Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

BUTTERFLIES IN THE NEWS – BUTTERFLIES “CLAP” THEIR WINGS AND THE DEMISE OF THE WEST COAST MONARCH

I read the following article with great interest “Butterflies fly using efficient propulsive clap mechanism owing to flexible wings”.

Subsequent reports have come out with headlines such as “Butterfly wing claps explain mystery of flight” and“Natural wonder: Wing ‘clap’ solves mystery of butterfly flight”

Butterfly wings come in all shapes, sizes, and degree of flexibility. They have evolved with a range of mechanisms and strategies in flight. Butterflies such as the Silver-washed Fritillary (see video below) and Yellow Sulphur clap their wings frequently, but other butterflies, the Monarch Butterfly for example, does not “clap”  their wings every time they take flight. The Monarch’s wings create an open cup shape, operating in more of a figure eight pattern.

Scientist have known about butterfly wing clapping for more than fifty years. I don’t think a mystery has been solved nonetheless, the study from Sweden’s Lund University and articles are interesting to read.

 

In the above video you can see in the first few frames when the Monarch is taking off that its wings do not clap.

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On a more terrifying note, the Western Monarch population has become nearly entirely extirpated from its historic range. A recently published article from the Xerces Society “Western Monarch Population Closer to Extinction as the Wait Continues for Monarchs’ Protection Under the Endangered Species Act”reports a 99.9 percent decrease in population since the 1980s. Only 1,914 Monarchs were located during the annual Thanksgiving Butterfly Count.

Monarchs at the Goleta Butterfly Grove, 2015

In 2015, when my daughter Liv was living in Santa Monica, she and I took a day trip to the Goleta Butterfly Grove, just outside of Santa Barbara.

Goleta Butterfly Grove

The butterflies were, for the most part, sleeping quietly  in the Eucalyptus trees. A few were fluttering about, drinking nectar from the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) growing nearby.

Non-native nectar source for Monarchs, Cape Honeysuckle

The Western Monarch Butterfly demise has been in the making for decades. The Ecaplytus trees the butterflies were roosting in appeared stressed. Eucalyptus trees are not native to California and are highly flammable. I wondered at the time why the forest couldn’t be underplanted with native tree and also wondered exactly what were the trees the butterflies may have historically roosted in.

With unbridled development that has lead to loss of habitat, forest fires, a warming climate, and the use of deadly pesticides and herbicides in this American breadbasket to the world, is it really a mystery as to why the butterflies are nearly extirpated from California.Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count Data 1997-2020 shows that despite a strong volunteer effort, monarch numbers are at the lowest point recorded since the count started in 1997.

RED FOX SLEEPING IN THE MORNING SUN

Little Red Fox found a sunny, albeit super windy, spot to soak in some morning rays. Fox use their tails to snuggle in for warmth.

THANK YOU GLOUCESTER DAILY TIMES GAIL McCARTHY AND ANDREA HOLBROOK FOR THE “LOCAL ARTISTS EARN ACCOLADES” FILM UDATE!!

Lovely update from the Gloucester Daily Times Gail McCarthy for Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. So many thanks to the Times for their continued support for BotWing. I am so grateful and appreciative!

AROUND CAPE ANN: Local artists earn accolades

  • January 14, 2020

Gloucester’s Kim Smith, who boasts a love of nature, photography and all things art, has found growing recognition for her film “Beauty on the Wing,” about the life of the monarch butterfly and its intercontinental migration from Canada to Mexico.

Smith spent more than eight years researching and documenting the natural phenomenon, whose more than 3,000 miles includes Cape Ann.

This fall, her documentary was accepted into the Boston International Kids Film Festival, where it earned an award for best documentary.

More recently, “Beauty on the Wing” received an Award of Excellence from the Nature Without Borders International Film Festival and was accepted as an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival, which takes place in February.

“I am overjoyed that ‘Beauty on the Wing’ is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages,” Smith said.

She noted that “Beauty on the Wing” also appears on the American Public Television Worldwide website in its catalog of science and nature programming at aptww.org/program/Beauty-on-the-Wing-Life-Story-of-the-Monarch-Butterfly.

Rockport artist wins Texas honor

Rockport artist Susan Lynn won the grand prize at the EnPleinAirTEXAS competition with her painting titled “Peace on the River.”

“It was overwhelming to get the grand prize because there is a stellar group of painters in that competition every year,” she said. “It was humbling, and I was very honored to be recognized in that group.”

READ MORE HERE

The GMGI Science Hour with OceanX’s Dr. Vincent Pieribone on 1/21 – Register Now!

We are thrilled to kick off the 2021 Science Hour talks with Dr. Vincent Pieribone, Vice Chairman of OceanX!

Please join us on Thursday, January 21st at 7:30pm via Zoom to hear Dr. Pieribone discuss the fascinating adventures of OceanX and what it means for the future of Ocean Science. Register today!

Dr. Pieribone is currently a Professor of Cellular & Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine, and is a Fellow and Director of the John B. Pierce Laboratory at Yale University.

Did you miss the news about our collaboration with OceanX? Read all about our new partnership that will pair our cutting-edge genomic capabilities with OceanX’s incredible exploration and storytelling abilities.

If you have already registered for this talk, you will have received a confirmation email from Zoom with login information.

Please reach out to ashley.destino@gmgi.org with any questions.

A BOSSY QUARRELSOME FELLOW IS THAT RARE BLACK-HEADED GULL!

I have returned several times more to see that rare and beautiful little Black-headed Gull. He wasn’t alone but was feeding in a mixed flock of gulls and ducks. All seemed perfectly peaceful at first. Before too long, he was squawking noisily, barking orders, and flying aggressively toward any other gull that crossed his path. Very comical actually, as he was smaller than all the others nonetheless, they took orders readily and moved aside.

Black-headed Gull vs. Ring-billed Gull Battle 

Wonderfully animated surf dancer!

Bonaparte’s Gull left, Black-headed Gull right

A friend wrote wondering if I was sure what we are seeing is a Black-headed Gull. He, as was I initially, wondering if it was a Bonaparte’s Gull. Bonaparte’s have black bills, whereas the Black-headed Gull has a black-tipped red bill, along with red feet and legs. I found this terrific image showing the progressive molting stages of a Black-headed Gull while looking up Black-headed Gulls.

By the way, the head feathers of the Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage are really not black, but chocolate brown. Then again, there is an actual Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus). Whoever gave name to these gulls!!
Black-headed Gull in breeding plumage, photo courtesy Google image search

CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2020: THE YEAR IN PICTURES, MOVIES, AND STORIES

Several years ago my husband suggested I write a “year end” wildlife review about all the creatures seen over the preceding year. That first review was a joyful endeavor though daunting enough. Over the next several years the reviews became more lengthy as I tried to cover every beautiful, wonderful creature that was encountered on woodland hikes, beaches, dunes, marshes, ponds, and our own backyards and neighborhoods. 2020 has been a very different year. There were just as many local wildlife stories as in previous years however, the pandemic and political climate have had far reaching consequences across geographic regions around the world, touching every living creature in the interconnected web of life we call our ecosystems.

This first year of the global pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on wildlife and their habitats. In urban areas in developed countries, perhaps the economic slowdown afforded wildlife a break, with less pollution, less air travel, and some wild animals even reclaiming territory. Though the true downside of Covid-19 is that the pandemic has had an extraordinarily harmful impact on wildlife in rural areas and in less developed countries People who are dependent upon tourism, along with people who have lost jobs in cities and are returning to rural areas, are placing increasing pressure on wildlife by poaching, illegal mining, and logging. As mining and logging destroy wildlife habitats, animals are forced into ever shrinking areas, causing them to become sick, stressed, and to starve to death. These same stressed wild animals come in contact with people and farm animals, creating an ever increasing potential to transmit horrifically deadly illness, diseases such as Covid-19.

There are many, many organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve their habitats. I am especially in awe of one particular grass roots non-profit organization located in Macheros, Mexico, previously featured here, Butterflies and Their People. Co-founded by Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, the work they are doing to both protect the butterfly’s winter habit and provide employment for the forest’s guardians is outstanding.

All the butterfly sanctuaries (their winter resting places), are closed this year due to the pandemic. Dozens of people in the tiny town of Macheros are wholly dependent upon the income received by the work they do protecting the butterfly trees from illegal logging, as well as income from the tourist industry.  Ellen, Joel, and their team of arborists have come up with a wonderfully creative way to bring the butterflies to you. For a modest fee, you can sign up to “Adopt a Colony” to receive monthly newsletters and video tours of the Monarchs at Cerro Pelon. The newsletters are written by Ellen, who writes beautifully and clearly about the month-by-month current state of the butterflies in their winter habitat, as well as human interest stories drawn from the community. To subscribe to “Adopt a Colony” from Butterflies and Their People, go here.

We can be hopeful in 2021 that with a new administration, a much greater focus will be paid by our federal government to stop the spread of the virus in the US as well as around the globe. Not only is there hope in regard to the course correction needed to battle the pandemic, but the Biden/Harris administration has made climate change and environmental justice a cornerstone of their platform, including measures such as stopping the environmental madness taking place along our southern border and reversing many of the previous administration’s mandates that are so harmful to wildlife and their habitats.

Around the globe, especially in less developed countries, the pandemic has set back environmental initiatives by years, if not decades. We are so fortunate in Essex County  to have conservation organizations such as Greenbelt, MassWildlife, The Trustees, and Mass Audubon; organizations that protect the sanctity of wildlife and recognize the importance of protecting habitats not only for wildlife but equally as important, for the health and safety of human inhabitants.

The following are just some of the local images and stories that make us deeply appreciate the beauty of wildlife and their habitats found on Cape Ann and all around Essex County. Each picture is only a brief window into the elusive, complex life of a creature. Every day and every encounter brings so much more to observe, to learn, to enjoy, and to love.

To read more, each image and story from the past year is Google searchable. Type in the name of the creature and my name and the link to the story and pictures posted on my website should come right up.

Some Beautiful Raptors of 2020 – Red-tailed Hawk, Short-eared Owl, American Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Osprey, and Snowy Owls

 

Essex County Greenbelt’s Osprey pair, Annie and Squam, successfully fledged little River (nestling photo courtesy ECGA)

 

The Snowy Owl Film Project was completed in March, with the objective of providing pandemic- virtually schooled kids a window into the world of Snowy Owls in their winter habitat (see all five short films here).

 

Spunky Mute Swan Cygnets

Utterly captivated by the winsome Red Fox Family

A tiny sampling of the beautiful songbirds that graced our shores in 2020 – Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, Catbirds, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Eastern Bluebirds

 

A new favorite place to film is at my friend Paul’s wonderfully fun sunflower field in Ipswich, School Street Sunflowers. Beautiful Bobolinks, Common Yellowthroat Warblers, and Bluejays were just some of the songbirds seen feasting on the expiring seedheads  of sunflowers and wildflowers growing amongst the rows of flowers.

Graceful White-tailed Deer herd of adult females and youngsters

Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and juvenile Little Blue Herons delight with their elegance, beauty, and stealth hunting skills. Included in the montage is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron that spent the winter at Niles Pond

A fraction of the different species of Shorebirds and Gulls seen on Cape Ann this past year – Dowitchers, Killdeers, Black-bellied Plovers, Common Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Glaucus Gull, and rarely seen Dovekie, or”Little Auk.”

Cecropia Moth life cycle unfolding in our garden, from mating, to egg laying, to caterpillar, to adult.

 

Dozens and dozens of orb spider webs draped a small patch of wildflowers. The dream catchers were attracting Cedar Waxwings to feast on the insects caught in the webs. The following day I returned after a rainstorm. The webs had melted away in the downpour and the Waxwings had vanished into the treetops.

Harbor and Gray Seals hauled out on the rocks at Brace Cove, as many as 28 were counted on a winter’s day!

Piping Plovers and Marshmallow Montage

In 2020, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair fledged one chick, nicknamed Marshmallow. Despite the global pandemic, a group of super dedicated Piping Plover Ambassadors worked tirelessly from sunrise until sunset to help ensure the safety of the Piping Plover family and to help educate beachgoers about the beautiful life story of the Plovers unfolding on Gloucester’s most popular beach destination. We worked with Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, the Gloucester DPW, and Gloucester City Councilor Scot Memhard, with much appreciated advice from Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Biologist Carolyn Mostello.

Read more about Marshmallow, the Ambassadors, and the Piping Plover Film Project here.

Piping Plover Marshmallow Montage, from egg to thirty-eight days old. Filmed at Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

MONARCHS!

It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, infinitely educational, and beautifully challenging journey creating my documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. The film was released in February 2020, but because of the pandemic, was not seen by the public until August, when it premiered (virtually) at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. Beauty on the Wing has gone on to win honors and awards at both environmental and children’s film festivals, including the tremendous honor of Best Documentary at the Boston International Kids Film Festival. I’ve just received the very attractive award in the mail and have not had time to post a photo yet.

Beauty on the Wing portrays Cape Ann in the most beautiful light and I think when we are ever able to have a live premiere in this area, local friends will be delighted at the outcome. Joyfully so, Beauty is now being distributed to schools, libraries, institutions, and the travel industry through American Public Television Worldwide.

Beauty on the Wing continues to be accepted to film festivals and I will keep you posted as some are geo-bloced to this area, including the upcoming Providence Children’s Film Festival.

 

Last but not least, our wonderfully wildy Charlotte, little adventurer and nature-loving companion throughout the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

A LOLLYGAGGING SEAL GOOD MORNING TO YOU!

Good Morning!

STARTING THE NEW YEAR OFF ON A HAPPY BUT MELANCHOLY NOTE

As was the case for so many, New Year’s Day was joyful but bittersweet, too. I drove Liv to the airport at dawn for her return trip to LA. She can work remotely and was able to travel home in early December, before the second surge. When she arrived home she quarantined, taking a Covid test prior to, and again after arriving. Liv extended her visit an extra week so that she did not have to fly back last weekend. It’s nerve wracking dropping her off at the airport but she has had to fly occasionally for work during the pandemic and Delta is only allowing at most 50 percent capacity. She flies at odd times so the planes are mostly empty, and she is often allowed to upgrade to first class for free, as she was on this flight. All that being said, with the surge on top of the surge and the new strain running rampant, praying and hoping she will remain safe and Covid-free.

Having both adult children home, along with our darling Charlotte here with us full time, we are having more fun as a family – cooking together, playing card games, laughing, joking, and telling stories. This family time together has been the silver lining to the pandemic and the part I will choose to remember.

I stopped on the way home to watch the planes taking off and snap a photo of the first sunrise of 2021.

After returning from the airport, Charlotte and I took one of our mini nature walks around Eastern Point. The very first creature we encountered was a young Double-crested Cormorant. He was attempting to cross the berm. We almost walked right into him! For some reason we couldn’t quite understand, he didn’t care to fly from Brace Cove to Niles Pond, but was on foot.

After we stood very quietly for several minutes (no small feat for a three-year-old) he decided we weren’t a threat and crossed our path, not three feet away!

Continuing on our mini trek, we spotted the rare Black-headed Gull bobbing along in the cove (see yesterday’s post).

To top off our day, a young Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead and landed in a nearby tree.

Wishing you a healthy New Year Friends!

DEAD BABY SEAL PUP AT LONG BEACH AND WHAT TO DO WHEN FOUND?

A beautiful golden seal pup was seen at Long Beach Sunday morning. The little Harbor Seal appeared to be only about 25 pounds and was possibly a newborn. The pup was found at the high tide line and was perfectly intact; perhaps he had died within hours of finding him.

Baby Harbor seals spend much of their time out of water on beaches resting and warming while their moms are in the water looking for food. We don’t know how this seal became separated from its mom, but if you do find a dead baby seal on the beach contact NOAA to let them know. NOAA Hotline: 866-755-6622 (Maine through Virginia).

Edited Note – My friend Sandy shared the following phone number from New Hampshire’s Seacoast Science Center, writing that this number is a cell phone so you can easily send a text and photo: 603-997-9448.  Ainsley Smith shares that SSC number is good as far south as Essex.

This is a good time of year to remind everyone what to do if you find a living seal pup, or a seal of any age, on the beach. Please keep a distance of at least 100 feet away, which is the law, and keep dogs far away. From the 100 feet distance, check to see if the seal is injured. If the seal appears to be in good  condition, leave it alone and remind fellow beach goers to keep their distance. A mother seal may leave her pup on the beach for up to 48 hours!

If the seal is struggling or appears to be injured contact NOAA at 866-755-6622

RED-TAILED HAWK IN THE WAXING CRESCENT MOON

As luck would have it, the Red-tailed Hawk swooped in and perched on a phone pole just opposite where I was standing taking snapshots of the Harbor. I turned to take a photo of the Hawk and the crescent Moon was rising! The Hawk only stayed a brief moment, but it was a beautiful thing to see.

Then, as we walked closer to the Lighthouse, a juvenile Great Blue Heron flew overhead! All on a  December’s afternoon!

MONARCHS IN THE NEWS – ENDANGERED, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO WARRANT PROTECTIONS

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that Monarchs are indeed threatened with extinction, but will not be added to the US list of Endangered and Threatened Species.  The official designation is “warranted, but precluded,” which means they fall in line behind 161 other species considered more endangered.

Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

From USFWS –

What action did the Service take?
We have made a 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on a thorough review of the monarch’s status, we determined that listing is warranted, but a proposal to list the monarch is precluded at this time while we work on higher-priority listing actions.

Is the monarch federally protected now?
No. Our 12-month finding does not protect monarchs under the ESA at this time. We first must propose the monarch for listing as either an endangered or threatened species, gather and analyze public comments and any new information, and using the best available science, make a final decision and publish a final rule. That process is deferred while we work on higher-priority listing actions.

What is a 12-month finding?
Under the ESA, when we receive a petition to list a species, we first make a 90-day finding, in which we evaluate the information in the petition to see if it is substantial enough to begin a review of the species’ status. If it is a substantial finding, we then prioritize the species in our evaluation process, and at the appropriate time, we begin a status review. The culmination of that review is a 12-month finding on whether listing is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.

Who petitioned the Service to list the monarch?
The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and a private individual petitioned us in 2014 to list the monarch. We made a positive 90-day finding in December 2014 and launched the status review in 2016.

Read more questions and answers here on the USFWS website –

Questions and Answers: 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly

For further reading –

Monarchs and the Endangered Species Act

Monarch Butterflies Qualify for Endangered List. They Still Won’t Be Protected

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finds Endangered Species Act Listing for Monarch Butterfly Warranted but Precluded

Officials agree monarch butterflies belong on endangered species list, but still won’t protect them

Assessing the Staaus of the Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterflies denied endangered species listing despite shocking decline

 

AMAZED AND WONDERFUL TO SEE A HORNED LARK ON THE BEACH! Along with Snow Buntings and American Pipits

This past week while photographing a Snow Bunting and several American Pipits, a friendly bird, not in the least skittish, caught my eye. It was acting sort of Pipit-like, similar size-wise and foraging in the sand, but had a striking black streak across its cheek and lemony yellow face. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at until returning home to look it up. I always take lots of photos when I am unsure of what it is I am photographing, just because you never know. I am so glad, because several of the photos gave a great clue. In the snapshots where the bird is looking dead on, you can actually see its tiny feathery “horns.” I think there were two Horned Larks with the small mixed flock, one slightly paler than the other.

‘Horns’ of the Horned Lark

The Snow Bunting was clearly the boss of the mini flock. If another approached too closely to where it was foraging, the bird gave a brief but aggressive hop and flutter toward the intruder.

In winter time, look for Horned Larks in fields, meadows, beaches, and dunes, in large and small mixed flocks. Interestingly, in Europe, the Horned Lark is called the Shore Lark and after the wonderful beach walk surprise, it’s easy to understand why.

Snow Bunting unfazed by Charlotte

Horned Lark and Snow Bunting

American Pipit

Snow Bunting

 

HAPPY NEWS TO SHARE FOR BEAUTY ON THE WING

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and staying safe. The happiest of news is that a vaccine is on the way. I am praying with all my heart that you all stay healthy between now and when we will be protected by the vaccine’s herd immunity.

On a lighter note, I am delighted to share that Beauty on the Wing received an Outstanding Excellence award from the Nature Without Border’s Film Festival, and even more excited to share that we are an official selection to the Providence Children’s Film Festival. The Providence Children’s Film Festival takes place in mid-February (I don’t yet have the dates to share). The best news is that the film is geo-blocked to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which means film friends in Massachusetts will be able to participate in the screening. More information to follow, as soon as the schedule is made public.

I am overjoyed that Beauty on the Wing is finding acceptance at both children’s and conservation festivals; that jurors see it as it was meant to be, a conservation film for people of all ages.

A request for help from my graphic design readers/photoshop experts -does anyone know how to remove a background from a .png file. The laurels that the Providence Children’s Film Festival sent over have a white background and I need to turn it into a transparent background to add to the film’s poster. The other laurels sent from other festivals had a transparent background, which I was able to easily add to the poster. Thank you if you have any tips on how to do this <3

Edited note – many, many thanks to Linda Bouchard from Snow Harbor Graphics for removing the background!!

Take care dear Friends and stay well. Happy Holidays in this hardest of times. Better days are sure to come.

 

 

DO MONARCH CATERPILLARS FIGHT?

Turn up the volume to hear the caterpillars noshing away 🙂

Monarch caterpillars use their sense of smell, touch, and taste to navigate from milkweed leaf to milkweed leaf. The hungry caterpillar tears milkweed into bite-sized pieces with its mandibles.

When devouring the foliage of a milkweed plant, what happens when a caterpillar encounters another of its own kind on the same leaf? Will it fight to defend its food? Typically, the caterpillar responds by pulling away and repositioning itself on the leaf, barely missing a beat.

A recent article in the NYTimes, “Don’t Get Between a Caterpillar and Its Milkweed,” reviews the paper, “Aggression Is Induced by Resource Limitation in the Monarch Caterpillar,” authored by Collie, Granola, Brown, and Keene. Monarchs raised in a laboratory were given varying amounts of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars, they claim, lunge aggressively towards each other in greater and greater frequency as their milkweed supply was decreased.

In all the years I have been filming Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and in the wild, I would never have thought to describe the caterpillar’s behavior as fighting, aggressive, hangry, lunging, or head butting.

Monarch caterpillars use their sense of touch smell, and taste to eat their way from leaf to leaf. When another of its own kind is encountered on the same milkweed leaf, Monarchs in the wild pull back and reposition themselves on the leaf, barely missing a beat.

Monarch caterpillars do this same “pulling back” when brushed up against. I think it is more of a sensory response because caterpillars can barely see. Their simple eyes, called ocelli, only differentiate light from dark and cannot form an image. When a group are feeding in the same area, their behavior upon encountering one of their own kind is more characteristic of bumping into each other rather than aggressively defending their territory.

Towards the end of the summer, when milkweed leaves may be in shorter supply, caterpillars in the wild will eat the seedpods and even the stems of milkweed plants rather than aggressively battle for food.

Monarch caterpillars do not have the ability to “fight.” Their greatest defense against predators is the the caterpillar’s bright color and striped patterning, warning birds of its toxicity.

Every species of caterpillar has evolved with its own species-specific form of visual self-defense, visual against birds that is. Camouflage, mimicry, pokey spikes and spines, or brilliant colors and patterning are examples of defensive visual cues. Some caterpillars look like they are a sploge of bird poop (discouraging an attack from an avian predator) and some like leaves on a tree.

Swallowtail caterpillars have evolved with an osmeterium, a sort of forked appendage that everts when the creature feels threatened. The osmeterium resembles a snake’s tongue, also discouraging avian predation.

Black Swallowtail orange osmeterium

Some caterpillars are thought to be cannibalistic however, I am not sure cannibalism is the correct word because that suggests the act of willfully eating one of their own kind.

Pipevine Swallowtail eggs and caterpillars

 Pipevine Swallowtail eggs are deposited by the female butterfly in clusters and the early instars continue to feed in a group.

Around the third or fourth instar, they will devour each other if not enough food for is available. Caterpillars taste like the leaves they eat. Doesn’t it seem natural that if a caterpillar cannot see what it is eating, it would simply eat whatever is in front of it if the ‘whatever’ tasted of its food plant? I wouldn’t call this aggressive behavior, the cat is simply using its sense of taste, smell and touch to locate readily available food.

Aggression Is Induced by Resource Limitation in the Monarch Caterpillar

Highlights

Monarch caterpillars display stereotyped aggressive behavior

Aggression is triggered by limited food availability

Aggression peaks during the late stages of caterpillar development

Summary

Food represents a limiting resource for the growth and developmental progression of many animal species. As a consequence, competition over food, space, or other resources can trigger territoriality and aggressive behavior. In the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, caterpillars feed predominantly on milkweed, raising the possibility that access to milkweed is critical for growth and survival. Here, we characterize the role of food availability on aggression in monarch caterpillars and find that monarch caterpillars display stereotyped aggressive lunges that increase during development, peaking during the fourth and fifth instar stages. The number of lunges toward a conspecific caterpillar was significantly increased under conditions of low food availability, suggesting resource defense may trigger aggression. These findings establish monarch caterpillars as a model for investigating interactions between resource availability and aggressive behavior under ecologically relevant conditions and set the stage for future investigations into the neuroethology of aggression in this system.

 

“BEAUTY ON THE WING” AWARDED BEST DOCUMENTARY AT THE BOSTON INTERNATIONAL KIDS FILM FESTIVAL

Dear Friends,

I hope you are doing well. Just a quick note to let you know that the awards for the Boston International Kids Film Festival were announced today and Beauty on the Wing was given Best Documentary. Simply overjoyed !! 🙂

The festival went very, very well. The organizers, Laura Azevedo and Natalia Morgan from Filmmakers Collaborative, working with WGBH, did an extraordinary and outstanding job producing an online film festival, no easy feat, but especially during a global pandemic! I was able to view many of the films and they were wonderfully entertaining and inspiring. I am so proud Beauty on the Wing was a part of the BIKFF 2020!

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, wherever that may be during these most challenging of days.

Warmest wishes,
Kim

Boston International Kids Film Festival 2020

Best Documentary
Winner: Beauty on the Wing: The Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: Kapaemahu

Best Animated Short Film
Winner: The Magical Forest and the Things

Best Live Action Short Film
Winner: Esme Gets a Job.

The Peggy Charren Award for Excellence
Winner: All American Kids

Best Student Narrative Film
Winner: First Dances! What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Best Student Documentary Film
Winner: DACAmented

New short, with clips from Beauty on the WingMonarch Dreams 2, “Afternoon at Saties.,” by Jesse Cook.