Earth Day: Larvae= caterpillars= butterflies =birds =plants – save our pollinators
Let’s support our pollinators.
What’s special about caterpillars? They are great food for birds. First, they are soft (beetles are like tanks and many have sharp edges). They are relatively large (a meal of 200 aphids = 1 caterpillar). We and birds have to get our Carotenoids from plants. The caterpillars eat leaves and that is where the carotenoids are. In a study, they found that caterpillars made up 40 to 90% of each bird breed’s diets. It takes 6 to 9,000 caterpillars.
After the mom bird is done feeding her baby birds and they leave the nest, she still feeds them for another 21 days. Birds don’t fly for miles to find their meal, but they forage about 50 meters from the nest, so your garden is important. In the winter approximately 50% of their diet is seeds, but the rest are insects, such as spiders. Without enough food, there are fewer eggs and fledglings, and they are less likely to survive. This means a non sustainable population. Over the past half-century, North America’s bird population has dropped by three billion (a 25 percent decline) largely due to the urban sprawl and habitat destruction caused by a surging human population. Our yards can be a safe and healthy home to the birds, insects and pollinators.
Most plants don’t make a lot of caterpillars, so we have to be fussy about what we chose. For example, monarchs must have milkweed. It’s not always easy, as many plants load their leaves with nasty tasting or toxic chemicals because they want to save their leaves. Birds have to develop specialization adaptations (evolutionary history).
If you have allergies, there are alternatives, but don’t reject plants without proper research. For example, Amy Yarger, from Butterfly Pavilion, says, “goldenrod isn’t much of a contributor to allergies. Their pollen is transported via bees and other pollinators, not wind. So, you want the straight species if possible.”
The World Wildlife Fund says two-thirds of our wildlife have vanished since 1970 (9/11/20). We have 40 million acres of “lawn” in America (Not as bad in Colorado) What if we cut the area of lawn in half? That would be equal to the grand total of most of our big parks in the US. Do you have to drive your kids to a state or federal park to be immersed? Can they learn to steward our planet by occasional visits? Or, develop a relationship with nature? Start with your yard. You can add your home to “HomeGrown National Park” (a grassroots web page)! You pledge to protect or restore a plot of land.
Golden Rod in Colorado:
You can start the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date or outdoors in spring. Generally speaking, goldenrod plants are tall and slim with fluffy golden flower spikes. They bloom in the late summer to fall, but otherwise the medium green, plain foliage. It has a rapid growth rate and is full size (1.5 to 5 feet) in about two months. But watch where you plant it, as it is an aggressive spreader and could potentially outcompete other plants in the garden.
Goldenrod is widely known as a plant that attracts butterflies (SAVE our Monarchs!) In general, goldenrod species require very little maintenance or special growing conditions. There are a lot of varieties, and some “butterfly” groups will send you a free packet of the seeds; as well as some people in Lyons will post a notice on Facebook.
Oaks are one of the best trees to plant for birds and insects because they can attract hundreds of caterpillars (and moths). While it may take a couple hundred years for it to be a grand old beauty, you can benefit from it during your life time knowing that you will be blessed with lots of supporting moths and birds. (eg, a family with .6 acres removed the lawn/landscaping and put in 75% species of native plants, and now they have 149 bird species! Another family with 1/10th of an acre and not near any park or open space, put in 60 species of native plants, and she counted 120 species of birds.)
Not all native plants are good for caterpillars. Gingo is native– grew 7 million years ago. But today they are not contributing to the food web (zero species of caterpillar today). Oaks quirkus is best, although Colorado doesn’t have them. Others are: Quercus gambelii, Quercus turbinella and Quercus griseii, Gambel oak, Gray oak and Sonoran scrub oak. Also try stalics, and willows, which are native in Colorado.
Go to Nwf.org/nativeplantfinder (National Wildlife Federation) and insert your zip code, and find great recommendations. We have both dry and riparian areas in Colorado, so be careful where you plant. If you go to a nursery and ask for a cherry tree, they will probably give you a European tree. Be specific.
You can gather your friends or join local Lyons gardening groups and approach the Town of Lyons tree board and ask them to develop incentives for people to plant more native species. Cities across America are giving residents a variety of bonus’s if they plant (xeric) trees that support insects and birds.
Western people say, “I have rights;” but the indigenous people say, “I have obligations.”
Things you can do:
Light pollution at night is also killing insects. We have lost 45% of our insects, but we can help reverse it by just flicking a switch. You can use a motion sensor for security lights. Use yellow light bulbs (LED are best) — we would save millions of insects (and money).
Pesticides can kill insects. Do more research on what you buy and apply. The sprays only kill a small number of mosquitos. Mosquitos are mainly controlled in the larvae stage.
If we clean up the ground under trees too thoroughly, the caterpillar larvae doesn’t have a place to drop down and mature (eg, under leaves or in soft ground). Use ground cover at the bottom of trees.
You are a piece of a puzzle. Don’t think about saving the whole planet, or everything on your property. Start small. Support the groups that are doing this: volunteer or send a donation.
Resources where you can see gardens developing first hand:
Denver Botanic Gardens;
Chatsfield Gardens (working farm in Littleton, CO);
High Plains Environment Center , educational activities and trails;
Wild Ones, Front Range branch, a community sharing resources;
and, we cant do a list without the Butterfly Pavilion!
In Lyons, The Lyons Community Farm Project, (Facebook page only)
and the Rocky Mountain Botanic Garden (Facebook page only),
by Kathleen Spring
Based on lecture by Douglas Tallamy 2/22