SUMMER June 20 - June 30


June 20 - Monarch butterfly mommas lay their eggs on any species of milkweed -- two possibilities, both blooming now, are common milkweed and showy milkweed. They both hold spheres of pink flowers at the top of the plant, but showy milkweed has larger (showier) flowers, up to over an inch long, 10-40 in each cluster. Common milkweed clusters hold 25-140 smaller flowers each. Can you find both kinds outside? (Source: Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, A Field Guide by Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle)

June 21 - Painted turtles are laying their eggs after mating in the water. Females travel overland in search of sunny, south-facing slopes and loose soil including gravel roads, driveways, gardens, lawns, and trails. They soften the soil by urinating on it before digging and again after filling it, packing and smoothing over the surface with their belly shell (plastron), disguising the nest. Two ways to protect painted turtles are to leave them completely undisturbed while nesting, and leave them in the wild.

June 22 - What a camouflage connoisseur! The tree frog can change its skin color depending upon the air temperature, humidity, and surrounding habitat in seconds or up to an hour. Its grey color can absorb more heat to help it thermoregulate, warming its body, while its green color can help it cool. A tree frog can also cool down in shade under a leaf, in the duff layer above the prairie soil, or by entering water. Can you catch a glimpse of their bright yellow inner thighs? Watch carefully when they jump!  (Source: Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela)

June 23 - Eggs are hatching out all over, and not just the bird kind. Peek under milkweed leaves, and you may find a stripey monarch caterpillar. Can you guess its age? The 1st instar is only 2-6 mm long, and the holes they chew are arc-shaped. But first they eat their eggshell and then groups of hairs on the surface of the leaf. The 3rd instar, 10-14 mm long, cuts away at the edges of leaves. The 5th and final instar, 25-45 mm long, may chew a notch in the leaf stem to slow sap flow, causing the leaf to droop.  (Source:  Minnesota Monarch Lab web site)

June 24 - Milkweed flowers are terrifically tricky to pollinate. Each cluster ball contains about 50 single flowers. Each right-side up flower has 5 petals hanging downward, 5 nectar cups pointing upward, holding sweet juice for pollinators to drink, and 5 slits and clamps. (You may need a hand lens to see some of these features.) The flower parts are slippery and smooth, bending under an insect's weight. To hang on, an insect can place its foot in a slit between each nectar cup. Its foot can become securely wedged into the clamp at the top of each slit. The clamp comes off with a pair of pollen bags hanging down when the insect struggles free. Attached to the insect's foot, the pollen bags are carried away and break off inside the slit of the next milkweed flower it visits. Search diligently, and you may occasionally notice a dead fly hanging by its leg from a milkweed flower. Some pollinators are not strong enough to free themselves from the clamp, become trapped, and die there. Pollinating milkweed isn't just tricky. It can even be dangerous. (Source: Milkweed by Milicent E. Selsam)

June 25 - Let's find the first viceroy butterflies. They look just like monarchs but a little smaller and with a black line that crosses all the other black lines on each hind wing (making a V for viceroy). Like monarchs, viceroys may also be distasteful to predators. You can find them in damp habitats. Adults return to the same low perches. Eggs are laid on willow leaves, especially sandbar willow, which is common at the PWLC. The nocturnal caterpillar eats willow leaves and overwinters in one. (Source: Butterflies of the North Woods by Larry Weber)

June 26 - There is so much activity in the milkweed, you just never know what you will see next. Such as this! Is it a beetle? A wasp? No -- it's a daytime flying moth called the squash vine borer, a type of clear wing moth! It has dark, opaque front wings, clear back wings with black veins, and fluffy looking orange back legs that hang down. Females lay eggs on squash leaves. Larvae burrow into squash stems, so it's best to cover squash plants except when blooming. (Source: Entomology at the University of Kentucky web site)

June 27 - We don't want to miss the colorful mess of coot babies. Younger coots have the most garish look, marking them as the most vulnerable and the most fed by parents. Can you guess the hatch order of the coots you're watching based upon their colors?  (Source: "The Survival Advantage of Being a Fancy Baby Coot" by Ed Yong in The Atlantic magazine)

June 28 - Did you know there is a 4-eyed insect outside? Maybe it wears glasses. You can locate it especially on common milkweed, red and toxic adults feeding on leaves and flowers (and immediately wiping any latex from its mouth to prevent it sticking shut). Notice how the base of each antenna separates each eye into two. So it literally has two upper eyes and two upper eyes, perhaps the better to see its food below and predators above. While you're at it, bend your ear and listen for the purring sound they reportedly make. (Sources: The Bug Lady University of WI web site and Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eaton and Kaufman)

June 29 - Go outside and let yourself be wowed by a show-stopper, prairie lily. Those stunning orange petals are actually 3 petals and 3 sepals. It usually grows singly but stands out well when in flower. How many can you find? Thank you for appreciating prairie lily and leaving it for others to enjoy. Some wildlife and pollinators also need prairie lily for their food. (Source: Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers by Ladd and Oberle)

June 30 - Not all fireflies or lightning bugs light up at night. Some species are diurnal or daytime fliers, like the black firefly. Note that the wing covers are entirely black, without any lighter edging. Instead of advertising their presence with light, they emit pheromones or insect scent, even though they may still have a lantern organ at the tip of their abdomen.  (Source: Insect Identification for the Casual Observer web site)