Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Monday, September 29, 2008

Something You've Never Seen Before

Folks who have been reading my blog for a while know of my struggles with trying to rear an endangered species of butterfly called the swamp metalmark. Last year, our lab managed to keep caterpillars alive all winter long. For some reason, they just never wanted to complete their life cycle and died before pupating. To date, I have only succeeded in bringing one male all the way from egg to adult. All but two of my larvae have died prior to pupation.

This year, I decided not to try to fight nature. We collected gravid females in July. We would rear them up until the end of the growing season, then place them outside to overwinter. The day length and cold temperatures would allow their biological clocks to do whatever they needed to, and we'd complete the life cycle next year.

This swamp metalmark caterpillar will pupate in the next day or two.

About a week and a half ago, Vincent informed me that some of the caterpillars were putting on a significant growth spurt. A couple even pupated. As of today, we have a dozen pupae, and the majority of the individuals in the lab will pupate in the next day or two. I have been unable to locate a photo of a pupa of this species. Here is one that I took this morning:

We will do what we can to try to get them to mate in the lab. If they do this, we already know that we can get them to lay eggs in the lab. We will rear them up to their normal stage for diapause (hibernation) and then place them outside. I have no idea what is going to happen here. A lot can still go wrong. The best possible outcome is that we get a significantly expanded number of eggs and larvae to work with. One thing is for sure- I've just about given up trying to anticipate how the species is going to behave.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Media Madness

We released more silver-bordered fritillaries at Glacial Park in McHenry County yesterday. The local media were on the story.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Things that make life worth living

Home Made Blueberry Ice Cream
Recipe courtesy of those two holy men from Vermont


Monday, September 22, 2008

On the Virtues of Meeting Old friends for the First Time

Mark (L) and Rodger

My trip to the Pacific Northwest took me from Portland to Seattle. Driving north from our detour to Cape Disappointment, Vincent and I ended up at our hotel in Seattle, just a few blocks from Pike Street Market.

The fish stall at Pike Street Market This picture is especially for Celeste

We visited Erin at Woodland Park Zoo. They and the Oregon Zoo collaborate on rearing Oregon Silverspot butterflies. Their techniques are similar. They house the females in paper bags where they lay eggs. We had the opportunity to view their procedure for feeding them.

Each bag contains one gravid female who will lay up to 500 eggs

A silverspot inside of the egg laying cage

Feeding the silverspots. The feet are first diped in water (petri dish on the left), then the butterfly is placed on a cotton ball soaked in sugar water. Note that her proboscis is extended into the cotton ball.

We visited the insectarium at Woodland Park. It's a very nice facility with interesting insects that are well displayed.

In the Insectarium.
Vincent interviews a walking stick.

After learning all that we could about breeding butterflies the Pacific Northwest way (and having our world rocked in the process), Vincent and I said goodbye to Erin. I jumped on the evening train back to Portland, where I spent the weekend with blogging friends Mark and Rodger. I've known them since I started blogging. Rodger commented on my very first post, and Mark showed up shortly thereafter. I've wanted to meet them in person since the outset, and now I finally have.

They picked me up at the airport and whisked me up to their beautiful home in the hills above Portland. We spent the evening drinking wine and (inspired by a comment from Homer) gossiping about other bloggers, especially UrSpo, about whom they now know everything.

On Saturday Morning, we walked through the foggy hills of Forest Park. There were lots of cool mushrooms.

Portland shrooms

For the afternoon we headed towards the coast and Tillamook, famous for its cheese. We bought cheese curds, and really good ice cream. I had huckleberry, Mark had German Chocolate, and Rodger had something with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in it. The cheesemaking operation was interesting, but didn't teach me much that I could apply to my own work. I'm not planning on industrial-scale cheesemaking any time soon.

After cheese, we went back to the river. I photographed insects, including a really cool woolly bear, while Mac the wonder dog swam and chased sticks. He's a total sweetie.

West Coast woolly bear

He's more fun to pet when he's dry.

Saturday night it was back home for Mark's amazing egg enchiladas, more conversation and more wine. On the way to the airport on Sunday, I realized that not only was I sorry to be parting company so quickly, I felt as though I have known Mark and Rodger a lot longer than the two years I've been blogging. They are wonderful people and excellent hosts. I've grown very fond of them.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cape Disappointment

Thursday, Vincent and I drove from Portland to Seattle. On the way, we stopped off at Cape Disappointment in Washington State to see the lighthouse. It was a typical gray Pacific Northwest Day. The light lent a somber beauty to the cliffs and coves.


Looking south across the mouth of the Columbia River to the headlands of the Oregon coast


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Butterfly Yurts

Mary Jo and Vincent check out Larvaland

I'm just back from spending a day at the Oregon Zoo. What an incredibly productive day this has been. It's been scales falling from the eyes, new insights, changing the way we'll be doing a lot of things type productive.

The purpose of our visit was to meet with Mary Jo, a keeper at the Oregon Zoo. She has been running the endangered butterfly recovery program at the zoo. We wanted to see what they are doing, especially how they are keeping caterpillars alive over the winter. One of the species that they work with is the endangered Oregon Silverspot, which is a close relative of a species we work with, the Regal Fritillary.

Taylor's Checkerspot Larvae in a yogurt container

The larvae will spend the winter outdoors under these flower pots

Our first stop was larva land. This is where Mary Jo winters caterpillars of the Taylors Checkerspot, another endangered species. The larvae are in crumpled paper towels inside of yogurt containers. The yogurt containers are placed on the catch tray from a large terrra cotta flowerpot. A square of gauze is stuck in the flower pot's drainhole, and the flowerpot is used to cover the whole thing. I knew immediately that this method holds great promise for keeping our swamp metalmarks over the winter.

Oregon Silverspot eggs with newly hatched larvae that have crawled onto the yurt.
The white filter paper helps keep everything moist but not wet.

Silverspot larvae in a yurt

Mary Jo's lab is a very impressive operation. They process large numbers of larvae, and keep meticulous records. They are able to store the Silverspot larvae over the winter in the refrigerator by using yurts. Yurts are small pieces of corregated cardboard that are sterilized and placed in pertri dishes with Silverspot eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their eggshells, then wander over to the yurts. They sit in the grooves of the carboard. The bits of cardboars are refrigerated over the winter in special cages. In the spring, they are warmed up and the larvae are offered food. They complete their development and are released into the field. We can do this.

Mary Jo (l) with another keeper and a kinkajou

Porcupine, eating

Me with a Humboldt Penguin

We haven't even visited Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle yet, but already we know that we will be returning home with all kinds of new ideas and techniques. It wasn't all serious technical discussions, either. I got to feed a porcupine, meet a kinkajou, and pet a Humboldt penguin. Today gets a 10.

4,000 Eggs of the endangered Oregon Silverspot

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Wet Weekend

Greetings from Portland, Oregon. It was a very wet weekend in the Chicago area. In Elgin, over 10" of rain fell on Friday and Saturday. I was trapped indoors, so I did lots of food prep. On Saturday, I made a Caraway Gouda. It should be ready by thanksgiving, though I may save it to be a Christmas cheese. I also made blueberry ice cream. On Sunday I made applesauce with Cox Orange Pippen apples from our trees.

Caraway Gouda

Because Sunday was Leon's birthday, I offered to bake him a cake. He wanted chocolate, a kiind of cake that I don't have much experience with. The recipe in my favorite cookbook looked really fussy and involved. What to do? Homer to the rescue! He recently posted about a chocolate mayonnaise cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting. He described it as both easy and tasty. He was right on both counts, though his turned out prettier than mine did.

Sunday, we woke up to a find that the roof was leaking into the dining room where a small section of ceiling was sitting in a puddle on the dining room table. A couple of books, my laptop, and my P&S camera were all wet. Fortunately, the laptop is fine. The books are probably ruined (but they're not expensive items). The P&S is damaged. It may be OK once it dries out, but I need something from my trip here to the Pacific Northwest. To resolve this problem, I got a new digital camera on Sunday. It's Nikon Coolpix P80. I'm looking forward to trying it.

Tomorrow, we're off to the Oregon Zoo to learn how they do conservation of an endangered Fritillary butterfly. I'll be learning how yurts are used in butterfly conservation. On Thursday, it's up to Seattle, to see thier operation working with the same butterfly. For the weekend, it's back to Portland where I'll (finally) be meeting Mark and Rodger in person.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Wednesday Sunrise

6:07 AM Des Plaines, Illinois
10 September 2008

The small clouds just above the horizon are over Lake Michigan.

More Skywatch at the usual place. You know the drill.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Release Time

Glacial Park in McHenry County

On this morning's post at Mutual Causality, cedrorum said:

I was walking in the forest again yesterday. I've really been getting lucky lately in that capacity. I still can't believe I get paid to do this.
Yesterday must have been that sort of day in a bunch of of places, because I was thinking the exact same thing. For the second year in a row, we have released Silver-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria selene) at Glacial Park in McHenry County. This species is in trouble over much of the southern edge of its range, including Illinois. Earlier this summer, some folks from my lab joined me down in Grundy County to collect females of this species. They laid eggs in the lab, and we've been rearing them all summer long. The adults have been emerging over the past week or so, and it's time to release them.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)

It was a lovely day- bright sunshine with temperatures in the mid 70s. I was joined by Vincent, Brad and Robin as we hauled beer coolers containing chilled butterflies out to the prairie. We decided to do something a bit different this year. As the adults emerged, we placed them in a flight cage until we were ready to move them outside. This allowed them to court and mate in the cage. The result is that there is now one fewer thing that the released females need to do before they lay eggs and die. We know that this was successful because we saw mating activity in the cages, and a bunch of eggs had already been laid by the time we took the butterflies out.

Fritillaries in the flight cage

We allowed the butterflies to warm up, and then placed 70 adults on flowers. Today is a gorgeous day here in Illinois, and I'm hoping that the females are laying lots of eggs, even as I type this. We have about 150 chrysalides still to emerge. The week after next, once Vincent and I return from the Pacific Northwest, we will have to go back out to this beautiful place and do another release. Such is our lot in life.

Releasing butterflies in the warm afternoon sunshine

Think fertile thoughts for the fritillaries!

Silver-bordered Fritillary - the other side

Update: A few days ago I posted about recent forays to bring two other rare species, the Purplish Copper and Regal Fritillary, into the lab for breeding purposes. As of this writing, we have over 100 Purplish Copper eggs and several hundred Regal Fritillary eggs. The butterflies are still going strong. You go, girls!

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

The High Season

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) Photo: M. Reuter

It's been a year of significant progress and learning for the butterfly restoration project. Yesterday, I realized how much I have had to change my thinking about this work. If you ask me what the busy time of the year for this project is, my answer has traditionally been, without hesitation, July. That's the time of year that most of the important prairie species are flying. And, true to form, this July was pretty busy. Now I'm finding that September is also a very busy month for this project.

Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides) Photo: T. Peterson

This past week, we brought two species into the lab for breeding. On Friday, we went to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The lab grounds are home to a rare wetland species called the purplish copper. We were delighted to be able to collect both breeding females and bits of wing tissue form a fairly large population series for DNA analysis. This was exciting because we have not been able to find any coppers there for several years now. This year, inexplicably, they're back. We have females beginning to lay eggs in the lab right now.

One of the things that I really like about working at Fermi is that the memorandum of understanding that allows me to do this work expressly states that I do not require time on the particle accelerator beam.

Sand prairie in the Kankakee River Valley

Yesterday two volunteers and an intern accompanied Vincent and me out to the Kankakee River Valley in Indiana. Our quarry was the regal fritillary, another species tthat's in serious trouble. It formerly ranged from Colorado to the East Coast. Today, outside of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, only two remaining populations remain east of the Mississippi.

One of the recent lessons regarding the regal is the narrow window of time that one has to collect founder stock. The butterfly first appears in late June. They spend most of July feeding and mating, then they aestivate (a kind of summer hibernation) until September. We have been unable to coax the females to lay eggs before tis time, and it's hard to keep them alive in the lab for that long. By the third or fourth week in September, they're done laying eggs. This year, we hit it just about right and were done with collecting in about 45 minutes.

Butterflies puddling: Pearl Crescents (orange), Alfalfa Butterflies (yellow),
Cloudless Sulphur (the single yellow butterfly at the top).

The quick completion of our task allowed us to enjoy the area for a while. The soil is very sandy, and is from Lake Michigan. Apparently, thus part of the Midwest was not ice covered during the last glaciation. There was good insect diversity- we saw seval speceeis of grasshoppers,three species of tiger beetles, and a species of velvet ant. Velvet ants are types of wasp with wingless females. In many species, the females are covered with fine down that resembles velvet. They pack a powerful sting, but as they can't fly, it's easy to avoid that. They run very rapidly however, and I was unable to get a decent photo.

More puddling: Pearl Crescents (orange), Viceroy (large orange),
Meadow Fritillary (left side second from top)

Much easier to photograph were the clouds of butterflies puddling. It had rained heavily the previous day, and male butterflies were observed by the thousands drinking from the still-damp soil. This behavior is thought to replenish the sodium lost when the male transfers sperm to the female. We saw 13 different species of butterflies puddling.

Red-spotted Purple (Liminitis astyanax)

Coming soon: lots of field releases, and a visit to Portland and Seattle to observe lab rearing of Oregon Silverspots. This species is a close relative to the Regal Fritillary and has very similar biology. I meant it when I said this is a busy time of year for butterfly restoration.

Butterflies seen puddling:

Alfalfa Butterfly, Pearl Crescent, Eastern Comma, Viceroy,
Cloudless Sulphur, American Lady, Red-spotted Purple, Buckeye,
Cabbage White, Painted Lady, Eastern tailed Blue, Peck's Skipper,
Meadow Fritillary

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Tropical Depression Gustav

Chicago, Illinois
4 September 2008
6:07 PM

Go see more Skywatch.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New Food Meme

I haven't done a meme in ages. This one is from Lemuel. I get the majority of my memes from him (thanks, Lem).

1) Bold all the items you have eaten.
2) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison - Yes. It was stringy.
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue – To quote cooking goddess Ann Hodgeman,"This seems like it’s been dusted with seventies powder. I expect to find it between the chocolate cheesecake and the Metrocal." But I like it anyway.
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush – Mmm. Eggplant. Love it.
11. Calamari - Yes. Meh.
12. Pho - Years ago in a Vientnamese restaurant. OK only.
13. PB&J sandwich – As a child I would have starved without this item. I still like them.
14. Aloo gobi – Yes, I LOVE Indian food.
15. Hot dog from a street cart – Yes, but not often. I really like them at the ballpark (Go Red Sox!)
16. Epoisses – Just recently. It was in a cheese flight that Chilmarrk Girl gave me for my last birthday. Not bad, though it was my least favorite cheese in the flight.
17. Black truffle – Never alone, but I’ve had it in things a bunch of times. A peak taste experience.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes – Yes, many times. Do I get extra points for having made my own elderberry, blackberry and apple wines?
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream – When I was a child, I was obsessed with the color green. This often meant eating pistachio ice cream, even though I wasn’t wild about it. I bet I’d like it better now.
21. Heirloom tomatoes - Yes, though I’m not a fan of raw tomatoes.
22. Fresh wild berries – Good god, yes. Life without them would be flat and colorless.
23. Foie gras - Only a few times. This is definitely a guilty pleasure, because I really like it. I even managed to have a bit during the time that it was illegal in Chicago.
24. Rice and beans - Yes.
25. Brawn, or head cheese – No, but I love the reference to this in George Carlin’s Picky Eater routine.
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - I’ve tried a tiny bit of raw habeñero perpper, which is pretty much the same thing. Yowza! But they’re great in salsa.
27. Dulce de leche - Father, I have sinned. I have eaten Oreo cookies with dulce de leche in place of the crème filling. Given the opportunity, I’d do it again.
28. Oysters - Yes, raw, fried, and in soup. I could do without the raw. The others were good, but fried oysters are a distant second to fried clams.
30. Bagna cauda – Yes. My arteries are clogging just thinking about it.
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl – Can we talk? I’m a clam chowder snob. Growing up on the coast of Massachusetts will do that to you. Clam chowder is a sacramental food. It should never been eaten fron a sourdough bread bowl, and putting tomatoes in it is a crime against nature.
33. Salted lassi – A tiny sip. Yecch!
34. Sauerkraut – Yep. Never again.
35. Root beer float – Yes, and it’s been way too long. I’ve made both homemade root beer and homemade vanilla ice cream before. Those two really need to get together some time.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar – Why would anyone want to do that?
37. Clotted cream tea - Yes, in the Lakes District of England.
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo – Yes, but never a really authentic one with filet powder. I’d really like to try that.
40. Oxtail - Yes. Oxtail soup is camping food.
41. Curried goat – Just recently. In St. Maartin on our curuise last winter, Someone (of Spo and Someone) had curried goat and let me try a bite. I was glad I got the conch fritters.
42. Whole insects – No. Many are probably surprised here. I worry because I have an arthropod allergy (see below).
43. Phaal – No, but I have had other really hot curries. Lamb vindaloo is wonderful.
44. Goat’s milk – Only made into cheese.
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - I don’t like whisky. This would be pearls before swine.
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala - A big favorite of mine.
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut – More than I would care to admit.
50. Sea urchin – Yes, as sushi. Meh.
51. Prickly pear – Yes, a bunch of ways. As candy, in Canada Dry Cactus Cooler soda. Chopped pads (not fruit) in salsa. The two best: prickly pear jelly from Kathie and a single prickly pear fruit carefully picked from a plant in Garden Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains and eaten on the trail while viewing a very rare butterfly.
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone – No, but I really want to try this.
54. Paneer – Yea. Among other things, it’s in Aloo Gobi.
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal – No. I eat cheeseburgers at McDonald’s. Big Macs have too much crap on them.
56. Spaetzle – Yes. Meh.
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips - Yes.
61. S’mores – Yes. Among other places, over bonfires during winter Fen workdays. Did you know that Scrabulous accepts smore as a word?
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin – You can eat kaolin?
64. Currywurst
65. Durian – No, but I will probably try it next year in Malaysia. But the fruit I really want to try there is mangosteen.
66. Frogs’ legs – Yes. Meh.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - Yes to all four. Beignets were the best.
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain – Many times in Latin America. In Peru they were a delicious remedy for Athuhualpa’s revenge.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho – Yes. Meh.
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost – No, but I’ve had the closely related Myost. It was OK.
75. Roadkill .
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Yes, I’m embarrassed about how many of these I had in my youth. Berry was my favorite. It’s been many years.
78. Snail – Yes. They’re a great excuse to eat garlic butter.
79. Lapsang souchong - Yes. Interesting occasionally, it would never be my regular cup of tea (so to speak).
80. Bellini – Yes. Surprisingly, only once, because I liked it.
81. Tom yum – Yes. Yum is the operative word here.
82. Eggs Benedict – Yes. OK only.
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant – No, but I have done the tasting menu at Charlie Trotter’s, so I’ve come close.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare – If synonmous with rabbit, yea. If this refers to a true hare, then no.
87. Goulash -Yes.
88. Flowers – Yes, many times and kinds.
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate - Oh, my yes.
91. Spam – Yes. My most memorable: At a guest house on the island of Dominica, I was offered ham and eggs for breakfast. I got Spam and eggs. .
92. Soft shell crab I can’t eat crustaceans because I’m really allergic to them. The few times I’ve had them they have tasted wonderful, but it’s a pretty violent allergy for me. This is why I won’t eat insects.
93. Rose harissa I’ve had both rose pudding and harissa, but never the two together. Harissa is a great spice.
94. Catfish – Yes.
95. Mole poblano – Good mole poblano is a sublime experience.
96. Bagel and lox - Yes.
97. Lobster Thermidor – No. See #92. .
98. Polenta – Yes. Uninspiring by itself, it’s a good vehicle for serving other things.
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee – I hate coffee.
100. Snake – Never had the opportunity, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

Bonus: What food item have you tried that should be on this list but isn't?
Cuy, or guinea pig. I had it during a trip to Peru in the early 1990s. It's served with the head, paws and claws still attached. I found it greasy and nasty.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Harvest Home

Woodstock (IL) Farmers' Market

I've been back from New England for a week now, and am just getting around to a new post. Late August around these parts means lots of produce to process. On Saturday, we went to the Woodstock farmers' market. We wanted to buy cucumbers for pickling, and a bunch of other stuff. I was a bit disappointed in the selection. The produce that they had was very nice, but lacking in variety. I don't really need sweet peppers right now- we're drowning in a torrent of Gypsy and Nardello peppers. It's much the same with tomatoes. Nobody had a lot of the things that I would have liked (berries, peaches, melons). Still, farmers' markets are always fun. Plus, I got something that could prove to be very valuable in the future: a line on a local source for raw cow's milk. This could be a fun fall for cheese making.

Music at the Market. Our friend Gary is the gentleman in the red suspenders.

We also got to spend some time with our friends Gary and Gary Lee. They are both musicians, and Gary, who plays with a lot of traditional music, was performing at the market. I'm not sure how traditional (at least in this country) a didgeridoo made from PVC pipe is.

Gary plays the didgeridoo

We did manage to score a bunch of cukes at the market, and we put up pickles yesterday. Our inspiration (as always) for this effort was Mark and Rodger, whose recipe we used. Thanks, guys. We always include grape leaves in the jars as a crisping agent. This year, it was a challenge getting some that were not damaged by Japanese beeltes. Note that we tried a couple of jars with habañeros this time.

Cucumbers about to fulfill their briny destiny

In the jars with grape leaves, garlic and hot peppers. Awaiting brine.

Finished pickles. They'll be ready to eat by Thanksgiving.

We've been doing a lot of food preservation this year. In addition to the pickes we've made pesto, dried tomatoes, and frozen corn and eggplant. Frozen beans (and more corn) to come! I hope that your harvest is also being bountiful.

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