On Raising Monarchs

by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

I have been a number one admirer of the Monarch butterfly for a very, very long time. I find their mid-June arrival in Canada and their September journey to return to their over-wintering grounds in the mountains where the Oyamel fir trees grow in Mexico awesome in the truest sense of that overused and misused word. Many people are infatuated with the monarch. Organizations use the symbol of the monarch quite freely to demonstrate their “celebration” of nature.

In the late 1980s I started collecting the eggs and young larvae which I found on the roadside milkweed in late June. I used window screens salvaged from a flea market to create a shelter on the deck of the cottage where I spent part of my summer. I stuffed the host milkweed plants into bottles and replaced the food as the plants dried out or as the larvae munched through them. Sometimes this involved moving the rapidly growing larvae from the plant which was drying to the new plant.

This is easy to do if you can gently persuade the caterpillar to move over to the new plant. If that does not work, you can break the leaf off the plant the larva is on and lay the leaf on the new plant.

Often the mature caterpillars escaped the shelter. The chrysalis formed in sight and out of sight. If the adult butterfly hatched in the shelter, I opened the screen to allow it to fly when it was ready to take its leave. I introduced the monarch’s life cycle to anyone who showed any interest. A couple of neighbours started raising the eggs and larvae.

I have not had access to that cottage for many years. It is only in the past few years that I have again found and provided shelter for the larvae, using a small cage I created to contain the larvae and to provide a place for the mature larvae to anchor the chrysalis on the roof of the shelter.

This summer I found 10 young larvae on the re-grown milkweed along the mowed side of a road near the same cottage where I used to spend summers. I assume they were the newborns of the first arrivals. I brought them back to Ottawa on the collected plants where I found them. Then I found a few more larvae at another site. Not all of the larvae made it. One died during one of the caterpillar’s instars. One chrysalis fell during the transformation from larva to chrysalis. I released 10 adults in 2014 – 3 females and 7 males.

Until this spring, the host plant of the monarch – Common Milkweed – was on the noxious weed list in Ontario as it is poisonous to some grazing farm animals. Gardeners ripped the milkweed plants out of their gardens and lawns. Herbicide spraying by farmers using Roundup in order to get rid of the milkweed growing on the edges of their fields and along the roadsides of their property also reduces food sources for monarchs. Secondary roads in Quebec and Ontario are mowed regularly during the summer months to control weeds. This practice also removes the Common Milkweed plants upon which the butterflies lay their eggs or kills the feeding larvae.

I see myself as positively interfering with nature. I can easily rationalize my gathering of eggs and larvae as a very small attempt to mitigate some of the damage done on a much larger scale. Raising monarchs from egg or from young larvae is a five to six week long commitment. Please do not even consider collecting the eggs and larvae if you are not willing to tend to them. You need to provide fresh milkweed daily during the 2 week larval stage. I do not collect all the larvae I find, leaving some to mature in their natural habitat. After 10 days in the chrysalis, the adult emerges, pumps fluid into it wings, rests for about a day and then needs to be released to forage, mate and, if a female, to lay eggs.

For a few summers I volunteered in the Fletcher Monarch Way Station. I was delighted to participate in creating a butterfly-friendly environment full of leaves to munch or nectar to sip. It is vital to have chemical-free habitats for monarchs and all of the other creatures who occupy the meadow.

Diane Lepage has done an amazing job of organizing and overseeing the transformation of the area. She welcomes volunteers for the Wednesday evening Butterfly Meadow group. Fighting the Dog-strangling Vine is a hard but essential task. Not only does the plant choke out native sources of food for pollinators, sometimes Monarch larvae hatch upon DSV when the female adult monarch mistakes the plant for milkweed. The larva die because they cannot digest DSV.

Please check the Fletcher website if you are interested in supporting the Butterfly Meadow team.

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch enjoying life! by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch resting before taking wing by J Cipriani




Art in the FWG

29 July – 
Volunteer Barbara writes:
As you happen to walk past the birch trees behind the Butterfly Garden or over towards the unusual grafted tree near the Ash Woods, you will notice some changes in these two little areas, as created by installation artist Karl Ciesluk. 
Karl, an established artist with many installations and sculptures to his credit in Canada and internationally, most recently created a labyrinth for the “Beyond the Edge: Artists’ Gardens installations”, organized by Canadensis Botanical Garden Society in the neighbouring field just south of FWG. A couple of Fridays ago he approached some Fletcher volunteers about using a natural feature at FWG as the basis for a temporary work of art.  After considering the proposal and placing some limitations as to what could be done, the Management Committee agreed that he could create something at FWG.
Karl has chosen two concepts: using the birch trees to create ladders to heaven, a homage to volunteers who have died, and wrapping the grafted tree (a Camperdown elm) to highlight the beauty of its limbs. No chemicals or cutting tools will be used and the treatments can be easily removed. FWG will add small signs at these two locations to acknowledge the installations.
There has been controversy about this decision to permit artistic expression at FWG. Karl’s purpose is to show people other ways of looking at nature and our relationship to it, in his own way somewhat similar to what the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is trying to do. 
A question to ponder is how do we balance natural spaces, the desire to have spaces be quiet for wildlife and the art, which will attract people to then come and observe?

Asian Long-horned Beetle – Finally, one less tree pest?

Asian Long-horned Beetle, (c) invasives.org

Asian Long-horned Beetle, (c) invasives.org

The Asian Long-horned Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is a pest, to be sure. Originally making its way over from Korea, Japan and southern China in untreated wood packing products, the beetle has no natural predators in Canada and can kill healthy trees. The beetle attacks most hardwoods including all maples, along with elm, ash, poplars, alder, arbutus and willow trees. Infestations were first recorded in 1996 in New York State, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has the insect on its invasive quarantine list.

First discovered in the cities of Toronto and Vaughn in 2003, the CFIA and forestry officials have been attempting to manage and eradicate the beetles’ spread, primarily through complete removal of infested trees and nearby potentially affected trees. Some 30 000 trees were removed, with compensation made to private land owners. The last beetle was spotted in 2007, and no beetle has been spotted outside the regulated GTA area.

The beetle is now considered eradicated in Canada, according to press releases and a statement by Pierre Lemieux, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, made 5 April 2013. Potentially-infected goods are now able to move freely in and around the GTA.

It will be interesting to see if this eradication holds, but it is heartening that concerted efforts and survey do pay off to control some of the many pests destroying our woodlots and urban forests. Hopefully, the Emerald Ash Borer will be next!

More information:



Naturalists in the Classics: Stratton-Porter’s “A Girl of the Limberlost”

File:Girl of the Limberlost Title page.pngI enjoy reading classics, or at least period books, simply to see how the author portrays contemporary life – a life long past, though still connected through unchanging human foibles. Something I find particularly interesting is re-reading books and seeing how my own perspective of the content changes.

Moths I either liked or disliked depending on how fuzzy they appeared to be or whether they threatened my clothes, but I certainly wasn’t as fascinated by these nondescript fliers as I was with butterflies or dragonflies. After reading more about them, and discussing with Diane and Christine, I’ve come to appreciate them in their diversity. As such, re-reading “A Girl of the Limberlost” is quite fun as moths are central to the storyline.

Written in 1909 by Indiana author Gene Stratton-Porter, the book is aimed at younger readers and is a morality play of sorts. Stratton-Porter was a keen naturalist, and her story captures a disappearing landscape in the swamps that were being drained during her lifetime.

One sees the ardent interest of post-Victorian collectors as well as the love and fear of the swamp itself. Different moth species are observed, as is a love of nature and early ecological awareness of the impact human intervention has on the health of a landscape.

A quick read, the book is available free online for e-readers and is likely available at the library. I am finding it engaging despite the target age-group, as it reminds me so much of the enthusiasm for nature displayed by fellow FWGgers – minus the desire to mount specimens in private collections!

More news on FWG’s wonderful volunteers!

There are several things most visitors don’t understand about the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, and new volunteers admit to being no exception.

1) That the FWG is not just the BYG, but an almost 7 ha area with trails and multiple habitat types.

2) That FWG is not an extension of the Arboretum – we lease the land from Ag Canada on behalf of the OFNC.

3) FWG is a project of the OFNC; though we tend to operate slightly separately, we go through them for major decisions and we are under the same charity registration number.

4) That there are many more things to do as a volunteer than ‘traditional’ gardening. We have differing levels of fitness activity (try swinging a scythe around for an hour through the DSV!) as well as work in different habitats. There is also construction work, wall building and various handy projects to do.

On that last point, volunteer Al was recognised as the Friends of the Farm Volunteer of the Month. The FoF are the volunteers who labour faithfully in the Arboretum. Al is one of our resident uber handy people, and was responsible for building the brochure box in front of the Interpretation Centre – no mean feat given it involved hand-waving about theoretical dimensions from those commissioning this well-used feature!

Al in the Arboretum. Photo (c) P McColl

Al and Erma are known for getting things done quickly, without fuss and with great diligence. They show up early before most people on Fridays, Tim Horton’s coffee in hand. They also share their photographs on our PBase photoblog, and stories of plant or butterfly spottings during their many hikes through national parks. Erma also makes delicious sweets bars!

Hats off to our great volunteers – we’re glad other people appreciate them as well!

FWG has amazing volunteers (but, of course, we already knew that!)

FWG volunteers are amazing people who are dedicated to creating wildlife habitat and beauty not because they feel like they ought to , but as they genuinely enjoy mucking about!

Isabelle always says how much she loves the BYG!

Isabelle always says how much she loves the BYG!

At this year’s volunteer potluck, Isabelle was recognised with our Annual Volunteer Award. Isabelle is the Habitat Manager for the Backyard Garden. This season was especially difficult as many regular Friday volunteers could not attend and the drought caused even the hardiest plants to consider taking a rain check until next growing season. Barry joked that whenever he walked through the BYG with Misti, he would regularly come across Isabelle toiling away busily in the heat, trying to keep one of our best-loved habitats picture perfect for visitors. The chipmunks were so accustomed to her presence that they would run up to her feet and keep her company at lunch!

Diane and her medal!

Diane and her medal!

Another volunteer recognised this year was Diane, who received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for her work in establishing the Monarch Waystation Project and developing the Butterfly Meadow strategy. Anyone who has done a stint in the BM knows that the fight against DSV is hard-core and ongoing – not for the faint of heart! Diane, with her volunteers, has created one of the most picturesque natural habitats at FWG, which is also extremely popular with grateful pollinators who think their little wild oasis is the bee’s knees! (Sorry, just had to get that in there!) The Jubilee Medal was created to recognise Canadians who have given back to their community.

Sincere congratulations and biggest thanks from all of us for the contributions you both make to FWG – the garden wouldn’t be the same without them and you!

FWG volunteers tour AAFC’s plant, fungi and insect collections

by Lynn Ovenden, FWG Volunteer

Volunteers listen attentively and pensively.

On November 2, 13 of our volunteers were treated to a tour of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada‘s plant, fungal and insect collections. In scientific literature, these collections are known by the acronyms DAO (Department of Agriculture, Ottawa) for plants, DAOM (National Mycological Herbarium) for fungi and CNC (Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes).

We began in the Saunders Building, which houses several AAFC researchers who use the specimens in their work. Gisèle Mitrow and Jacques Cayouette showed us the vascular plant herbarium, a room where genera and species are traditionally arranged by classes, in folders, on compactable shelving units. In the folders, are paper sheets, each with one or a few dried plants. Downstairs in the preparation room, Amanda described how plant specimens are dried in a plant press, frozen to kill tag-along insects, then arranged and fastened to a paper sheet.

The label on each collection sheet shows the date, location, collector’s name, initial plant name, and the accession number, e.g. DAO20396. When another scientist uses that collection, for example, to revise the identification or to remove some tissue for DNA analysis, he/she notes this activity on the label; annotations increase the value of the collection.

The DAO collection began with James Fletcher’s 1886 personal collection of 3,000 dried plants. It now contains 1.5 million specimens from about 50,000 mostly North American species. There are 4,000 “types,” i.e., a specimen that was selected to exemplify a species (What is a type specimen?). Overall, the DAO collection is rich in species of agricultural significance, cultivars, pests, and potentially invasive non-native plants. The specimens are actively studied by scientists in Ottawa and elsewhere, via a busy exchange and loan system with other herbaria. The collection is also used to help identify plant fragments submitted by law enforcement and border security officials.

Next, we went upstairs to the fungal herbarium – a chilly room with push-button motorized compacting shelves. The National Mycological Herbarium contains 350,000 dried fungal specimens, which vary from microscopic dots on plant leaves and thin mushroom slices (both of these are stored in paper packets glued to a herbarium sheet) to bulkier mushrooms in cardboard boxes. Scott Redhead and Jennifer Wilkinson showed us a few examples of the diversity in the collection, carefully unwrapping each specimen: dots of a rust species on its host leaves, small boxes containing small brown spheres (puffballs), a polypore that yields an orange dye.

Scott opened one of the exsiccati (a formalized exchange set of dried specimens) from the 1800s, collected by an amateur naturalist in a ribbon-wrapped, book-like binding full of small packets, well-preserved but redolent of whatever toxic dusts were used at the time. The DAOM collection now includes several collections donated by other institutions and individuals such as John Dearness (1852-1954), a remarkable, largely self-taught Canadian naturalist and pioneer plant pathologist. Much of the collection comes from AAFC research programs on plant disease/host relationships in agricultural crops and fungal diversity of national parks.

The fungal collection is arranged in a functional filing system based on traditional morphologic patterns within the different classes. However, fungal nomenclature has been diverging from this traditional system, since mycologists started using gene-sequencing tools to develop phylogenetic relationships. The traditional notion that similar-looking species had a common evolutionary path has not been supported for many groups of fungi. Furthermore, international nomenclature rules now require a single name for both the sexual and non-sexual stages of a fungal species. This will be a significant change for the many species which have had separate names in their different stages.

Donning our coats, we then hurried over to the Neatby Building where we met Owen Lonsdale, one of several curators of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. The CNC is huge, at over 17 million specimens, including 11,000 type specimens. It reflects decades of exploration and expertise by AAFC on the northern insect fauna and pests of Canadian crops. The dried insects are stored attached to pins in rows, in small boxes, in large wood trays, on shelves, in row after row of compactable units and storage cabinets in the back wing of the Neatby Building. There is also a wet collection for broader bodied critters that don’t dry well: each little jar contains dozens of specimens in alcohol. Every jar and every dry pinned insect bears a label with written information so tiny it is hard to read. We saw battalions of pinned horseflies, gorgeous “charismatic” moths, forlorn mosquitos swirling in amber-coloured alcohol and much more.

We also saw the research library that supports AAFC research and expertise on cultivars, crop pests, biocontrol and biodiversity of Canada. All of our tour guides consider three things necessary for excellence in their service to Canadians: the library, the collections, and interaction with their colleagues.

Ed: Like many things known only to the academic community, the collections are an amazing knowledge resource funded by tax dollars. However, jars of preserved mosquitos aren’t especially trendy for budget makers, so if you get the chance be sure to let your MP know that you value the work done by these groups and the many volunteers who return after retiring to keep our world-class collection healthy! Another great scientific resource that Canadians can access from the comfort of their homes are publications through the National Research Council Canada.

Barry’s Report: At the AGM of the Ontario Invasive Plants Council 2012

by Barry Cottam, Chair, FWG Management Committee 

About 120 people registered for OIPC’s 6th annual meeting in Guelph on 16-17 October 2012.  Day one consisted of four plenary sessions with three or four speakers in each. Brendon Lawson was the keynote speaker. He is the author of the recently published Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability: Redefining our Relationship with Nature. The full program is available on the OIPC website — www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/index.php/agm2012 — and presentations will be added in the near future.

Topics on the agenda included: buckthorn busters; judicious use of herbicides on a regular, scheduled basis; importance of understanding plant biology before attempting control; importance of understanding the land one is managing (i.e., need for mapping, inventories, soil studies, etc.); predictions of the arrival of new invasives. The results of recent and ongoing scientific studies were also presented. For example, Richard Dickinson talked about the spread of Dog-strangling Vine and biocontrol (the FWG is one of his sample sites). Presentations on the legislative framework for invasive species and the use of social media by non-profits were also particularly relevant to the FWG.

On the morning of the second day, optional tours included one to the Centre for DNA Barcoding, which I visited. Lynn Ovenden (the only other Ottawan there) and I also walked around the Guelph Arboretum, which includes demonstration backyard gardens (the Gosling Wildlife Gardens).

The wildlife gardens at the Arboretum are similar to ours in some ways and different in others. The basic goals are the same: encourage the use of native plants and the creation of wildlife habitat. Variations include the use of stands so viewers can imagine they are looking out their windows into their yards. One garden consists of a lawn with a lone pine and some kids’ toys, illustrating the unfortunate and inadequate norm. Another was created to attract butterflies, moths and hummingbirds.

A view of part of the demonstration back yard at the Gosling Wildlife Gardens.

Signage includes photographs of potential visitors — mammals and birds — with text presented as though these creatures were letting us know why the gardens are important to them. Mammals included cats and humans! Signage was simple: two 4×4 posts set into the ground with 2×4 cross pieces and Plexiglas-covered sign boards attached.

The sign where ‘wild’ visitors discuss their favourite menu items found in the back yard ‘bistro’.

This meeting was an opportunity to network with people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Questions were raised, new ideas discovered, old approaches evaluated. Perhaps most important for me was learning more about managing land affected by invasive species. For example, an employee of the Bruce Trail Association provided some helpful pointers in this regard. The BTA has over 220 properties, each of which must be inventoried. They use a layered approach, delineating boundaries with GPS, showing key physical features on a map, then noting the main biotic communities. Layers can be added, down to locations of individual species. Such inventories are considered to be an essential preliminary step to any land management activity.

Barry Cottam has been a volunteer at the FWG for just over two years. He started and leads the Tuesday Invasive Species Group, which works to keep our worst invasives at bay. He recently became chair of the FWG management committee and is interested in establishing long-term plans for the FWG habitats.

Wiggle, waggle, woo: Hey, Bee, Vote for Me!

The recent American election once again highlighted that electoral politics in the United States are very different in structure than in Canada – electoral colleges, simultaneous elections of Congress and Senate, ballot initiatives and the fact that based on remit of powers, an American President has far less influence over his country than a Canadian Prime Minister (PoliSci 101 and a great digression from our topic at hand!)

However, did you know that HONEYBEES also have their own elections, complete with smear campaigns, speechifying and converting as many undecided voters into supporters as possible? This week’s PBS’ Nova Science Now showed how Honeybees decide on a new nesting site. The knowledge was presented as part of understanding how information is shared and how the human brain may function more like a hive mind in and of itself than previously thought. Continue reading