Soak Up the Beauty & Signs of An Exceptional Fall

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub,

Battered, broken, beaten, buffeted in the strong breeze, a bedraggled butterfly landed on a red zinnia in the flower border, its color drained to a point of non-identification. Wing scales were largely worn out, fallen out, fluttered out, and…they will NEVER GROW BACK AGAIN! This is why the insect appeared to be washed out, making for a dull butterfly which had served its purpose in the great plan. Do you ever wonder where butterflies get their color? The scales are the answer; tiny overlapping pieces of a material called ‘chitin,’ outgrowths of the body wall, plate-like hairs. From these the butterfly gets its different patterns and hues, or its camouflage.

In attempting to identify the species of butterfly in the photo, the fragile form was still apparent, thus one assumes the body as a member of the swallow-tail family. Flying in company with the ragged little critter were two monarchs. The date was October first, and numerous monarchs were espied that day; at one farm, eight beauties at the zinnias during one time period. We thought they’d all vamoosed. Some had irregular flight, wobbly, one-sided. Our theory is that during the larval stage, milkweed leaves upon which the larvae feed were drying up, which lent to their irregular flight. Our bet is that the beauties will never reach Mexico. Only the strongest will reach their mountain destination.

Milkweed of various species are the source of life for monarchs. Regular readers will recall our report in the September 30th edition of the “Indy” regarding environmentalists gathering milkweed pods. These will be dried, some of the seeds removed and distributed to interested citizen scientists. The pod-gathering event in Sibley and other counties is a result of the “Monarch Joint Venture,” a Monarch butterfly preservation group. They work to save the beautiful insect before it joins the extinct group of flora and fauna in our world. A goal of collecting and drying 1,000 pounds was taken on by Wendy and Brad Caldwell of Jessenland Township, plus their children, Molly, Lindsay and William. In addition, family, friends, and neighbors made it a joint effort, with an end result of 1,100 pounds of pods! In last week’s article we mentioned the uses of the plant pods…life jacket stuffing in past days…but present uses include surprises. Dried seeds will be placed in the hands of a multitude of monarch admirers for planting in gardens in cities and country. The fluff inside the pod (floss) is placed in comforters, but the crushed seeds produce OIL and creams for PAIN RELIEF! Indigenous peoples had many medicinal uses for milkweed sap, including cough medicine and…believe it or not… other medicinal purposes. We congratulate the Caldwell family and their partners for extraordinary efforts. If interested, do Google Mother Earth Gardener for more information.

As the milkweed pod gatherers went about their task, many prairie creatures including pheasants kept keen eyes zeroed in on the activity, (see Bruce Bjork photo.) Ring-necked pheasants are described as wily and illusive. They have to be in order to exist among many predators. It would be illegal for anyone to shoot a hen pheasant, other than with a camera. Hunters question why pheasants can’t be hunted before 9:00 a.m. Rooster pheasants rise from their roosts with sun-up and are attracted to rural country roads to feed upon scattered seeds and gravel for their digestive systems. Road hunting once was a popular but ILLEGAL sport, and care must be taken as to hunting on private property. Just two rooster pheasants may be taken during the course of a single day, thus pheasant hunters must be quick-witted and accurate marksmen/women.

Unless it’s raining, milkweed pod gatherers report many other prairie sightings. Ragged ribbons and flocks of grackles, blackbirds of numerous sorts, raptors, and late migrating grassland birds make the project extra interesting. Canada geese, passing overhead from feeding grounds to water, encourage the ‘pluckers’ to reach their goals. With recent cooperative dry weather, even youngsters may be part of the process.

Along with corn and bean reapers, gardeners are busy gathering the fruits of their spring/summer labors. With no touch of frost, vine crops continue to blossom…giant yellow and golden flowers add to the aromas, sights and sounds of a splendid Minnesota autumn. Overhead, ORION the hunter may be found gracing the sky, one season blending into another. So much beauty and excitement to choose from.