Story and Photos by Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… several of the most appreciated aspects of doing a nature column are first the opportunity to share some of the magnificent experiences that I have encountered. Second is the realization that the more I learn, the more I realize how much more that there is to learn. Flora and fauna have always intrigued me from my earliest memories. If it didn’t outrun me, I wanted to look at it, hold it and feel the wonderment of each critter great or small. I learned at a very young age, while observing from my grandfather’s flat bottom boat, that bullheads spawned their young in the shallow warm waters near the shoreline. I watched as the newborns scurried to the safety of the adult and, were “swallowed up” until the threat was eliminated. I eventually learned that both the female and the male will guard and fan the eggs, but after they have hatched the young are exclusively guarded by the male. It was also, while I was young that I learned that even if you are able to catch a few, of the newly hatched in a pail, it is not a wise decision to try and hold one. A bloody finger made for a quick release as even the newly hatched, have the sharp facial growths known as barbels.
If I wasn’t in the boat checking on the aquatic life, or observing the many shorebirds and other birds that dined on the aquatic life, like the great blue heron, the kingfisher, or one of the many species of ducks; then the next best place would be the meadow. Or along the roadside where a multitude of flora or innumerable insects would capture my attention. One year my younger brother John, as a cub scout, participated with other scouts in making butterfly nets as part of a group project. He had no use for the net and gave it to me. It was one of my cherished treasures. Because of the net, I became much quicker at catching butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and any and all types of insects. I had a menagerie that lined the stone steps of our cottage where I spent all my childhood summers. I only was allowed to keep them for a day. I had to turn them free before nighttime, except for an occasional jar of lightning bugs.
After capturing each insect and putting it in a jar there was a much less chance of injuring it. I was able to see that the insects all had six legs, each had some form of antenna, and that each one could fly, and that they had a variety of wing structures. It wasn’t until I was able to purchase field guides that I could really begin to study and see how truly fascinating each of these creatures are individually. I had the opportunity to spend time in the Public Library, but the internet and other tools which I take for granted today were a long way off. Today we even have apps that can do instant recognition of a multitude of flora and fauna. However, I still rely on my extensive personal library of field guides and other books about plants and animals. Another nice item used as a learning device is a plastic “bug box” which has air holes and a handle. There is a lot less chance of injury to the observer or the insect while using one of these as opposed to a glass jar.
A friend contacted me recently and was disappointed that the monarch butterfly caterpillars were eating the parsley in her herb garden. She said that she hoped to feel less agitated once she saw the beautiful monarch butterflies. I was able to assure her that the caterpillars were not monarch larva, but were instead probably another species of butterfly. All butterflies have a “Host Plant” or Plants. The host plant for the monarch butterfly is not parsley. The monarch butterfly will only lay her egg on a species of a milkweed plant. Most frequently her host plant will be the common milkweed which can be found in meadows, along roadsides, and is even welcome today in many flower gardens. The reason for a host
plant or plants is because after the egg hatches the larva will then begin consuming the plant. The monarch butterfly only lays one egg per plant because the one larva is capable of consuming all the leaves of that one plant. The female monarch will use her tarsi (claws) on her feet to taste the plant to be sure it is either common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) or another Asclepias species before depositing her egg. The milkweed plant contains all of the needed nutrients plus a toxic alkaloid known as cardiac glycoside, which doesn’t harm the monarch larva. Each larva after eating the leaves becomes toxic to potential predators. The cardiac glycoside stays in the body of the larva and it is also within the body of the newly pupated butterfly. The orange and black coloring of the butterfly additionally lets predators know that it is toxic. The similarly colored Viceroy butterfly is not toxic but, its coloring fools many predators into thinking that perhaps it is. You may find many other insects on a common milkweed plant too. Almost every one of these insects will be eating a different part of the plant. Some insects will eat the roots while others wait and eat the seed pod or seeds and still, others use the plant for nectar or pollen.
The Black Swallowtail Butterfly larva was the one devouring my friend’s parsley plants. If you are interested in finding and photographing a particular species of butterfly, then you can search either a field guide or online to find out what its host plant or plants are and have a greater opportunity of finding it. It is also important that once you learn which host plant is food for that particular species that also you learn when the plant will be sprouting its leaves. I often plant herbs that I know will entice species of butterflies to lay their egg or eggs on them just to see the larva or to have the butterflies in my gardens.
As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.
In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.
Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.
Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at email@example.com