Kate's Blog

Feb 15

Btk spray for Spongy Moth kills other butterflies, moths and imperils nestlings

I don’t know where the myth arose that there are no native butterflies or moths out and about in our area in late May and early June, and that this is a time an aerial spraying of the pesticide Btk to knock back the Spongy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar or LDD) can occur without adverse effect on other caterpillars.

Because, it’s said, they’re not around.

But they are.

Late May and early June is precisely when I and a group of naturalist friends share our photographs of the arrival of our first Monarch, the charismatic butterfly we’re all waiting to welcome as it ends its arduous migration from its Mexican wintering grounds.

We might or might not share our sightings of the other species that are flitting around, but sometimes they impose themselves on our consciousness. I remember one year when there was an explosion of Red Admirals, so many I worried about the numbers smashing against the car as I drove down the highway. Googling back, I found the news stories from May, 2012.

So, what is around us in spring? For an answer, I went to two sources. The first is the Toronto Entomologists’ Association’s online records, which can be narrowed down to Simcoe County. I didn't use the earliest date, rather the one after the earliest 10 per cent of the records have been discarded - to eliminate outliers.The second, to be more specific to North Simcoe, are the first sightings recorded by Victoria Harbour naturalist Jim Charlebois up to the end of May. TEA is the first date in parenthesis, Charlebois the second:

Red Admiral (April 27, May 11), American Lady (May 2), Northern Azure (May 5, June 5); Silvery Blue (May 29, May 22), Eastern Tailed Blue (May 24, May 22), Common Ringlet (June 7, May 24), Monarch (June 14, May 24), Viceroy (June 14, June 6), Northern Crescent (June 17, May 16), Clouded Sulphur (July 1, May 24), Pearl Crescent (June 17, May 23).
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Dec 21

Moving forward to a bright and balanced future

We are Nature’s Best Hope.

And that, says Doug Tallamy, is wonderful, encouraging and exciting.

Tallamy teaches entomology (the study of insects) at the University of Delaware. In his research, he has documented the stunning decline of insect populations across the planet as humans eliminate their habitat and food sources and attack them with weapons of mass destruction.

But in his latest book, Nature’s Best Hope - A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Back Yard, Tallamy is confident that we as a species can repair the harm we’ve done and move forward to a bright and balanced future.

If you’re a gardener and haven’t yet read this book, you will love it. If you’re a novice and are wondering what to do on any piece of ground you may have access to, you will find this easy to read and an illuminating window into what’s going on around you.

A balding bespectacled professor with a subversive sense of humour, Tallamy has achieved cult status in the gardening world. A few years ago, author and horticultural activist Lorraine Johnson introduced him as a “rock star” to an enthusiastic audience at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. He was unfazed.

And he’s unfazed by the task we face in rebuilding the broken food web connections, from the below-ground mycorrhizal networks to the life-giving balance of gases in the atmosphere.

“Don’t worry about the planet,” he says. “That will drive you crazy.”

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Dec 9

Year of crisis for Monarch butterflies 

The horse I rode up the Perro Celón mountain last year to see the Monarch butterflies won’t be carrying tourists this year. That’s because the butterfly sanctuary there has been closed as a precaution against COVID-19.

This year, the horse - like the one shown below (*see correction) - may be employed dragging logs down the steep rocky slopes. The trees are the Oyamel pines that create the cool and moist microclimate that provides safe conditions for the butterflies to overwinter in a state of diapause (dormancy).

But this year, the Monarch migration is at a perilous point with desperately poor communities turning to extraction from the forest for survival as jobs are lost in the COVID crisis.

I travelled over 4,600 kilometres south last year, the same distance this tiny insect flies every fall to return to the same colony site, often to the same tree that an ancestor left in the spring, five generations ago. To see the butterflies cloaking the trees in massive roosts and spread across the sky in dense clouds was truly magical.
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