You may not be a fan of insects, but they're both important and in decline. Just ask interpretive naturalist Kate Redmond.
"If you like birds, that’s what birds eat. And if you like a lot of other small animals, that’s what they eat. And if you like to eat strawberries, it’s insects that pollinate them. It’s a domino,” Redmond says.
Its aim is both simple and complex: to lure people into nature and inspire them to care about it. Artists will be on hand to share what they draw from nature, while people like Kate Redmond will focus on nature's small creatures.
“I’m hoping for a good crop of dragonflies and maybe some butterflies,” Redmond says.
On a recent walk into the parcel, Redmond spots a minute creature — a marsh bluet damselfly. She knows every detail of its life cycle.
“They’re aquatic when they’re young. They emerge after a year of being a little aquatic guy and pull out and take a deep breath and split the skin on the back of their thorax. Then the adult pulls out and sits there for a while and pumps the wings up," Redmond adds, "And then it’s time to fly away and go eat mosquitoes — that’s what they do.”
This parcel is also known for its massive, sometimes 6-feet-wide mounds of ants. Redmond says ants have an intimate relationship with some other insects.
"[Aphids and treehoppers] puncture a plant stem and suck out juices for the sugar. They have to suck out a lot of liquid and the excess is excreted through the rear of the insect.” Redmond says.
What they excrete is called honeydew. Redmond says ants and other insects thrive on it.
“Sometimes when you walk through the woods and see a sticky shiny leaf, that’s the honeydew. The worker ants are like little tankers: they fill up with this stuff and take it back," she says.
Millions of insects live all around us, “and they just do their thing and we’re not even aware that they are there," Redmond says.
Life might be sweet for insects here at Cedarburg Environmental Research Area, but worldwide, Redmond says populations are plummeting.
Twenty miles north just off Lake Michigan, Jill Kunsmann will be sharing her passion for monarch butterflies at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve during the Treasures of Oz tour.
Kunsmann will be teaching people how to become butterfly monitors. She points to a native milkweed plant.
“Just at the very tip of the leaf and you can see a couple of tiny larvae. And that kind of information as citizen scientists, they can report to Journey North, Monarch Watch, groups that collect information to better understand the population,” she says.
And for people eager to raise monarchs, Kunsmann will be teaching them to do so responsibly, starting with what you plant in your yard.
“The thing that you want to plant in residential gardens is plant native milkweed. Do not go for the showy tropical milkweed, which actually can carry a virus,” Kunsmann says.
She acknowledges that the practice of raising monarchs is controversial.
“When the monarch lays its eggs in nature ... about 5% of the eggs that are laid actually make it to maturity. If you are raising them responsibly in a clean monarch nursery, 98% reach it to full maturity,” Kunsmann says. “Where the scientists are still giving this consideration is the potential that by raising them indoors you reduce the hardiness, the disease resistance that they might have had had they been raised outdoors.”
Kunsmann says the end goal is to increase habitat.
She hopes for a big crowd of butterfly enthusiasts on Saturday and that they’ll come back again in August. “We tag and release butterflies. Last year we tagged 60. All of that information goes to the University of Kansas’ monarch watch. They’re studying their migratory path,” Kunsmann says.
Volunteers like Jill Kunsmann who have fueled the Treasures of Oz project for a decade are balancing the wonder of discovery with the reality of many species' declining habitat.
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