Migrating Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies roosting in tree

It’s fall, and the monarch migration has been ongoing for several weeks.  The butterflies that cruise through my area of Oklahoma are headed to Mexico.  These butterflies are probably the fourth generation removed from butterflies that went north last spring, yet they know exactly where to go and how to get there.

Monarch butterflies are the only insect known to migrate in this way.  They head south to overwinter, then in spring head north again.  They lay eggs, die, and the next generation goes a bit further north and repeats the cycle.  Come fall, the fourth generation is the one that gets to head back south–some travel over 2,500 miles!

The butterflies have been using our yard as a rest stop every year in the fall, and beyond going outside and taking a few pictures of them filling the trees, I didn’t really pay much attention.  This year I found out about the website Journey North, which tracks monarch butterflies and maps them.  You can add your observations to the website and boom! you have just become a citizen scientist.  How cool is that?  Registration is easy and free.  Journey North tracks several migrations, including hummingbirds and gray whales.  

Here’s a screenshot of a Journey North map from 9/19/18.  

And here’s one from today, 10/4/18.  

I take lots of pictures of the butterflies roosting in my yard, very few turn out well.  It’s hard to get close enough for a good picture without startling them, and they are always moving a little bit.  And there’s the wind… but here are some pictures anyway.

Turn off the sound, it’s windy!

The video above gets you a better idea of just how many butterflies are clinging to the tree branches and how amazing it is to see them flying around you.  (If you do happen to listen to the sound, my older son is referring to a trip to the Butterfly House in Key West, where he and his brother were terrorized by the ginormous Blue Morpho butterflies many years ago.  Good times.)

Unless you have been living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you have probably heard about the alarming loss of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.   There are many reasons for this, including mowing, spraying, and even raking and bagging leaves.  

There are some easy ways to help support pollinators:  Don’t spray your yard with pesticides.  They kill ALL the bugs, good and bad.  Let some flowering weeds grow in a part of your yard.  Our whole yard is basically (short) flowering weeds… If you are in an addition where you are required to have a pristine lawn, at least put some native plants in your landscape.  Don’t rake and bag your leaves.  They are chock full of caterpillars and other future pollinators.  They will break down and help renew your soil.  Again, if you are required to have a clean yard, maybe there’s a patch in a back corner you can leave alone.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, in collaboration with several other states, has started timing their mowing to help improve monarch butterfly survival rates.  Roadsides are potentially a huge source of milkweed that the butterfly larvae eat.  They used to mow next to highways four times a year but have reduced it to “safety mows” in late June or July in several places.  They also planted a Monarch Waystation in Oklahoma City near I-35 recently.

Some people participate in butterfly tagging and some raise monarch butterflies in their yards to release.  One might wonder, do captive raised butterflies migrate like wild butterflies?  The answer is YES, yes they do!  Go to https://www.internationalbutterflybreeders.org/expertanswers/ for details about that!  The downside to captive raising monarchs is the possibility of releasing diseased butterflies into the general population.  

You can find out what type of milkweed (or butterfly weed) is native to your area by looking here.  Butterflies also need nectar plants, so consider adding a few of those as well.  Native plants have other benefits too; they provide shelter and forage for wildlife, and they are better adapted to the local climate.  Here’s a link to National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder.

Here are just a few of the many monarch related websites:

Monarch Joint Venture

MonarchWatch.org

USDA Forest Service

Monarch Butterfly USA

Journey North

Several of these websites will send you free or very inexpensive milkweed seeds, and fall is a good time to direct sow milkweed.  You can also plant in spring from seed, start indoors in late winter, or buy plants from a reputable source.  

I hope you have been able to enjoy some butterflies in your own area this fall and plan to help them out next year.  

Migrating Monarch Butterflies from HouseofIngrams.com

Butterfly and Moth Identification

Black Witch moth from HouseofIngrams.com

One morning I was cruising through our strange little “breakfast nook” area and saw something out of the corner of my eye…I thought there was a good-sized bat hanging outside our window!  On closer inspection, it proved to be a really big moth.  Really big, like seven inches across, and it was sideways so it really did look like a bat at first glance.  Well of course first thing I do is start snapping pictures of it, thinking I could identify it.

Moth silhouette from HouseofIngrams.com
Seriously, out of the corner of your eye, this thing looks like a bat. Both my boys thought the same thing.

There are 6,935 species of moths and butterflies documented in North America.  Uh huh.  There are 5726 verified species of moths in the United States.  Hmmm.   Well…

As it happens, moth and butterfly identification can be quite difficult sometimes, so after a fruitless search of several websites, I happened across Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).  Lucky me, they have a huge database.  Best part, you can submit your sighting and if you send them a picture they have a regional expert who will identify your mystery Lepidoptera and email you back!  So I registered for free, sent in my picture with the location and time, and within 30 minutes I had an ID for our moth.  It is an Ascalapha odorata… the common name is Black Witch!  Of course, if you read about it on the species page they make sure to tell you that it is “easily identified by its large size and pointed forewing”…ok so in future I will be able to identify one!

BAMONA screenshot from HouseofIngrams.com

The screenshot above is the bottom of the species page, and my photo is on the far left.

BAMONA sighting map
All the reported sightings of this species, mapped!

I am truly a major nerd, but this just tickles me to death.  Anyone with a decent picture of a moth, butterfly, caterpillar, egg, or pupa can submit it and get it identified, plus it helps BAMONA track species all over the continent.

BAMONA get involved

Citizen science is a method of data collection using crowdsourcing- regular people make observations and report to scientists who compile and analyze it.  This method is a great way to get a lot more data than trained scientists could ever get working alone.

This would be a great nature lesson for any student and is an excellent resource for insect study; well, moths and butterflies at least.

Other citizen science projects that are very easy and fun to participate in are the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feederwatch, and WeatherUnderground (you can connect your personal weather station to their network to monitor the weather).  There are a bunch of ongoing projects listed on this Wikipedia page.

I hope this is helpful and encourages you to send in your butterfly and moth pictures to BAMONA!

Identifying Butterflies and Moths using BAMONA website from HouseofIngrams.com

 

The Price Family Garden in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Magnolia tree at OSU campus from HouseofIngrams.com
Magnolia tree in front of the Price Family Garden

Last week my younger son attended a one-day engineering camp at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I hung out on campus all day and took lots of pictures of the gardens and flower beds. After a day of breathing the “O State ozone”, I’m ready to pack up and move to Stillwater.  (Just kidding.) Our family has a running joke about being on the OSU campus.  Something in the air makes us really happy to be there so we think they must be pumping ozone.  Or is it the Eskimo Joe’s cheese fries?  (According to my older son, the ozone effect does wear off after you have been there for a while.)

Anyway, I had a full day to hang around and wander through the plantings on campus, read, and people watch.

Canna border from HouseofIngrams.com
Cannas (Cannova Bronze Orange) and Hardy Hibiscus ‘White Jewel’ are part of the border in the Price Family Garden.
Herbaceous border at OSU from HouseofIngrams.com
Elephant Ear ‘Pink China’, Inkberry ‘Shamrock’, and Hydrangea Let’s Dance Starlight ‘Lynn’ in the front border.

The Price Family Garden is outside the Rancher’s Club, a steakhouse on the OSU campus.  It combines edibles and ornamentals and is just gorgeous.  They list descriptions of the plants along with planting diagrams on the internet.  Here’s a link to the summer 2018 plan.  They have a sign with a QR code you can scan and download this PDF with the plant descriptions.

Orange flowers from HouseofIngrams.com
Firecracker Plant (Crossandra ‘Orange Marmalade’) and Sweet Alyssum ‘Clear Crystal White’
Red Rubin basil and eggplant from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Red Rubin’ Basil and eggplant

I can’t tell which variety of eggplant this is.  There are two listed on their PDF.  One is ‘Barbarella’ and the other is ‘Galine’.  If I had to pick, I’d say this was Barbarella based on the leaf shape.

Daylily from HouseofIngrams.com
Daylily Hemerocallis ‘Bright Sunset’
Decorative garden from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’ in the foreground, followed by Yaupon Holly ‘Micron’, Firecracker Plant ‘Orange Marmalade’ and Sweet Alyssum
Tomatoes in garden from HouseofIngrams.com
‘Better Bush’ tomatoes
Okra from HouseofIngrams.com
Okra ‘Bull Dog’
Caryopteris from HouseofIngrams.com
Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in front of Hardy Hibiscus ‘Crown Jewel’ with Purple Heart Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Go from HouseofIngrams.com
Columnar basil in back, Pesto Perpetuo, the GO is Ananthera ‘Snowball’ and foreground is White Cat Whiskers surrounded by trailing vinca Mediterranean White
pokes from HouseofIngrams.com
POKES is Alternanthera ‘Snowball’, Basil ‘Red Rubin’ behind and the low plant is sweet potato ‘Beauregard’.

 

If you are in Stillwater, take some time to visit the Price Family Garden and get some ideas.  My plant list is super long already!

 

 

Getting a Higher ACT Math Score

My younger son took his ACT for the second time in early February. He got a decent score the first time, but in the hope of getting better scholarship offers elected to take it again to try and increase his math score (and bump up his composite as well).
He took it originally in April 2017 as a sophomore and got a 28 in math with a 32 composite. He was taking Thinkwell online Geometry at the time. This year he is taking Thinkwell Trigonometry (which begins with a massive Algegra 2 review!).  I am not affiliated with Thinkwell, we just really like their upper-level math courses for homeschool.

This post contains affiliate links.  See my full disclosure policy here.

We had the first edition of this McGraw-Hill 50 Top Skills for a Top Score ACT Math  (the second edition is out now) that his brother had used with some success when he was in high school and so thought it would be a good way to try and increase his math score. There are 50 lessons to cover 50 key ACT math concepts and strategies. He signed up for the February 10, 2018, test. By the time we recovered from the holidays and a family vacation, he had three and a half weeks to study; practically speaking he had 22 days. I challenged him to cover at least three lessons a day on top of his regular schoolwork. He had Sundays off and at least one camping weekend during this time, so he usually did four lessons a day.
Test day came and went, and I knew the scores usually come out the second Tuesday after the test Saturday so was really planning to check first thing on the 20th but got busy and forgot!
It was a couple of days after the scores were up before I remembered to look.
Mission accomplished! He managed to score 33 on the math section, which was a gain of five points! His other scores were comparable to last time, so his composite went up to a 34. I went and woke him up to show him the scores on my laptop screen. He was less excited than I expected.
😀
This book is available on Amazon.
His method was simply working through the lessons in order, but this includes a CD with two extra practice tests (recommended), a pre-test and post-test, and cut out flash cards.  These images are from our book, which is a few years old.  The one linked above on Amazon is the new second edition.

I should say that no matter how good the prep materials are, you won’t get a good result without a lot of time and effort.   Your results may vary!


I think his Thinkwell Trig course with the Algebra 2 review included helped but the prep book was a HUGE factor in improving his score.  We highly recommend it!