, caterpillars feed predominantly on milkweed, raising the possibility that access to milkweed is critical for growth and survival. Here, we characterize the role of food availability on aggression in monarch caterpillars and find that monarch caterpillars display stereotyped aggressive lunges that increase during development, peaking during the fourth and fifth instar stages. The number of lunges toward a conspecific caterpillar was significantly increased under conditions of low food availability, suggesting resource defense may trigger aggression. These findings establish monarch caterpillars as a model for investigating interactions between resource availability and aggressive behavior under ecologically relevant conditions and set the stage for future investigations into the neuroethology of aggression in this system.