02 Sep Seeing Other Pollinators in the Uinta Basin
As much as butterflies need flowers and their nectar for food, flowers also need butterflies and other animals for pollination. I’ve caught monarchs off of flowers and seen their bodies covered with a thin dust that’s ready to be deposited on another flower. It’s cool to observe the mutualism between plants and pollinating animals. It’s also cool when I catch a butterfly and it is so shocked to have been caught that its long skinny tongue (“proboscis” if you want to sound more scientific) for drinking nectar is still stuck out. Here’s a quick rundown of the pollinators that I’m getting up close and personal with during my monarch butterfly research.
First, there’s a whole host of butterfly and moth species in the area beyond just monarchs; swallowtails, cabbage whites, viceroys, and queens (pictured left) are some that I have identified so far. All these types of butterflies fly around from flower to flower drinking up nectar and pollinating the plants. And, of course, all of them seem to fly a lot slower and a lot clumsier than monarchs do, so they’d probably be way easier to catch. Just my luck.
Another butterfly pollinator is the Great Basin Silverspot, which has only been found in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Bog violet is believed to be the one and only larval food plant for the Great Basin Silverspot and thus is an indicator of potential habitat for the species. This plant was found in the Hog Canyon area of Dinosaur this spring where I catch monarchs. I haven’t seen any Great Basin Silverspots yet, but I have caught some of their close relatives (pictured middle) while watching for to see if this species is actually present in the potential habitat. Like monarch butterflies, Great Basin Silverspots are currently under review by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. You can read a lot more about Great Basin Silverspot ecology and conservation here. Around the country and the world, people are paying special attention to the conservation of all sorts of pollinators. They’re needed not just for the health of wild vegetation but also for agriculture; many of our favorite foods require pollination that our wild flying friends can provide.
Bees (pictured right) are another abundant pollinator in this area. It seems that bees especially love to feed on the fluffy purple/pink flowers of Rocky Mountain bee plant (who would have thought with a name like that) and Joe Pye weed. Both of these plants can also be pretty attractive to monarchs, and I’ve had the great fortune to catch some angry buzzing bees in my net along with a monarch when both are feeding on the same flower. It can be a little tricky and nerve-wracking to keep the butterfly in the net while getting the bee out without getting it too upset and stinging me. But it’s been 5 weeks without a bee sting incident for me and I’m hoping to keep that streak alive for all of my internship.
Finally, perhaps the coolest pollinators zooming around flowers in my butterfly survey sites are hummingbirds. For such tiny birds, they’re very loud when they fly and it’s a little startling when they whiz by your head. Black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds are probably the ones I’ve seen so far, but they are there and gone so fast I hardly have much of a chance to look and identify them. I’m still pretty amazed every time I see a hummingbird, but I try not to get too distracted by them. It’s fun to see the whole assemblage of pollinators and flowers, but monarch butterflies are the pollinators I’m really after this summer.