Natural News from Westport CT and Beyond

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies:
If you take a walk outside on a sunny day in the summer, you are bound to see a Monarch Butterfly fluttering through the air around you. Today, I am going to talk to you about the Monarchs, a type of insect that we all should know from when we were little.  I will provide you with a description of their habits, introduce you to live butterflies­, and talk about the threats to them and how each one of you can help.
 As many of you now, in October, I found a female butterfly with a broken wing. I kept it and cared for it a month and 6 days, much longer then I had anticipated. I became more and more fascinated, so I decided to do a research project about them.
 The Monarch Butterfly is probably one of the most well known species of insect found in the U.S., but besides the facts that it flies, hatches from an egg, and that it’s a master of metamorphosis, what do we really know about it? Their complex way of life is known truly by few, and I feel ­­­privileged enough to have been able to know much more than I previously have.
In the U. S., Monarchs are known for the striking orange and black patterns on their wings and their use in classrooms to help students better understand metamorphosis and life cycles.
Do You Know What Metamorphosis means?   
Metamorphosis is when an animal, like a butterfly, or a frog goes through incredible changes from egg to adult. Monarchs are a great example of this:
A monarch has 4 stages in life: Egg, Caterpillar, Chrysalis, and Adult, and they are all completely different from each other. Four generations of butterflies hatch throughout the year, but only the fourth survive long enough to reproduce.  Monarchs begin their life cycle when they hatch from white eggs that are laid on a milkweed plant by the mother. The eggs turn yellow shortly after. The milkweed plant is the only one that the caterpillar eats. This is because when it hatches it ingests the toxins in the plants, which are poisonous to birds, providing an ingenious defense mechanism.
­­­ Shortly after it hatches; the brightly striped caterpillar devours its own egg case, and then moves on to the milkweed. It lasts in the caterpillar stage for about 2 weeks. 
After 2 weeks, the caterpillar hangs upside down from a silk thread it has made to a branch or plant, and begins to molt. The molt forms a green chrysalis or cocoon where the transition from caterpillar to adult begins. It remains in the pupal stage for another 2 weeks.
After the life changing 2 weeks inside the chrysalis, the crumpled wings and body of a full grown butterfly split open the transparent exoskeleton. The butterfly dries and pumps fluid into the wings for a few hours, and then, spreading its’ stiff new wings, takes flight for the first time.

Like most insects, adult monarchs have 6 legs. They also have 4 wings, 2 large ones called forewings, and 2 smaller ones called hind wings, which are all orange with large black veins streaking across them.
As young, monarchs feed on milkweed leaves, but move on to nectar of milkweed or similar plants when they mature. Like all butterflies, they are important pollinators. To feed, adults uncurl their straw like mouth; called a proboscis, specialized for reaching down the rims of flowers, suck up the nectar. I have observed feeding closely with Flutter, and almost immediately when she was placed on a piece of Butterfly Bush, she uncurled her proboscis and started sticking it down nearly each individual flower, searching for nectar.
Did you know that male monarchs suck up minerals from wet soil and gravel?
This is called Mud-puddling. They gather much needed nutrients, minerals and moisture from the ground or gravel through their proboscis.
Monarchs, because of their bright coloration and poisons, are not preyed upon by many animals but birds such as orioles and jays still eat the body, because it’s far less toxic than the wings, and safer to eat. Mice are able to eat monarchs too, because they can withstand the poisons.
Male monarchs can be distinguished from females by the small, black patch of scales on their hind wings, and the fact that they are slightly larger in size than the females.
Did you know that monarchs migrate?
Each year, millions of American Monarch Butterflies embark on one of earths’ greatest migrations, moving southward to escape the cold and hibernate. Out of all 4 generations of monarchs, the fourth is the only one that migrates. Monarchs east of the Rockies travel some 2,500 miles, and arrive at the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in the forested mountains of Mexico. Millions congregate in the rugged forest, completely covering whole trees. They stay in the reserve for 6 – 8 months.
In the spring, the butterflies make their tiring journey back home, and mate and lay eggs. Exhausted from their long flight, the monarchs die shortly after laying their eggs, completing their 4 generation life cycle once again.
Monarchs are a species worth protecting, so by following one of these simple and easy tips, you can help ensure that the monarchs will be here for years to come.
One way you can help is to raise them. When you raise them from caterpillars, you provide protection from predators, and ensure that they will be safe until adulthood. Monarchs are available for sale online, and are very fun to keep as caterpillars.
Another is to plant a butterfly garden, which is not only very attractive but, when you make one, you give monarchs and other butterflies a safe place to lay their eggs and a food source for the young and adults. You can make a small garden in your backyard, but be sure to provide food for the caterpillars and the adults.
A Monarch Waystation is a type of butterfly garden designed especially for the monarchs, which includes their favorite food plants for young and adult monarchs. Seed kits can be found at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nature Tips:

Tip #1 - In winter, keep seed and suet available for birds and squirrels.
Tip #2 - Photograph birds at your feeders inside when possible. as going outside will scare them away.
Tip #3 - Put out roost boxes outside for birds.
Tip #4 - Keep a heated birdbath.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Pets

Current Pets:
Crayfish- Found in Stony Brook
Red Eared Sliders (2)- Rescued from Long Island
African Clawed Toad- From Pet Store
Possible Future Pets:
Bobwhite Quail
Monarch/Painted Lady Butterflies

Winters Wild Side

Nature Log

Monday January 10, 2011
5:40 PM- Even though it’s winter, there still sure is a lot of wildlife around here in Westport. This morning I found a doe trotting through our yard, and several Gray Squirrels eating the seed I put out for them and the birds. I know squirrels are a bit of a pest, but they need to eat too.

A lot of people out there don’t like the cold, but I’m all for it. Over the last week, I have found countless deer prints in the snow. You can tell that they are deer because of the distinct two-toed pattern their hooves leave in the fresh snow.

At Earthplace, I saw over 13 Black and Turkey Vultures near the raptor cages and on the roof. I observed one perching on top of the chimney, were excess heat came out. I thought it was so intelligent of them to find a heating source on such a cold day. One vulture would often scare another away from it so that it could have the heat to itself.

Geese are still gathering on the frozen field at recess, and kids still chase them away for fun. I hate it how they treat living creatures like dirt. Geese, as much as nuisance they may be, still have an equal part on this planet. Many deer pass through the field during the evening, probably following Stony Brook from the Partrick area in search of food.

6:40 PM- I just cleaned my Red Eared Slider tank. I rescued them from a family who didn’t want them anymore. They are very messy, and I have to clean their tank every 5 days, because I’m waiting on a filter for them. It is sad how many animals are abandoned every year.

I collected $11.67 for Earthplace at school, and am donating an extra 100 from my own account. I am trying to raise 1,000 for a 3 season outdoor habitat for the 2 resident turtles, a Wood Turtle named Woody, and a Box Turtle named Zeke. It is not going so well.

I just received word that we are going up to VT next weekend, and I might get to help with the births of the goats! I love the peace and serenity of Vermont.

10:12 PM- I am very excited, and I hope to really learn more about goats in VT and get to possibly milk them. The last time we went to VT i caught a Brown Snake. I love finding reptiles. Once, I found an Eastern Box Turtle in Cape Cod. That was my greatest animal find so far, along with a shark, also found on Cape Cod.

 Scientific Finding of the day: Vultures will perch on top of chimneys for warmth.                           

Tuesday January 11th 2011
- The weather is partially cloudy, and it is still freezing. There are no birds flying, probably because of the high chance of precipitation. My mom recently saw a small raptor on my street, probably a Kestrel.

Coyotes are here to stay in Westport Our neighbor recently saw one in her yard. Here is a picture:
Most don’t look nearly as healthy, but they are incredible creature nonetheless.

I haven’t seen the chipmunks since November, so they probably have gone into hibernation in their burrows.
I miss the little rascals scurrying around on the deck.

4:12 P.M. – It is very cold and cloudy. I haven’t seen an animal all day. All is quiet in the sky, like the calm before a storm.
Wednesday January 12th, 2011
8:17 AM - I just woke up and I saw that everything, including the road, was covered with snow. it is 3-5 inches now and still coming down in a hail of flurries. I hope all the squirrels and deer are fine. It continuing to fall down, plastering the sides of tree and bushes with a thick cover of snow. I've always notice that snow comes down at an angle, and that is I think why it gets on trees.

10:30 AM - The snow has stopped, but the wind is still blowing strong here. The sun has begun to pop out of the clouds.

11:36 AM - I just observed 3 species of birds, including a young male downy woodpecker, visting my 2 suet feeders. I am very excited to have them in my yard because of the variety of birds they attract. When another bird got to close, the woodpecker would scare it away. Woodpeckers are so adept at hanging on to the side of trees to eat insects, or in this case, suet. I will by another 4 feeders to ensure that the birds in my yard will not starve this winter.
Note: Buy 4 Suet Feeders/10 Suet Cakes