Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Rain doesn't dampen spirits of CCC butterfly lovers

 

September 26, 2018

Two monarch caterpillars munch on milkweed at the Chickasaw Cultural Center. Soon, they will spin themselves into a chrysalis and morph into beautiful orange, black and white butterflies.

SULPHUR – David Bohlken stood outside a 12X12 ventilated tent filled with butterflies recently at the Chickasaw Cultural Center (CCC).

The co-owner of the Bixby, Oklahoma, Euchee Butterfly Farm was tasked with zipping and unzipping the tent to allow CCC patrons into and out of the enclosure. Bohlken serves as president of Butterfly Rescue International and is working with global climate experts to protect monarch wintering grounds in Mexico.

Inside the tent, dozens of butterflies flitted about, eliciting squeals of delight from youngsters given the opportunity to hold, feed and caress the delicate creatures.

Parents eagerly snapped cellphone photos.

"It's like kids and puppies," Bohlken said with a big smile. "Kids and butterflies are just as photographically appealing."

The CCC's annual Monarch Butterfly Watch Day was proclaimed a success by Thalia Miller, director of horticulture, despite cloudy skies and intermittent rain showers.

The planned release of monarch butterflies was called off due to inclement conditions, but enthusiasm of those in attendance was at an all-time high, Miller stated.

"We were excited to learn children made frequent visits to the Euchee Butterfly Farm tent. They went and enjoyed the butterflies, then participated in a scavenger hunt or in a make-and-take, then returned to the tent time after time," Miller said. "This year's event was attended by people dedicated to helping monarch butterflies and all nectar-feeding creatures."

MILKWEED AUDIBLE

Miller spent much of her day educating patrons about nectar-rich flowers and a tropical milkweed plant critical for monarch survival. Both plants must be available to monarchs.

Miller and her staff gave away the plants so butterfly habitat ingredients are available to the creatures in home gardens and flowerbeds.

Since 2015, the Chickasaw Nation has partnered with six other Native American tribes to plant 50,000 milkweed plants throughout Oklahoma, Miller said.

The seven tribes are part of the Tribal Alliance of Pollinators. Each tribe – Chickasaw, Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Eastern Shawnee, Osage, Miami and Citizen Potawatomi – is planting milkweed, the only plant on which a monarch will lay eggs. Euchee Butterfly Farm has secured federal grant funds for the project.

This year, Miller gave away tropical milkweed plants. In the past, the CCC has offered a low-growing, orange-blossomed plant called "Tuberosa," which is a perennial. Through frequent collaboration with Euchee Butterfly Farm and Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas-based program, it was discovered monarch caterpillars prefer the tropical variety.

"It's like cotton candy to them," said David Correll, CCC greenhouse manager. "The tropical plant can grow very tall. When the eggs hatch and caterpillars emerge, they will strip the plant of all its leaves to prepare to spin a chrysalis where it will become a monarch butterfly," he said.

A single monarch lays one egg at a time and will lay between 300-500 eggs in its lifetime, Miller noted.

NEW INTEREST

Miller said an additional 18 tribes have expressed interest in joining the effort.

In a meeting earlier this year, the Chickasaw Nation engaged the tribes in an effort to expand the impact of planting milkweed for monarchs, whose numbers have steadily declined for decades.

"We need partners and participants from Texas all the way up the corn belt of America to be involved," Miller said.

"The Chickasaw Nation and the tribal alliance are making a difference. We are seeing more monarchs than we did three years ago. The federal grant making all this possible has been extended three years," she said.

A monarch butterfly dines on nectar from a chaste tree at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in 2016.

How large an impact the tribal alliance has enjoyed will be learned in early 2019 when Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, releases population statistics for 2017, according to Miller.

Taylor is active with the Chickasaw Nation and the alliance. A butterfly "hoop house" was constructed near the CCC campus two years ago under the watchful eyes of Taylor and Miller. In the spring, the house is filled with nectar-rich plants. Butterflies – and even other pollinators – may enter and leave the house in safety, thus enhancing each species' chances of survival and procreation.

"What we are doing in the Chickasaw Nation can be shared with other tribes and we are willing to lend our expertise to them so monarch populations will rebound," Miller said. With support from Monarch Watch and expertise from Euchee Butterfly Farm, success can be duplicated, she maintains.

 

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