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Spring is one of my favourite times of the year because all the insects that build nests, honey comb and webs are now emerging. There is a "buzz" in the air that you haven't heard for the past six months. For example, our apple trees now have a variety of insects foraging at all times. All this hustle to and from the blooms creates a hectic traffic system just above our heads. Buzzing bees, flies, beetles, spiders, lady bugs and all sorts of insects going about their busy lives, engineering and building some of natures most fascinating designs. These insects work tirelessly to create delicate structures that we, if lucky enough, are able to see.  This news letter is about some of those special builders! 
Enjoy! - Owen Rodger
Conservation Coordinator

Image of 'Legacy-Rotary' Volunteers with their Bluebird Houses by Veronica Reist


Solitary Bees

In April I delivered a presentation on pollinators to multiple Hugh Sutherland School classrooms. The presentation focused on why pollinators are important for our food system and how to protect their habitats. The presentation also skimmed the surface of some entomology classes  - Bees are adapted to pollinating plants because they have a straw like tongue (proboscis) that is the result of co-evolution with plants to collect nectar. 

Here are some short and "sweet" take home messages :
Bees prefer a diversity of flowers (both spatially and temporally) compared to mono-cultures. Having a diversity flowers that bloom at different times allows the bees to forage throughout the season. 

Solitary bees or wild bees are more efficient than honey bees at pollinating for three primary reasons:
1) they will forage when its colder
2) they will forage when its wetter
3) they will forage more hours of the day

Picture of a Male Mason Bee - Sally Banks

Forest Tent Caterpillar 

Over the last few years the Forest Tent Caterpillar is considered a cause of aspen decline reported in Alberta. Tree mortality in areas such as Sundre  has been shown to increase with the duration of sustained defoliation. 

There is less data available for Alberta's Forest Tent Caterpillar populations compared to areas such as Ontario and Quebec. According to Natural Resources Canada, there have been at least six major outbreaks, since they started collecting data in the 1930's. These infestations lasted anywhere between two and five years and reoccurred every seven to eleven years. According to this source the  largest average intensity of defoliation occurred between 1951 to 1954.

Image of a Forest Tent Caterpillar from Natural Resources Canada
Monarch Butterflies 
What makes these Butterflies so awe-inspiring is their renowned migration between Canada and Mexico. Anyone who has witnessed this migration can attest to the colossal waves of orange overcoming the landscape. 

Statistics are conflicting between geographic locations with the Guardian reporting increases in populations in Mexico while CNN reports decreases in California. This suggests there needs to be collaboration and sharing of data to effectively understand these populations. 
According to the article, there has been a 144% increase in Monarch Butterflies wintering in Mexico. 

On January 7, 2019 CNN released an article regarding the population of Monarch Butterflies in California. According to this article the population has decreased by 86% in one year. These drastic statistics come from the Xerces Society who count the butterfly populations each Thanksgiving. In late 2017 they reported the population to be about  ~148,000 compared to late 2018 where they reported ~20,000 butterflies. 

This article suggests there are three main factors influencing the decline of eastern monarchs; The loss of milkweed breeding habitat due to increased use of herbicides, the conversion of habitats to cropland and more intensive agriculture and lastly volatile, extreme weather events such as droughts.

Sources suggest that there has been a general decline in Monarch populations. This means there is still lots of work to be done to conserve their populations. 

There are opportunities to get involved with Monarch Butterfly reporting by becoming a citizen scientist! Participate by submitting sightings of the butterflies.  The following link has is a map that displays submissions of Monarch Butterfly sightings 

Image of Monarch Butterfly from Canadian Geographic 

Some Resources

Bees will starve if they are unable to find nectar 45 minutes after their last meal. Occasionally bees will be left grounded if they are unable to find flowers and cannot make it back to their nests. However, if you give a bee a spoon full of honey it will eat it and has a chance to make it back home safe. This is only handy information if you happen to have easy access to honey. Here is a link to a card which can be carried with you at all times and can help save any hungry bees you might find.... anywhere. 

This month I have been reading NatureScape Alberta by Myrna Pearman. It is a step by step guide for enhancing wildlife habitat. So far its been an amazing resource that could help with stewardship of yard sites.  

Mason Bee Houses image from The Wild Bird Store

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