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home : columns : ron kuecker
August 5, 2020

6/17/2020 10:32:00 AM
Monarch butterflies are low or slow this spring

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

Unlike the mature monarch butterflies that make the entire trip to southern Mexico for winter, the returning beauties have it even tougher. They usually go through two, sometimes three, complete life cycles before they land in our area of the upper Midwest.
So far, here in mid-June already, only one of the big, orange and black migratory butterflies has crossed my line of vision. They usually first show up in late April, peak in late May, then become plentiful and reproductive in June.
There are many causes for concern about our Minnesota state butterfly. This year we saw, earlier in the year, a long and strong prevalence of wind flow from the north. Many smaller birds were late in their return this year, and when they showed up in the northern United States they were bunched up. This is not unlike the migration south at Hawk Ridge near Duluth. There hawks stack up in large numbers waiting for southern winds to let up.
Keep in mind, adult monarch butterflies need nectar producing flowers all up and down their spring pathway. Then, when they lay their eggs, they need one of several species of milkweed to deposit their eggs upon. The eggs will hatch four to five days later with the rapid growing larva relying upon milkweed to feed upon. The entire life cycle takes about 30 days and requires (1) nectar producers for adults and; (2) milkweed for larva food.
Finding these requirements along the entire northerly passage is key to survival of the species. And, to me, even more important than what we have waiting for them here in Minnesota.
There are plenty of the common milkweed that we all recognize around this area. It is an invasive weed if allowed to simply grow and spread. What we really need are more marsh milkweed and several other species that will grow repeatedly in untouched areas in wetlands. There they produce both good nectar and desirable leaves for larval and pupal stages.
A couple other problems have cropped up along the way. There is a belt of the southern United States were a protozoan parasite is picked up by the 1 gm. butterfly that looks so much bigger. It parasitizes them and even kills them. It was reported extensively in 2015 by researchers.
The second problem is salt. By the 100s of thousands of tons we put on our ice-covered or snow-laden roads of the north. Not unlike the new salt-based mosquito repellents, all that excessive NaCl is affecting our orange and blacks.
Well, right now, let's hope our monarchs are slow getting back rather than lower in numbers once again.
Tadpole madtom
I love that name given to a small species of catfish. Those who decided to first call it that must have had a lot of fun at the naming party, along with a few frosty mugs of barley and hops juice.
The name supposedly arose because it looks like a big tadpole but acts like a wild (mad) tomcat. It's only five inches at the largest of its stage in life. They only live two to three years with most getting gobbled up their second year of life.
The subject came up a couple nights ago when Juane Elston hooked one and pulled it out of the Des Moines River. Caught on a home caught night crawler and a jig neither her daughter Carmen or hubby Dave knew what it was.
After a rapid passage of pictures on the smartphone it was concluded that it was a tadpole madtom. The madtom is one of several species within the genus Noturus. They are widespread across the United States. It was a first for me, as well as, the fishing family, Elston.
They, along with those several other species, are sometimes known collectively as willow catfish (cats to most). They also have quite poisonous prongs hidden in their fins, so handle them with care. I've been pronged by both bullheads and catfish, it doesn't feel good. Some say it's like a bee sting, I think worse.
Birds vs. windtowers
I remember when one of the first electric generating wind tower fields was constructed in California. They hadn't done good placement of the structures and unknowingly had placed them in a popular migratory pathway.
It received plenty of bad publicity and made many go negative on wind towers. Subsequently, placement of towers has been better although they have cost some eagles their lives in southeastern Minnesota.
I visited with Tony Thompson recently who told me he checks regularly for bird and bat deaths in the shadows of the four towers that set on his land. He has found one turkey vulture, one mallard drake and six hoary bats dead under those blade tips that travel up to 200 m.p.h.
Those hoary bats must be real stealthy little winged mammals. I've never seen one. They are about five inches long, 12- to 15-inch wing span and when adults, develop a white, frost covered look to their dorsal hair.
They are widespread across the United States with Minnesota about in the center of their range. They hunt as much as 25 miles per night so is no wonder some get caught in tall towers.
It seems like no matter how we decide to generate our enormous appetite for electricity there are some negative impacts.

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