Tag Archives: Monarch butterfly

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, 06-19-19

On this busy Wednesday, I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve (EYNP) around 5:00 pm for their Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) training.  When I drove in, I saw one of the big 4-pointer bucks, still in his velvet, sitting in the shade under the trees on the golf course. The wet grass must’ve felt good on his belly. (It was about 93° outside then.)

Along the walkway, the Wavy-Leaf Soap Plants were in bloom, white spidery flowers everywhere.  The plants only bloom in the evening, starting at dusk and continuing through the night. By morning, they’re done. They close up and die off… so getting to see them fully open is a bit of a treat.

The training was led by a volunteer, Krystin Dozier, who’s been helping to monitor the butterflies since she took the naturalist course at Effie Yeaw in 2015.

The monitoring project is a “Citizen Science” effort coordinated through the University of Minnesota in which everyday folks help to monitor milkweed plants in specified areas and keep track of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. About 5 people showed up for the training (all women, no men) and Rachel Cowen the EYNP Volunteer Coordinator was there, too. After a brief presentation, we went outside to look at the Showy Milkweed plants near the nature center and were assigned plots, which we’ll monitor through the month of July (or longer if we want to).

CLICK HERE for a map of the plots.
CLICK HERE for a PDF explaining the project, it forms and guidelines.

While we were looking at the plants I was able to identify some errant insects that were on them for the group (like a Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider and a katydid nymph), and I offered to be of assistance to the other people in the group if they needed help with ID-ing plants and insects. Rachel told them I was their “local nature geek”. Hah! (Three of the women stopped me after the meeting and asked for my email address so they could contact me if they needed to.)

I asked for Plot 1A in the grounds because it knew it got shade most of the time which I figured would benefit me if I’m monitoring the plants there in the heat of the summer. 

Basically, you count all of the milkweed plants in your plot and then look over every part of each plant looking for butterfly eggs and caterpillars. If you find anything, you note it in your weekly report and tie a yellow ribbon (piece of yarn, pipe cleaner) to the plant to mark it.  Whenever caterpillars in their 4th or 5th instar are found, you let everyone know so the Effie Yeaw staff can collect them and rear them from that stage through the butterfly stage, so they can make sure the butterflies live, and can tag them for migration monitoring.

Eastern Monarch populations seem to be doing fairly well, but the Western Monarchs (those populations west of the Rockies) are in a severe decline; about a 90%+ loss in just one year. At first everyone thought it was due to habitat degradation and a loss of milkweed plants, but the plant populations haven’t declined much, so that had been ruled out as an overriding factor.  Now, the theory is that the Western Monarchs are being affected by a fungal infection (from plants in Mexico), so another aspect of the study is to test the butterflies for that fungus.  We plant monitors won’t be doing that piece, but I think it’s all very fascinating.

I’m slated to work on my plot on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am starting in July.

The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

First Flame Skimmer of the Season, 05-12-18

I was out the door and off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve once more to check on the development of the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars – and get some fresh air and exercise in, of course.

Before I left the house, I noticed there were a few Yellow-Billed Magpies out foraging in the neighbor’s yard, so I took some photos of them before they flew off.   When I got to the nature preserve, the first thing I saw was a small flock of male Wild Turkeys. They were parading and strutting around a single female who was more interested in finding breakfast than dealing with the boys. Hah!

I put on insect repellent, but there are these tiny, black, winged no-see-ums that forge through the repellant anyway and bite HARD. I don’t know what the species is, but I really dislike those things. They get all over you… creep me out worse than the ticks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the small pond by the nature center, the Bullfrog tadpoles are starting to change from water-breathers to air-breathers, and they popped up to the surface periodically to gulp in some air before retreating back down into the water. All you can see through the murky water when they come up is their pale belly and their big mouths. So funny.

The Monarch caterpillars grew a lot over the week, so many of them where about as long as my index finger. There were still a lot of babies, though, so the preserve should have a good crop of new butterflies in a couple of weeks.  This is the time of year when birds are making and feeding babies, but they leave the Monarch and Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars alone – because the caterpillars are packed with noxious poisons from the plants they eat. I found one new Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis on the side of an oak tree already. No sign of the gold-bejeweled Monarch chrysalises yet.

I also got photos of the first Flame Skimmer dragonfly I’d seen this year. They’re such neat looking things. The dragonfly sat long enough and still enough that I was able to get some close-ups of its wing-structure.

I later watched some Harvester Ants bring in new seeds and stuff, and remove old seeds and whatnot from their in-ground bivouac. It seems like they were transferring the old stuff to a different part of the nest through an extra hole in the ground.  Looking more closely I could see that they also removed the dead bodies of some rival ants… And some members of the colony apparently didn’t read their emails because they were bringing the new seeds in through a hole that was “exit only”. It was a crack-up watching them.

There weren’t too many deer out today, but I did see a lone doe, and a young buck who looked like he’d been attacked by wasps. His chin and bottom lip were swollen which made him look kind of goofy. There are ground-dwelling Yellow-Jackets that have hives all over the preserve; maybe this guy was browsing too close to one of those.

Come to think of it, one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks I came across today had a swollen eye – like can be rough out in Nature. The swelling didn’t seem to interfere with the bird’s eyesight or it’s ability to navigate; and it didn’t look like the bird was blind on that side, so maybe it was a temporary impairment.

As I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw some of the docents doing a presentation for a small group of Scouts with their animal ambassador, “Orion” a young Swainson’s Hawk. According to the Effie Yeaw website: “…Orion was dropped off at the UC Davis Raptor Center with a broken wing in 2017. Although his injuries healed partially, there were some lingering issues that would prevent him from completing the long migration down to Argentina. It was also discovered that Orion was an imprint, or lacking a natural fear of humans, and therefore dependent on people for his survival. However, this resulted in an easier transition for Orion to become one of our amazing animal ambassadors…”

I’d walked for about 3 hours, and then headed home for the day.