Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Celebrating Rachel Carson's Birthday

Today is Rachel Carson's birthday - a time to reinvigorate the challenge she posed to all Americans. 

We are part of the environment in which we live. The health of our air, soil and water is just as important to humans as it is to bald eagles, island foxes (video), humpback whales and monarch butterflies.

Rachel Carson's early books celebrated the sea, coastal habitats and the variety of interdependent life  in the ocean: Under the Sea Wind; The Sea Around Us; Edge of the Sea. Through her study of coastal habitats and in her work as a writer for the Bureau of Fisheries and eventually the Editor-in-Chief of publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carson saw what most Americans did not have access to: scientific reports on the toxic impacts of overused pesticides.

Carson was not a political person, she believed that science fact crossed political lines. In the years following the publication of Silent Spring, the Clean Air Act (1963), Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) were enacted by Democratic and Republican administrations.

New science facts have been laid before us all: our use of fossil fuels in altering the global climate. Will we come together and act for the benefit of all humanity or let the well-financed voice of a few subjugate us into self-destructive inaction?   

Your life is already too busy to take on a topic that seems insurmountable? Like all of us, Rachel Carson had personal responsibilities that consumed her everyday life. From the time she was a graduate student during the Great Depression, until the day she died, she was the sole financial support for her parents, her sister, her nieces and her grandnephew. She worked a full-time job and was the head of a household, while writing her first two books. She suffered from a variety of illnesses, including breast cancer that would take her life only two years after the publication of Silent Spring. She was determined not to let the world she loved be destroyed for future generations, are you?

In Silent Spring, Carson took scientific information to the American people and challenged us to be engaged as advocates for our local environments, to question short-term commercial gain that disregards long-term damage to life forms and habitats, and to demand accountability of our government officials, from local representatives to the President.

If we all did these three things, we could change the future in a positive way.

More on Rachel Carson.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Mourning Cloak Becomes Butterfly

In April, mourning cloak caterpillars (Nymphalis antiopa) matured in our ornamental plum tree and became chrysalises.

I brought one into the house in a bug box hoping to catch the moment of transformation as it emerged as a butterfly. Resources said the metamorphosis should take 10-14 days. On the 12th day after forming a chrysalis, "Morty" emerged. As you might have guessed, one minute the chrysalis was hanging motionless, a half hour later I walked by and he (it) was pumping fluid into unfurled wings.

We missed the moment of emergence, but we still had the thrill of seeing how the black spiky caterpillar metamorphosed into a delicate winged butterfly. On the bottom of the bug box was a drop of fluid from inside the chrysalis. Some sources say this is extra pigment. Amazingly, when I washed out the box, the water turned an orange-pink. 

I always think twice about bringing a wild thing into the house because they belong outside. They have evolved to survive warm days and cool nights (saving a bird). We were diligent to maintain an even temperature and humidity, and to keep the enclosure out of direct sunlight.

At the same time, we watched a second chrysalis that was outside. The caterpillar had attached to the bottom of our "Welcome" sign 36 hours after the one we had in the house. We hoped to catch this second butterfly as it emerged, but...

As day 14 came and went without the color changes we had seen in the chrysalis in the house, we wondered if the cool night-time temperatures had delayed the transformation. We continued to watch the chrysalis and as the daytime temperatures warmed up, I started to see the yellow coloring coming through the chrysalis wall that had heralded the emergence of Morty. 

Then hot dry winds began to blow. I kept hoping the butterfly would emerge, but yesterday the color seemed intensified. (see original coloring) It appeared to be dehydrating. 

This morning the story ends. The photo shows a small hole gnawed into the side of the chrysalis. Some other insect has preyed upon the unlucky mourning cloak before it could complete its metamorphosis.

Morty is flying about the yard and hopefully some of its siblings are as well. I hope they will contribute to the next generation of mourning cloak butterflies.

On a recent trip to Orcutt Ranch Park, I saw a number of butterflies: mourning cloak, painted ladies (Vanessa cardui), western swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), and anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon).  Check out a video of this Hidden Garden in Los Angeles at TheEarthMinute.com.