State and federal wildlife authorities were investigating after a manatee with “Trump” etched on its back was spotted in Florida on Sunday. Credit: Hailey Warrington
The sighting in Florida this week of a manatee with “Trump” etched in block letters on its back has prompted an investigation and a plea for help from a nonprofit conservation group.
The Center for Biological Diversity said it was offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction “for the cruel and illegal mutilation” of a threatened manatee in the Homosassa River in Citrus County, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Jaclyn Lopez, the center’s Florida director, said on Monday.
“It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately,” she added.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating after the manatee was discovered on Sunday with scarring in the form of the president’s name, the center said. The discovery was reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that manatee did not appear to be seriously injured “as it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”
Patrick Rose, the executive director of the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, said he had seen the photos of the manatee earlier on Monday and was disturbed.
“This is a type of a molestation of an imperiled species,” he said on Monday from Gainesville, Fla. He added that the manatee appeared to be an adolescent.
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 triggered by limited food availability
Aggression peaks during the late stages of caterpillar development
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.
Monarch Caterpillar Eating the Foliage of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Thank you readers and Monarch Butterfly friends for forwarding the following article from the NY Times!
By Michael Wines
Published December 20th, 2013
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Bounding out of a silver Ford pickup into the single-digit wind-flogged flatness that is Iowa in December, Laura Jackson strode to a thicket of desiccated sticks and plucked a paisley-shaped prize.
It was a pod that, after a gentle squeeze, burst with chocolate brown buttons: seeds of milkweed, the favored — indeed, the only — food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar.
Once wild and common, milkweed has diminished as cropland expansion has drastically cut grasslands and conservation lands. Diminished too is the iconic monarch.
Dr. Jackson, a University of Northern Iowa biologist and director of its Tallgrass Prairie Center, is part of a growing effort to rescue the monarch. Her prairie center not only grows milkweed seeds for the state’s natural resources department, which spreads them in parks and other government lands, but has helped seed thousands of acres statewide with milkweed and other native plants in a broader effort to revive the flora and fauna that once blanketed more than four-fifths of the state.Monarch caterpillar hanging from a Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) leaf rib, in the characteristic J-shape, readying to pupate.
Nationwide, organizations are working to increase the monarchs’ flagging numbers. At the University of Minnesota, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies called Monarch Joint Venture is funding research and conservation efforts. At the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has enlisted supporters to create nearly 7,450 so-called way stations, milkweed-rich backyards and other feeding and breeding spots along migration routes on the East and West Coasts and the Midwest.
But it remains an uphill struggle. The number of monarchs that completed the largest and most arduous migration this fall, from the northern United States and Canada to a mountainside forest in Mexico, dropped precipitously, apparently to the lowest level yet recorded. In 2010 at the University of Northern Iowa, a summertime count in some 100 acres of prairie grasses and flowers turned up 176 monarchs; this year, there were 11.
Many, many friends have forwarded the following article from the New York Times, “The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear.”
Female Monarch Depositing an Egg
In the above photo, the female Monarch Butterfly is curling her abdomen around to the underside of the Marsh Milkweed plant. She chooses the most tender foliage toward the top of the plant on which to deposit her eggs.
Begin New York Times article, published November 22, 2013 ~
ON the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.
As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.
The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.
Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.
Native trees are not only grocery stores, but insect pharmacies as well. Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases. “Bees scrape off the resins from the leaves, which is kind of awesome, stick them on their back legs and take them home,” said Dr. Spivak.
Besides pesticides and lack of habitat, the other big problem bees face is disease. But these problems are not separate. “Say you have a bee with viruses,” and they are run-down, Dr. Spivak said. “And they are in a food desert and have to fly a long distance, and when you find food it has complicated neurotoxins and the immune system just goes ‘uh-uh.’ Or they become disoriented and can’t find their way home. It’s too many stressors all at once.”
There are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding native plant communities one sterile lawn and farm field at a time. Dr. Tallamy, a longtime evangelizer for native plants, and the author of one of the movement’s manuals, “Bringing Nature Home,” says it’s a cause everyone with a garden or yard can serve. And he says it needs to happen quickly to slow down the worsening crisis in biodiversity.
When the Florida Department of Transportation last year mowed down roadside wildflowers where monarch butterflies fed on their epic migratory journey, “there was a huge outcry,” said Eleanor Dietrich, a wildflower activist in Florida. So much so, transportation officials created a new policy that left critical insect habitat un-mowed.
That means reversing the hegemony of chemically green lawns. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”
First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”
Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Man Who Planted Trees.”
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My note about milkweeds ~
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the milkweed we see most typically growing in our dunes, meadows, roadsides, and fields. It grows quickly and spreads vigorously by underground runners. This is a great plant if you have an area of your garden that you want to devote entirely to milkweed. It prefers full sun, will tolerate some shade, and will grow in nearly any type of soil. The flowers are dusty mauve pink and have a wonderful honey-hay sweet scent.
Marsh Milkweed (Aclepias incarnata) is more commonly found in marshy areas, but it grows beautifully in gardens. It does not care for dry conditions. These plants are very well-behaved and are more clump forming, rather than spreading by underground roots. The flowers are typically a brighter pink than Common Milkweed.