Kent McFarland (New England)

Throwback Thursday: Ghosts from the Arctic

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl, juvenile © Scott Linstead/VIREO

Throwback Thursday: Ghosts from the Arctic by Kent McFarland

Like ghosts from the Arctic, snowy owls have descended from the far north this winter. They’re showing up in fields, along highways and even in a few backyards. These migrations southward from the arctic tundra are a birdwatcher’s dream. And like dreams themselves, they are neither predictable nor fully understood.

The classic theory held by ornithologists to explain the irregular migrations of snowy owls to this region has always centered on lemmings, a favorite food of the owls. These small rodents undergo population booms and busts. About every four years lemmings become incredibly abundant. Many scientists believed that after the lemming populations eventually crashed, snowy owls would head southward in search of food. Intensive research now shows this may not be the case.

Norm Smith, director of Massachusetts Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum, has been monitoring snowy owls for more than 25 years at Boston Logan Airport. The broad stretches of land around airport runways tend to look like tundra and become a winter Mecca for wayward owls. But Smith and others have discovered a twist to the old migration theory. We actually see the most snowy owls in the New England during lemming population boom in the arctic, not after the lemming population has plunged.

It takes lots of meat to raise a snowy owlet. Researchers have estimated that a pair of snowy owls and a brood of nine owlets eat 1,900 to 2,600 lemmings during the breeding season from May to September. That’s about 325 pounds of rodent meat. Lots of lemmings allow for lots of owls, and when younger owls start outgrowing their natal territory, the adults chase them away. They have to find somewhere else to dine, which often means flying southward.

Smith and other ornithologists can count the number of young owls each winter. That’s because young snowy owls have plumage that is slightly different than their parents. Young females have extensive dark lines throughout their feathers giving them a black and white zebra pattern. While young males have a pure white bib under their chin and the back of their head is entirely white.

With small transmitters secured on the backs of owls, ornithologists have been able to witness some amazing flights by these owls. The transmitters periodically send a location signal to a satellite, which sends back information telling hat allows telling the birds’ exact locations. Smith has discovered that snowy owls that winter in Massachusetts spend summers in northern Quebec and Baffin Island, sometimes above the Arctic Circle. Some take a northwest route through New Hampshire and Vermont on their spring trip back to the tundra.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl, adult female © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Take the year-old female that left coastal Massachusetts on April 1, 2005. She arrived east of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire on the April 5, and after crossing the Connecticut River, was in northwest Vermont by the April 8. On May 22 her signal came from the center of Hudson Bay. After perhaps hunting on the ice flows in the bay, she made landfall five days later on the bay’s north shore.

Snowy owls are capable of taking even larger birds. Smith reports he once witnessed a snowy owl take flight from a lamppost near the airport and accelerate toward a great blue heron that had just lumbered into flight along the shoreline. Much to Smith’s surprise, the owl punched the bird to the ground to make for one very big meal.

Humans have admired snowy owls for centuries. Their images have been found in ancient cave paintings in Europe. And this year, whether gracefully sitting in a harvested cornfield in Brattleboro, Vermont or a along the runway of Boston Logan Airport, surprised birders always stare at them in awe. Whether their dinning on Vermont meadow voles or arctic lemmings, this magnificent bird reminds us that these seemingly far off landscapes are bound together through the quiet flights of the Snowy Owl on their search for food.

Throwback Thursday: Chickadee Energetics

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Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee with Seed © Kent McFarland

Throwback Thursday: Chickadee Energetics by Kent McFarland

Originally Posted: 12/28/11

Black-capped Chickadees weigh less than a half-ounce or about the same as two nickels in the palm of your hand. As early winter temperatures bounce up and down here in New England as fast as the chickadees at my feeders, it got me wondering how these tiny birds can survive a cold winter night.

Each night they are confronted with the very high energetic demands of staying alive. If they don’t have adequate energy stores to burn, they may not see the light of day. To compensate for the long and cold nights during winter, chickadees increase proteins associated with intracellular lipid transport. Each evening when they go to roost, they have enough fat stores to supply just a bit more energy than they will need overnight.

More fat to burn isn’t the only answer. Chickadees also have metabolic tricks to save valuable energy. Their daytime body temperature is generally cooking at about 108 F. But on a cold winter night they can crank it down by 18 to 22 degrees into a hypothermic state. One study showed that when a chickadee was exposed to 32 F nighttime temperatures, they could reduce their hourly metabolic expenditure by 23 percent.

Each evening as the sun is dropping below the hills and the chickadees are flitting back and forth to my feeders, I know it’s a metabolic race for them to survive another night in the north woods. And for me, I’ll rely on stored energy from the sun and toss another log into the stove.

Throwback Thursday: Big Snoods

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Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey © Kent McFarland

How do you choose your turkey? It might be by weight. Perhaps it is from a favorite farm. Or it could be a brand that you like. But if you were a female turkey, you’d be looking at his snood.

The snood is a fleshy appendage that attaches just above the beak. When tom turkey is just chilling his snood can be fairly short, but when he struts for the ladies his snood engorges with blood and hangs awkwardly down the beak.

It would seem that the snood is just a piece of flesh that is only good for the bling-bling. And we’d be half right, but given that this week is the publishing anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origins of Species, I think we might ponder a bit about sexual selection. Darwin was first to suggest that mate choice and competition for mates might be a selective pressure that shapes the evolution of populations.

But why would female turkeys choose a big snood in the first place? Is this simply a sexy ornament or is it perhaps a signal that the male has good genes or is healthy? Richard Buchholz, a biologist from the University of Mississippi, pondered these very questions and Wild Turkeys were a perfect study animal for questions of sexual selection. Males mate with multiple females (called polygyny), and the sexes look very different (sexually dimorphic). Buchholz designed some fancy mating tests, checked out the health of the males, and eureka, the answers to snood fashion.

First, Buchholz found a non-sexual function for the bare parts on the head. They are crucial for cooling down strutting tom when he is exerting himself on a hot day. Snood or no snood, he needs his radiator. So there is a clear reason for the bare skin. But that still doesn’t explain the long snood.

He did show that a long snood is indeed selected by females, but males also select it. Females were attracted to a long snood and males deferred to other males with longer snoods. But what is it about a long snood?

It turns out that the longer the snood a male has the less intestinal parasites he has. Long snooded males appear to be more resistant to parasitic infections. Buchholz suggests that if that is true, this might be a case of females choosing males with good genes. And males that are free of parasites are probably more dominant over other males. Short snooded males that defer to long snoods might be able to assess the competition before fighting with them and avoid wasting energy in fruitless fights that they are sure to lose to the healthier snood.

I think we picked a good snood this year for our traditional supper. I hope you’ve been successful in selecting your snood. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Alpine Butterflies

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Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Presidential Alpine Zone, NH © Kent McFarland
Stone walls along the trail help keep hikers on the trail and off the delicate alpine plants.

Perched atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire in the unique alpine tundra are two butterfly species that exist only on this small “sky island”. Their closest relatives live hundreds of miles to the north. Left behind over 9,000 years ago, the White Mountain Arctic (Oeneis melissa semidea) and the White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria chariclea montinus) have not been in contact with their relatives for nearly since tundra covered much of the region after continental glaciation. But as the climate warmed and forests began to cover much of the land, the summits of the Presidential Range provided just the right place for tundra vegetation and a small population of these butterflies to persist while their relatives slowly moved northward with the receding tundra.

White Mountain Arctic (Oeneis melissa semidea) © Kent McFarland

It is hard to imagine small butterflies surviving the fierce weather of Mount Washington, but they are specially adapted to such conditions. It takes two short summers of nocturnal dining on Bigelow’s Sedge for the White Mountain Arctic caterpillars to mature and then pupate during their third summer under a patch of moss or a rock. The butterflies emerge, mate and lay eggs for only a few weeks in late June to mid-July and then their life is over. White Mountain Fritillary caterpillars hatch and mature over the summer. They probably dine on violets and willows, but no one knows for sure what their food source is. The following summer they pupate and during the last weeks of July into August the adults mate and feed on the nectar of Alpine Goldenrod and other flowers.

White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria chariclea montinus) © Kent McFarland

These butterflies have restricted ranges even within the small alpine zone. The White Mountain Arctic is only found near Bigelow Sedge “lawns” around Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson. The White Mountain Fritillary is fond of wet areas and specialized in springs, snow bank communities and other lush alpine habitats just above tree line.

Alpine Snowbank Community © Kent McFarland
Places where the snow is deeper and last longer into the spring are high in plant diversity and favored habitat for the White Mountain Fritillary.

Both species are surprisingly easy to find and watch during their short flight seasons. Arctics can be found on rocky hilltops around sedge areas and often bask on rocks in the sun and out of the wind on east facing slopes, such as Nelson’s Crag near the Cow Pasture, a large sedge meadow right next to the auto road. The fritillary can be found nectaring flowers along hiking trails that cross wet areas, such as the Alpine Garden or just outside the doors of Lake of the Clouds and Madison huts, overnight accommodations for hikers owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Both species are listed as Threatened and Endangered in New Hampshire and biologists at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies are studying each species and monitoring their populations to help keep them flying across the alpine zone for decades to come.

White Mountain Arctic (Oeneis melissa semidea) © Kent McFarland

White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria chariclea montinus) © Kent McFarland

Nature Stories: Rare Alpine Butterflies in White Mountains, NH

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Sunday, October 21st, 2012

White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria titania montinus) 14 August 2003, Mt. Washington © Kent McFarland

Nature Stories: Rare Alpine Butterflies in White Mountains, NH by Kent McFarland

Perched atop the Presidential Range in the unique alpine tundra vegetation are two butterfly species that exist no where else in the world. Their closest relatives live over 850 miles north in the arctic tundra. The White Mountain Arctic (Oeneis melissa semidea) and the White Mountain Fritillary (Boloria titania montinus) have not been in contact with their relatives for nearly 9,000 years, when tundra covered much of the region. But as the climate warmed and forests began to cover much of the land, the summits of the Presidential Range provided just the right climate for tundra vegetation and a small population of these butterflies to live, while their relatives slowly moved northward with the receding tundra.

White Mountain Arctic (Oeneis melissa semidea) 12 July 2002, Mt. Washington © Kent McFarland

It is hard to imagine butterflies with wing spans of one and a half inches surviving the fierce weather of Mount Washington, but they are specially adapted. It takes two short summers of nocturnal dining on Bigelow’s Sedge for the White Mountain Arctic caterpillars to mature and then pupate the third summer under moss or a rock. The butterflies emerge, mate and lay eggs for only a few weeks in late June to mid-July and then their life is over. White Mountain Fritillary caterpillars hatch and mature over a summer while eating violets and willows. The following summer they pupate and during the first two weeks of August the adults mate and feed on the nectar of Alpine Goldenrod.

Although these two species may seem secure on the wild and protected summits, there may be several threats to their future viability such as global climate change, atmospheric pollution, and recreation.

Throw Back Thursday: Abscission and Marcescence in the Woods

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Throw Back Thursday: Abscission and Marcescence in the Woods by Kent McFarland

Originally Posted 11/9/2009

While on a recent hike in the hills of Vermont, I noticed that some trees had lost their leaves while others still had golden brown leaves all over them. It seemed that all of the Red Oak and the American Beech trees still had a nearly full canopy, while the Sugar Maple along the old woods road were completely naked.

trees woods

Foliage © Kent McFarland

I snapped a photo of it so I could do a bit of research at home. It turns out that Oak and Beech trees have marcescent leaves. Marcescence is when a plant part dies but is not shed. In the photograph you can see that the Sugar Maple trees in the foreground along the old carriage road have completely shed their leaves, while the Beech trees on the hillside are still fully loaded.

A tree is full of vascular cells that transport water and sap from root to leaf. As the amount of sunlight decreases in autumn, the veins that transport sap into and out of the leaves slowly close. A layer of cells, called the abscission layer, develops at the stem base. The leaf falls off when this layer is completely formed.

Oak (Quercus), Beech (Fagus) and Hornbeam (Carpinus) are an exception. The separation layer doesn’t fully allow the leaves to detach. That’s why most of their dead leaves remain on the tree through winter until the wind rips them away. But one has to wonder what advantage this would have for the trees. It may be that it deters foraging of young buds and branches by deer. If there are a lot of dead leaves on the ends, it may not be as palatable. It may aid in protecting the tree from water or temperature stress during the winter. Or, perhaps it is a left over ghost from the past that is now neutral, neither hindering nor helping the species prosper. Whatever the reason, in late fall you can easily see the forest for the oak and beech trees.

Trees: Turn Red or You’re Dead

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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
trees Foliage Nature

Fall Foliage © Kent McFarland

Throw Back Thursday Originally Posted 10/18/11 Notes from the Field – Trees: Turn Red or You’re Dead by Kent McFarland

I have often wondered why on one hillside the trees have muted fall colors, while nearby on another they are radiant red. Recent research might be shedding some light.

There are four basic colors in fall leaves and a different pigment produces each. Xanothophylls is responsible for yellow, carotenoids for orange, tannin for brown and anthocyanids create the red and purple tones.

During the growing season green chlorophyll in tree leaves is broken down by sunlight and constantly replenished. As day length decreases the abscission cells, a special layer at the leaf-stem junction, divide rapidly and slowly block transport of materials. As abscission begins, a chlorophyll production wanes and eventually stops.

As the green chlorophyll breaks down without replacement we begin to see the underlying orange carotenoids and yellow xanthophylls. These pigments help capture light energy during the growing season. But unlike yellow and orange pigments, red anthocyanins are made during fall leaf senescence. It is manufactured from sugars found in the leaf. They produce greater amounts during cooler nights and sunny days. When a hard freeze comes along, production ends.

Why would a tree use energy to make a pigment in a leaf that is about to die and fall off? William Hoch, a biologist at Montana State University, found that if he genetically blocked anthocyanin production, the leaves were much more vulnerable to fall sunlight damage, and so sent less nutrients to the plant roots for winter storage before the leaf fell. The tree was not able to recuperate as much energy back from the leaves it grew earlier in the year.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte graduate student Emily Habinck found that in places where the soil was lower in nitrogen and other important elements, red maple trees produced more anthocyanin in the leaves. Apparently trees growing in more stressful environments invest in more anthocyanin, which allow them to recover more nutrients that are stored in the leaves before they fall.

Bright red leaves under a clear blue sky are spectacular to see. But what is beauty to us, is simply survival to a tree.

Monarchs on the Move: You can Contribute!

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Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Monarchs on the Move: You can Contribute! by Kent McFarland

Monarchs Butterflies

Monarch © Rick Cech

Monarchs are on the move southward and the story of this massive migration is truly amazing. To follow their annual flight, let’s begin their story in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico.

Not far from Mexico City there are 13 known sites in the mountains that contain what is believed to be the entire population of Monarchs from east of the Rocky Mountains. These are small peaks ranging from 7,800 to 11,800 feet in elevation and covered with Oyamel Fir (Abies religiosa), a species closely related to the balsam fir found on the mountain tops here in northeastern North America. In 1984, a study found that there may have been as many as 60 overwintering sites that can be used by the butterflies, but commercial and illegal logging has now destroyed many them. A site may contain up to 4 million monarchs per acre and cover as little as one-tenth up to 8 acres of fir forest.

Monarchs Butterflies

Monarch, male © Rick Cech

The butterflies arrive from the north in November to late December and hang out on the trees metabolizing fat reserves that they have built up during migration. Remarkably, they actually gain weight on migration and arrive on the wintering grounds with fat reserves for the winter, unlike songbirds, which require huge fat stores to burn on migration.

The overwintering sites begin to break up in March and early April and they migrate to the Gulf Coast of the southeastern US where females arrive just as the milkweed is sprouting from the ground. They lay eggs on the fresh plants and then most die. One or two generations of Monarchs are raised in the south before it is too hot and dry for milkweed to persist. The young and fresh adults continue the northward migration laying eggs along the way.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed © Justine Riegel

Finally, they arrive in New England at the end of May and early June just as the milkweed begins to sprout. This generation mates, lays eggs and dies. Monarchs may raise 2 or 3 generations in the north. Each female Monarch can lay about 400 eggs on average. With each generation the population grows larger and larger and larger, if they conditions are right.

Monarchs Butterflies

Monarch with caterpillar © E. R. Degginger, Color-Pic, Inc.

But, why is one year good for Monarchs but not another? Scientists are just beginning to understand what may cause boom and bust cycles in Monarch populations. A continent-wide study called the Monarch Larval Monitoring Project was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to collect long-term data on reproduction in their milkweed habitats. The goal of the project is to better understand how and why monarch populations vary each year and in each region.

Beginning in mid-August the amount of daylight signals a physiologic change in Monarchs causing them to migrate to the wintering sites in Mexico. Incredibly, the late summer and fall adults in have never seen Mexico. They are 5 or 6 generations beyond those that wintered there. Yet, somehow they are guided back to these small sites thousands of miles away.

The winter generation lives up to 8 months while the successive spring and summer generations are lucky to live 5 weeks. It takes up to 6 generations of spring and summer Monarchs to produce the final “super-Monarch” that migrates to Mexico in the Fall and then back to the southern United States in the Spring.

monarchs Butterflies

Monarch caterpillar © Amanda Jones

How do we know that New England Monarchs actually make it to Mexico? Many of us have been trying to find out by tagging adults during fall migration in cooperation with Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization at the University of Kansas. Using small tags like tiny bumper stickers with unique identification numbers on them, volunteers capture and place them on the Monarch’s wings in the fall. With over 10 million butterflies out there the odds of a recapture are very poor. Here in Vermont we have had a few lucky folks. There have been 16 Monarchs tagged in Vermont and found in Mexico! Maybe you could be a lucky tagger. Anyone can do it. Just visit Monarch Watch for more details.

You can also watch Monarchs move southward on the internet as people like you report sightings to Journey North. Whether you find eggs or caterpillars, see them nectaring or actively migration southward, you can add your sightings to the database to help get a picture of the migration across the continent.

Monarchs are on the move! Let all of us at NatureShare know how the migration is going in your region.

Nature Stories: Keep Your Eyes on the Winged Wildflowers – Become a Butterfly Watcher

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Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Nature Stories: Keep Your Eyes on the Winged Wildflowers – Become a Butterfly Watcher by Kent McFarland

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak © Rick Cech

It had been a good morning censusing birds.  As we ambled back to the car, my accomplice spotted a large butterfly gliding along the dirt road.  “There goes a Mourning Cloak,” he exclaimed.  I had never given butterflies a close look before; my eyes and ears had always been tuned to bird life.  As the butterfly landed, I was immediately astounded by the brilliant colors; the vibrant spread wings edged with bright yellow and a band of sky blue dotting a dark brown background. “These overwinter as adults,” he said, “in the fall they feed and store fat, then hibernate in a hollow log or a tree cavity until spring when they mate.”  That was 1992 and I have been hooked on butterflies ever since.

As the poet/naturalist Vladimir Nabokov noted in his memoirs, “It is astonishing how few people notice butterflies.” So why watch butterflies?

Mustard White Butterfly

Mustard White, summer © Rick Cech

Butterflies are excellent indicators of environmental health and change.  For example, in the Northeast researchers found that the Mustard White butterfly population had declined due to the cutting of the forest and subsequent loss of the plant toothwort (Dentaria diphylla), which grows only in rich forests. This, coupled with the invasion of the common wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris), which attracts egg laying adults, but is not palatable to the caterpillars like their native host toothwort, is suspected to be the environmental changes responsible for their decline.  With the increase of forest cover during the past quarter of a century the Mustard White may once again become abundant.  However, population changes will only be known through continued close monitoring.  By monitoring a butterfly species we are able to detect and monitor changes in the entire ecosystem.

Crinkleroot Wildflowers

Crinkleroot © K. P. McFarland

Documentation of lepidoptera distribution, seasonality, habitat and food requirements aids in conservation and helps monitor long-term environmental change. Keeping track of the species in your area can help document the distribution of butterflies; data that can help scientists monitor changes to the local environment. You may even discover a rare species in need of conservation.

Identifying butterflies can seem difficult compared to birds; their size alone making it tough to distinguish field marks.  Many professional and amateur lepidopterists collect specimens as vouchers for their identifications.  Considering the dynamics of insect populations this seldom leads to any conservation problems.  Today, butterfly watching is similar to birding with the turn of the century presenting a transition period from collecting to watching.  Recently, the advent of close focusing binoculars and digital field guides designed for easy identification individual species are making observers less intrusive and abusive.

I follow the butterfly distribution in my town as closely as I can without collecting a single live specimen.  There are several techniques to document butterfly sightings; visually identifying them through binoculars or close observation, documenting them in notes, or photographing them.  When encountering a species that is difficult to identify, I capture it in a harmless insect net and transfer it to a clear envelope.  Identification can then be made using a field guide, the species may be photographed and then released.  And finally (a technique that turns heads) is the collection of butterflies killed by vehicles along highways.  These unfortunate victims make excellent voucher or reference specimens and can be found in remarkably good shape.

Butterfly watching is quickly becoming as popular as bird watching.  In 1975, Sally Hughes of the Xerces Society founded the first annual Fourth of July butterfly count, conducted by 76 people in 28 places on the east and west coasts and Colorado.  The Xerces Society founded the count to address the conservation of invertebrate species, and sponsored the count for 18 years.  The organization was appropriately named after the Xerces Blue butterfly, a former resident of sand dunes near San Francisco and the first butterfly species to become extinct due to human intrusion.  This year’s count is expected to have over 2,000 people in over 250 locations counting butterflies. On a given day within a period around the Fourth of July volunteers gather in their designated areas and spread out to count every butterfly, caterpillar and egg they can find.  The results are tallied and reported by the fledgling North American Butterfly Association (NABA), which assumed the sponsorship of the count from the Xerces Society.  The two year old NABA is comprised of over 2,000 members from all areas of North America.  The organization emphasizes the use of binoculars over nets in the pursuit of butterfly watching.

Butterfly watching can be as rigorous or relaxing as you choose.  You can study the distribution and behavior of your area intensely, join a group of butterfly fans on a Fourth of July count, or simply appreciate the individuals passing through your garden.  Sharpen your observation skills and contradict Nabokov’s words.  Keep your eyes on the winged wildflowers!

The Color of Poison

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Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The Color of Poison – Moths by Kent McFarland

Scientists have catalogued about 160,000 moths around the world. There may be another 200,000 species yet to be discovered and described. In the United States alone there are over 11,000 moth species. Most of us think of moths as just drab brown, gray or white creatures of the night, but many are dressed as flashy as their butterfly cousins and can be seen flying in bright daylight.

Rattle Box Moths

Rattle Box Moth © Kent McFarland

One of the most striking diurnal moths is the beautiful Rattlebox Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). It’s the only moth in eastern North America with pink-orange colored forewing marked with rows of white-ringed black spots. There’s good reason for the bright colors; they’re a warning. This moth tastes terrible. Their caterpillars dine on the leaves of Rattlebox (Crotalaria mucronata), which contain powerful alkaloids that the moths can store making themselves quite distasteful and unpalatable.

Predators don’t always heed to colorful warnings. These alkaloids don’t smell. For a predator like a spider, they have to taste it. But a mere taste from a spider could be fatal. The moths combat this with a volatile frothy blend of chemicals emitted from special ducts in their thorax. Disturb an adult moth and the bubbling brew is quickly exuded.

Scientists from Cornell University found during their research that even the moth’s eggs are protected from predators by these chemicals. Ants won’t touch them. Lacewing larvae stay back. Even parasitoid wasps won’t attack the eggs. But how are they protected before they are able to hatch and eat Rattlebox plants?

Incredibly, both the male and the female contribute nasty alkaloids to the eggs. The females transfer some that they sequestered as larva. The male contributes the fowl chemistry to the eggs when he mates with the female. He transfers a package that contains not only sperm, but also a pile of alkaloids that the female can quickly assimilate into her body and eventually to the eggs.

Mating lasts a long time; up to 9 hours. Just one mating will protect a female for the rest of her 30-day life. But that apparently isn’t enough. She’ll mate with up to 20 different males. How do the scientists know how many times a female mated? Each time a male passes a spermatophore to a female it is dissolved by the female and leaves behind a tiny hard ring. When the female dies, through dissection they can count the rings in her storage pouch. Each donut shaped ring represents a mating.

During this first ever National Moth Week, take time to enjoy and celebrate the wild colors of moths, just don’t taste them.