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Speaking of Nature

Kids & Critters:

Well boys and girls, this is it. June is finally here and in just another couple of weeks, we’ll enjoy the longest day of the year, followed by the last day of school. Once the school bus stops coming, you can get up and go outside. You can enjoy the cool of the morning and you can just lay down on the lawn and look at all of the plants that are actually growing there.

You’ll find grasses, clovers and all manner of little plants and each will have its own special type of flower. Some are easy to identify, while others are a bit more difficult. They all have the same goal in mind: look pretty, smell pretty and taste good to attract pollinators. Of course, “pretty” is a matter of opinion.

If a plant wants to attract flies, it will often produce a perfume that smells like rotten meat. This might smell good to a fly that is looking for a place to lay its eggs, but as far as people are concerned, these kinds of flowers stink. Other flowers that attract bees and butterflies, will have more pleasant perfumes, but it only matters if the pollinator likes it.

This is because flowers depend on help from their pollinators. They need someone to visit their blossoms and get pollen dust on themselves before visiting the next flower of the same species and accidentally dropping some of that pollen in just the right place. So it turns out that specific flowers often have fairly specific pollinators.

But the pollinators don’t do this work for free. However the insects are attracted, they must be rewarded with something to eat. In the world of flowers, the best reward is sweet, sugary nectar. Flies like it, moths like it, butterflies like it and even birds like it.

Of all the world’s pollinators, the most beautiful are probably the butterflies. These insects have extremely broad wings that have evolved to be decorated in all sorts of colors. Some species have camouflage coloration, some have bright coloration and some even have both.

A great example is the American painted lady: a butterfly that has coloration for broadcasting its position and hiding all at once. This medium-sized butterfly is beautifully decorated with oranges and browns when its wings are open. There are even spots of blue here and there. But when the wings are closed, they look like tree bark; a good thing for a butterfly that might want to hide from birds.

American painted lady butterflies are quite fond of marigold flowers, which are also quite attractive to people. You may actually have helped plant some of these flowers in a garden this spring. If you haven’t, I’m sure your mom or dad would take you to a garden center to buy a small tray of these pretty flowers.

As the summer progresses, I am sure the numbers of these beautiful butterflies will continue to grow. If you get up in the morning and head outside to wherever you planted some marigolds, you might spot one of these beautiful butterflies. If you do, draw a picture and send it in to the Recorder. We might even print it in the paper!

To draw a picture you will need some white paper and some crayons, or colored pencils that have black, brown and orange. You’ll also need some green for the leaves of a plant and your favorite color for a flower.

Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. His Speaking of Nature column runs weekly in The Recorder, except for the first Thursday of each month, which is when his Kids and Critters column for young readers appears. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit www.speakingofnature.com.

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