Sandra Tsing Loh does a great segment on NPR's Morning Edition, The Loh Down on Science. Her two minute programs, cover a variety of science topics and are usually both humorous and informative. One of this week's programs, Butterflies Lost written by Bahareh Sorouri, caught my attention. This piece focused on how monarchs raised by humans indoors have difficulty navigating their way south. It seems reasonable to think that locating monarch caterpillars and then bringing them inside to safely transform themselves into chrysalises and butterflies, without the risks of predation, would be a good thing; a way to increase their numbers. But, thanks to the researchers mentioned in this piece, we learn that our methods are flawed and that we have overlooked something important to the butterflies' overall development. Although these actions help bolster the monarch population, the butterflies raised indoors do not seem to be able to migrate successfully. It appears they need to develop under the sun and stars in order to know how to navigate. Butterflies Lost is just one example of how we generally do not fully appreciate the complexity the web of life. WE HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN! In this particular case, we need to figure out a way to raise monarchs successfully in outdoor environments. To listen to this particular podcast, click on the image of the monarch caterpillar, if you would rather read the text, click on the butterfly.
Although it is too late to do anything about the monarchs that were raised indoors this year, there is still time to help a number of other insects and living beings. Recent research has shown the importance of leaving any remaining plant seed heads in place after you collect your seed for next year as well as leaving the dead plant stalks in place. The seed heads will provide food for wintering birds and many insect larvae overwinter in the stalks of dead plants. These larvae are both a protein-packed bird snack and the start of a new generation of many beneficial insects. Also, LET THE LEAVES BE! By mowing leaves and leaving them on your lawn you can easily and naturally fertilize your lawn. Additionally, by raking leaves into your garden beds you can instantly create a welcoming environment for salamanders, snails, worms, moth pupae and toads. I know that since I started doing this a few years ago I have seen an increase in the number of frogs, toads and salamanders that I am seeing in our yard. So go easy on that yard work this fall!
Lastly this week, a call out to the efforts underway to have a widely available, nationwide screening on November 6th for the movie The Pollinators. This is a great film that is another example of how we have underestimated the complexity of the web of life, this time with regard to our food system and the role that pollinators play in it. This film should be shown in every town, school and community center, but even if it isn't you may be able to find a screening that is near you. Click on the honey bee to learn more about this movie and where it will be showing. If we become better at listening to all that the natural world can teach us, there may be time for us to help more than hinder.