Education: Citizen Scientists Help Study Butterflies

Butterflies aren’t just beautiful animals and important pollinators; they are also bio-indicators, which provide valuable information regarding the health of an ecosystem. Like amphibians, the butterfly is affected by even the slightest changes in the environment, signaling to scientists that something is amiss. When habitats are healthy and plentiful with food, water and shelter, bio-indicator populations are stable. When any piece of that puzzle falls away, populations fluctuate quickly and may decline rapidly.

Scientists can’t be everywhere to monitor species’ populations and keep track of changes. They count on people like us to be their eyes and ears in our communities and report this critical information. The Detroit Zoological Society is providing opportunities for our community to become citizen scientists and help the Michigan Butterfly Network collect vital information about our native butterfly species.

On April 6, a citizen science training workshop will be hosted at the Belle Isle Nature Center. The training will cover species identification, how to collect accurate data, how to report data and otherwise prepare attendees to be successful.

After the mandatory training, citizen scientists are asked to visit their census route at least six times throughout the summer field season. Each census route walk will last five minutes as the observer looks for butterflies in their immediate vicinity. Recording data is a very important part of the process; each species will be carefully documented on a form and submitted to the network.

There are many support materials and resources available and the training workshops will prepare participants for a successful season. The pre-requirements include a passion for our natural world, an interest in learning to identify up to 30 species of butterflies, and the ability to visit a census route six times over the course of the summer season.

If you’d like to learn more about the project or sign up to participate in the training workshops, please email education@dzs.org.

Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Spring has Sprung!

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes, especially in relation to plant and animal life. Plants and animals depend on these predictable changes to know when to migrate, nest, bloom, leaf out and so much more. People celebrate phenology-related events, such as cherry blossom festivals and monarch butterfly migrations. Before weather predictions were delivered to our email inbox or through an app on our phone, people used to watch for signs in nature to know just the right time to plant their crops or harvest their fields.

Phenology is an essential part of life on earth. As our global climate changes, some cyclical changes are becoming out of sync. Pollinators such as bees and butterflies may respond to earlier-than-usual warm temperatures and find the flower blooms they rely on for nourishment may not be blooming. If birds follow warmer temperatures and return to a nesting area before the bugs emerge, they could go hungry.

Scientists are studying these changes and collecting as much data as they can from all over the world. They are counting on citizens like you and me to help. The USA National Phenology Network is a great resource to learn about phenology and how you can report observations that will help scientists track long-term seasonal changes. Project Budburst is another great resource. This online repository is limited to plants, but it has a wide selection of plant species that you can observe, record data on, and report your findings about to help scientists. Chances are you can find a plant or tree in your yard or neighborhood that Project Budburst would like information on. At the Detroit Zoo, we’re observing and reporting on the flowering crabapple trees that line the walkways by Rackham Fountain.

Each year since 2013, the Detroit Zoological Society has participated in the Journey North Tulip Test Garden project. We plant red emperor tulip bulbs in the fall and mark the area. As spring nears, we watch for the tips of the tulip plants to emerge and then we report our observations to the Journey North Tulip Test Garden database. Animated maps on the Journey North website compile data from observers all over North America to show us when spring is on the way.

The best part of participating in any of these projects is that you’ll find yourself noticing more about the world around you. Even very young children can participate with the help of an adult, creating a new generation of people relying on signs in nature, not just the daily weather report.

– Claire Lannoye Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Education: Protect the Pollinators

Claire Lannoye-Hall is a Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Summer vacation is upon us and we can’t wait for you to visit the Detroit Zoo. There are so many new things happening here – the wolves are exploring their new habitat and the dinosaurs are beckoning from the trail.

While the summer offers many great Butterfly - Roy Lewisopportunities to visit the Zoo, it also brings out bees, butterflies and other pollinators, which are very important to the environment. They help flowers bloom and fruits and vegetables grow. Without them, there wouldn’t be food for us or for the animals to eat. Fortunately, we can help them in a few simple ways.

Start by avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides. While they may keep the weeds away and your grass a little bit greener, they are devastating to pollinator populations. Consider pulling weeds by hand or using an organic alternative such as mulch or hot water to eliminate weeds.

Honey BeeYou can also plant a pollinator garden. Native plants are easy to find, easy to take care of and are great for pollinators. For southeast Michigan, try lupine, bee balm, coneflower or cardinal flower. Bees and butterflies will likely find your garden first, but if you’re lucky, hummingbirds may stop by, too! For more suggestions on what to plant, visit: http://pollinator.org/guides.htm.

Monarch butterflies are of special concern due to habitat loss. Here at the Zoo, we have special gardens called “Monarch Waystations” that are certified by Monarch Watch, a nonprofit organization. The plants in these gardens provide food and shelter for monarchs throughout metamorphosis and as they travel to and from their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Next time you’re at the Zoo, look for one of these gardens and see if there are any Monarch butterflies visiting. You can find out more about creating your own certified waystation by visiting: http://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations.

Finally, you can help scientists by making observations and collecting data. Scientists need to know how many and what kinds of pollinators are in your backyard. Becoming a citizen scientist is easier than you might think. Visit some of the sites here for more information: http://pollinatorlive.pwnet.org/teacher/citizen.php.

We look forward to seeing you at the Zoo this summer!

– Claire Lannoye-Hall