Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Tagged Monarch butterfly

It has been a rather quiet fall migration in the local Wounded Wetlands. Resident birds, such as this male Northern Cardinal, seem to be stealing the spotlight:

 Northern Cardinal male 04-20181104

A White-eyed Vireo was feeding on Lantana berries and approached so closely to my secluded "sit-spot" that I could barely fit it into my viewfinder:

White-eyed Vireo 02-20181108

It suddenly detected my presence. One look and it fled:

White-eyed Vireo 01-20181108

A vigilant Northern Mockingbird kept me in sight:

Northern Mockingbird 02-20181109

Monarch butterflies are attracted to Lantana blossoms:

 Monarch butterfly on Lantana 01-20180210

On October 25 the Hunter's Moon was setting across the lake as I was birding in that patch of Lantana...

Hunter's Moon over Pine Bank 20181025

...and was amazed to find a Monarch butterfly wearing a numbered tag:

Monarch butterfly tagged 20181025

This led me to call the telephone number on the tag. The call opened a whole new world of knowledge about the ecology of this species. Of course I knew that Monarchs migrate south in the fall to gather in huge winter swarms and then progress northward in a multi-generational spring migration. I will not forget the cloud of these butterflies which, one autumn in the 1970s, surrounded the windows of my 17th floor office in downtown Dallas, Texas.

Texas serves as a geographic "funnel" which concentrates the southbound Monarchs on their way to overwinter in Mexico in huge aggregations. Some also stream down the east coast through Florida. Western populations may end their journey in California. What I learned when I placed that call to report the tagged butterfly was that the Monarchs of south Florida are non-migratory, and that well-intended human activity to help them may have adverse effects. The key is their dependence upon Milkweed.

Generally, the northbound Monarchs progressively follow the sprouting of Milkweed, and 3-5 successive generations may be produced during spring and summer. Their progeny fly to the northern US and southern Canada, compensating for the relatively short life span of the individual insects. Those which move into frigid climes may be doomed to freeze, but those who approach winter under milder conditions build up body fat, stop breeding, and turn around to migrate south nonstop to distant wintering grounds. In the meantime, the native Milkweed dies back, not to re-emerge until the next spring.

My photos of native Milkweed were taken in northeastern Illinois-- Monarch on common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca):

Monarch over Common Milkweed 20160627

Monarch on Common Milkweed 20160627

Milkweed patch:

Common Milkweed Jones Meadow HDR 20160628

Closeup of Common Milkweed flower:

Common Milkweed flower closeup 20130707

Green milkweed pods:

Milkweed pods 20150825

Dried up milkweed pods in late autumn:

Milkweed Pod 20090424

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a species of milkweed native to eastern North America:

Butterfly Weed 20150706

Since Monarchs depend upon Milkweed as a host plant for their eggs and caterpillars, their numbers are adversely affected by widespread conversion of land into cultivation and housing developments. Farmers certainly do not want this "weed" among their crops, and suburbanites do not regard them as attractive foundation plantings. Powerful herbicides target them.

Conservationists urge people to plant Milkweed for the Monarchs, and many people do this. So here's  the paradox-- the easiest and most accessible nursery-grown Milkweed in southern US is non-native Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). It blooms all year and is an attractive garden plant. Monarchs love it. However, it serves as the reservoir for a parasitic disease which is nearly confined to a single butterfly species (related Queen butterflies may also become infected to some extent).


Queen Butterfly on Shepherd's Needle (Bidens alba):

Queen butterfly on Bidens alba 02-20180813

Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE for short) is an amoeba that invades the cells of Monarchs. They ingest their spores as larvae while feeding on Milkweed leaves. Tropical Milkweed is like a restaurant which never sweeps up its tables or launders the tablecloths.


Monarch caterpillars eat the OE spores which emerge through their skin after they undergo metamorphosis into adult butterflies. In turn, the adults visit to lay their eggs, each of which may be covered with many spores.The leaves, which are not renewed each season as are those of native Milkweed, concentrate the spores as multiple generations of Monarchs visit and reproduce on them.

OE has adverse effects on the health of some Monarchs, weakening them, causing wing deformities, smaller size and often premature death. There is some dispute as to whether the overall population benefits
from the greater availability of Tropical Milkweed, thus outweighing the adverse health effects on some individual butterflies.

My tagged butterfly was one of the subjects of a study of the south Florida population which has lost the instinct to migrate, This probably evolved because Florida has native Milkweed species which are available all year round.


Researchers raise the caterpillars and sample the emergent adult Monarchs for the presence of OE spores before tagging and releasing them. Recaptured adults are also tested. A strip of sticky tape is touched to their bodies, providing an indicator of the presence and number of spores. Field reports, like mine, are compiled to gauge their longevity and wanderings. 

Monarch butterfly tagged 2-20181025

This week I received a call from the person who raised and released my tagged Monarch on October 12, thirteen days previously. She lives only about two miles east of our home. Interestingly, she raises her caterpillars on Tropical Milkweed and must bring the newly emerged ones inside to protect them from hungry exotic Curly-tailed Lizards until they build up enough toxin from the milkweed to make them repulsive to the reptiles.

Curly-tailed Lizard near our home:

 Curly-tailed Lizard 01-20180715

Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica):
Photo by Pablo Leautard protected by copyright under the FLICKR Creative Commons license. (You may share it for non-commercial educational or non-profit purposes with attribution to owner.)


Asclepias curassavica

References:

Project Monarch Health is a citizen science project based at the University of Georgia in which volunteers from across North America sample wild monarch butterflies to help track the spread of the OE protozoan pathogen over space and time.

Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires- It started with the best of intentions. When evidence emerged that monarch butterflies were losing the milkweed they depend on due to the spread of herbicide-resistant crops in the United States, people across the country took action, planting milkweed in their own gardens. But a new paper shows that well-meaning gardeners might actually be endangering the butterflies’ iconic migration to Mexico.


What is OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha)? Why am I seeing adult monarchs with deformed wings?

Save our Monarchs -- Plant Native Milkweed


Fact Sheet about Tropical Milkweed and OE -- With a note about the non-migratory population in south Florida

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

________________________________________________

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

________________________________________________

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Under the Hunter's Moon

During the last week of October the full Hunter's Moon brightened the predawn sky as we walked out into the Wounded Wetlands. These photos were taken during the 30 minutes before it set into the lake:

 Hunter's Moon setting 05-20181024

Hunter's Moon setting 01-20181024

Hunter's Moon setting 07-20181024

The next morning before sunrise the Moon was higher in the sky:

Hunter's Moon over lakeside marsh 20181025

The pink clouds provided a pleasant background for a Great Egret as it preened on a lakeside treetop:

Great Egret pink sky 05-20181026

Great Egret pink sky 04-20181026

Later in the morning, this may have been the same egret out on the lake:

Great Egret 07-20181026

Nearby, an immature Red-shouldered hawk allowed me to approach rather closely before flying off:

Red-shouldered Hawk immature 01-20181026

Red-shouldered Hawk immature 03-20181026

Red-shouldered Hawk immature 05-20181026

This White-tailed Deer buck is safe under the Hunter's Moon, as no hunting is permitted inside our city limits. He has a very black face. I do not know whether this is a regional variation or just a random occurrence:

White-tailed Deer buck 03-20181022

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in first year fall plumage appeared in the fruiting Ligustrum:

 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 01-20181018

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 03-20181018

A Black-throated Blue Warbler had to stretch for some berries:

Black-throated Blue Warbler 04-20181018

Black-throated Blue Warbler 01-20181018

I missed a photo of a male Painted Bunting, but this female was quite beautiful:

Painted Bunting 05-20181018

I captured her as she launched into flight:

Painted Bunting 04-20181018

A Brown Thrasher stared at me with fiery yellow eyes:

Brown Thrasher 03-20181022

A Great Egret in final descent for a landing extended its neck. Reminds me of a flying arrow:

Great Egret descending 03-20181020

Great Egret descending 04-20181020

Putting on the air brakes:

Great Egret descending 01-20181020

Sunrise over "Sundial Alley" on October 23:


 Sunrise at sundial Alley 20181023

A Green Heron in the rookery:

Green Heron male 02-20181021

A young Raccoon crept up and seemed to think I did not see it:

Raccoon 20181019



Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia

________________________________________________

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

________________________________________________

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Crops & Clips: Flashback to November, 2015

As I have been doing every month, it's time to look back on events of three years ago, helping to know what to expect out on the Wounded Wetlands as the seasons change from wet to dry (unless El NiƱo has his way). I will look for favorite memes among nearly 800 photos I processed that month-- critters of all kinds, fences, skies, reflections, and those scenes which need no description.

During November, 2015 we stayed put in south Florida. One of our favorite species had returned to spend the winter. On November 1,  a male Painted Bunting posed very nicely in a  Brazilian Pepper. The leaves and berries accented the many colors of his coat:

Painted Bunting 3-20151102

A female Painted Bunting was beautiful in her own right:

Painted Bunting female 20151101

That same day I was treated to a Giant Swallowtail which paused for a sip of nectar from a Lantana blossom:

Giant Swallowtail original  20151101

A Gulf Fritillary also enjoyed the Lantana...

Guolf Fritillary 20151104

...as did a Long-tailed Skipper:

Long-tailed Skipper 20151103

Ovenbirds had recently arrived:

Ovenbird 3-20151103

Black-throated Green Warblers moved though on their way to the Tropics:

Black-throated Green Warbler 20151103

Wilson's Warblers were also passing by:

Wilson's Warbler 20151101

An Eastern Phoebe will plan to stay here for the winter...

Eastern Phoebe 20151108

...along with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 20151105

...as will the Swamp Sparrow...

Swamp Sparrow 02-20151123

...and an American Kestrel, perched atop a Royal Palm spire:

American Kestrel 5-20151127

Palm Warblers will be abundant here all winter-- some call them "Florida Sparrows:"

Palm Warbler 2-20151127

We had a few thunderstorms. This one was brewing in front of the morning sun:

Cumulus cloud HDR 20151109

Most mornings were still. Here the rays of the rising sun were mirrored over the lake on the opposite horizon:

Mirrored sunrise over lake HDR 20151103

Flowers fourished as the temperature moderated. Red Ixora bloomed alongside the entrance gate to our subdivision:

Monaco Cove entry HDR 20151106

In the rookery, we hoped that this Black-crowned Night-Heron would nest this season:

Black-crowned Night-Heron 20151108

As breeding season approaches, this Yellow-crowned Night Heron will grow plumes and take on a golden hairdo:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron dirty crown 20151108

At nearby Markham Park, we enjoyed the visit of a wandering tanager from the Caribbean,  a Western Spindalis:

Western Spindalis 3-20151130

Western Spindalis 2-20151130

The Spot-breasted Oriole was associated with the vagrant Spindalis. A new species for me, it is only found in a few selected localities:

Spot-breasted Oriole 20151130



= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

 Linking to Fences Around the World by Gosia

________________________________________________

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

________________________________________________