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Thursday, 22 May 2014 00:00

Doing what's best for butterflies

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Emily and Larry Scheunemann’s yard is coming alive with plants this time of year. The area couple are looking forward to the return of monarch butterflies to Wisconsin. They have special landscaping in place to attract and nurture butterflies. In addition, the Scheunemanns help to track and catalog butterflies. Emily and Larry Scheunemann’s yard is coming alive with plants this time of year. The area couple are looking forward to the return of monarch butterflies to Wisconsin. They have special landscaping in place to attract and nurture butterflies. In addition, the Scheunemanns help to track and catalog butterflies. Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER  -- With the promise of warmer weather finally appearing like a long lost friend, many of us are heading to our backyards for the first time in a long time. Each trip promises to bring green grass, flowers and all the bugs Wisconsin has to offer.

Along with the dreaded mosquito, no-see-ums, Oriental beetles, stink bugs and dozens of others, there are also beautiful birds and butterflies.

 

A Whitewater-area couple has spent their retirement planning for the yearly arrival of butterflies, specifically the monarch, even landscaping their backyard for the return of the migrating winged insect.

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Emily and Larry Scheunemann have been watching, photographing, cataloging and fussing over the butterfly for over a decade.

The couple met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and both were teachers until their retirement from the Janesville School District. Larry, a physical education teacher and coach at Craig High School, loved the outdoors and restored their 1839 homestead and the surrounding prairie. Emily taught science at Marshall Middle School and raised three children.

To start attracting butterflies, the couple had to begin from the ground up.

Emily said it starts with the landscaping.

“Around the house is a wildscape, planted to attract wildlife, especially birds and butterflies,” she said.

To attract butterflies, the garden space needs trees, shrubs and ground cover because butterflies require shelter, host plants for their caterpillars and nectar from flowers.

The butterflies also require milkweed for their caterpillars. Milkweed contains specific chemical compounds to help make the caterpillar, and eventually the adult, toxic to predators. Monarchs’ orange and black coloring also serves to warn predators to leave them alone.

Like Wisconsin “snowbirds,” the monarch doesn’t hang around when the frost bites.

“Monarchs cannot remain in Wisconsin for the winter,” Emily said. “They are a tropical butterfly.”

Other tropical butterflies die in the winter and then migrate in from the south for our summers. Like the buckeye butterfly, the monarch flies to Mexico.

It’s the monarch that can provide reliable environmental information, the Scheunemanns said.

“Everything about their migration is remarkable and provides fodder for many scientific studies, and is also a highly visible indicator for changes on our Earth,” Emily said.

The Scheunemanns still are active educators, giving three or four presentations a month on landscaping for wildlife.

Mariette Nowak, author and Audubon Society member, has seen the Scheunemanns’ work firsthand in their backyard.

The importance of attracting the butterfly and other species cannot be understated, Nowak said.

“Their work is extremely important because so many species are declining throughout the Midwest, in fact, throughout the country,” Nowak said. “The native landscaping on their property helps to stem this decline by supporting the birds, butterflies, bees and other animals that depend on native plants.”

The monarch is one of the few butterflies that can be tracked (a sticky label that gives them an ID) and, if recovered, can indicate from where they have traveled. An effort called Monarch Watch provides tags and information on how to apply them and then report data.

The Scheunemanns have not only participated in Monarch Watch, but also have identified more than 30 different species of butterfly in their backyard. They also host a monarch tagging event each year, where people can come and help tag the monarch butterflies before they fly south in fall.

In the meantime, Larry has added photographer to his list of accomplishments, which also includes master gardener. His photos are the main visual used to illustrate the couple’s lectures on wildscaping and conservation.

During their most recent presentation, Nowak said, the pictures were worth a thousand words.

“I found their butterfly talk particularly interesting because they showed photographs only of those butterflies they found in their own yard,” Nowak said. “This helps to encourage people to attract butterflies in their own yards by growing the plants that caterpillars, as well as adult butterflies, require for food.”

Even with their efforts in tracking and maintaining a summer shrine for the monarch, Emily worries that the beloved butterfly may be headed for the endangered species list.

“Population fluctuations of monarch are mirrored in other pollinators, and there is serious doubt that the monarch will ever reach their numbers of 1995, over 1 billion individuals,” she said.

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