All posts by prairieland45

Caterpillars on my Dill!

By Barbara Walvoord, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Cute little caterpillars have appeared on Daphne Stevens’ dill plants on the north campus.  Her neighbor Carol Neubert sent me a photo, asking, “What are they?”

They’re Eastern black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes).  Let’s call this one “Pap.”

Pap is here because, several weeks ago, a male swallowtail staked out a territory near Daphne’s dill plants and vigorously defended it against other males.

Tiger swallowtail butterfly (Pterourus glaucus) on blazing star (Liatris spicata) in Lathrop garden, 7/19/18

Pap’s mom, after mating with him, laid her eggs on a plant that Pap and his sibs would be able to eat—which means a member of the carrot or citrus family, including dill. If she lays her eggs on the wrong plant, the kids won’t recognize it as food or won’t be able to overcome the plant’s toxins, and will die.

After hatching, Pap has had to avoid being eaten while he passes through several changes—called “instars.” To avoid attracting Continue reading Caterpillars on my Dill!


A Butterfly Reveals All

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for July 28-Aug. 3, 2018

When you humans see us butterflies flitting from flower to flower, you may think we’re playful and carefree.  But actually we’re frantic.  As a butterfly, there’s a lot to do before you die, and for most of us, 2-3 weeks is it.

First, ya gotta eat.  Flowers are your only food.  And not all flowers.  Those tubular flowers?—you have to be one of the species of butterfly with a long tongue.  And some of us males, like the tiger swallowtail, need to sip at mud puddles to get the salt and minerals we need for our, ahem, virility.  Not so easy in a drought.

And it’s dangerous out there.  You could be dinner for birds, lizards, frogs, toads, chipmunks, or voles, not to mention other insects, who you think would have a sense of kinship, but no.  Actually, your best defense is your bright colors, because they tell predators your body contains poisons. If you’re a monarch, for example, your body still contains the poison from the milkweed you ate as a little squirt.

If you’re an American painted lady, your wings are bright on one side and dull on the other, so you can flash the colors while flying, and Continue reading A Butterfly Reveals All

Wanted: Skunks

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post of July 21-27, 2018

Skunks seem to be on homeowners’  “most wanted” list of criminals. The internet is full of ads by companies that will get rid of them for you.

At Lathrop, though, we want our skunks.

We do?  But won’t we get sprayed?  Not likely.  Skunks are not aggressive.  They move about mostly at night and try to avoid contact with us. When threatened, they spray their scent only as a last resort.  First they will hiss, growl, and stamp their front feet.

A Canadian government website calls skunks one of the most beneficial animals for gardeners and farmers.  They eat chipmunks, voles, mice, and rabbits, as well as grubs and insects that destroy crops.  In fact, skunks proved such an efficient enemy of the hop Continue reading Wanted: Skunks

Lathrop’s Invisible Project

By Barbara Walvoord

On July 9, nine residents trekked through fields and woods to the far north section of the east campus along Bassett Brook. This land is largely invisible to most residents.  It lies beyond our trails and beyond the “Free Fifty” acres of forest from which we’ve removed invasives in the past.

Jeff Allen leads residents to see where he has been removing invasives

It’s still a basically healthy forest, quiet and beautiful, with maples and pines on rolling slopes along the multi-channeled Bassett Brook and its wetland.  But scientific research shows that the increasing presence of invasive plants like multiflora rose, shrub honeysuckle, and oriental bittersweet could significantly reduce the wildlife our land can support (

So we’ve begun a project to remove invasives, following science-based guidelines recommended by experts.  Resident volunteers Continue reading Lathrop’s Invisible Project

The Lathrop Strawberry Festival

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 30-July 13, 2018

Strawberry shortcake, strawberries on cereal, strawberries with cream.  Just down the road from the north campus the other day, I bought two pints of Hadley strawberries that were some of the best Sharon and I had ever eaten.  Yum!

And Lathrop’s wild strawberries are blooming in our woods, some in areas where we cleared invasive plants that were choking them out.  As the delicate white blossoms dot the floor of our forests and glades, creatures are also saying, “Oh, yum—strawberries!”

Here’s who researchers found at nature’s own strawberry festival in a Michigan woods:  lighting on blossoms, leaves, or stems were sweat bees, carpenter bees, chalcid wasps, jumping spiders, , dancing wasps, ichnuemon wasps, gall wasps, leafhoppers, thrips, froghoppers, weevils, aphids, root-maggot flies. and braconid wasps like this one.

I guess this is what botany graduate students do: lie on the ground with magnifying glasses in hand, counting all the insects that land on a wild strawberry plant.  Continue reading The Lathrop Strawberry Festival


by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 23-29, 2018

Well, finally, something native is blooming in the native plant landscaped area near the Inn.

Last year, with money from the Residents’ Council and the Land Conservation Committee, and help from Facilities, we planted native shrubs and wildflowers that will nourish butterflies and birds better than the alien plants they replaced.  We used plugs instead of larger plants to save money, so they looked pretty puny earlier this spring.

To our embarrassment, however, there WERE robust plants and lovely early-spring blooms in our supposedly all-native garden—the Continue reading Finally!

Empty Nest

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 16-22, 2018

The first time mama robin tried building a nest on the railing of our porch, the pieces of grass and unfinished nest parts kept falling off the railing.  Finally, though, she figured it out, and built this amazing nest.

It’s incredibly strong and useful, though without what we would call modern conveniences.

No hired contractors or power tools, so Mama had to bring in about 350 pieces of grass and twigs about 6 inches long.  She wove them Continue reading Empty Nest