Thursday, July 28, 2005

2005 Teacher of the Year Announced; Delaware state butterfly

Outstanding Educational Specialist: Mrs. Cynthia Pochomis, Newark, Del., a special needs teacher at Richardson Park Learning Center in Wilmington, is one of three Honorees being recognized for Special Needs education. "The children do better in every aspect when they are engaged and doing things they love," said Pochomis. "Science just seems to naturally click with these children, because it excites them and they can ask questions." In the past, she has participated in a two-year project to name the Delaware state butterfly. "My class produced a video describing each of the three choices for the state butterfly. We had enough copies sent to each school so every primary student could vote on which butterfly they wanted to be the state butterfly. We had about 3,000 responses," said Pochomis. Her class was able to watch the bill signing ceremony naming the Tiger Swallowtail as the state butterfly.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Butterfly unlocks evolution secret

By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter

Why one species branches into two is a question that has haunted evolutionary biologists since Darwin.

The butterflies' wings offer clues to speciation

Given our planet's rich biodiversity, "speciation" clearly happens regularly, but scientists cannot quite pinpoint the driving forces behind it.

Now, researchers studying a family of butterflies think they have witnessed a subtle process, which could be forcing a wedge between newly formed species.

The team, from Harvard University, US, discovered that closely related species living in the same geographical space displayed unusually distinct wing markings.

These wing colours apparently evolved as a sort of "team strip", allowing butterflies to easily identify the species of a potential mate.

For me, this is a big discovery just because the system is very beautiful
Dr Nikolai Kandul, Harvard University

This process, called "reinforcement", prevents closely related species from interbreeding thus driving them further apart genetically and promoting speciation.

Although scientists have speculated about this mechanism for years, it has rarely been witnessed in nature.

"The phenomenon of reinforcement is one of the very few mechanisms that has natural selection playing a role in speciation," said Harvard co-author Nikolai Kandul. "It might be very widespread but it is hard to find good evidence of it."

Geographical isolation

For speciation to occur, two branches of the same species must stop breeding with one another for long enough to grow apart genetically.

The butterflies choose mates with similar markings
The most obvious way this can happen is through geographical isolation.

If a mountain range or river divides a population of animals for hundreds of generations, they might find that if they meet again they are no longer able to breed.

But geographical isolation is not enough to explain all speciation. Clearly, organisms do sometimes speciate even if there is no clear river or mountain separating them.

The other mechanism that can theoretically divide a species is "reproductive isolation". This occurs when organisms are not separated physically, but "choose" not to breed with each other thereby causing genetic isolation, which amounts to the same thing.

Reproductive isolation is much hazier and more difficult to pin down than geographic isolation, which is why biologists are so excited about this family of butterflies.

Butterfly clue

The Harvard team made the discovery while studying the butterfly genus Agrodiaetus , which has a wide ranging habitat in Asia.

The females are brown while the males exhibit a variety of wing colours ranging from silver and blue to brown.

Dr Kandul and his colleagues found that if closely related species of Agrodiaetus are geographically separate, they tend to look quite similar. That is to say, they do not display a distinctive "team strip".

Scientists are excited about this new research

But if similarly closely related species are living side-by-side, the researchers noticed, they frequently look strikingly different - their "teams" are clearly advertised.

This has the effect of discouraging inter-species mating, thus encouraging genetic isolation and species divergence.

"This butterfly study presents evidence that the differences in the male's wing colouration is stronger [when the species share a habitat] than [when they do not]," said the speciation expert Axel Meyer, from Konstanz University in Germany.

"This pattern would therefore support the interpretation that it was brought about by reinforcement, hence natural selection."

The reason evolution favours the emergence of a "team strip" in related species, or sub species, living side-by-side is that hybridisation is not usually a desirable thing.

Although many of the Agrodiaetus species are close enough genetically to breed, their hybrid offspring tend to be rather weedy and less likely to thrive.

Therefore natural selection will favour ways of distinguishing the species, which is why the clear markings exist.

"For me, this is a big discovery just because the system is very beautiful," said Dr Kandul. "As much as we can we are showing that [reinforcement] is the most likely mechanism."

This research was published in the latest edition of Nature magazine.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/07/24 11:19:20 GMT


Northland residents battling Butterfly Bay proposal

28.07.05 10.00

Far North residents are battling a proposal by an American company to build a major resort at a Northland bay famed for its butterfly population.

San Francisco-based Cerulean Properties has sought resource consent to develop a spa resort for 229 guests at Butterfly Bay, near Tauranga Bay and the Whangaroa Harbour entrance. Butterfly Bay provides sanctuary to one of the largest monarch butterfly populations in Australasia.

Public submissions to the Far North District Council (FNDC) and Northland Regional Council closed yesterday with nearly 50 submissions sent to the council's Kaikohe office alone.

"The majority of submissions were in opposition on ecological grounds and because of the pure scale of the development," an FNDC spokesperson said.

Cerulean Properties wants to carry out earthworks, install sewage pipes and discharge up to 219cu m of reject water per day to the coastal marine area via a desalination plant.

A hearing date has yet to be set.



A butterfly map of America's green space

By Madeline Bodin | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

They arrive in wooden drawers with glass tops and in glassine envelopes - sometimes by the truckload. Last year, 333,000 butterfly and moth specimens were sent to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

But where once the delicate specimens were catalogued and, sometimes, displayed, they're now playing a new role: nature's telltale.

(Photograph) BUTTERFLY SIGNS: The insect, seen here in a Washington, N.J., butterfly garden, is a good indicator of various environmental conditions.

Butterflies are good environmental indicators, biologists say. Tracking the types and numbers of butterfly species across time and space can provide early warnings when something is amiss. That's why Jacqueline Miller, cocurator of the museum's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, is using its more than 3.5 million specimens to create a detailed national butterfly database.

If it succeeds, the United States will have in place a biological gauge to measure everything from the health of prairies to changing weather patterns. It will also be following in the footsteps of Canada and Mexico, which already have butterfly databases.

"People think these are dusty old things," Dr. Miller says. "But there is a lot of information locked in these collections."

For example, many butterfly species rely on one family of plants for survival. Often, these plants are found only in a particular habitat (such as prairie or tropical rain forest), and in a certain temperature range. So by tracking the butterfly population in a certain area, scientist can tell, for example, that the tall-grass prairie is quickly disappearing from a broad swath of North America. Or that the long-term weather patterns in an area have shifted over several decades.

The project Page

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

MAKING A DIFFERENCE : Gardener blossoms in Tigard butterfly garden

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"My family really thought I needed to get out more, so I did an Internet search for volunteering and gardening, and I found the butterfly garden," said Chappelle, 36, who is communications coordinator for the Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum in Wilsonville.

Chappelle works with two other volunteers, Pat Sharp and Marilyn Allen, and has been pruning, weeding and planting in the garden since February. The butterfly garden is a popular spot in the 79-acre regional park, which is owned and operated by Tigard.

The busiest time for the volunteers is spring, when they often work four hours a week to maintain the flowers and plants that attract butterflies. Volunteers spend about two hours a week in the garden during the summer, and in February, Chappelle stopped by once every two weeks to rake and prune.

Her other responsibilities include labeling plants and researching plant species that attract butterflies or repel pests such as mosquitoes.

Chappelle says the results drive her gardening efforts. "I can be a little obsessive-compulsive about it. The end result is always worth it for me, even if I have a sore back for three days. I enjoy a yard that just looks good and has nice colors. Twenty percent of my motivation is hoping that others will appreciate it visually, too." -- Skipp Thomsen


Butterfly Festival this weekend at the Hershey Gardens

"Please check yourself for hitch-hiking butterflies," says a sign on the door of the Butterfly House at Hershey Gardens, now in its eighth season.

It's that time of year again. The temperature is rising above 80 degrees and the butterflies are out - or inside, depending on where you look.

Hershey Garden's Butterfly Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, rain or shine. The celebration will take place in and around the Children's Garden and the Butterfly House at Hershey Gardens. It is included in general admission price.

It's a unique place," John Fortino, Butterfly House coordinator, said. "When it was built, there were less than 10 houses. Today there are [almost] 30."

The original structure was a greenhouse built by Milton Hershey in 1930. It was later moved to various venues until it was repurchased by the Gardens. The glass of the house was later removed and replaced with a mesh covering.

One might confess to not being a nature lover. However, Fortino insists that there is something for everyone at the Butterfly House.

"Some guys come into the Butterfly House and look like they have been dragged along by a girlfriend or wife," he said. "But then they really enjoy it and their eyes just light up."

The entire life cycle of a butterfly can be viewed inside the structure. At the entrance, a box of chrysalises hangs on the wall and visitors can watch the insects as they emerge from their protective covering. The chrysalises are purchased and adhered to the case using, surprisingly, Elmer's glue.

"It gets annoying when people call them cocoons," Fortino said. "They're called chrysalises. Cocoons are for moths."

The average life span of a butterfly is 10 to 17 days so chrysalises are consistently being purchased to stock the house's 300-butterfly capacity.

"When people walk through, it's a new environment," Fortino said. "In nature, you're never going to encounter 300 butterflies in one place."

For educational purposes, plaques are posted throughout the house to explain the natural activities of a butterfly including the roosting stage where butterflies absorb shade in a nearby tree.

"A lot of people also go there to enjoy the quiet," Fortino explained. "Overall, there is a wide range of visitors."

For those who enjoy interactive experiences, butterflies will sometimes land on observers if the temperature is right, explaining the need for the sign and mirror near the door.

"Sometimes they'll go after body perspiration," Fortino explained. "But they're really looking for food or a mate. Sometimes they will think you are a plant, but when they realize you're not, they'll take off."

Serving as a butterfly landing spot is allowed, but deliberately handling the insects is prohibited, as grabbing hands can take a toll on the wings.

"People rub the wings and think it is dust. It isn't dust," Fortino said. "It's the scales on the wing, and if you rub the wrong way, you could damage the wings and the butterfly might not be able to fly."

To teach students, the Butterfly House is located near the Gardens' Education Center where three-part classes are given to school children detailing the life cycle and the difference between a butterfly and a moth and featuring a tour of the house.

"There's a lot to learn here," Fortino said. "I thought I knew a lot, but I'm still learning."

Aiding in the teaching process are several volunteers ranging in age from 14 to 82.

"Our volunteers are wonderful," Fortino said. "We don't choose them. They choose us."

Currently, the Butterfly House is home to 25 varieties of butterfly, including the newly- added Brazilian Heliconius Erato (Small Postman) butterfly. Last year, more than 120,000 people experienced the education that the house has to offer.

"If they don't learn anything about butterflies when they're here, I don't know where else they are going to learn about it," Fortino said.

For more information about admission prices and hours, contact the Hershey Gardens at 534-3492 or visit the Web site at


VNA annual butterfly release slated Sunday

SHAMOKIN — A handed down Indian legend tells the story of a butterfly.
“If anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it,” the legend says. “Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly cannot reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants a wish. So, according to legend, by making a wish and giving the butterfly the freedom, the wish will be taken to the heavens and granted.


Monday, July 04, 2005

A green exercise

Menka Shivdasani
What makes the Maharashtra Nature Park truly remarkable is that it was once a municipal landfill site, buried under tons of garbage, and touching a creek reeling under effluent.

One of the nicer ways to spend a weekend this monsoon, if you like green spaces and don't mind getting a little wet, is to take a walk down a Maharashtra Nature Park trail. This park is right in the heart of the city — in fact, it stands cheek by jowl against the Dharavi slums, but the contrasts between the two worlds could not be greater.

You would have driven past it often enough, on the Sion-Dharavi Link Road that is perpetually locked in traffic snarls. A 37-acre plot with 27 acres as a functional nature park, a thick woodland with nearly 14,000 plants of about 300 varieties and 100 species of trees, including the baobab, of which there are barely 50 specimens in Mumbai.

You will also find 115 species of birds, both common ones such as cormorants, and other more elusive ones such as the Little Green Heron, which has been sighted at least twice, according to Sunjoy Monga's book Back to Nature, which was launched at the park recently.

What makes this park truly remarkable is that it was once a municipal landfill site, buried under tons of garbage, and touching a creek reeling under effluent. Then, in 1983, when the idea of the nature park first originated, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) approached World Wildlife Fund - India to oversee the rebirth of these grounds.

It was not a pleasant task, scraping through harmful garbage, and spreading soil over it; Dr Salim Ali, the well-known ornithologist, planted the first tree, and over the years, several thousand saplings were planted. The Maharashtra Nature Park was finally opened to the public on April 22, 1994 — Earth Day.

Amazingly, absolutely no artificial fertilisers or chemicals were used in the transformation. Instead, vermiculture programmes and rainwater harvesting have made all the difference.

The park has crossed another milestone this monsoon, with the launch of its rainwater harvesting project. Avinash Kubal, Deputy Director, says the project is designed to collect 22,500 kilolitres of rainwater, making it independent of the municipal water supply — an amount that would be enough for the daily needs of 250 families. The water collected from the project will be stored in an open pond, encouraging water birds and aquatic plants, and providing a backdrop for the Rain Education Centre.

Today, when an average of 150-200 people visit the park on weekends, it's hard to believe this was once a smelly, uninhabitable municipal landfill site. Instead, there are nature trails, butterfly walks, bird-watching, treasure hunts, plant shows, and many other activities.

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