Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tag, You're It!

My friend and colleague, Judy Molnar, is our resident butterfly expert--in fact you might call her the "queen of butterflies."  Starting in late September and going until nature runs its course (usually by the end of October or early November), Judy raises monarch caterpillars.  Each caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times before turning into a chrysalis.

After about 10-14 days, the adult emerges and is ready to escape the cold of winter by migrating to Mexico. In the photo below, before releasing the butterfly, Judy places a small numbered tag on the underside of the right lower wing which identifies that specific butterfly and also lists the Monarch Watch phone number and e-mail address.

She also records data such as whether the butterfly is a male or female, and also the date, time and location where she releases the butterfly.  Can you tell whether this butterfly is a male or female?

Hint:  a female has thicker black lines on her wings, a male has thinner black lines, and if you look very closely, you'll see two small black dots on his lower wings. Yes, the butterfly pictured above is a male!

Once a butterfly is released, it may fly off quickly, or it might linger on the Museum grounds for a couple of days, feasting on nectar--gathering energy!--before is sets off on its incredible journey to Mexico.  On average, migrating butterflies travel at about 10-15 mph for 6-8 hours each day.  On a good day with favorable winds, a monarch might be able to travel up to 400 miles per day!  Here's a photo of a newly tagged monarch on our Museum grounds.

Judy recommends that if you spot a tagged butterfly, take a photo of the tag then call the phone number listed on the tag or send an e-mail to Monarch Watch (based at the University of Kansas.)  Your data will help scientists understand movements of migrating monarch butterflies.  Because of this tagging program, scientists have learned that monarchs overwinter in various sites in Mexico.  If you're interested learning about this monarch tagging program, more information can be found at the Monarch Watch website.  The Journey North website is also a great site where you can learn more about monarchs as well as help contribute data as a citizen scientist. For more information about monarch tagging at the Virginia Living Museum please check out our website.  Many thanks to Judy for sharing her expertise and knowledge about monarchs!

More "off the beaten path" in two weeks...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guess Who? Part 2

Hope you enjoyed the last entry of close up "animal parts."  Were you able to guess which animals they belong to?  Here are the answers:

The first photo was pretty easy--it was the tail of a raccoon.  I took this picture of one our exhibit raccoons as it was climbing a tree--they are excellent and fast climbers!

The second photo was the tail of a five-lined skink (a kind of lizard) that was sunning itself in our outdoor amphitheater--they would only let me get so close before skittering off under the amphitheater seats and nearby shrubbery.  The bright blue tail will fade as a skink gets older.  Also, if grabbed by a predator, the tail can break off, hopefully giving the skink a chance to get away, and eventually the tail will regrow.

The third photo showed off the beautiful scales of a box turtle spotted by my colleague, Judy Molnar.  The turtle was traipsing its way across one of our outdoor paths.  We occasionally find wild turtles such as these wandering through our museum grounds--not surprising since our grounds provide an excellent natural habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

The last photo of an animal's ear was perhaps a bit more difficult to figure out, so, I'll give you another clue--it has a tail with an interesting texture:

Think you have it figured out?  We have two of these marvelous creatures on exhibit on our Outdoor Trail.  A favorite of many of our visitors, these animals are the largest type of rodent we have in North America.  Sporting many adaptations for an aquatic lifestyle--webbed hind feet, a broad tail, dense water-repellent fur, and the ability to close off their nose and ears while swimming underwater--they are excellent swimmers.  They are famous for their ever-growing teeth used to eat their food, as well as to cut down trees in order to make lodges and dams.  If you guessed this animal is a beaver, you are correct!

More "off the beaten path" photos in two weeks....