Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture.
Gratifully, up to now, Pollination has been a very bee-centric show, and I've been looking to change that. So I was very excited at the opportunity to meet up with Allison Center, who is the president of the Oregon chapter of the North American Butterfly Association based down the road in Eugene, Oregon. The North American Butterfly Association is the largest group of people in North America interested in butterflies.
It was formed in 1992 and it's active with programs in butterfly conservation, as well as some of the activities highlighted in this show, specifically education, monitoring, and gardening. Now, Allison's worked as wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, and she volunteers on the coast fork will am at Watershed Council's technical team. Allison is a real generous volunteer in other respects. She's been helping us here at the Oregon State Arthropod Collection, where she's been helping us sort through some of our bees. But today, she was generous enough to come give me a basic education on butterflies. As you'll hear in this episode, we have a future program coming up on Monarch specifically.
So hopefully you enjoy this branching out into other pollinators episode of Pollination. All right. Hi, everybody. Welcome to Pollination and I'm sitting across from Allison from the North American Butterfly Association and you've got a great t-shirt. Describe your t-shirt. What am I looking at?
Speaker 2: Well, this t-shirt is one that was created for our local NABA group in the Oregon group and it has a Ackman blue butterfly on it. Wow. And as well, it has the host plant and a picture of the caterpillar. Where's the caterpillar?
Speaker 1: Oh, there it is.
Speaker 2: And these particular butterflies, the caterpillars have ants with them. The ants are protecting the caterpillars and then they also stroke them and get a little honeydew like milking a cow.
So it's a little, a lot of these blues have this ant relationship and then they hope that the ants will bite any parasitic wasp that come and try to lay eggs on the caterpillar.
Speaker 1: And you can see the answer on there. That is a beautiful and it's for the Eugene Springfield chapter. Yes.
Speaker 2: That's in our website says Eugene Springfield, but we realized we were the only official chapter in Oregon, so we've upgraded ourselves to NABA Oregon.
Speaker 1: As it should be. But it is a really stunning t-shirt. I just had to comment on it and listeners, that's one of the things as listeners on a podcast, you just don't get the full experience. But welcome to Pollination. And I think it's no secret. Everybody knows on the show, I'm very B centric. I don't know very much about butterflies. I was really excited to get you here today. But the one thing that, you know, I imagine for some of us, me included, I'm a little intimidated by butterflies.
I can see them flying by, but I don't know anything about them. Can you just give us a little, you know, how do you, you know, someone like me, how do you start? Like, what are some of the first steps? People like me to becoming an amateur Lepidopterist, or what are some of the kind of obstacles that people frequently encounter when they're trying to learn their butterflies?
Speaker 2: Well, the first step is to be interested and curious about butterflies and just to start noticing them. And then where does your interest lie? Would you like to know more about their natural history? Do you want to see more of them in your yard? Are you a birder with a great life list and you want something new? So now you're going to move on to butterflies.
Speaker 1: I'm all three, except not the burger. I'm a bee person who has a list.
Speaker 2: And actually, you can do both birding and butterflies. I was at an event last year that was a bird walk. And then as the bird started settling down, when the sun came out and got warm, the butterflies came out. So I just stayed. So my two hour bird walk turned into a five hour combination walk.
Okay. So to get started, you can go on field trips with groups like Naba. We have free field trips. We also do counts where we count everything we see. I'll talk more about that later. Okay. And also go to talks about gardening for wildlife and butterflies.
Speaker 1: Oh, yeah, of course. I always think about gardening for bees, but before gardening for bees, they're gardening for butterflies was there a long time. People have been thinking about it for a long time.
Speaker 2: And actually, I think if you garden for butterflies, you are gardening for bees. Yay. There's a few plants that might not be as attractive to butterflies that bees love. Like bee balm. I found out hummingbirds love that too. But most plants both like, both can get the nectar from and the pollen from. So that's how I actually started getting interested in bees is I started noticing all kinds of little bees that I'd never thought about before on my butterfly flowers.
Speaker 1: We're going in opposite directions, you and I. Yes. Okay. All right, but I'm still intimidated. Give me some steps here. Okay.
Speaker 2: Well, first of all, you might run out and pick up a book, a field guide. And if you pick up one for all of North America or a regional guide, those are good, but you're going to see a huge amount of butterflies in them.
Speaker 1: Oh, so if I got like the Western butterflies of North America, I would be scared. There'd be so many variations.
Speaker 2: Yes, you could be, especially some types like some of the blues, some of the fritillaries, look very similar. And so you'll have a page of maybe 20 butterflies that all look really the same. So what I usually advise, and I advise people new to birding also, is to get that regional guide, but also get a little pocket guide. So our Nava group actually produces a little pocket guide called butterflies of Lane County has 85 of the most likely species, but it's good for the whole Willamette Valley. And I even gave my dad, who lives up in Puget Sound 1, because it covers most of the butterflies that you'd see west of the Cascades.
Speaker 1: So you're kind of cutting down all that extra stuff. You're really kind of, it allows you as a beginner to focus in on the things that you would see, rather than something you find in Mexico or something.
Speaker 2: Right. So say you see a little brown butterfly with a little antenna off the end, it's probably a type of hair streak. And instead of looking at the Western book and trying to figure out from 20 hair streaks, you can look at this regional guide where I think we have three or four of that color.
Speaker 1: Way easier. Okay. Yes.
Speaker 2: Okay. We also have a matrix that we give out to people. And the matrix has a large, medium, and small along the top, and then colors along the side. So orange, yellow, white, blue, brown. And you can really then narrow down what it might be. So for example, if you saw a large butterfly and it was orange, there's a good chance it's a monarch. Now, if you're a little bit up in the Cascades, it could also be a great spangled fritillary. But you're down to two butterflies. Okay.
Speaker 1: That's a lot easier. Yes.
Speaker 2: And if you see a large yellow butterfly, it's probably a kind of swallowtail. And we have quite a few swallowtails, but they do have distinguishing marks. So you can start looking at it closer and then figure out what it might be.
Speaker 1: I remember you were saying sometimes people think all big dark-celled butterflies are monarchs and this yellow-orange thing can help you out if you're a beginner like me. Yes.
Speaker 2: So if it looks yellow, it's the swallowtail. Okay. And if it looks orange, then there's a good chance you have a monarch. That's awesome. Another thing with this matrix is, say it's a medium-sized butterfly and it's yellow, and it's flying really fast, then it's probably a sulfur.
Okay. But if you see one that's maybe tan or coral looking and it's flying really slow in tall grass, then it's probably a common or ochre ringlet. And when I started and people said, you can tell species by their flight patterns, I thought, no way. But it's true. There's some butterflies that have a real distinctive kind of loopy, just hanging out sort of flight. And others that are definitely trying to get somewhere. Okay.
Speaker 1: So this is actually, maybe my intimidation is not well-founded because it sounds almost easier to go to species with butterflies than it is with native bees.
Speaker 2: Well, it can depend on the group. I think it is, but there are some groups, some of the fritillaries, some of the blues, where if you can get it to that stage, that's good. And you shouldn't despair about that because some of these species look so similar that the only way LEP adopters know what they are is by doing a dissection. Okay.
Speaker 1: Oh, really? Okay.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Well, that's something probably most people don't want to do, probably out there to enjoy the butterflies. So you can just say, oh, well, it's in this family group.
Speaker 1: Right. Okay. How do I find the matrix, the Navma matrix?
Speaker 2: Well, if you stop by one of our booths, or I think you can, there's contact information on the website and we could get it to you. I don't know if it's on the website or not, but we pass it out at our information booths.
Okay, great. And you can usually find us at, say the Mt. Pisco Wildflower Show or some of the Master Gardener events. We'll have a booth there. And I think we're also often at the Hardy Plant Society and at some Earth Day events. Okay.
Speaker 1: So Navva Oregon has all sorts of great tools. And one of this is Butterflies of Lane County Book. We'll have links to all of these, the Navva website and some of these resources on the show notes. But tell me a little bit more about Navva. Like how else and what are some of the other activities that Navva puts on to sort of help someone like myself get up to speed with butterflies?
Speaker 2: Well, Navva is the North American Butterfly Association. And so it is all of North America. There are groups in Mexico and Canada also, as well as the US. It's a nonprofit membership association that focuses on butterflies. And their mission is to educate the public about the importance of conserving butterflies and butterfly habitat.
And they have extensive butterfly monitoring programs. Oh, really? So where Audubon has the Christmas bird count, Navva has the 4th of July count. Oh, great. Because our butterflies are not out in the winter.
And actually in Oregon, our Eugene group sponsors two of those counts, but there are quite a variety of other counts around the state where folks who are live too far away to regularly come to Navva meetings in Eugene, but they still put on these counts and will have some of our people go over and help them and they'll often come over to Eugene and help us. Okay.
Speaker 1: So 4th of July, I want to go and I want to go with some really good butterfly people. And I'm in the Eugene area. What do I, is it just in town or you go to a special place? How does it work?
Speaker 2: Yeah, it'll be listed on the website. Last year we actually did it on the 4th of July, but usually it's somewhere sometime in July, but are two, similar to the Christmas bird counts you do a central point and then a 15 mile radius. So we have one around Eugene that goes to the Mount Pisca Arboretum, the West Eugene wetlands, Spencer Butte, and a few other places. And then we have another one that goes up by Blue River up into the Cascades in the Willamette National Forest.
Oh, wow. Because there are butterflies that are more mountain butterflies and you won't see them in the valley. And then there's valley butterflies that won't be up in the mountains.
Speaker 1: So if I show up for the count and I very well might, I would be paired up with somebody and we go driving around looking for butterflies?
Speaker 2: Yes, we go in little groups. So we usually meet at the Campbell Senior Center in Eugene and then however many people we have will break up into teams and people can choose where they want to go. So you would be with maybe one or two people, maybe a little group of 10 people just depending on people's wants. We've noticed that the West Eugene wetlands tends to be where most people want to go.
Only a few people. Go to some of the other places. And then we'll help you learn your butterflies.
It's great to have people there of all abilities. A lot of people learn just by being good spotters. So while the person in the know might be really staring at a butterfly through binoculars, another person can be going, wait, look over there, look behind you. And so you don't miss something going by. And then sometimes we get lip adopters to some of the people who've actually written some of these field guides to go out with us. And then that's always a lot of fun. We learn a lot from that also.
Speaker 1: And workshops and other kinds of events apart from the field days? Yes.
Speaker 2: In the winter we have four meetings in October, December, February and April. And the meetings are free. We have some refreshments. And then we have a talk. And the speakers, usually it's on butterflies, but we'll learn different things about them. You know, it could be ecology, could be about physiology. One time we learned about how some butterflies can see into the deep red wavelength beyond what humans can see. And sometimes it's about bees. And I believe you're going to be joining us in April to give the time.
Speaker 1: I am really excited. I'm going to, I feel rather intimidated being in front of, not knowing that much about butterflies, but I'm really looking forward to hanging out with Nab a little bit more. This is going to be a lot of fun. Yeah.
Speaker 2: I think it'll be fun too. Last year we also had 1B talk. So people will be primed.
Speaker 1: Well, let's take a little break. And when we come back, I want you to, Allison, if you can, give me a little bit of a crash course on butterflies and some of their biology and how they interact with plants. So let's take a break and my butterfly lesson will continue. All right, guests, we're back. Now, obviously butterflies are important pollinators, but unlike bees, they also depend on plant herbivory for their larval development. Can you walk us through some of the general relationships between butterflies and plants and some of the kind of neat and peculiar things about that relationship, those relationships?
Speaker 2: Okay, but before we go there, we probably need to think about Moz. Oh, right. Because Moz have been in existence for about 200 million years, according to a new study. And that first original genus, there still seem to be Moz that exist.
Oh, really? That are kind of simple wings and do pollination. And some think that the Moz and butterflies, the Lepidoptera, is the group that they evolved along with flowering plants. They're approximately 160,000 species of Moz across the globe, and they vary from the little tiny ones.
Speaker 1: How tiny? Well, I think really tiny, but the smallest ones I've seen and you might have too are those ones that get in your cereal and the cupboard or into your sweaters. Hopefully our listeners aren't having breakfast right now.
Speaker 2: Keep going. But those Moz are actually more different than some of the day flying Moz that pollinate than the day flying Moz are from butterflies. So in a way, butterflies are kind of a type of moth.
Speaker 1: Okay. I apologize for my omission. I am new here.
Speaker 2: Well, there's about 20,000 butterfly species worldwide with 725 species in North America. Okay. All right. And another thing about some of these Moz, we often get asked about those really cute woolly bear caterpillars that you might see in the fall and the spring and their ability to predict the winter by the width of the orange versus the black stripes. Yeah. Is this true? I don't know.
It's out of measuring and seeing if that part's true. But the woolly bear caterpillar becomes the Isabella moth and it's a kind of tiger moth. And I've never seen a live one. I finally looked at one in a collection just to see what they looked like. But so that's my goal to try to find a live Isabella moth.
Speaker 1: Well, they're clearly out there because they're making these caterpillars.
Speaker 2: Yes. Yeah. Which are. What are they? I know. Some of the Moz are real specialist pollinators. Mm-hmm. Where butterflies tend to be generalists.
Speaker 1: Oh, they are. They'll nectar anywhere they can get into. Yes.
Speaker 2: Ah, okay. One way you can tell, some of the plants that prefer Moz or that also take advantage of Moz are if they are white, so they kind of stand out in the moonlight and give off a nice scent in the evening. So things like jasmine, some honeysuckles.
Uh-huh. And we were talking earlier how some honeysuckle plants seem to try to attract everybody. So they'll have pale yellow and white flowers and during the day you'll see all kinds of different bees on them and hummingbirds visiting them, maybe some butterflies. But then at night they smell really good. And although I haven't gone out to look, I have seen some hawk moths on my porch and they are one butterfly that would take advantage of that. Oh, okay. Some of the hawk moths have longer tongues or longer proboscis than their wingspan. Uh-huh.
Speaker 1: And in fact- Really? Yeah. Wow. Well, how, where does all that tongue go?
Speaker 2: Well, I think they roll it up.
Speaker 1: They roll it up.
Speaker 2: Okay, this is cool. I love it. And even Charles Darwin was sent some orchids and one of the orchid had I think it was around a 30 centimeter long nectaree.
Speaker 1: I've seen- Is that what you call that? I remember he sent it to Hooker at the Cue Gardens and said, I think there's a moth. No, no, no, he didn't say the moth. The pollinator's got to have a tongue this long. Yes.
Speaker 2: And the orchid was from Madagascar. Right, right, right, yeah. And then in 1907, the early 1900s, they actually found a Congo moth that had that length, but it was there in Africa, not in Madagascar. And it took until the 1990s when they actually saw that moth nectaring at that orchid.
Speaker 1: We were talking about this before and the thing that I met with bees, we just had a workshop, we were working with one of the bee atlas groups up in North Willamette and they, you know, we said, oh, you know, when you're going out and you're collecting your bees, make sure to match them up with the flower and keep those records. But I imagine with moths, that's really hard because it's dark.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that can be true. Now there are some day moths. One of them, the cinnabar moth, a lot of people think is a butterfly and that's that really pretty red and black moth you see flying in the day. And that is here as a bio control for the tansy ragwort. And if you look at the tansy, you'll see the yellow and black striped caterpillars that are eating down that tansy and it tends to cycle. So it's never been able to wipe out the tansy, but they'll lower the population. But then the moth follows that cycle and so tansy will start to regain and then the moth population will go up again.
Speaker 1: Oh yeah, this is a real success story for bio control.
Speaker 2: One thing though, why does it have that red and black color? Well, if you tansy is actually very toxic and that's one reason it's a noxious weed is it's very bad for livestock. I got you, okay. But the caterpillars figured out how to deal with the toxin and the butterfly incorporates it. So that red and black, it's a signal saying don't eat me or you'll be sorry. Because it has all of those toxins incorporated into it.
Speaker 1: I guess that's the thing with, you know, I was thinking about bees and butterflies. They both try to like not be eaten and bees sting, but butterflies taste bad. Yes.
Speaker 2: And not all do, but enough do that there's a lot of mimics. So you have the monarchs probably the most famous with the milkweed and then it has a mimic in the visoroi. Although they've lately found that that butterfly is not a total mimic that it actually, or I should say is not totally Batheesian. It actually has some of toxins itself because one of its host plants are willows, which is where we could get aspirin from. And so that although that might be a good drug for us in the right dose in a higher dose, it's not good to eat either.
Speaker 1: Okay. So just a quick, quick question here. This is really fascinating. So we don't have visoroi here. That's why you won't get confused with the monarch.
Speaker 2: That's true unless you go into Eastern Oregon. Oh.
Speaker 3: And then you come into Eastern Oregon.
Speaker 2: All right. But there are tricks. So if you look in your regional guide, you can see some tricks for telling them apart. Okay.
Speaker 1: So, all right. So the toxins are coming from the plants. They're picking them out of the plants. Oh, cool. Okay.
Speaker 2: Yes. And have you had a talk on the monarch way stations?
Speaker 1: Next week we are. Next week, all right. Dear listeners, listen next week we're going to be talking about monarch way stations. So then you'll hear all about monarchs and milkweed. I wanted to bring up one other moth that has a really interesting symbiotic relationship. It's the yucca moth and the yucca plant. So the yucca plant, the pistol or female part of each flower ends in a three lobed stigma. Okay. And in order for pollination to occur, masses of pollen must be forced down the central stigmatic hole.
Speaker 1: Oh, kind of like, I don't know, pool. It's kind of like a mini golf, putting a little ball down the hole. Okay, gotcha. Yes. Okay.
Speaker 2: And the female yucca moth actually gathers pollen from the flower anthers using her specially adapted mouth parts. And she forms the sticky pollen into a ball. And then the ball is then stuffed or combed into the stigma of the various flowers.
Speaker 1: Okay. There's the putt. Okay. So it goes in, it goes through. Okay. All right.
Speaker 2: Without this process, the flower would not develop into the fruit or how seeds.
Speaker 1: Oh, so it's kind of like, not like a regular flower where the stigma surface is like, you got to just put the pollen on the pad. You got to like put it down.
Speaker 2: Now, wow, that's complicated. Yeah, like the miniature golf. And then kind of as a reward, the plant provides a flower base where the female, the moth can lay her eggs and the caterpillar can grow up inside the plant. And be protected from things trying to eat it.
Speaker 1: Oh, but it's eating inside there.
Speaker 2: It's eating inside there, but the plant must have, well, not that a plant would decide, but it's come to terms with this trade-off, that it has better success, has more seeds, and it's worth it to lose some of the plant to be eaten.
Speaker 1: Well, you know, again, this is like me might be centricism. I'm so apologetic for it. We think about rewards in terms of nectar, like one reward, but plants can offer insects all sorts of rewards for coming and doing some pollination. Yes, that is true. Yeah, okay. All right. Okay. Anything else I need to know about? You have anything else to sort of teach me on the plants in Lepidoptera?
Speaker 2: Well, for butterflies, we could just review the natural history quickly. Okay.
Speaker 1: Quickly. That'd be very helpful.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Okay. So the female butterfly will lay eggs, we'll start there. Okay. And depending on the butterfly and the plant, she might lay a cluster on one plant, or some butterflies lay only one egg on each plant. Okay.
Speaker 1: I've seen some of these clusters that look like they're just beautiful. Yeah.
Speaker 2: Okay. And they try to hide them, I think. Okay. Because everything seems to like to eat, well, especially the caterpillars. Okay. When the caterpillars hatch, they go through what's called instars, or four or five molts. And actually, they might look different. Like some butterflies, the early instars, might look like bird droppings. And then when they get bigger, they might change and look like something else.
Speaker 1: Oh, so you can't just, you see one color, you know, this is getting harder now.
Speaker 2: Well, it is with the caterpillars. And there are some books out there that show you every instar. Okay. And so if you get into caterpillars, you can figure them out. A side note for those birders out there, people with bird feeders, if you've ever wondered why you have so many chickadees in the winter, but then they don't show up at the feeder in the summer, they actually switch their diet to caterpillars. And that's what the baby chickadees grow up on. And so to have a lot of birds around, you need a lot of shrubs that caterpillars like.
Speaker 1: Oh yeah, of course. Okay.
Speaker 2: So once you get to the biggest in star, it will then pupate and for butterflies, we usually call that a chrysalis and mazik cocoon.
Speaker 1: So that's that kind of hard thing is just silk. Like that hard, when I've held one in my hand, it's like it's firm to touch. Yeah.
Speaker 2: And one time I had some aniswallow tails that came in on a bunch of dill that I bought at the farmer's market. Oh wow. And so we just kept them in the house and kept buying them dill and watch the whole process. And what was kind of fascinating to me was the last in star, in this case, it didn't spin anything like a moth might spin, especially a silk moth where you get silk, we'll spin that cocoon. But in this case, it split its final skin and there it was, the chrysalis was underneath it.
Speaker 1: Really? Yeah. So somehow it had formed that under that skin. Okay. So we've got these chrysalis that are undergoing development. Do they, do any of the, do you gotta finish their development? They don't winter like that.
Speaker 2: Well, what's interesting is butterflies don't have just one strategy for wintering. And I just learned this this year. Some of them will winter as an egg. Some will winter as a caterpillar. So for example, one of the dusky wings that's host plant are oak trees will take an oak leaf and make itself a little tent. And it'll be down there in the duff. So if you have a lot of oak leaves in your yard, you might think of not raking all of them up because that's where the caterpillar is. Gotcha. And not tell the spring will it pupate and then metamorphose into a butterfly. But then some do spend the winter as a chrysalis.
Speaker 1: And some might, I understand the real early ones, the ones we're gonna see first will winter as adults.
Speaker 2: That's true. Some bright orange ones that you might see are California tortoise shells. And one winter, my husband likes trucks. And so we have more than one ancient truck in our yard. I have to admit. And one spring was a nice sunny day. I look at this one red and white truck and flying around in the cab are four California tortoise shells.
Speaker 3: Really?
Speaker 2: Oh wow. I'm not sure how they got in there, but they overwintered in the truck cab. And I let them out and off they went.
Speaker 1: And they were like, hey, what's in the eight track? I know.
Speaker 2: Except I think this truck was even older.
Speaker 3: So I'm like, what's on the AM radio?
Speaker 1: Okay. Okay, so they come out and they can winter in various stages and then the next spring, off they go again.
Speaker 2: Yes, and there are a few, especially some of our northern ones, if you get up into Alaska, it might take them two or three years. So they might overwinter as caterpillars for a couple years. They also, and they'll hibernate as a caterpillar. They also might overwinter if they're the kind that overwinter as a chrysalis, they might do that for a few years. So it's kind of like hedging their bets on, they come out this year when it's so rainy or some of them will wait till the next year when maybe it's drier, like we've been experiencing here in the Willamette Valley this winter. It's been a lot drier than it was last year.
Speaker 1: Okay, stupid question. Do some of them migrate, all of them migrate? Is migration just typical? Is that a right question now?
Speaker 2: That's a good question. Because it goes from some of these early spring butterflies, like say the Fender's Blue butterfly that you might have heard is an endangered species in the Willamette Valley. They can't go very far. They're out in the spring and April and May when it's not that warm. They never, their bodies never warm up enough to really have enough energy to go very far.
So they might be restricted to a quarter mile and that's their whole life is within that. Then you go to the Monarch butterflies which have the big migration. So East Coast and Midwest, those that are East of the Rocky Mountains seem to be the ones who go to Mexico. The ones in Florida just stay in Florida. And then our West Coast butterflies, West of the Cascades go down to California to like Pacific Grove and Monterey and places like that. Interestingly, between the Cascades and the Rockies, those might do either. They might go to California and they might go to Mexico.
Speaker 1: So if you're in Central Oregon, it could go either way.
Speaker 2: That's what it looks like at this point.
Speaker 1: Interesting. All right.
Speaker 2: And then another butterfly, the painted lady, I heard a talk recently that they may be always migrating in that they come north, they're around the world. And so if they're in Africa, then they'll come all the way north into Europe and then all the way back south into Africa as the seasons change and they can fly across water. They can make it across oceans. And even early people climbing Everest and some of the other mountains in the Himalayas painted ladies fly by. And then here, I know, that's what I thought.
Speaker 3: And this researcher, he was and actually predicted which ones might get blown across from Africa to, I don't know if he was in Florida or one of the islands, but he was there on the beach and there they came, these very tired butterfly landing on the beach. In this hemisphere, they are not tropical forest butterfly. So actually the Amazon tropical forest is the boundary,
Speaker 2: but they'll cross the Gulf of Mexico. So they'll go down. So that's right now, this time of year, they would be in South America and then they'll head up into Canada. I don't know how far north they make it, but they're a pretty hardy butterfly.
Speaker 1: I'd say. So, okay, so that's kind of like the extreme example. When we look at the bulk of our butterflies in the state, how many of them are kind of having a more Fenders blue kind of life as opposed to a monarch kind of life?
Speaker 2: More of them are probably that way, probably not really migrators. There's some like the California tortoises shells that might start out in the mountains and come down to the valley. So you might have some of that, but the winners and the migration are probably those monarchs and painted ladies.
Speaker 1: Well, we are, as I mentioned, we are gonna be talking about monarchs and creating habitat and waystations. But can you tell us a little bit about, I remember someone saying, in the valley here with the Oaks of Ana system, there was good butterfly diversity and they had some specific host plants that were important to them. What are some of the plants that, we have a lot of gardeners listen to the show, might consider to really kind of attract some of these butterflies?
Speaker 2: Well, native plants are probably the best. And you can get plant list off of the NABA website.
Speaker 3: Oh, really? And we have both native plants listed there. I think some lists might even have some nursery name suggestions for where you can go. Good. We also list some non-native plants, but that still would be good. Some of the native plants are ones you might think of as weeds like thistles. There's some butterflies that like thistles. There's others like red admirals that like stinging nettles.
Oh, okay. And butterflies and I think bees too, like a messy yard. So what I tell people who are living in neighborhoods is maybe the front yard is tidy, but maybe you leave the backyard a little less clean depth so that you leave some of those stems for bees to use or you leave your leaves on the ground where caterpillars might be.
Speaker 1: You know, we had an episode with Gail Lungolato and she called that the garden mullet, that it's tidy on the front and in the back, you can let loose. Oh, that's a good name.
Speaker 2: Good way to think about it. Okay. Another thing is to try to span the whole summer. So if you start with some shrubs like Oregon grape, that's gonna be blooming first thing in the spring, that will really help these early bees and early butterflies. And then have plants that bloom throughout the summer and into the fall where you might have your asters. So the native would be the Douglas Aster, but other asters work too. I'm one of the best asters I had was given to me by a botanist and I should have been wary because she gave me all these plants that were spreaders. And so I had Aster everywhere, honeysuckle everywhere. Let's see, some other ones would be, Columbines are good in the spring.
Oh, okay. Some shrubs like Ocean Spray, some other flowers like Yarrow or Checker Mallow or Oregon Sunshine. All of those are good. Milkweed is gonna work for not just monarchs, but a lot of butterflies like that for nectar also.
Speaker 1: It sounds, you know, the list that's sort of developing here, it does actually serve all sorts of pollinators.
Speaker 2: Some other weeds, native weeds like wild mustards are good. And then we come to our probably most misunderstood little butterfly, the cabbage white butterfly. A lot of people think it's a moth.
I think they think it's a moth because they're not happy that it's eating their cabbages and broccoli and Brussels sprouts, but it's actually a butterfly. It is European. It's not displacing any of our natives. What's displaced are native whites, which their host plant, our mustards, is just the agriculture. And so these cabbage whites came along with the broccoli and cabbages and such. And that's why that might be the first butterfly you see in the spring. And the last one you see in the fall is because they're around with us.
Right, right, right, okay. If you really don't wanna share your vegetables with them, sometimes we suggest you just to plan a few extra. We recommend that you hand pick them off or cover them because if you use BT, which is advertised as organic and it is that basilis, they're in Gensis, is that how you say that? It's a gram positive soil dwelling bacterium, but it kills all caterpillars. So if your vegetable garden is next to your butterfly garden in your
Speaker 3: spring, you're sprinkling it down and you know for cabbage white moths, you're gonna kill everybody, all the caterpillars out there.
Speaker 1: All the listeners know I'm a terrible gardener, but I know if I put a floating row cover over my brassicas, they're good. Seems to work all the time.
Speaker 2: Yeah, and see, I'm the one who's like, oh cool, a caterpillar, eat it more.
Speaker 1: I need to eat the cabbages so I can go find more bees.
Speaker 2: Yeah, if you can't find native plants, some general garden plants that are good are mints and lavender, all those mint families. In fact, I grow this one mint that takes over this one spot, just for the gray hair streak because it loves to show up there and nectar on it. But you'll also see all kinds of bees and wasps.
It's like it's own little mint ecosystem. And when I've been watching them, I've even seen some bare-faced hornets come up and capture bees. And the strange thing, I don't know why they do this, but I've seen them tap different bees on the head, like duck goose, and then they'll pick one. I don't know what it is, but then they'll just grab one and fall to the ground and do it.
Speaker 1: You do need to get a video of this, I wanna see this. Listeners, as you're out on your mint, please keep your eye out for this behavior. I wanna see it.
Speaker 2: Another great nectar plant is the humble dandelion because it blooms all year. And so if you can tolerate some dandelions, and then I haven't tried this because I probably need to eat more greens than I do, but you can eat the leaves too, I understand.
Speaker 1: Oh, my dad, again, listeners, my dad has the funniest garden, it's just dandelions. He's in Greece, they just eat and boil dandelion leaves. So he plants, the only thing is in the garden is dandelions. And when you keep plucking the leaves, you get these massive leaves. They don't look like dandelions, they're crazy thing. Anyway, that's the only thing he grows in his garden.
Speaker 2: Wow. And does he have a lot of interesting bees and butterflies?
Speaker 1: No, cause it doesn't get that far. He's a very studious herbivore. Oh, okay.
Speaker 2: Let's see, a few other plants are flocks, hardy fuchsias and those asters. And then one that I've found works really well are zinnias. You can grow zinnias from seeds so you can stagger them. So you could have zinnias in summer, then you could have zinnias into October. And some of the little skippers really like that in the fall.
Speaker 1: Well, the nice thing with something like zinnias, and I know this from watching bumblebees on zinnias, there's so many little florets, they're there, and you can get a good picture of them cause they're kind of busy.
Speaker 2: That's true. In fact, when I think back to those bumblebees never sit still, but when they're on a zinnias, you can actually get a photo. It's easier to photograph butterflies than bees I've found.
Speaker 3: Okay.
Speaker 2: The other thing is if you're buying these plants at a nursery, make sure they don't have the neonictenoids in them, which is bad for bees, but I don't know for sure, but I don't think it could be healthy for any insect, cause I think that's its purpose is to be a pesticide.
Speaker 1: And the thing with some of them, the nitro group neonictenoids, is they do express themselves in nectar and pollen. So it's a general insecticide, so it will hurt butterflies as well for sure. Yeah.
Speaker 2: So that's a good point is that any kind of pesticide that's for insects is going to harm the butterflies too. So when you're doing your butterfly garden, remember that. Also when you plant host plants and they get eaten, that's why you planted them.
Speaker 1: So don't go, oh no, it's disappearing, but that's why it's there. Cause the host plant, which I'm trying to think if I explained, is what the caterpillar lives on and what it's going to eat. Whereas the nectar plants are for the adult butterflies. So when your milk weeds are being eaten up, it's success.
Speaker 2: Yes, cause the caterpillars, they might eat the flowers, but they're not really after the nectar, they're after the leaves and stems and such.
Speaker 1: Okay, great. That was a great round out. I think we got a lot of great ideas for our garden in the spring. Let's take a break and we're going to come back. I've got a couple of questions I want to ask you about book suggestions and things like that.
Speaker 2: Okay, well I can never suggest just one book.
Speaker 1: Oh, okay, prepare yourselves listeners. Here we go. Okay, we're back and as Allison threatened, she's got multiple books. I could see them right across the table for me. Allison, what are these books that you brought in?
Speaker 2: Well, when was our own little butterflies of Lane County pocket guide, which you can get through the website or at one of our booth events or at down to earth stores in Eugene.
Speaker 1: And it's nice. It's like a really good field guide. It's got easy to flip through. You can fit it in your pocket and I can just see here it has like nice arrows to the really distinguishing features. So you pick it up quick.
Speaker 2: Yes, and it tells you about host plants, a little bit of information about the butterflies. Oh yeah, it does. And you really can fit it in your pocket. I have tried this out. But one of the books I'd like to suggest is by Robert Michael Pyle. He's also written an in-depth field guide called The Butterflies of Cascadia, but the book that I wanted to suggest is called Chasing Monarchs. And it's a firsthand account about being a lepidopterist doing field research. It's part natural history, some human history, travelogue and philosophy.
Philosophy, oh yeah. Yes, and what he was doing was he was in that zone between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains. He started in Eastern Washington. And then he watched for monarchs and took a compass bearing on which way they were flying. And then he would drive to the next spot that he thought was kind of along that compass bearing. That's cool. And he just kept going.
Speaker 1: Oh yeah, I can see it. So the chapters are, it begins in the Similcomene in British Columbia. And then the next chapter is the Okanagan. And then the shoot John Day is chapter six.
Speaker 2: Yes, so you get to follow all the way down and find out where those butterflies were going.
Speaker 1: I'm definitely gonna get a copy of this. This is great. Okay, but you have another book.
Speaker 2: I have another book. It is written by Peter Laffer. It's called The Dangerous World of Butterflies. He is a professor at the University of Oregon and also a journalist and has written quite a few books from war zones and things like that. And so somebody asked him on a book tour what it would his next book be about. And he was so tired of war, he just said, oh, butterflies, not being entirely serious. But then people started to email him and call him up. And he realized what an interesting world it was. So he talks about this, this is how he puts it, the startling subculture of criminals, collectors and conservationist, including butterfly breeders, smugglers, artists, and even a chapter on Naba.
Speaker 1: Oh really? Oh, cool. What have I gotten myself into? Well, I know.
Speaker 2: I mean, you know, one thing Naba's philosophy is more just to enjoy butterflies and to be looking at them with binoculars and taking photos rather than collecting. But collectors come in many different stripes. You've got, yeah, you've got scientists who are responsible for the collection here at Oregon State University in the Arthropod collection where they're studying at them and learning things and helping conserve by some of that knowledge. But then you have collectors on the black market where people who are going off to Asia and some of the island nations in the Pacific and collecting endangered butterflies and then selling them for a lot of money. Oh no. So one chapter in the book is about an agent going undercover to nab one of these collectors.
Speaker 1: Butterfly squad. Yeah. I mean, you wouldn't know that those kinds of things happen. So that book is just really fun and interesting on finding out what all is in the world of butterflies. All right, cool. Those are three great suggestions. We'll link them up on the show notes so that you too can read them.
And I certainly am gonna get them in my bookshelf. Okay, so the other question we ask our guests is there a tool that's really important for the kind of work you do with butterflies?
Speaker 2: Well, to enjoy them, it's nice to be able to see them. And so we've talked about a field guide but a pair of close focusing binoculars.
Speaker 1: What's a close focusing binocular?
Speaker 2: This was something I learned and being a birder, I had these great binoculars that really led in the light. I could see a long way. But if there's a butterfly down by your toe, you couldn't focus. The focal point was at least 12 feet.
It actually had to back up. We darned. But now binocular companies have realized that there are all these people who are interested in butterflies and bees. And so they make binoculars that you can focus on something from two, three, four feet away. So you can get a little closer and get a really good look. Also a camera is handy. And this can range from a little point and shoot. It could be your phone or it could be a really nice camera. But once you learn to use it, it's helpful because if your butterfly flies off, you can take that home, especially if it's digital and put it on the computer. And then you have a big screen.
So you can really look at it and compare it with the field guide. And my trick is when I see a butterfly, I'll take a photo even if it's kind of far away. Like it might be 10 feet away. My camera is not great, but it's better than nothing. And then I'll kind of slowly sneak up on it and take more photos as I get closer.
Speaker 1: So you're sure you got something.
Speaker 2: Yes. Yeah, okay. And then you could at least get it down to family of what kind of butterfly you had. So those are the three tools, a field guide, a pair of close focusing binoculars and a camera. Okay.
Speaker 1: Well, our last question is, is there a pollinator that when you see fly by, you're just like, that's my favorite?
Speaker 2: Well, I don't think I can pick a favorite butterfly, but I thought I would tell you about the one that really got me interested in learning what the different species are. Cause I was professionally a wildlife biologist, but dealing with bigger things like more birds and even big birds like bald eagles and such. But I was working for BLM and one of the botanist invited me to come out and see if we had any fenders, blue butterflies, cause she found a new patch of Kincaid's Lupin. Okay.
Speaker 1: This is the host plant for our endangered butterfly. Yes. We have two endangered species in the state.
Speaker 2: Actually three. There's a Taylor's checker spot, Okay. Which is actually around Corvallis. And then the Oregon silver spot, which is a kind of fritillary that's on the coast. Okay. All right. And... Okay.
Speaker 1: Anyways, you, BLM, fenders blue, and there was a patch of Kincaid Lupin that they were going to. Yeah.
Speaker 2: So we went out there. We did not find fenders, but while I was there, this white butterfly with orange wing tips flew by. And I realized they didn't know what it was. And then I thought, here I am, a biologist, but he'll know what most of these butterflies are.
And that one happened to be a Sarah orange tip. So I went home that day from work and went straight to a bookstore and bought the butterflies of Cascadia. Started looking them up. And then I took it kind of like show and tell to work and a bunch of other biologists wanted one.
So I kind of went back and bought the store out of that book. The Sarah orange tip, the males are white with the orange tips and the females are yellow with orange tips. And they, let's see, they only have one generation. So they don't spend that long of their life as butterflies. They look in here, their host plants are from the Cardamom family and our bittercress, wallflowers, mustards and rockcresses. The caterpillars are green, but the last two instars are green with a white stripe on them. The females lay one egg per plant.
Speaker 3: So this is one of those. That's a lot of work. Yeah. After 20 days, the caterpillars pupate and then they spend the rest of the summer and the winter as a chrysalis. They merge the following spring. And one term I don't think is shared when a butterfly comes out of a chrysalis, it's called eclose or eclosing. I at first used to call it hatching, but that's not really what it is.
Speaker 1: Here's a stupid question. So, you know, I think about a chrysalis, I think about something that's like pill shaped, but a butterfly is not pill shaped. It's big and broad. Like how does that all, when they pop out, the wings just unfold or what's the...
Speaker 2: Yeah, the wings are all shriveled up. Kind of on their back, when they come out, they're very small and they have to sit for a while and kind of pump them up with their bodily fluids. So it might take them an hour or so to get to the point where they could fly away. One thing about the Sarah Orange tips is that sometimes they don't even emerge from that chrysalis, the following spring, sometimes they wait two or three years. Really? And I don't know if they can tell what the weather's like or if just part of the population does that in case one year is really rainy and then the next year is better weather.
Speaker 1: Yeah, yeah. Wow, that's gotta take some amount of interesting physiology to be able to run that, keep you going for a couple of years and dipause.
Speaker 2: Probably why they do that is that they're one of the earliest spring butterflies to come out. And so if they come out and there's still snow around or something like that, they're out of luck. Nothing started blooming.
Speaker 1: Do you expect we see them in April this year or earlier?
Speaker 2: Yeah, maybe even in March. Okay, great. But they have two peaks in their population, one in April and one in July. Okay. And I think that is the main story about them, except that you can find them from the valley all the way up to Alpine meadows and that they range from the Yukon down to Baja and east to Wyoming.
Speaker 1: Okay, Alison, we're gonna get a picture of, we'll dig one up somewhere, put it on the website so people can see it. Thanks so much for taking time to give me my first lesson in butterflies.
Speaker 2: Well, thanks for inviting me to come and talk. And we look forward to seeing you at our meeting in April. I'm really looking forward to it. ["The World's Greatest Song"] Thanks so much for listening.
Speaker 1: Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oreganstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.
It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.
Alison Center has worked as a wildlife biologist for the Bureau of Land Management and U. S. Forest Service and volunteers on the Coast Fork Willamette watershed council’s technical team. She is presently working as the editorial assistant for BioProcess International magazine and is the president of the Oregon chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) based in Eugene. Last year she enjoyed surveying for butterflies, bumblebees, pond turtles, and birds.
NABA formed in 1992 and is the largest group of people in North America interested in butterflies. NABA has active programs in butterfly conservation, monitoring and gardening, and owns and operates the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre conservation, education and research center in Mission, Texas.
Listen in as we talk about butterflies, their fascinating relationship with Oregon landscapes, and how you can plant your garden to attract more butterflies.
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“The first step is to be curious about butterflies and start noticing them, and then where does your interest lie? Would you like to know more about their natural history? Do you want more of them in your yard? Or are you a birder who wants something new?“ – Alison Center
- The first steps people take in learning about butterflies
- Where gardening for butterflies and bees overlap
- Why local identification guides are extremely helpful in learning about your garden’s bugs
- How NABA helps out new and experienced butterfly enthusiasts
- How NABA does their “Fourth-of-July Butterfly Count”
- The differences and similarities between moths and butterflies
- How butterflies deter predators
- What makes the relationship between butterflies and plants unique
- How different moths and butterflies prepare their chrysalis and cocoons
- How butterflies prepare for winter
- The migration patterns of various butterflies
- What plants Alison recommends for good butterfly and pollinator habitats
- Alison’s favorite books about butterflies, tools, and pollinator
“The North American Butterfly Association has extensive butterfly monitoring programs, so where Audubon has the Christmas Bird Count, NABA has the Fourth of July Count. In Oregon the Eugene group sponsors two counts, but there are a number of other counts that take place elsewhere in the state.“ – Alison Center
- Learn more about the North American Butterfly Association and NABA Oregon
- Check out the NABA Oregon Garden Plant Lists
- Get a copy of NABA’s “Butterflies of Lane County” pocket guide
- Alison’s favorite books about butterflies:
- Alison’s favorite tools:
- Check out Alison’s favorite pollinator, the Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
- Connect with Alison Center at the NABA website