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Tagging Monarchs at Raincatcher’s

Monarch Butterfly Sipping Milkweed, Note the Tag

With a woosh of her net, Master Naturalist, Ellen Guiling, has captured another Monarch butterfly to be tagged and then sent on its migratory journey.

As per the Monarch Watch website: tagging information helps answer questions about the geographic origins of monarchs, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during migration, the effects of wind and weather, and changes in geographic distribution of monarchs. Each year the information is collected and can be viewed at www.monarchwatch.org.

You may remember Starla found a tagged Monarch from Kansas who visited our garden in 2015.

We have many butterflies visiting The Raincatcher’s Garden and the reason goes back to the careful planning and planting of host and nectar plants for many different types of butterflies. Review the butterfly plant list in our Raincatcher’s Resources on the right of our front page and enjoy the delights of your own butterfly garden.

Ann Lamb

Pictures and video by Starla Willis

 

 

Monarchs Tagged in Butterfly Garden at Raincatcher’s

October is peak migration month for millions of Monarchs flying through the “Texas funnel” to overwinter in their ancestral roosts in Michoacan, Mexico. As the Monarchs flutter through the Raincatcher’s Garden, we have also had another visitor— one with a butterfly net.

monarch-tagging-ellen

Master Naturalist Ellen Guiling frequently visits the butterfly garden to capture and tag Monarchs. Ellen hovers by the Greg’s Mistflower, then her butterfly net swooshes and snaps to flip the net sock around the circle of the rim to prevent the butterfly’s escape. She gently folds the Monarch’s wings closed in the net then reaches in to hold the butterfly’s body and remove it.  It takes seconds to press a Monarch Watch tag on the discal cell, a spot on the middle of the lower wing.

monarch-tagging

She quickly checks the sex of the captured Monarch. Two small black dots on the veins of the lower wings signal that this male with his pheromone sacks is probably quite the favorite with the lady Monarchs.  Released into the intense October skies, the Monarch flutters back to the Greg’s Mistflower, ready for his trip south.

Male Monarch-see the spots!

Male Monarch-see the spots!

Ellen has tagged about 40 Monarchs this fall at Raincatcher’s.  After recording the date, location and complete tag numbers with other information, Ellen will send her data sheet to Monarch Watch at monarchwatch.org, the organization that helps create, conserve and protect Monarch habitats.   Tagging data by volunteers has been critical in mapping Monarch migration patterns. Scientists study the tagging results to answer unanswered questions about Monarch migration, such as whether migration is influenced by the weather and if there are differences in migration from year to year.

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla

More about Monarchs:

A Monarch Pit Stop

Butterfly Migration

Butterflies at the Raincatcher’s Garden

Dallas Butterflies

 

Grace Academy Field Trip 2015

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Rachel Carson

 

Field trips to The Raincatcher’s Garden are designed to increase that sense of wonder about our natural world. Dallas County Master Gardeners assisted Grace Academy Second Graders as they made their very own journals to write about what they see, feel, and touch in the garden. 

Dallas County Master Gardeners, Nature Journals, and Grace Academy Second Graders

As you know, we spend quality time with worms and learning about vermi-composting!

The Wonder of Worms and how they are known as "Nature's Plough".

Worms are masters of composting. We also teach traditional composting methods.

Lisa, a Master at Composting and Teaching!

Metamorphosis, cocoon to butterfly is studied and the science of  host plants and nectar stations is seen first hand in our butterfly garden.

Grace 2015 Butterflies

Ann

Pictures by Starla

Favorite quote by Cynthia

 

 

Butterfly Migration

Exciting things are going on at the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills – It’s now Fall and the irrigation is almost done – thanks to many hours of trenching, laying pipe, setting up the drip beds — the children are coming to the garden and exploring the area we have set aside for wildflowers, learning about vegetables, compost and the flowers that inhabit our butterfly areas — And we have had our first sighting of a tagged butterfly!

While out in the butterfly area, a small round dot was seen on a monarch that was feasting on some lantana. After closer inspection with the help of my trusty zoom lens on my camera, I realized that this butterfly had been tagged for its trip down south this winter.

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

Not exactly sure of what to do, I researched information about the Monarch Watch and the efforts to tag them. Turns out the process is relatively simple. Get the information from the tag and email it to the address or the phone number located on the tag, including the Number that is assigned to the monarch, the date and location spotted. I was able to send a picture, but that is not required.

After a couple of days, I received an email back from Kansas University stating that the information was received, but they were unable to tell me where the butterfly was originally tagged because the tagging information has not yet been submitted.   Hopefully we will hear about our little guy making it all the way to his destination — and then back again.

Keep your eyes out and your camera ready for these exciting visitors to our area and our gardens.  You may have a part in documenting their journey.

Starla

DALLAS BUTTERFLIES

Move over husband Mike.  I’m in love, but I can’t spell—or pronounce–his name.

To bring you up to date, the old 8,000 square foot garden on Joe Field Road is now moved lock, stock, compost pile, tomato support, and rototiller to a fabulous new location at Midway Hills Christian Church, Royal Lane and Midway Road.  We also have a new name, Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, an Earth-Kind ® Water/Wise Demonstration Garden, a collaboration of the Dallas County Master Gardener Association, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Midway Hills Christian Church.

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

MHCC has generously offered us a 100’x300’ field for a new garden and plans are hatching.  Just like butterflies will—we hope—this spring.

We brainstormed the components that we wanted to bring (or not) to the new garden: vegetables, an education garden, and a wildlife habitat. And some new things we wanted to feature, like urban trees and turf.  But probably tops on people’s list was a butterfly garden.

Which brings me to my new love: skippers, brushfoots (not “feet), whites, sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, and swallowtails.  I’d like to learn to be a lepidopterist, but I’ve got to set some time aside to learn to roll out that moniker.

Diving into Butterflies of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and the Dallas County Lepidopterist’s Society website maintained by Dallas butterfly expert Dale Clark was absolutely fascinating.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

I learned if you want to attract grass skippers, you need an abundance of host grasses like bluestem and side-oats gramma in your garden.

Most gardeners know to plant dill, fennel, parsley, and rue for swallowtail caterpillars, but they also have a hankering for citrus, celery and Queen Anne’s Lace.

We’re familiar with the Pirinae family of sulphur’s and white’s passion for broccoli and cabbage. But the Coliadinae family of whites and sulphurs pine more for senna, marigolds, clover, and false indigo for host plants.

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk's Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk’s Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Hairstreaks look for oaks, mistletoe, Texas bluebonnets and okra. Blues are thrilled with frostweed, lima and garden beans, and snouts want sugarberry and net-leaf hackberry. Fritillaries swoon for maypop and passionvines, monarchs for milkweed.

Brushfoots remind me of a 17-year-old football player.  They’ll clean out your garden “refrigerator” of almost everything.  Wildflowers to thistles to American elm, to frogfruit are on the host plant menu.

As we’re planning the garden, there’s more to think about than host and nectar plants.  You want your plants in full sun (more nectar), have enough water to prevent wilting (nectar stops with inadequate moisture), use favorite colors of purple, pink, yellow and white, and include a variety of bloom shapes.  Some little guys forego the nectar plants and pull over for old fruit, a fermented sugar mixture, or a damp salt and sand mixture for amino acids.  Rocks and logs in the sun give a spot for basking.  Old logs and brush provide Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks a spot for hibernating.

The monarch has gotten a lot of press lately concerning the declining amount of milkweed necessary for its caterpillars.  We plan on having a Monarch Waystation, based on recommendations from Monarch Watch, filled with native and tropical milkweed for the trip north and favorite nectar plants for the fall migration to Mexico.

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

 

As our plans take place, we are looking forward to late spring and summer, and we hope, a large garden full of fluttering beauties.

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla and Ann and Janet

More about Monarchs!

 

Sex 101

How do you tell the “boys” from the “girls?”  In Monarch butterflies, that is.

The male Monarch butterflies have a scent gland on their lower hindwing that produce pheromones used to attract females:

Above: Male Monarch Butterfly

Above: Male Monarch Butterfly

The females on the other hand have wider veins giving them a somewhat darker appearance:

Above: Female Monarch Butterfly

Above: Female Monarch Butterfly

Our own Dallas County Master Gardener Janet D. Smith, a much requested speaker on such topics as “Sex in the Garden” and pollinators, says the following:  “I couldn’t remember if the black spot indicated if it is a male or female until I realized that it is normally the male of the species who has round things on the lower half of the body.  The darker veins on the female also remind me of eyeliner which for most of my life was only seen on women.”

Janet always gets a laugh from the audience after she tells her way of remembering how to sex Monarch butterflies— and you probably won’t forget how to tell the difference either.

Carolyn

 

Note: Both pictures courtesy of Janet D. Smith

Read the rest of this entry

A Monarch Pit Stop

 

The first semi-cool days around October bring the annual Monarch butterfly migration through Dallas.   Some of the Monarchs, coming from the northern states, follow a corridor through Dallas as they continue on their trip to their wintering grounds in the highlands of Mexico.  These travelers need all the “fuel”/nectar they can get for their long journey.  Even an urban backyard can provide a respite for them.

Picture by Janet D. Smith

Picture by Janet D. Smith

One of the Monarch’s favorite nectar plants is frostweed, Verbesina virginica . It is such an exceptional nectar plant, drawing in not only Monarchs but also Pipevine Butterflies and Great Purple Hairstreaks, that it has been selected as monitoring plant by Monarch Watch.  Dale Clark, local butterfly rancher and founder of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society, says that he has seen Monarch butterflies literally drop out of the sky when they see a patch of frostweed.

Frostweed, a perennial, is a member of the sunflower family.  It will grow in sun but prefers shade or part shade.  It requires very little water.  Because it can grow up to six feet tall, it is best to use it in the back of a border and in a more natural, rather than formal, landscape.  It has large green leaves on a straight, winged stem.  Native Americans would sometimes roll the leaves and smoke them like tobacco.  It blooms in late September through October in Dallas, making it a perfect nectar plant for the migrating Monarchs.  The blooms are large composites, dirty white, and (at least to me) rather drab, but obviously Monarchs, bees, and small wasps see beyond superficial beauty and flock to it in droves.  Even a small group of frostweed plants may be covered with four or five Monarch butterflies on each flower.  It is a sight to behold!!

 

Picture by Larry Waisanen

Picture by Larry Waisanen

Like many plants, especially our native plants, frostweed has several common names. Karen H. Clary in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine’s October 2012 issue says:  “Frostweed has other names, including iceplant, white crownbeard, Indian tobacco and squawweed.  Native Americans- including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Mikasuki Seminole- used the leaves to treat fever, chills and body aches, and they used the roots as a purgative to treat indigestion.  Mat t Turner, in Remarkable Plants of Texas, attributes the name “squawweed” to a specific use for women.  Turner notes that the Kickapoo, as late as the 1970’s, were still using hot decoctions of the plant for near-term and post-partum issues, such as cleansing the womb and stanching excessive bleeding.”

Frostweed gets its most commonly used name from the fact that with the first freeze, its stem splits and sap oozes out of the winged stem.   The sap freezes into fantastic ribbons forming mini-ice sculptures.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center says that “the ice crystals formed on the stems of this and other plant species have been given many names – among them: ice ribbons, ice flowers, ice fringes, ice fingers, ice filaments, ice leaves, frost flowers, frost ribbons, frost freaks, frost beards, frost castles (Forrest M. Mims III http://www.forrestmims.org/gallery.html), crystallofolia (coined by Bob Harms at The University of Texas), rabbit ice and rabbit butter.”

Frostweed after Frost!

Frostweed after Frost!

There is one important fact to remember if you plant frostweed in your garden.  Not only is the “frost” part of its name representative of one of its important characteristics, but the “weed” part is too.  Just be careful, it will reseed freely—and probably in amended soils will spread rapidly by underground rhizomes.  I have my frostweed growing at home in un-amended black gumbo clay soil under the shade of a huge cedar elm.  I am also very careful to immediately cut off any flowers that are going to seed, bag them, and put them in the trash (not the compost pile).  Doing this I have never had problems with frostweed’s being an uncontrollable “weed.”

So, think about doing your part to help the Monarch “fuel up” for their long journey to Mexico.  Frostweed is a great plant for the Monarchs—but just take some extra precautions so it doesn’t become a “weed.”

Carolyn

 

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