Happy Dancing Turtle Blog

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Quinn - !again! - put together a weekend update for Central Minnesota. I did the math and found a way to attend all the fun events this weekend without having to clone yourself. You just need a fast car and be willing to break a few speed limits. (Note* Drive within speed limits. I'm only joking.)

Today & Tomorrow - Super Special First Ever - Zany Zucchini Street Festival, Pine River! Crazy and fun family activities - https://www.facebook.com/PRZanyZucchiniFestival
**Check out the "Zukes" vs. Zombies game that the shop made!

Every
Friday: Pine River Market Square - "Growers' & Crafters' Market", 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. Produce, Crafts, baked goods, canned items & more!
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pine-River-Market-Square/181422103911
*Many delicious berries expected today!

Every Saturday: 371 Flea Market, Saturday 9am-3pm, near the Info Center/Chamber Building along the Paul Bunyan Trail, Pine River.
Every Saturday: Band in the Park - Trailside Park, Pequot Lakes, 7-9pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/band-in-the-park-41924
Every Saturday: Outdoor Music Series - Crosslake Town Square, 7pm, http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/2014-crosslake-outdoor-music-series-42731

This Saturday: Farm on St. Mathias Celtic Festival - St. Mathias (S. of Brainerd), Noon-10pm . https://www.facebook.com/events/530968670348117/

This Sunday: Fly-in Pancake Breakfast - Backus Airport, 7:30-Noon

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Looking for something to do this weekend? Quinn S. has put together a nice list of nice things to do this nice weekend. If you haven't had a chance to eat from the Prairie Bay Side Dish food truck, you're missing out. It's all of the delicious locally grown ingredients that you'd expect from the main kitchen, driven to your event. You really need to try the grass-fed cheeseburger, or lobster bisque, or !ooh ooh! the portobello mushroom sandwich. So good. I'm hungry.

Here's the list of events. 

All Weekend: Moondance Jam - Walker. http://www.moondancejam.com/


Every
Friday: Pine River Market Square - "Growers' & Crafters' Market", 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. Produce, Crafts, baked goods, canned items & more!
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pine-River-Market-Square/181422103911
**This week the Prairie Bay Food Truck on site!


Every Saturday: 371 Flea Market, Saturday 9am-3pm, near the Info Center/Chamber Building along the Paul Bunyan Trail, Pine River.
Every Saturday: Band in the Park - Trailside Park, Pequot Lakes, 7-9pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/band-in-the-park-41924
Every Saturday: Outdoor Music Series - Crosslake Town Square, 7pm, http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/2014-crosslake-outdoor-music-series-42731

This Saturday: 10th Annual Monarch Butterfly Release - Breezy Point, 3-5pm. http://business.explorebrainerdlakes.com/events/details/10th-annual-monarch-butterfly-release-07-19-2014-43964         

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Posted by on in Environmental Stewardship

For the last couple of weeks I have been scanning roadsides and the meadow near my house for signs that the time was almost here.  While I have seen many stages over the last couple weeks that indicated it was approaching, the time has finally come! The milkweed plants are in bloom! But it is more than just the beautiful clusters of pinkish-purple flowers that makes this plant special.

  

Right: Common milkweed about to bloom, 7/2/14.  Left: Common milkweed in bloom, 7/17/14.

  

 Left: Common milkweed often grows along the roadside. Identifiable by its large, round, purple flower clusters and broad, oval leaves.  Right: Swamp milkweed is also very prevalent in this area, normally growing in more saturated areas, identifiable by its more reddish-purple, flat flower clusters and long, skinny leaves.

Milkweed perpetually makes me think of our friends, the monarch butterflies. The adults will only lay eggs on these plants and the caterpillars feed exclusively on it as they grow. In return, the monarchs, as well as other butterflies, bees, ants, and wasps pollinate the plants by carrying pollen sacs from flower to flower. By feeding on the milkweed, the monarch gains its greatest defense: chemical warfare. Milkweed plants contain cardenolide alkaloids, a toxic chemical compound in their leaves and stems that can be fatal to vertebrates. Many invertebrates, however, rely on plants containing these compounds for food, like the monarch caterpillar, hungrily chewing its way through the milkweed leaves. By ingesting the toxic compounds, the monarchs can store the poison in their exoskeletons and later in their wings, creating a defense mechanisms against predators. Predators of the monarch have learned throughout years to perceive the bright colors of the caterpillar and the adult butterfly as a warning that this animal is distasteful and poisonous. Observers have seen birds that did not heed this warning quickly start vomiting after consuming monarchs - lesson learned! Despite this reasonably efficient defense mechanism, there are a few predators that have developed ways of feeding on the monarchs. The black-backed oriole in Mexico, for example, catches the adult butterflies, splits open the butterfly and eats only the insides, leaving the poisonous exoskeleton and wings behind, effectively avoiding the poisonous parts. 

 

 Top: You can often find many grasshopper adults and nymphs in fields with milkweeds. Bottom: Other insects also like milkweed, such as these iridescent green dogbane beetles.

If you go out to observe the milkweed plants, you may see monarchs in various stages of their life cycle. They start out as eggs on the milkweed leaves and quickly (three or four days) hatch into fast growing caterpillars. This stage typically lasts 10 - 14 days, during which the caterpillar may grow up to 22 times the size it was upon hatching! This incredible act is due to a ferocious appetite, starting when it eats its own egg shell and continuing as it consumes lots of foliage and each one of its skins from its five molts as it grows. The phases in between these molts are called instars. When the much larger caterpillar is ready, it spends 10 -14 days inside a well-camouflaged chrysalis during its pupa stage, after which the adult emerges. Most summer generation adults will only live two to five weeks, pressured to quickly find a mate and lay hundreds of eggs in its short lifespan. However, the generation of adult monarchs emerging in the next few weeks will be the last generation of monarchs for the summer and have a special task. As with other insects of Minnesota, the monarch needs a winter survival strategy to ensure the population continues past the harsh winters. Only the adults will survive winter - but they won't stick around for the Minnesota cold!

  

 Right: I think I spooked this 5th instar (almost ready to pupate!) monarch caterpillar when I pulled on the leaf for a photo. Left: Another 5th instar (7/17/14). This will be the generation that migrates to Mexico come mid-August.

The monarchs of the central and eastern United States fly an incredible journey of up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico. Something about the last generation of Monarchs is biologically and behaviorally different than earlier summer generations, triggering an instinct that causes them to make this trek and not worry about finding a mate until the spring. Changes in day length and in temperature let the monarchs know when they should depart for their journey, usually around mid-August in Minnesota. But what do they do when they get to Mexico? They seek out a tree in the Oyamel fir forest, a very small area of the mountaintops, where they hang out with all their monarch pals for the winter. The butterflies form masses of millions in the trees, often returning to the exact same trees as previous years.

This orange-colored tint on the trees in the Oyamel forest is caused by approximately 2 million monarchs roosting. Note the forest areas close by that have been clear cut for agricultural purposes. Photo credit to Lincoln Brower.

The trees in this forest provide a very specific habitat that the butterfly can overwinter in. It is on a steep slope, protected from the wind and/or snow, consistently foggy or in the clouds, meaning there is adequate moisture for the butterflies, and it is a cool enough place where they won't freeze, but their metabolism will slow down enough to let their energy reserves last through winter, as they will not be feeding. Butterflies have to reach a certain temperature threshold before they are capable of flight, so if they fall from their winter roost in the trees, they have to climb up vegetation low to the ground and spend the rest of the winter there. In the spring, as it warms, the monarchs start moving down the mountain and finding mates, beginning their migration north by the second week of march. These monarchs will not make it back to Minnesota. They will first colonize the southern states, lay eggs and die off.  When these eggs hatch and eventually turn into butterflies, this generation will finish the migration of their parents, slowly spreading north back into Minnesota and beyond, arriving simultaneous to the milkweed plants of early summer.

 

Monarchs face many different dangers on their long travels, including death by cars like this butterfly.


Why haven't you seen more of this majestic insect? While I have seen quite a few caterpillars (which is promising), I could count the number of adults on both hands. The monarch populations have dropped drastically over the last few decades, mostly due to habitat loss. The monarchs need milkweed plants, which there are about 110 species of in the United States. But unfortunately the number of milkweed plants has decreased drastically throughout the years, due to clearing land for development, draining wetlands, and replacing natural prairies with mono crop systems. So what can you do? There are 14 species of milkweed in Minnesota, all are native, but many are threatened or even endangered. By leaving some milkweed plants in your yard you are providing crucial stop over areas and summer habitat for the monarch population. Not to mention you are attracting other pollinators to your yard to help your gardens! Some people don't like to have milkweed in their yard due to its prolific ability to reproduce, but many people feel that if the plant is spreading through your yard or gardens more than you care for, the young plants are easy enough to remove to avoid a takeover. So give it a try! If you don't have any milkweed in your yard, you could try collecting seeds from plants in the upcoming weeks and planting them in your yard, or you can order seeds from and for your region online.

Whatever you choose to do, get out and admire the beauty of the milkweed and the monarchs, as well as all of the other wildflowers and pollinators!

 

 

 You may also see these butterflies on your milkweed! This is a great spangled fritillary butterfly, found in the HDT gardens on 7/17/14.

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