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Monday, July 16, 2018

Bow and Conservation




Bow is an avid reader of the Missouri Conservationist. 


He enjoys leafing through the entire magazine, but this time, he indicated clearly that his favorite part was a photo of a little girl who looked a little like Ping in Ping & the Snirkelly People and of a Monarch butterfly right in front of her face.

In the little yellow rectangle, an entire conservation strategy is outlined to help preserve the Monarch butterfly.


Why such an "aggressive goal"? And what do Monarchs have to do with pollination?


A Monarch caterpillar on my transplanted common milkweed


My own experience with the Monarch caterpillars this season have been a little disappointing. I did see several different caterpillars in different stages of their growth. But what I never got to see is any of those caterpillars turning into a chrysalis. And having missed that stage, I never saw a Monarch butterfly emerge.



As the caterpillars proceeded with their work and the purple milkweed flowers died and the leaves were left full of holes, I began to wonder about the great effort to reestablish milkweed so as to help the Monarch butterfly, and the total disregard for the wellbeing of the milkweed plant itself.


Purple milkweed does not seem to produce very many seed pods.  Last year mine produced no seed pods at all because somebody -- I don't know who -- ate all the flowers long before anything interesting could happen. This year, a single flower survived long enough to start growing one tiny seed pod.


But the seed pod did not arrive at maturity, because ants attacked it.


Both my milkweed and my Monarchs seem to be productive in the early stages of the procreative process -- flowers, caterpillars -- but not so productive in the later stages -- seed pod, chrysalis. Is this what is happening worldwide? Maybe not.

I have been following the blog of Anurag Agrawal, and he recently a posted an article of his about the decline of the Monarch population that came out in Science. You can look at the article here:

http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/agrawal/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/agrawal-and-inamine-2018-science.pdf

"Mechanisms behind the Monarch's Decline" refers to two independent sources of information about the Monarch population in North America.

One is a census of Monarchs that overwinter in Mexico.

http://www.wwf.org.mx/?uNewsID=324152


And the other is the statistics kept by the North American Butterfly Association.

What Agrawal has found is that there is a mismatch between these two ways of counting total butterflies. Sometimes there is a resurgence of Monarchs in Canada and the United States, but by the time they get down to their over-wintering site in Mexico, the population is greatly reduced.

Loss of habitat for a migratory butterfly can happen anywhere along its migration. But Agrawal has stated that it is the migration, not the butterfly, that is currently endangered. Planting more milkweed in the United States and Canada is not going to help, if the forests in Mexico are being cut down. On the other hand, there are Monarchs in  warm places like parts of California that have a  more local migration, and they are fine. And there are Monarchs in Mexico that seem to be active all year round, without overwintering anywhere. Does the Monarch butterfly need our intervention on its behalf? And if so, why?

Tussock Moth Milkweed Caterpillar
It's not because they are pollinators. They're not. It is not for the sake of fruit orchards. It is not because of any unique contribution that the Monarch makes to our ecology that some other butterfly does not. It's because, for some reason, the Monarch has great PR, and there are people lobbying on its behalf.

Would anybody care about milkweed if not for Monarchs? There are other caterpillars that depend on milkweed, like the tussock moth
 caterpillar, but nobody seems to care much about them. So why the Monarch and why are state and Federal governments intervening on its behalf at taxpayer expense?


Ever since I first read Agrawal's book, Monarchs andMilkweed, I have been noticing some of the less popular milkweed eating insects.

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes Tetropthalmus)
The red milkweed beetle feeding on a defunct purple milkweed seed pod is so cute. Why doesn't it have a lobbyist in Washington?


Or how about the seed eating milkweed bugs? Why aren't there entire conservation movements built around them?
Milkweed Bug on Butterfly Milkweed

If we look at all this from the point of view of the milkweed plants, their survival strategy seems to be something like this:

  • Make yourself inedible by emitting a poison and a nasty latex.
  • Some bright insects will breach your defenses and make you their sole source of food in order to thwart predators.
  • When farmers start to eradicate you, because you are not good for cattle to feed on, get one of the insects that has managed to breach your defenses and can eat only you to be the poster child for pollinators, even though it's actually not a pollinator.
  • Get civic organizations to plant you profusely and governments to assure you acres and acres of protected growth.
  • If the poster child butterfly  is still being decimated by its cross country migration, just use this to get even more protection for the propagation of  yourself.
  • If, as  a result of being artificially boosted, you lose the ability to propagate naturally through the spread of seeds from seed pods, keep yourself procreating artificially as a domesticated plant.
Two identical butterflies on butterfly milkweed
The truth is that in this age of huge human populations, only those beings protected by us get to thrive. Domestication has a bad name, but if you insist that one plant -- rather than another-- has the right to exist, and that one species, rather than another, will be protected in a given environment, then you are in fact domesticating those species that you protect. Once natural selection ceases to be the main factor in their future adaptations, you will have to act as a cultivator to keep them alive. And when you do that,  you are not advocating natural balance. You will tend to create, instead, a sharp drop in diversity. Monocultures are what humans are famous for.


I love the many species of milkweed that I find growing wild on my land, and the many and varied butterflies that feed on their nectar delight me. But I would hate to think that these are not wildflowers at all, but part of a widespread plot to keep some species alive at taxpayer expense, while others die out.

Why does this matter to me? Because current efforts are afoot to end all breeding of chimpanzees in the United States. This is being done in the name of conservation. It's being done, because conservationists want to maintain only wild chimpanzees, and to eradicate all chimpanzees which have been domesticated.

But wild chimpanzees in Africa will not remain wild if they are protected. Once their natural predators are eliminated and their existence assured, they will change their ways of being.  And domesticated chimpanzees here in the US, which are privately owned, will never have a chance to live free, outside of zoos and sanctuaries.  Generations of Americans will grow up without the opportunity to meet a chimpanzee in a safe and mutually respectful environment.

RELATED


When Sword Met Bow


Monday, June 4, 2018

Meeting the Monarch Caterpillar

Yesterday was a red letter day. I finally saw a monarch caterpillar with my very own eyes. My iPhone summarized the day in a short video.


For the majority of my YouTube following, it is the cozy moments with Bow that matter the most. Grooming together out in the sun is certainly a pleasant experience.


But because that is an everyday occurrence for me, I suppose I underplay it, whereas it is those rare glimpses of a butterfly or a moth that have me all a-flutter. For instance, on June 2nd, I spotted what seemed like a leaf, but it was moving in a way that made it seem alive


.
 I drew closer, and it turned out to be a very damaged polyphemus moth.



It was so fragile, so damaged and yet so beautiful!





So I posted the video on YouTube, because I thought it was exciting and poignant and rare, and I got eight views.  Eight views! But my last grooming video got over a thousand views. And for a moment I kind of felt as if my viewers were shallow. But then I realized: I'm lucky to have a personal relationship with Bow, and so I take it for granted. And there are so many people out there who are starving for contact with nonhuman apes. So it makes sense that for them Bow grooming me is the rare and wonderful thing. And I do value the contact with Bow, too. It's just that I am also amazed by the wildlife all around me. That's another gift that Project Bow has given me. I never saw so many butterflies until I was trapped here, with no hope of escape, just the way Bow is. It's when you can't go anywhere else that the true story all around you starts to unfold. 



And then there is the saga of the milkweed plants and the monarch butterflies. Last year I watched one milkweed plant as it went from closed buds to full bloom, and the next day it was gone. It took so very long to bloom, but I never saw a butterfly on it. Not once! And it was probably a deer that ate it. 



This year, everything has happened much faster. The first floret opened on June 2nd, and I almost did not notice it, because it was hidden under a leaf.



That evening there was a violent rainstorm. I went out the next morning to look at the purple milkweed, not knowing what I would find. And there it was!



They're supposed to be eating the leaves, not the flowers. But I would recognize it anywhere, even though I had never seen one in person before. It was a monarch caterpillar! A creature out of mythic past -- from a book I had read in first grade, when my reading ability exceeded my grasp of English!





Earlier this year I rediscovered the book, The Travels of Monarch X, and I read it to Bow.


Bow wasn't very interested, but that's okay, because when I first read that book, I wasn't very interested, either.  I wanted to grow up to be a giant gorilla, and I didn't care much about invertebrates. The story of how I learned English by total immersion in first grade is fictionalized in my children's book, Ping and the Snirkelly People. It is coming out at the end of the month on Audible, read by Evelyn Adams.

Order it now

Anyway, I was so excited yesterday to see my first monarch caterpillar that I took many photos of it.


But by the time I got back to the purple milkweed patch that afternoon, the caterpillar was long gone. I did see a beautiful eastern tailed-blue on the half open blossoms of another of the purple milkweed plants.



I incorporated both the butterfly and the caterpillar in a video that featured plenty of grooming, because you have to give the people what they want.


It's not that I don't enjoy being groomed, mind you. It always feels nice.


It's just that there are also other pleasures in life. And I enjoy sharing those as well.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Merry Month of May

May has been merry. I can't point to any big achievements, but things are moving in a good direction, and we are gaining momentum slowly.


As the weather grew warmer, Bow and I spent more and more time out of doors.



More time outdoors meant more grooming and more mowing the lawn.


While mowing the lawn, I discover butterflies hidden in the grass.


Other things come to my attention, like the common milkweed that I found growing in the lawn.


There were three such plants, and on the day the mowers came, I was going to ask them to transplant them to the flower garden by the lagoon. But when the mowers came, two of the plants were gone, roots and all! At first I was a little paranoid. Had someone followed me and stolen my milkweed before I had a chance to transplant it myself? But my gardener explained to me that it was probably an inside job, performed by moles who ate the milkweed root first, starting deep in the ground and working their way up to the leaves. Only the smallest milkweed plant remained, and after it was transplanted, it wilted and fainted all the way to ground.


The prognosis did not loo good, but I kept watering it. Meanwhile, I discovered a purple milkweed patch growing by some dogbane in the pasture.


This will be a great way to compare the growth and habits of dogbane and milkweed, I thought. But it wasn't only the plants that were starting to propagate. On Mother's Day, I discovered a new nest.


These were not robins' eggs, like the one I had seen in years past. These were brown and white, marbled.


I was looking forward to watching them hatch and seeing what sorts of birds they turned out to be, but the next day, the nest was empty. Is there somebody following me around and taking whatever I find? I wondered. But probably not. Probably it is just part of the grand scheme of things, where not every living being that sprouts or is conceived gets to make it past the very earliest stages. Being culled out is part of the system. Redundancy and wasted life are part of the grand design. There are so many, because not all are expected to make it. And still, despite it all, some do survive! I am glad of that.



I was very grateful to have Sword home for Mother's Day, and Bow enjoyed the gifts she brought, too.


How they both have grown! Soon a new Audible and Kindle version of When Sword Met Bow will be coming out, read by Kelly Clear. My time for raising babies is done, but this book can help the families that are just starting out to introduce a new baby to older siblings. .

When Sword Met Bow -- Order Here

My other children's book, Ping and the Snirkelly People will also soon be out, read by Evelyn Adams. It describes the process of acquiring a second language by total immersion.

Ping and the Snirkelly People -- Order Here
However, on most days right here in and around the pens, life unfolds more like my third children's book, In Case There's a Fox. Through daily walks I encounter various animals, and they don't always tell me what they are up to. I can ask the rabbits to let me now what the turtles are doing, but until I look down and notice the turtles, the rabbits will keep mum.



On May 15, I spotted a couple of rabbits behind the garage and moved in closer to take a look.


As I drew closer, one of the rabbits ran away, but I kept my focus on the other rabbit, still oblivious of the indistinct rock-like thing in the grass by the fence.


Would you believe that, even at this distance, I was so focused on the rabbit that I had no ideas there were turtles in the picture? The rabbit stood very still. I wonder what it was thinking. I'm guessing it knew all about the turtles in plain sight.



I kept coming in closer to get a better look at the rabbit, and it kept holding its ground, until the moment when it ran off. Then I noticed there were two turtles at my feet!


I've never seen anything quite like it. But it's not going into any children's book.


My friend, Pam Keyes. who is an expert on turtles, told me that the female of the pair is at least sixty years old. Male turtles prefer older females to mate with, because their offspring have a better chance to survive. We recognize this particular female by the BB gun hole in her shell.. I have decided to call her Beebee.


Later that day, I saw Beebee just outside the fence. I thought maybe she was scouting locations to lay her eggs. But it was a bit early for that yet.

The sagas of box turtles in love and rabbits keeping their secrets are mostly for my own amusement. For the regular viewers of my channel, Bow is the only star attraction. Our most popular video for this month was the one from May 18 of Bow grooming me, but stopping short of picking my nose, when I asked.



In the Missouri Ozarks, May is part of the rainy season. It rains day after day sometimes, and the lush vegetation is richer for it. It's not such a bad way of life. But Bow prefers that it never rain, so he can go sunbathing in the outer pen. Lately, though, he has been taking the weather mostly in his stride.



For several days it rained, with brief periods of respite in between  The video above is from May 19, when Bow went out between rainstorms and displayed at the wind -- without setting foot on the wet floor of the pen! After the rain, there was a bit of flooding, and small rivulets of water crossed the internal road on my property to get to the other side.


Beebee the turtle found a conveniently wet spot to dig a nest for her eggs. And the armadillos came out to play. There were so many bugs for them to feast on!



Although I wanted to immediately sit down and to report on Beebee the box turtle, seeing all those armadillos that very same day over and over again kept me distracted.



But the armadillos disappeared, after putting in a full day of appearance on the May 21st, and by Memorial Day they were long forgotten. We did have a nice encounter with several butterflies, instead.



The best part of May is hanging out in the great outdoors. And Bow, more than anyone else, knows how to hang out. He has it mastered!



Monday, April 30, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

Intruders on the Property



On April 11, Bow enjoyed the nice weather. He went outside and gave his swing in the outer pen some use.



As the grass has started to grow, I was also out there mowing with my trusty reel mower.


After I finish mowing, the grass does not seem particularly well mown to the average person, but believe me, if I did not mow, it would get impossibly unmanageable.


After mowing, I relaxed a little by the pen, too. And then it was time for lunch. After lunch, I usually take a walk. But as I went out the door, I noticed that we had intruders on the property.


A big red truck was blocking my driveway in as spot I never even allow honored guests to occupy. Its motor was running, and it was very loud, but there was no one in the vehicle. I went all round the truck, trying to figure out why it was there, and where the people were who came in it.


Eventually I located them by the power pole, where they were attempting -- unsuccessfully, I might add -- to change the meter.


The process too a very long time, and we could hear Bow inside vocalizing in frustration. When I checked later, I saw that he had made a mess. However, at the time I felt it was best for me to stand guard over the intruders and to see them safely off when they were down.

I was polite, but I did let them know that the next time they need to work on my property, they should notify me that they are coming. This is, after all, a rural property. I could have had a guard dog loose or I could have been engaged in target practice, and there are any number of hazardous activities they might have stumbled upon that would have been dangerous to them. They can't just assume that it is all right to come here without first giving notice.


I am grateful for the electricity, and I understand that the power company needs access to the meter, but I think there is still some expectation of privacy even when there is an electric pole on my property. If I ever built that island for Bow, I would need to know that power company people would not wander onto the property without permission. Bow is very good natured, but he wants to know who is coming over and when.



Monday, April 9, 2018

Things that Happened Around Easter

The cockatiel eggs did not hatch. One of them even broke, and it did not look as if it had been fertilized. Nevertheless, there were plenty of other kinds of eggs around Easter time.


While the annual Easter egg hunt for Bow had to be cut short due to chain saws in the woods behind our house and later rain, a few days  later, Bow found another egg that he had overlooked on April 1.


It was a nice, sunny day for a change, and Bow enjoyed his find.


After sniffing the candy, he determined it to be good.


While the sunshine lasted. Bow and Leo made the most of it in the back yard.


But the sun-soaked days did not last long.


Soon it was snowing again.


RELATED: An Interview with Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.