monarch waystation

A little-known fact about the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab is that we are a certified Monarch Waystations. Monarch Butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to Mexico and California every fall. Scattered throughout the country there are thousands of waystations providing milkweeds for the monarch butterflies, acting as both a fuel source and shelter. Milkweeds are currently in a state of decline due to the use of herbicides in the agricultural landscapes where they are usually found.

Unfortunately, the monarchs are much faster than I am, and I have yet to be able to capture a picture of one before they flutter off. However, the waystation is home to more than just the monarchs. When I first started to poke around in the garden, I found these little, hairy caterpillars and immediately thought they were monarch larva. Upon some further research (google), I determined that these are actually a different milkweed-dependent organism, the milkweed tussock or milkweed tiger moth caterpillar, Euchaetes egle.

 

The adult tiger moth isn’t nearly as beautiful as their monarch cousins, with gray/white wings and a hairy yellow abdomen. Luckily, I have seen a few other butterflies hanging around the waystation. I identified our next visitor as a red-spotted purple, also known as white admiral, Limenitits arthemis.

red spotted purple

Red Spotted Purple

Another guest was this Fritillary. This butterfly is also commonly confused with its cousin, the monarch. They get their names from their checkered wings; fritillus translated from Latin is chessboard. Their caterpillars tend to eat violets instead of milkweed.

 

While I was out photographing caterpillars and butterflies, I almost stepped on this guy/gal. I had initially identified this as a common garter snake. Garter snakes and their multiple species, subspecies, and races are the most common snake in North America. After doing some more research (google again), I actually think this is a ribbon snake. The stripes that run the length of a ribbon snake’s body are uniform and complete; while a garter snake appears more patchy and checkered. Either way, hopefully whatever species it is, they will help to keep away some of the chipmunks that have been burrowing though the garden.

Garter snake

Ribbon Snake

All the identifications I made are solely based on appearances, so I’m sure there could have been a misidentification. To get more involved in Monarch Waystations visit: https://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/. Hopefully I’ll be able to capture some monarchs in the weeks to come!

 

-Joe Croze, UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. All photos copyright of Joe Croze, UConn