A Hero of Mine Has Died: A Tribute to Dr. Lincoln Brower

A Hero of Mine Has Died: A Tribute to Dr. Lincoln Brower

Last night I learned that someone who has been an inspiration to me for the last 15 years has died. He died yesterday. The odd thing about this is that it is someone I do not know personally, but know of his work. He was the Biologist and Monarch Conservationist Lincoln Brower. He was 86.

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Just yesterday morning, while waiting for my son’s soccer game to start, I was reading a text book that I selected to read for a graduate seminar I am taking for my degree in Environmental Education. It is called Monarchs and Milkweed. And while you might think this is a lightweight text, it is definitely not and has far out reached any expectations I had of it. I feel this way even though I am not yet even to page 50!  The passage I read described the earliest contributions Lincoln Brower made to the field of monarch conservation. These included facts that I had been unaware of until I read them yesterday morning, which unfortunately, as I found out last evening, was the very day he died.

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I know of Brower from his decades of his work dedicated to the Monarch Butterfly. It is virtually impossible to read anything about this butterfly without reading his name. I know I first read of him on the website Journey North when I started raising monarch butterflies back in 2002. I felt a comfortable familiarity when I read his pieces on conservation of the monarch. I felt awe and inspiration when I saw him describe through videotape his trips to the pine forests of the mountains in Central Mexico where they overwinter.  I now feel sadness that this scientist who dedicated his life of study to a butterfly species we both loved, has died.

 

Just yesterday morning I was entranced as I read about how a young Lincoln Brower studied the evolution of Swallowtail butterflies but became “obsessed” with mimicry and chemical storage of butterflies from toxic plants. This obsession very obviously moved him into his work with studying the monarch and its solely sustaining plant, milkweed.  He, along with other scientists, worked on the chemistry and biology of how these two species co-evolved. These ventures all took place in the early 1960’s.  This field is now called chemical ecology and was solidified in a collaborative, excited, and pioneering fashion. All of it led to what we know about monarchs and milkweed today.

Thank you Dr. Lincoln Brower.

Early yesterday morning, I was captivated by Lincoln Brower’s early work that was unknown to me before those moments.

Then, late yesterday evening, I was crushed.

I am still processing the news of his death, probably like many others in the fields of biology, conservation, and lepidopterology. He was 86; I get it. As humans, we don’t live forever. Over six decades, Lincoln Brower contributed so much to the study of monarchs and their conservation. Now, I just hope we can complete his legacy by helping the species he loved so much to survive.

first tag of the 2017 season

 

Raising Monarchs: Part II – Mid-July

Raising Monarchs: Part II – Mid-July

As of last night, this monarch breeding season has allowed me to raise and release 13 adult monarch butterflies! That number is many times greater than than last year at this time, when I had only released one, on July 9th. Last year, although a great late season in tagging numbers, had a very slow start. It was just the opposite this year. Due to weather patterns, my milkweed had germinated, grown to a foot tall, and was patiently waiting for monarch visits by the end of May!

Right now, I have 7 monarch eggs, six caterpillars, and 8 chrysalises! Until last year finding Monarch eggs was elusive for me. But, I have had success now finding the eggs, caring for them in separate containers until, after about 3-4 days, a very, very tiny, black headed caterpillar sans stripes emerges and eats its own eggshell. Two of the six caterpillars I currently have just emerged from their eggs the night before last. But, four of the thirteen that I have released were raised from the egg stage.

My milkweed has flourished in this hot, humid, and sometimes very rainy weather we’ve experienced this year. It is already past the flowering stage and will be setting seed pods soon.  The patch at school is no different.

Yesterday, I was able to present to a group of 3-5th graders during their summer school class at school. I brought me cages so they could see the eggs, the caterpillars in various sizes, and the chrysalises. After our discussion, we went outside to the garden to look at the butterfly habitat we have there. I wanted them to be able to identify those aspects of habitat that we are providing on our school grounds.

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Plant Food Times Two

Food for  both for caterpillars and butterflies. This means having host plants for each. They were able to see the milkweed we have for the caterpillars (and for the female adults to lay their upon), and nectar plants for the adult butterflies. We have zinnia, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, liatris, and more in our school garden for nectar.

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Water & Sun

While we don’t have any formal water features in the garden, aside from the rain barrel which is capped,  there are some spots that butterflies could puddle. Namely this is a stretch of pea gravel along the front of the bed, and some stumps and rocks that have have crevices that will hold a shallow pool of water, just right for sipping. Those rocks and gravel have another significant function and that is the provision of a place to bask in the sun to warm up. Butterflies are cold – blooded meaning that they need the sun to warm themselves. This plays and increasing important role for the monarchs as the fall migration season approaches, because they cannot fly until it is about 65 degrees F. It is is too cool, they cannot start off on their trip of a lifetime! We had one monarch, years ago, emerge in late September, only to sit in a plum tree in our yard for more than two days, until it became warm enough to wing out of here! Sitting in the sun to warm is called basking. Our rocks and gravel, sidewalk and blacktop, all provide places in or near our school garden to do that. All butterfly habitats should be in a sunny spot.

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Shelter

The students immediately understood that shelter meant a place for protection from predators and the elements of weather, like wind and rain.  I further enriched their knowledge with letting them know it also was necessary as a place to raise their young. Although, there is some use of camouflage in some of the butterfly life cycle stages, certainly there is none for that bright orange and black butterfly when a bird is chasing them or the shelter from a summer storm is necessary.  Shelter is a necessary piece of habitat for all. We all need a place to rest.

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Common Milkweed Flower/Leaves © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

Just as we were standing in the garden, a monarch flew into the milkweed patch. It sipped nectar from the flowers and maybe laid an egg on a leaf of the milkweed plant that was providing a meal. The students were excited, as was I.  They got to see all four stages of the iconic monarch butterfly in one morning!

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One thing I try to impress during my presentations on monarchs is that we all have to do our part. So, each student was sent home with a packet of milkweed seeds to plant in their garden – in a sunny spot, of course!

It’s been a wonderful season so far for raising monarchs. Soon, it will be time to start tagging them as they continue to reproduce into the month of August. Stay tuned for further updates.

 

 

Silent Sunday: In My Gardens This Week, June 10th, 2018.

Silent Sunday: In My Gardens This Week, June 10th, 2018.

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Bright Potted Plants, Spring 2018.
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A Carpet of Sedum.
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Sedum in Flower
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Sum and Substance Hosta in our Front Perennial Bed
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Hosta Leaves Up Close, 2018.
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Tiny Monarch Caterpillar on Rose Milkweed Behind the Barn.   June 2018.
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Milkweed Flowers Already Forming, Early June 2018.
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Southside Monarch Habitat Garden, June 2018.
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Tiny Caterpillar, June 2018.
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Four Cats being raised indoors. Early June 2018.
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Siberian Iris, a Transplant from Evergreen when we thinned the beds at school. Blooming in Early June 2018.
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False Blue Indigo in Bloom, June 2018. 
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Bearded Iris in Bloom, June 2018.
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Johnson’s Blue Geranium, June 2018.
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Lupine at North Woods, June 2018.
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Clematis in my front bed, June 2018.
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Back Perennial Bed, June 2018. 

 

Monarch Migration Update & How to Report Sightings as a Citizen Scientist

Monarch Migration Update & How to Report Sightings as a Citizen Scientist

Journey North, an organization that monitors migrations of some of most beloved species of animals, posts updates on the Monarch Butterfly on Thursdays. Their site also has a wealth of other information for those interested in teaching or learning about the patterns found in nature such as seasons or life cycles. It is a user-friendly and informative source for the nature lover or citizen scientist.

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Milkweed at school May 15, 2018

This week’s migration report on Monarchs informed us that the northward migration is nearing completion with monarchs being reported in places such as South Dakota, Wisconsin, and even Ontario, Canada.  As reported last week, my home milkweed has erupted from its winter sleep and anxiously awaits a visiting butterfly. The milkweed in the school garden which has been visited frequently in the last week, also has rapidly growing stems of Milkweed.

Since the milkweed has germinated, I can report this observation to the Journey North website, as I have done in year’s past. Here is how you do it:

  1. Go to Journey North’s home page at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/
  2. Select Report Sightings
  3. This will take you to a log in page. I can sign in using my email and password. If you have never used the site before you’ll need to create an account.
  4. Once you are signed in you can select an event from a drop down list. Here is a screen shot of what that might look like. It will also give you an idea of what you can monitor, observe, and report as a citizen scientist. You can see that milkweed is checked. You simply choose what you want to report on. Click submit.

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5. This will take you to a page where you report your sighting. This will ask you for information like were you are located by using your postal zip code, what you saw, when you saw it, and include a photograph if you have one. Once all your information is entered, you simply click submit report. The site saves information for you.

6. You did it! You reported your sighting and acted as a citizen scientist! Congratulations!

Now, you can go back at anytime to retrieve that information. You can also go into the data base and look for other recent sightings for a specific species or event. For example, here is a list of all my reported sightings.  This is helpful to be able to go back and look for trends. You can also just look for specific sightings. Mine are all on monarchs and milkweed but I can sort the data base for one or both of those sightings. It is helpful if you are interested in such things like the effects of global warming, or habitat loss, and population numbers of a specific species such as the monarch.

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So, I encourage you to look at the Journey North website. It truly has something for everyone and even if you do not want to report, you can learn about all nature has to offer!

Bring on the Monarchs!

Bring on the Monarchs!

Exciting News!

The milkweed is up in my garden at home and the gardens at school! Here are some photographs from yesterday.

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Milkweed at school May 15, 2018
Common Milkweed Spring 2018
Common Milkweed germinating in lavender that was killed off during last winter.
Milkweed germinating Spring 2018
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Common MIlkweed Sprouting in Home Monarch Habitat
Common Milkweed Germinating Spring 2018 (5/15/18)

Mother Nature Provides

Milkweed erupts in the spring prior to the arrival of the Monarchs. This is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that once the Butterflies arrive from their Journey Northward (migrating north from Mexico each spring), there are adequate plants for the Monarch to lay their eggs upon. Milkweed is the only plant that sustains the monarch life cycle. Adults lay their eggs, typically, on the underside of the milkweed leaves. Once the caterpillar emerges from the egg, after 1-4 days, it eats its own eggshell first (high in protein) and then proceeds to eat the leaves of the milkweed plant. The larval or caterpillar stage lasts 10-14 days, during which time the caterpillar will increase in size many times, causing it to shed its skin (molt) five different times during that stage of the life cycle.

If you want to plant milkweed in your yard, there are many sources.  Please note that while some claim they are “Free” there does seem to be a postage/handling/or gratuity fee. Read each source carefully. In addition, only milkweed native to your area of the country should be planted. Some sources are:

Monarch Watch Milkweed Market

Live Monarch Free Milkweed Seeds

Xerces Society Milkweed Seed Finder

Really Free Common Milkweed Seeds

In addition if you leave a contact email in the comments, I would be happy to send you some of my own, locally sourced common milkweed seeds. I have saved these seeds from my own gardens in the upper mid-west. Currently, I only have common milkweed seeds but in the future might be able to offer rose milkweed and swamp milkweed.  By leaving your email, you are agreeing to let me contact you to acquire an address to which I can send the seeds. United States residents only, please. I probably can supply the first ten people who respond as instructed above with common milkweed seeds that have been cold stratified and are ready for planting. Are you willing to help plant milkweed in your yard? It has been estimated that  over ONE BILLION additional stems of milkweed is what is needed to sustain the monarchs.

Citizen Science & Reporting Observations

Observing for milkweed in my garden each spring has become a ritual for me. Later today, I will act as a citizen scientist and report my findings to Journey North. I think my sighting this year is earlier than the last few years. It has been an odd spring.  But, the nice thing about the Journey North records is that one can track back to see what your prior year’s observations were.

I look forward to the Monarch’s arrival to the habitat I have lovingly prepared for them. I hope you join me on my journey of monarch conservation as I report my observations for this season!

Silent Sunday: Milkweed

Silent Sunday: Milkweed

 

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Rose Milkweed © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
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Common Milkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Milkweed erupting in the spring, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2010
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Monarch Caterpillars on Commonmilkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2016
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Monarch Butterfly Eggs on Common Milkweed Leaf. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Three Types of Milkweed Leaves: L>R, Rose, Swamp, and Common, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Rose milkweed seed pod in the fall, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
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Swamp Mlkweed Blooming,  © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015.
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Milkweed in Field at a School After Fourth Grade Planted in Drainage Ditch. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
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Milkweed in Ditch at School, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
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Common Milkweed Seeds, ready for planting with School Children © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
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Monarch Caterpillar on Common Milkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
I’m Late, I’m Late, I’m Late for a Very Important ……Slice!

I’m Late, I’m Late, I’m Late for a Very Important ……Slice!

Today’s slice comes to you late!  Usually, I wake up, get my high schooler’s out the door and then write my blog . Whether it is for the Slice of Life Story Challenge as it has been this month, or my usual daily blogging, I like to get it done early.  My blog is usually posted by  8 a.m.. Something about it makes me feel accomplished! But, today, I was out the door myself before 7:30 a.m. to attend a gardening conference!  I just arrived home about 45 minutes ago. During the hours in between, I presented two different 45 minute sessions at the conference, answered numerous questions on Monarchs, Milkweed, and Gardening with Children, wandered through the silent auction which offered a wide variety of tempting items, spoke with our guest, keynote speaker Melinda Myers of the PBS television show Great Lakes Gardener, reacquainted myself with a number of master gardeners, met a few new master gardeners, ate lunch, and listened to two hours of gardening inspiration.

I am ready to start digging!  Yes! I am! New plants await.

I am going to the garden store on the way home!

But, wait a minute….we still have snow!

Darn!

In the meantime, while I wait for the snow to melt, I will share a few highlights from the conference. 1) The Master Gardeners are a wonderful group of volunteers. Stories were shared, questions were answered, and everyone stayed polite, happy, and relaxed! The rooms were filled with camaraderie and respect.  It renewed my faith in humankind! 2) I bid on a “bee basket” of silent auction items from one of the vendors – a beekeeper, naturally!  I was not the first to bid on the basket and not the last. So sadly, I did not win the goodies. Upon realizing I would not was not willing to up my bid, I went to the vendor himself and bought a pint of his honey and a lotion bar made of honey and wax.  If you’ve been reading along with my blog, you know I’ve been into honey lately! So, I added to my collection – this was not wildflower honey, but basswood honey – only one type of flower flavored this sweet syrupy jar of yumminess……and his prices? They were much more reasonable than honey from the grocery store! A bonus – affordability!

3) I was inspired by our youth. Two female students from a nearby high school presented on their food dehydrator machine, with which their “Earth Club” is using school generated kitchen waste to make into garden fertilizer! They have zero food waste at their high school! Truly, a case of “you go girl(s).” Sadly, I did not get to hear them talk because I presented at the same time!  But, they are on to something, and it is a very inspiring something to say the least!  4) My presentations both went well.  Whew! About 60 people attended my Monarchs, Milkweed, and the Monarch Highway presentation and 25 people attended my presentation on Gardening with Kids. My unexpected glitch discovering Thursday night that one of my power points for today was not saved, did not end up deterring my presentation in the least. In fact, I think my second version was better – even if it did mean giving up most of my day yesterday to complete a second slide show.  Given the reaction of my audience, it was worth it!  5) I felt like I might have inspired others to take action! My plea to help the monarch population involved three steps.

  1. Be Informed
  2. Plant Milkweed
  3. Share What You Know

Of course, there were many more details shared about how to perform those steps. But, you get the idea! Over 50 milkweed seed packets were taken from my table of handouts! I hope they all get planted!

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And finally, as I listened to Melinda Myers end her presentations, I realized we had the same take home message: Let’s inspire the next generation of gardeners. Whether it be your friends, neighbors, family, or school children, let us help them all to be inspired to love our earth. It is critical for each of us and for our future.