Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

Butterflies in your Garden

Spring is finally here, and do you know who is migrating back to New York? Normally, the first answer to this classic question is “the birds.” Migrating birds are one of spring’s most welcoming signs, but there are other visions of spring popping up everywhere. If you don’t believe it, just check the new grasses and the plants just beginning to grow. It won’t be long before the caterpillars start crawling and the dragonflies begin darting.

Caterpillars are one reminder that spring is in bloom and summer is right around the corner. During this time of the year, the butterflies are finding their way back to the northeast where they lay their eggs, which hatch into caterpillars as quickly as 3-5 days.

Have you ever wanted your backyard to be full of these flying beauties? One way you can attract butterflies is to build a butterfly garden. These are not your typical flower beds. Different species of butterflies are attracted to different types of plants that provide them with the food they need to grow. Planting flowers which are native to New York is an important first step. To learn more about planting native, visit the New England Wildflower Society or the Audubon at Home page on creating backyard habitat. If you want to create your own butterfly garden, you must first learn what kinds of plants butterflies like to feed on. Here is a list of a few different butterflies and what plants they enjoy:

Monarch caterpillar. Photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Monarch

This bold orange beauty, shown in the featured image above, will feed on a number of different flowers and even drink the juice from overripe fruit, but Monarch caterpillars rely on only milkweed for their food. Milkweed is poisonous to many different creatures, but monarch larvae are able to tolerate the poison and store it in their body, making the caterpillars, and the adult butterflies, toxic to would-be predators. The bold colors are the butterflies’ way of saying “Caution!”

Mourning cloak butterfly. Photo by Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service
Mourning cloak butterfly. Photo by Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service

Mourning Cloak

You’ll have to look closely for this camouflaged butterfly. The morning cloak will eat rotting fruit so scan around fruit trees or berry bushes in the late spring or summer. One of their preferred foods is tree sap, especially from oak trees.

Painted Lady. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP
Painted Lady. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP

Painted Lady

Buttonbush. Photo by Timothy Howard, NYNHP
Buttonbush. Photo by Timothy Howard, NYNHP

The painted lady’s bold reddish-orange top wings are quite different than its subtle gray bottom wings. The painted lady will feast on flowers, and has a surprisingly soft spot for thistles. Don’t worry; the painted ladies enjoy the lovely buttonbush, just as much as spiky thistles

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by SteveNanz.com
Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by SteveNanz.com

Red Admiral

This butterfly may look somewhat similar to the painted lady, but it’s much different when it comes to food. The red admiral prefers sap flows in trees and rotting fruit, but if it can’t get that, it goes for flowers. Oddly enough, this butterfly also enjoys bird droppings, but you don’t have to worry about putting those in your garden.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Lilly Schelling.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Lilly Schelling.
Hello there! photo by Thomas P. LeBlanc, Allegany State Park

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This big butterfly certainly lives up to its name. The eastern tiger swallowtail enjoys meals of wild cherry and lilac. Like the monarch, it also feeds on milkweed, especially in the summer. Its caterpillar can fool predators with the amusing eyespots on its large head.

 

For more information about these butterflies and more, go to the link below for identification tips and information:

http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-glaucus

When planting your butterfly garden, make sure to keep some space between the plants for easier tending. It may take some time for the butterflies to become aware of the new food source, but with patience and time, you are sure to see them flapping before long. If you want them to stay, consider putting up a butterfly house among the flowers. If you don’t have a green thumb, many of our state parks have butterfly gardens that you can visit, find one near you at NYSParks.com!

featured image is a monarch butterfly by Lilly Schelling.

Post by Mary Greagan.

Happy Earth Day!

NYS Parks is celebrating Earth Day 2014 with the official launch of our blog, Nature Times, produced by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. While you can find all the information you need on the locations, amenities, and policies of state parks at the official NYSParks.com website, this blog will provide information on the ongoing projects, programming, recent wildlife sightings, and general subjects of interest that relate to the New York Parks system. For our first post, we’d like to look forward to the new growth that comes in the early spring.

Each year, as the snow begins to melt and it seems like warm weather is right around the corner, the spring ephemerals push their way out of the cold, muddy ground and give us the first glimpse of spring color at the end of the long, grey winter.

The spring ephemerals are a group of perennial plants that emerge in early spring for a short period of time in which they grow, reproduce, and then die back down to their roots until the next year.

The adaptive strategy of spring ephemerals is most common in deciduous forests because it allows small plants to take advantage of the high levels of sunlight that reach the forest floor before all the trees regrow their leaves.

Click on the pictures in the photo gallery to get a closer look at a few of the spring ephemerals  we can find in New York State Parks in the coming months, and as you’re watching outside for the appearance of spring flowers, don’t forget to check for new posts each week on NYS Parks Nature Times!

Emerald Ash Borer and the Polar Vortex

Damage to an Ash trunk by Emerald Ash Borer larvae
Damage to an Ash trunk by Emerald Ash Borer larvae. Photo by NYS Parks

It’s certainly been cold this winter, but current low temperatures, combined with the recent effects of the polar vortex, may deliver unexpected benefits this spring. Foresters and scientists in New York have been fighting against the rapid expansion of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect which kills ash trees in alarming numbers. The long winter freeze may provide a much-needed advantage against these tiny invaders.

The emerald ash borer is a beetle which arrived in the United States on untreated wood pallets used for shipping from China. In Asia and Russia, the emerald ash borer is kept in check by predators and the natural resistance of ash trees which have had thousands of years to adapt defenses against this parasitic insect. American ash trees, however, have no defenses against this exotic species.

Since they were first identified in Michigan in 2002, emerald ash borers have expanded across the Northern and Eastern United States and killed over 50 million American ash trees. In 2009, these pests were first identified in New York’s Cattaraugus County, posing a new and potentially devastating threat to New York’s forests.

Emerald ash borers kill ash trees by boring underneath the bark into order to lay their eggs. Once hatched, larva feed upon the tree’s living tissue, killing it slowly over the course of 2-3 years.

In wintertime, ash borer larva shelter underneath the bark of ash trees, however, extreme cold temperatures, like we have been experiencing, can freeze the larva even underneath the bark layer and slow down the population growth of this pernicious pest. However, it takes more than just a few hours below zero in the morning to hurt EABs, but sustained sub-zero temperatures could potentially kill a significant portion of the Emerald Ash Borer population. Because EAB larvae shelter deep under the tree’s bark at the base of the trunk and even in the upper roots, where a snow layer can keep them insulated from extreme cold and the tree itself regulates their temperature, they are relatively adept at surviving in cold climates.

For example, this winter at Taughannock State Park near Cayuga Lake, the temperature was never recorded below -8°F (-22°C) and we found Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, another pernicious invasive insect, mortality to be about 88%. On the other hand, at Mine Kill State Park in the northern Catskills, temperatures got to -24°F (-31°C) and we found only about 72% mortality.

For this reason, we can expect the polar vortex to temporarily slow down the expansion of EAB, but management and surveying efforts will continue to be necessary into the future.

Similar:

Invasives and Cold Weather in NY, Cornell University Cooperative Extension.