Tag Archives: Butterflies

Monarchs Migrate to State Parks

Between the months of April to September, monarch butterflies will travel up north from Mexico to New York as part of their annual migration and breeding season. During this time, multiple generations of monarch butterflies will breed and disperse across the Northeast region. With so many generations occurring in a short time period, it is vital that there are enough breeding areas, or waystations, for the monarchs to rely on for food and shelter. Over the past decade, the Eastern Monarch butterfly population has been on the decline due to logging of trees in overwintering areas, climate change, the possibility of disease and parasites, and the destruction of milkweed, which is the food source for the caterpillars.  It is imperative that we prevent any further decline of their population for this massive migration results in pollination of many flowers throughout the monarch butterflies journey.

monarch-butterfly-and-a-bee-feeding-on-the-nectar-from-a-swamp-milkweed-in-wilson-tuscarora-state-park-in-august-2016-photo-by-j-harris
Monarch butterfly and a bee feeding on the nectar from a swamp milkweed in Wilson Tuscarora State Park in August 2016. Photo by J. Harris

One of the ways we can support the monarch is to prevent the loss of milkweed and other native flora throughout the migration path. The destruction of milkweed has been caused in part from the over use of herbicides and more extensive and frequent mowing along roadsides. By leaving more edges, meadows and fields unmown milkweed will often come back.  Milkweed is important to every part of the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle because the plant provides the butterfly with a breeding ground to lay eggs on, a food source for the caterpillars after the eggs hatch, and the flowers provide nectar for the adults to feed on after their metamorphosis. Milkweed also helps protect monarch butterflies from predators due to the caterpillars ingesting toxins that the plant produces. After the caterpillars metamorphosis into butterflies, the toxins collected in their bodies makes them poisonous to eat. The nectar from the flowers on the milkweed, as well as other plant species, provides the adults with the energy to travel back down to Mexico and throughout the winter.

budd-termin-and-meg-janis-with-milkweed-plants-at-wilson-tuscarora-state-park-in-may-2016-photo-by-i-love-my-parks-day-volunteer
Budd Termin and Meg Janis with milkweed plants at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park in May 2016 Photo by an I Love My Parks day Volunteer

State Parks is working throughout the state on efforts to reduce mowing, support native milkweeds and other native flora, and to prevent loss of habitat to invasive species like swallowwort. A number of parks have established butterfly gardens or meadows to allow for up-close observation. In Western New York, State Parks has teamed up with Budd Termin from Niagara County Community College to create Monarch Watch gardens in the state parks as refuge for the butterflies during the migration season. Wilson-Tuscarora State Park has a monarch watch garden and plans for a garden are under way for Beaver Island State Park. Already established butterfly gardens at other state parks will eventually get certify under Monarch Watch as monarch waystations. The mission of these gardens is to provide the milkweed and other native plants for the monarchs, as well as other pollinators, in order to reestablish their population size. If anyone is curious on how the project is going, they can follow @Mission_Monarch on Twitter, or if anyone is interested in learning more about monarch conservation efforts and what they can do to contribute, they can visit Monarch Watch.

monarch-butterfly-laying-her-eggs-on-a-swamp-milkweed-located-in-the-butterfly-garden-at-wilson-tuscarora-state-park-in-august-2016-photo-by-j-harris
Monarch butterfly laying her eggs on a swamp milkweed located in the butterfly garden at Wilson Tuscarora State Park in August 2016. Photo by J. Harris

Post by Jillian Harris, State Parks

 

Plants for Our Pollinators

New York State Parks is abuzz with excitement for pollinators.  From June 20-26, we celebrate both National Pollinator Week and New York State Pollinator Awareness Week.  Our local bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other pollinators are to thank for most of the food we eat, as well as for many of the trees and flowers we enjoy every day.  As these animals go from flower to flower to drink nectar, they accidentally carry sticky pollen from the anthers to the stigma, the male and female parts of flowers.  This fertilizes the eggs, which grow into seeds and fruits that we enjoy.

One of the ways you can show appreciation for these fantastic pollinators is to get out to natural areas in State Parks and enjoy the native flora.  You can also explore native plant gardens and learn more about using native plant species in your own backyard to attract pollinators.  Last year we paid homage to a few of our favorite New York pollinators.  This year, let’s have a closer look at some of the plants and the pollinators that visit them.

Just as pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, so too do the native plants that they enjoy.  Different plants attract different types of pollinators.  Look for all kinds of flowers in the woods, wetlands, meadows, gardens or orchards and you are apt to see some pollinators at work.  Below are some of the native pollinators and flora found in State Parks, with photos from the NY Natural Heritage Program.   NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks (OPRHP) to assess and conduct inventories of natural areas in state parks and helps to protect habitats that support common and rare species alike, including these important pollinators.

Cutleaf toothwort
Pollinators emerge as soon as there is nectar available for them to feed on. This native wildflower, cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), was blooming the first week of April. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Pink Lady Slipper
Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) bloom in June and are pollinated by various kinds of bees. Photo by T. Howard, NYNHP.
wild geranium
A Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) feeds on wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), a common native wildflower of woods and openings. Photo by K. Perkins, NYNHP.
Azure Butterfly
The more showy spring azure butterfly emerges early in the spring and can be seen flitting about sunny trails and open areas. Photo by M. Adamovic for NYNHP.
Goldenrod
Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are one of the most effective pollinators. You can see how the pollen sticks to its fuzzy body as this bee feeds on the nectar of this native goldenrod. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Ragwort
A Pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) feeds on ragwort (Packera aurea) that grows along river shores and wet areas. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Bedstraw
Moths help pollinate too. Though most moths prefer night, this one is a daytime moth, seen here feeding on bedstraw (this one is non-native, but we have some native bedstraws too) and moving the pollen around in the process. Look for this native moth, the Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) in meadows with flowers from May to July. The caterpillars feed on grasses, so unmown meadows can provide everything this moth species needs year-round. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
NE Aster
In late summer and fall, the bright colors of asters and goldenrods are especially attractive to bees and many other insects. The native New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooms from August to September. This one is being visited by the Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens). There are many species of bumblebees, but this one is by far the most common in the state, so the one you are most likely to see. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP

Whether you are a hiker, gardener, farmer, or food-lover you can enjoy and support our local pollinators!  Maintaining natural areas, meadows or gardens with a variety of plants can help to sustain all the life stages of a wide range of insects from bees to butterflies.

If you are interested in creating a backyard oasis for native pollinators, look for plants that are native to your area of the state and, if possible, grown near where you live.  Consider planting different types of flowers; gardens with an array of flowers blooming at different times provide food for a variety of pollinators throughout the season.  Look for white, yellow or blue flowers to attract bees.  Red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds (bees don’t even see red).  Butterflies prefer bright flowers, particularly reds, oranges, and purple (like fall asters).  Moths are attracted to white, purple, or pink flowers with strong, sweet scents, especially those emitting a scent at night.  See resources below on pollinators and native plants in your area.

State Parks is celebrating pollinators at these events across the state:

Clay Pit Ponds State Park – Time Tuesdays, June 21 @ 10am

Learn about our native pollinators by making crafts, playing games, and socializing with other toddlers! Parent or care giver is required to stay. Ages 1-3 (flexible).  Please call (718) 605-3970 ext 201 for more information.

Saratoga Spa State Park – Butterfly Walk Friday, June 24 @2:00pm

Did you know restoring a habitat is like building a neighborhood?  Come enjoy a light hike at the Karner Blue site and learn what butterflies live in the same neighborhood as the Karner Blue butterfly.  Please wear hats and sunscreen.  You may want to bring binoculars or a magnifying glass to see butterflies up close.  This program is appropriate for ages 7 and up.  Registration is required.  Please call 518-584-2000 ext. 122. This program is free.

Thacher Nature Center – Honeybees Are Buzzin’, June 25 @ 2pm

Summertime brings flowers and a hive packed with activity! Come and learn all about honeybees as you view the colony in our indoor observation hive. See the busy workers, the specialized drones and the ever-important queen bee in action! Learn how to dance like a bee, and view the world from a bee’s perspective. Afterwards, take a walk to observe our honeybees at work in the gardens. Please register by calling 518-872-0800.

Letchworth State Park – Butterfly Beauties, June 26 @ 2pm

Study the beauty and composition of hundreds of dried butterfly specimens representing most of the world’s butterfly families. Dozens of local and New York species, as well as those found in the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, are specially noted. Butterfly structure and local natural history will be featured in two new butterfly videos. This is an excellent primer for the Butterfly Walk on July 9th. (Look for details in the upcoming summer issue of The Genesee Naturalist.) All workshops meet in the Conference Room in the Visitor Center and Regional Administration Building located in Letchworth State Park.  Please call (585) 493-3680 for more information.

Ganondagan State Historic Site – Planting for Ethnobotany Workshop Saturday, August 6, 2016 @9:00am-11:00am

Participants will help plant native plants in the Green Plants Trail and the Pollinator Grassland at Ganondagan.  Ages 8 and up. Registration Required.  Please call (585) 924-5848 for more information.

For more about pollinators and native plantings:

 General Information

Confronting the Plight of  Pollinators

Gardening and pollinator information

— New York’s famous apple orchards would be naught without our beloved pollinators 

New York State Parks Native Plant Policy

 New York State Flora

— Have a plant to identify? Try GoBotany

Native plants for pollinators, by region

Please note, some of the plants listed in this resource are native to the ecoregion but not to NY state. Please check the NY Flora Atlas to confirm which are native to New York before choosing your planting list.

NY Flora Atlas – list of plants known in NY and which are native or not

Pollinator Identification Tools

— Have a bug to identify? Try BugGuide

— Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation Northeast Region Pollinator Plants

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Post by Erin Lennon, OPRHP and Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Getting to Know the Karner Blue Butterfly

Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes the birth of this year’s first generation of Karner blue caterpillars.  When these caterpillars hatch from the eggs that were laid by last year’s second generation of adults, they will eat only one thing, the leaves of the wild blue lupine plant.  And you thought your kids were picky eaters!

Wild blue lupine is a perennial plant that prefers dry, sandy soils in open patches of land.  It is typically found in pine barrens and oak savanna plant communities.  These habitats require ecological disturbances, such as wildfires, to sustain the sunny, open areas that wild blue lupine needs to survive.  Land development and the suppression of natural disturbances in these areas have led to degradation and loss of habitat, causing drastic declines in Karner blue butterfly populations. As a result of this, the Karner blue butterfly was declared endangered in New York in 1977 and federally endangered in 1992.  The Karner blue butterfly’s range extends from Minnesota to New Hampshire, along the northern portion of the blue lupine’s range.  In New York, populations are found from the Albany Pine Bush north to Glens Falls, with a segment of suitable habitat found in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Lupine 1
Wild blue lupine. Photo by USFWS; Joel Trick.

There are two generations of Karner blue butterflies born each year, the first of which hatches in May from eggs that were laid the previous July.  This timing coincides with the blooming of wild blue lupine flower stalks.  The caterpillars spend about two to three weeks feeding on wild blue lupine leaves before they pupate.  The adult Karner blue butterflies emerge at the end of May or beginning of June and typically live for about a week.  During this time, the adult females lay their eggs on the underside of wild blue lupine leaves or stems.  The eggs take around a week to hatch and the second generation of adults appear in mid-July to early August.  This time the females lay their eggs on the ground close to the stem of a blue lupine plant to provide them with more protection as they overwinter.

Larva 2
Karner blue caterpillar (larva). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.

Adult Karner blue butterflies are relatively small, with an average wingspan of about one inch.  You can tell the difference between males and females by looking at the coloration on the tops of their wings.  Males’ wings are silvery blue to violet blue with a black margin and white fringed edges, while females’ wings are grayish brown towards the edges, turning into violet-blue in the centers of the wings.  Both males and females are gray with black spots on their undersides and have a band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings.  Females also have bands of orange crescents on the tops of their wings, while males do not.

There are 18.5 acres of endangered Karner blue butterfly habitat in Saratoga Spa State Park.  In recent years, restoration efforts have re-established approximately 5 of these acres as suitable Karner blue butterfly habitat.  This was accomplished through the removal of small trees and shrubs that had taken over the habitat, as well as the scraping away of topsoil to remove invasive plant seeds and to expose the sandy soils that wild blue lupine needs to grow.  Wild blue lupine and native nectar species were then planted in the exposed sandy soil.  Saratoga Spa State Park staff monitors the Karner blue butterfly population and provide educational programs to the public about this endangered beauty.

In celebration of Earth Day, students from the Waldorf School contributed to the Karner blue butterfly habitat restoration effort by spreading the seed of the native blue lupine plant on 1.5 acres at Saratoga Spa State Park. Funding for this project was provided by Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Initiative.

Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 01
Waldorf School students spreading blue lupine seed. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.
Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 05
Waldorf School students replenishing their seed supply. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.

 

Post by Allie Smith, Saratoga Spa State Park.

Sources:

Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

Karner blue butterfly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species, http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/kbb_fact.html

Karner blue butterfly, USDA Forest Service,

http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/karner_blue_butterfly.shtml

Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

Wild lupine and karner blue butterflies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species,

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/lupine.html

 

 

 

 

Bees in the Butterfly Garden

It may be some time before we get to see bees and butterflies again, but when spring comes, we know that our friends at Fahnstock State Park will be ready to welcome them back with open arms and bouquets of native flowers. Check out this vibrant post from Native Beeology!

Native Beeology

Anne Odell Butterfly Garden – Fahnestock State Park –

In a recent venture to The Hubbard Lodge in Fahnestock State Park, I explored a butterfly garden flourishing with beautiful native flowering plants. The garden was alive with tired butterflies sporting tattered wings, queen bumblebees fattening up for a long winter hibernation, and a diversity of solitary bees finishing up their nests.  This garden named the Ann Odell Butterfly Garden was created in 2003 in memory of Ann Odell, an art teacher and gardener.  The winding paths in this tranquil place is a fitting tribute, inviting those who enter to explore and discover all things wild and beautiful.  Indeed, this garden is much more than a butterfly garden.

DSC_0218 Gazebo near the Entrance to the Ann Odell Butterfly garden

DSC_0222 Joe-pye-weed

DSC_0237 Asters and goldenrods

The most notable feature of this autumn garden is the purple New England asters that stand tall in the…

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Milkweed

Besides cleaning up our parks, invasive species removal teams sometimes get the opportunity to enjoy the truly lovely flora of New York State Parks. The following pictures are from Invasive Species Awareness Week, where a team cleared out wild parsnip from bird habitat in Thacher State Park.

Wild parsnip - beware! by Steve Young, NYNHP
Wild parsnip – beware! by Steve Young, NYNHP

Wild parnsip (Pastinaca sativa) is a member of the carrot family, but unlike their tasty orange relatives Wild parsnips can bite back! Wild parsnip contains chemicals called furanocoumarins, which, when exposed to sunlight on skin, can cause phytophotodermatitis, a toxic skin reaction. The chemicals prevent the skin from protecting itself from ultraviolet rays, resulting in the worst sunburn of your life.

A far-off bobolink thrives in the grassland, by Melissa Plemons
A far-off bobolink thrives in the grassland, by Melissa Plemons
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Lovely milkweed blossoms, by Melissa Plemons

The removal of wild parsnip from the field benefits grassland birds, like the bobolink, and also promotes the growth of native plants like milkweed. Milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) have been used culturally as food, fiber, and medicine. In addition to being the only plant that monarch caterpillars can live and feed on, milkweed species are attractive to many other insects, including the large milkweed bug, common milkweed bug, red milkweed beetle, blue milkweed beetle, and all sorts of bees. Certain predators, like yellow jackets and crab spider, make a point of targeting flies and bees that visit the flowers. Native birds enjoy snacking on these insects, too!

 

The featured image is of milkweed blossoms at Thacher State Park, by Melissa Plemons. Post by Paris Harper.