Mist slowly rises over the crystal-clear turquoise blue water while turtles swim among swaying eelgrass underneath the surface. A few bass drift in. As the first sunlight illuminates cypress trees on the riverbank, the drumming of woodpeckers and raspy calls of kingfishers serenade the new day.
The peaceful scene is filled with sounds of various wildlife, including one unlike any other: the crunching noise of crayfish being devoured by river otters. As a kayak glides through the water, three little heads appear in the distance, bobbing up and down. Suddenly a tail flips up in the air. Then the crunching is heard again. It is breakfast time in the world of the mustelids.
Otters are excellent swimmers thanks to their powerful tail and webbed feet. They can swim at a speed of up to 7 miles per hour. Their long whiskers, also called vibrissae, are extremely sensitive to vibrations in the water which helps them detect prey. Otters base their home upon food availability which are rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands. Their food mostly consists of fish, turtles, insects and crustaceans, as well as crayfish which are the easiest to catch.
Each day otters have to eat 15-20% of their body weight in order to be properly nourished. More than half their time is spent hunting for food due to their high metabolism. This is one good example of why it is so important to observe them from a distance so they can hunt without interruption.
It is my experience that wildlife shows a lot more interaction if it doesn’t feel threatened. One of my tricks is to act as if I am not aware of them, to look distracted, to simply drift without any sudden movements so they can get used to my presence. Once I see the otters are comfortable enough, I slowly pull out my camera to capture the moment. This however, does not always happen. There are plenty of opportunities that I purposely missed because the otters simply didn’t seem to be in the mood for company. I kept on paddling rather than force myself into their world.
The reward is to eventually have a heartwarming encounter like I did when a curious baby swam right up to me and when a family of otters fully accepted me documenting them playing, grooming and cuddling while they were on land one day. I truly believe our respect for them results in their acceptance of us.
Otters are rather vocal and use different sounds based on the situation. These range from chirping to communicate with others to huffing when confronted by humans.
Another interesting way of communication is using their scent glands at foraging locations to let other otters know that this already serves as a feeding ground and food might be not as plentiful.
Unfortunately, humans weren’t always smitten by the charismatic otters, but driven by money for their pelts.
Otters have endured more suffering from civilization than most mammals. They were relentlessly killed by the thousands for their fur starting in the 1500's. From 1821 to 1891 as many as half a million otters were slaughtered, leading to a complete extinction in some states.
Their suffering didn’t end there. Water pollution wrapped its deadly hands around the throat of the otter population when chemicals were unconsciously dumped into waterways. Pesticides and fertilizers were mass produced and ended up being absorbed directly and indirectly by otters.
Another environmental attack came along in the 20th century when many swamps and marshes were drained and turned into farms and towns. Half of all the wetlands in the United States were lost by the middle of the 20th century, eliminating much habitat for wildlife.
All these threats created a very grim future for otters.
Luckily people began to understand the negative impact of water pollution on themselves as well as otters, and the importance of water conservation.
Mass use of chemicals received another look. DDT was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency following the Clean Water Act in 1972.
Habitat restoration began thanks to scientists and conservationists raising awareness of the importance of wetlands. The Nature Conservancy joined the effort of restoration by purchasing 865 000 acres in the United States.
Although destruction did not end completely, such efforts fostered attempts at reintroduction. Colorado was the first state to bring back river otters in 1976. Other states followed. Otters returned to some after an absence of 50 years.
One thing about nature is its admirable resilience. Another good thing is humans realizing their errors and attempting to reverse the damage. Although it is unlikely the number of otters will ever rebound to what they were before hunting began, it is a heart-warming story of hope.
One of the most beautiful moments while kayaking Florida's rivers is encountering otters. I can’t help but feel that being sometimes approached by these charismatic animals carries a hint of forgiveness towards us humans. Although these encounters are rare and short lived, I always carry a smile and silent thank you on my lips.
If you love otters and want to support a healthy population, please consider these guidelines:
· Don't be a litter bug
· Never feed animals – they get the nutrition they need on their own.
· Do not chase after wildlife
· Limit fertilizer and pesticide use
· Plant native vegetation to benefit native animals rather than exotic vegetation.
· Watch your water consumption
· Remain in designated areas when visiting parks so as not to degrade important wildlife habitat.
· Support local nonprofit organizations such as Rainbow River Conservation, Friends of
Chassahowitzka or the Ichetucknee Springs Alliance that work hard to protect otter habitats
· Educate others how they can make a difference
Source: North American River Otters by John E. Becker
Otters ecology, behavior and conservation by Hans Krukk
Otterly LoveRead Now
It's seven AM, I am standing on the rivers edge with my paddle in hand, slowly pushing the kayak into the emerald blue water. The birds are up as well. As I listen to their beautiful songs, I take a deep breath to fill my lungs with the clean air surrounding me. Once again, I remind myself I am not dreaming, this is real. In a combination of pure luck, divine intervention and a dash of manifestation, I find myself sharing my home with this beautiful river and one of my favorite freshwater creatures, the river otter. My car has been parked in my driveway almost every single weekend since I moved here. It used to be on the road, chasing one Florida spring location after another just a few months ago, at times driving 3 hours each way. The river has casted a spell on me that I am incapable of escaping...but why would I even want to escape ?
As my feet touch the water I listen to any sign of other humans...but there is none. A kingfisher is perched on a branch, just as I stand still to watch him, he launches himself into the water, then flying off into the distance making an uplifting cheery sound only a kingfisher knows how to do.
Watching a pale white egret gracefully float through the air, a cormorant drifting by, looking at me with his spring-colored blue eyes and observing a male bass protecting it's offspring from sunfish and a tiny loggerhead musk turtle underwater are the reasons why I love this river. These waters nourish so many animals...as well as my soul.
Many people seek the river for recreation purposes. It's a hot spot during humid, scorching summer days. Snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, tubing, diving, boating - the river endures it all. Yet, I wonder how many people love it just for the fact that it is so vital for all the creatures surrounding it, above and below? The river does not care if it's the strongest or largest river or who sees it, it has no ego, it simply flows, nourishing everything around it. What if the whole world could exist like this?
Once I moved here I made a sincere pact with the river. I promised to help anyway I could. I did not want to be part of the problem, I did not want to cause more harm.
I promised the river not to be another foot trampling on, ripping out it's eelgrass, I promised to pick up litter that was left behind, I swore not to leave it's creatures in distress and aimed to seek relationships with people feeling as compassionate about the river as I do.
Floating gently down this beautiful waterway, watching a turtle glide through the swaying eelgrass underneath me is simultaneously soothing and exhilarating. Each time the river reveals new sights and sounds. Hopefully it will be an otter family this morning.
As my paddle touches the water surface, my eyes are searching for them stirring through the water with their tail.
Otters spend part of their time on land, sometimes seen marking their territory with a pair of scent glands at the base of their tail. Most of their hunting is done underwater as their bodies are fully adapted to life in rivers, streams, marshes, lakes as well as saltwater estuaries. Stiff whiskers (vibrissae) around their faces help them feel vibrations caused by swimming prey. Fluffing their fur with their paws to trap air helps to keep them warm.
My ears have grown more sensitive to hearing the crunching noises of crayfish when they fall prey to the "water weasels". At times I do not see the otters but can hear them devouring their food. In my recent encounters I have almost felt as if they are starting to recognize me due to passive observation and lots of patience. My hope is that they are learning that I come in peace to capture images of their lives. Young otters, just like children, seem to be less afraid and more curious and often times come much closer to my kayak. Maybe it's because their perception of innocence about humans is still intact.
It is always an uplifting moment to win a prize for a photograph, but being accepted by wild creatures is unlike anything else and incredibly humbling and impossible to compare to anything else.
If these otters let you be part of their morning swim after they were extensively hunted, it carries a scent of forgiveness onto you. Unfortunately, still to this day it is legal to trap river otters in 38 states and 20 000 to 30 000 creatures are killed each year for their pelts. Numbers I simply can't comprehend and are heartbreaking.
So when I drift down the water and see families of them, it fills my heart with immense joy, knowing they are somewhat safe here. It is also a health indication of the water since otters are sensitive to pollutants.
Within a half hour of my drift downstream, I see little heads bobbing in and out of the water, quickly swimming back and forth, their little noises undeniable and the crunching sounds unmistakable. In slow motion I pull my paddle into the kayak and reach for my camera while telling myself to stay calm to avoid scaring this family off. The advantage of floating downstream is that the current slowly moves my kayak to them. Photography ethics are a highly important skill that make the difference in moments like these. Wildlife, regardless of what kind, picks up on being "targeted". So I pretend not to see them, point my camera in the opposite direction to show them I have no interest in interfering with them. The otters quickly redirect their attention to hunting for more crayfish and playfighting. I slowly turn around as my kayak is now close enough to them that I hear this family talk to each other much louder. Their high-pitched chirps, whistles and grunting right beside me. I hold my breath as my finger pushes the shutter button. Seconds of bliss...my heart pounding out of my chest. They stayed through the shutter noise, one baby otter got so close I felt a few water drops from his splashes. As I lower the lens, I know what I just encountered will last forever in my mind. Part of me wants to tell them how excited I am to see them here, how adorable their children are and how happy I am the river is healthy enough for them to live here. I refrain and use the language that is best fit for these type of encounters: silence. The otter family sticks around but I decide to move on to not overstay my welcome.
Native American folklore placed the otter as one of the animals sent down to the bottom of the water to find earth, upon which all seeds of life are then planted.
I know they have planted the seeds of compassion for this river for me and hope I will get to spread them.
Here are some ways to support otters:
-Join and support organizations that are focused on keeping Florida's waters healthy such as the Florida Springs Council, The Florida Springs Institute, Rainbow River Conservation, Florida Wildlife Corridor, Alachua Conservation Trust, Itchetucknee Springs Alliance, Friends of Chassahowitzka, etc.
-Be part of the solution. Do not litter, keep your feet and fins up when swimming. Avoid boating in small rivers as props and motors can cause significant damage
-Do not harass or feed wildlife
-Spread the word of how we need to protect our springs
-Create fundraisers, donate
- Follow organizations on social media for updates and learning material
Once in a lifetimeRead Now
If someone would have told me I would have the chance to possibly see the largest kind of sea turtle in the world, I would have replied with an eye roll accompanied with a lighthearted "yeah right".
For years I daydreamed about these reptilian relics after catching a glimpse of one a long time ago onboard a catamaran in the Dominican Republic. Leatherbacks can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. They travel as far north as Canada and Norway and as far South as New Zealand and South America, tracking up to 10 000 miles a year between nesting and feeding grounds. Many Leatherbacks face more challenges than ever before and hearing about their complete disappearance in some areas of the Pacific is beyond saddening. Their roots have been traced back to 100 Million years ago. We simply have an ethical responsibility to keep this species from vanishing completely.
Unfortunately, as in most sea turtles, the chances of survival is one in 1 Thousand and I recently heard the dawning number of 1 in 10 Thousand. The leatherback sea turtles main food source is jellyfish. Often times they mistake floating trash as food. Besides life threating plastic pollution, they also end up as bycatch, getting trapped in fishing lines and fish nets. Poaching is another challenge in their struggle for survival.
Being aware of these facts make the chances of seeing one alive seem even more unlikely... until I came across a post on social media by Sea Turtle Adventures, picturing a leatherback hatchling on one of South Florida's beaches. My first instinct was to keep scrolling as I honestly didn't think they would give me the time in the day to join them. My gut, however would not let me disregard the post until I sent a message to them asking if I could possibly participate. I got an immediate reply, opening up my little turtle nerd world for a chance to see a "real" leatherback hatchling making it's first contact with it's forever home: The Ocean. Anticipation started with the arrival of the first email stating a nest hatched, which meant Sea Turtle Adventures would have permission through FWC to excavate the nest after three days. This is a form of conservation effort to save left over hatchlings that are possibly too weak to make it out of the nest. There is also a log kept on the number and state of the eggs for research.
You know what happens when something rare like this comes your way, right? Previously scheduled events are already on the calendar on the same exact day, making it impossible to attend this once in a lifetime event. My plans included my husband and I spending the weekend with our dear friends in St. Pete Beach - the complete opposite coast of Delray Beach where the excavation would take place. I played the scenario of driving 4 hours and over 250 miles over and over in my head until I finally came to the conclusion it was nearly insane to drag my husband across the state for not even having the guarantee to see a hatchling. But then, I got another email the next day, stating another nest hatched and there will be another excavation the following morning. At this point I knew I would be there, there was no way I'd miss two chances. After telling my husband, he agreed it was an opportunity not to be missed. Our friends shared his opinion and after spending the day with them, we made our way to the East coast the following morning. Our excitement overwrote the tiring half mile hike in deep sand leading to the identified nest with a thirty pound backpack filled with camera gear. But what I could not ignore was the amount of trash all over the beach. I managed to pick up as much as I could while being in a hurry to track down the nest. Later on, the amazing staff of Sea Turtle adventures provided free reusable bags encouraging bystanders to pick up litter. At this point I am not sure what was more disappointing: The nest not revealing any left over hatchlings or people grabbing a bag but not taking the initiative to pick up trash. The disconnect of wanting to see sea turtle hatchlings but not picking up trash that can be fatal to them is of deepest concern. But it wasn't all bad. The fact that it was a 100% successful hatch is great news. It meant that all the leatherback hatchlings were most likely in very good health and made their way into the ocean on their own. None the less, my heart was slightly heavy. Heavier than I anticipated. "250 miles, 4 hours,...an empty nest.....what am I doing?" echoed in the back of my mind. Of course I told myself there was no guarantee, of course I tried not to have expectations but this is much easier said than done when you wait a "lifetime" for something like this. But, there's always hope. There had to be a reason why there would be another excavation, right?. I changed my mindset to focus on the past serendipities I've had with Mother Nature and kept my fingers crossed for the next morning. I awoke with mixed feelings the next morning, thinking over and over again what if there's none again...,but what if there is?
Jackie, the president of Sea Turtle Adventures (one of the nicest people I have ever come across) was eager for me to see a hatchling. At times, it even felt as if she was more excited for me to see one as I was myself. One of the trained staff members kneeled in the sand and started parting the sand at the marked location, slowly making her way down into the nest. I felt my heart racing again and the adrenalin fully kicked in when I heard Jackie yell "LINDAAAA". It got a little blurry after that....was it really a leatherback hatchling that was just lifted from the nest ? And then a second one, a third one,...Eight. The total of leatherback hatchlings was eight - a number that is rarely seen. Just yesterday I fought back tears of disappointment and here I was, laying in the sand with 8 little adorable baby turtles crawling passed me making their way into the sea, my eyes yet watering again. But this time out of pure joy. It was such a moving experience getting to see all of them imprinting onto the sand, setting their GPS. Leatherbacks have magnetic chemicals in their brain interacting with the earth's magnetic fields. This amazing fact leads researchers to believe is the reason why the female sea turtles find their way back to the same exact place where they hatched, 20 years later.
I find it beyond fascinating to witness this ritual that has taken place for over 100 million years. May it be their ritual for another 100 million years and may we do our best to keep them safe.
I hold my breath as I dip my toes into the crystal clear water. The first contact with the all year around 72 degrees liquid gem is always a surprise to the senses. I have visited these magical places in the winter when the outside temperature barely reached 40 degrees and I have visited them when the temperature climbed up to 100 degrees. But no matter which season, the water just draws me in. It's a spell I can not break away from. "What's your favorite spring?" I get asked, I reply: " the one I am currently at".
The truth is, all of Florida's springs are beautiful. All in different ways. Some of them because of the scenery, some of them because of the manatees, some of them because of the abundant wildlife, some of them because of snorkeling, some of them because of kayaking. And it's different springs in different seasons.
Regardless of which one I visit and what for, I leave with the same feeling: invigorated, refreshed, pure. It is almost some sort of spiritual cleansing that takes place for body and mind once you are submerged into the crystal blues. Maybe it is the Fountain of Youth after all?
Florida has the largest concentration of springs in the world with over 1000 of them, they are the window to the aquifer, indicator of the state of our groundwater. Water is our life source. The reason some of us might feel happier around water is because it's tied to our basic survival instinct.
Springs were sacred for native Americans and they have inspired many poets, writers and other artists. They have existed for approximately 55 million years. They are prehistoric, captivating, nourishing and......imperiled.
Reasons for their decline is linked to many things. Overconsumption from private and municipal wells and over-pumping by agriculture decreases the flow rate which can also trigger salt water intrusion. Fertilizer runoff from septic systems and lawns leads to algae blooms. Add littering, trampling of aquatic plants and stressing out wildlife to the mix, Florida has a heartbreaking water crisis on it's hands.
I have come across a few souls that are not "tree huggers" like me and my point to them is that even if you don't care about our environment and you think everything is fine, you do care about Florida's economy. These springs are recreational hotspots for tourists and locals alike and have an immense impact on the states revenue (1 million out-of-state tourists a year translates to a $46 million economic impact).
So why would we not want to protect these waters?
The first possibility is the fact that some of us simply don't know our waterways are in trouble. The second possibility is that we simply don't know what to do about it or think we don't contribute to the decline.
The truth is, even if you do not live close to a spring, you have an impact on them regardless.
From fertilizing your lawn to lingering in the shower. It all matters. Our watersheds are a growing issue but each one of us can to do their part to help preserve Florida's natural wonders.
- Fertilize twice a year with at least 50% slow release nitrogen (Jan-May, Oct.-Dec), skip June-Sept.
- Have your septic system inspected every 2-3 years
- Plant a buffer zone between the lawn and shoreline
- Always dispose of grass clippings, litter and pet waste properly
- Plant natives to reduce fertilizer, pesticides and water usage
- Do not trample on aquatic plants
-Do your own research at www.floridaspringsinstitute.org
-Spread the word
-Practice caution when boating
After being asked many questions about alligators, I decided it would be a good time to write a little bit more about this often misunderstood and feared reptile.
I will always remember the first time I saw my first alligator; I was about 9 years old, and it was at a German zoo. The slanted eyes, the big teeth and the long tail - all together this creature was fascinating and scary and occupied my mind the whole way home.
Alligators still capture my attention whenever I'm near water. The good thing is, I no longer have to go for long car rides in Europe and they are no longer in cages when I get to observe them.
Here in Florida it is a good rule of thumb to assume alligators are present in any body of water.
As humans we are often convinced gators are spending their days just waiting for us to dip our feet into the water so they can strike. However, alligator fatalities remain minimal considering how many people swim, snorkel, dive, tube here all year around. Florida has about 1.3 million alligators and there have been 24 fatalities in 60 years compared to approximately 2698 deadly car crashes a year. I always tell people I am much more afraid of traffic than wildlife. In fact, I do not fear wildlife, I fear losing it.
Some of us might not be comfortable with the thought that something much larger than us could cause us harm. But isn't this also a reminder that we aren't top of the food chain and that maybe we should respect these animals that have roamed the earth for over 200 million years?
Gators were almost hunted to extinction and came under federal protection in 1967.
This led to the first endangered species success story. As their numbers in population increased, they were removed from the list 20 years later. Alligators are a keystone species, which means they are extremely vital to the environment. I call them "Masters of Balance". They consume aquatic turtles, but turtles also nest together with the alligators to be protected from predators. Alligators eat fish, but they also provide them with a home by creating gator holes that hold water during drought. These fish, in return, serve as a nesting and feeding ground for birds. If gators were to disappear, everything would collapse with them. Another example of an overlooked keystone species is the gopher tortoise. It might not be as cute and adorable as a little fawn or a baby racoon, however the gopher provides a habitat for over 350 species, including endangered ones such as the indigo snake and the burrowing owl. If the gopher disappears, so will everything else.
One of the most amazing facts I learned about alligators was after I came across one these reptiles sunbathing on a log. I noticed a stick perfectly balanced on its snout. I couldn't understand why. It turns out that gators display this behavior only during nesting season of herons and egrets. The small wading birds fly around looking for the perfect stick and all the alligator has to do is sit still to have a meal. This shows they are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. Alligators have a natural fear of humans but become dangerous when they are fed by people. Common sense is required to be able to coexist with them: Avoid areas where "tame" alligators are reported, no swimming (or walking near) in water around feeding time around dusk and dawn. Keep your pets away from the water as alligators don't know the difference between pets and wild animals.
Let's stay safe while respecting and observing this amazing predator.
December 20th, 2018Read Now
Where the turtles go...Read Now
The most exciting time of the year for me is sea turtle nesting season which runs from May until October.
Just when the days get longer ninety percent of the sea turtle population seeks Florida's beaches to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Two months later, little hatchlings emerge through the sand and make their way to the ocean where they have to beat the survival rate of 1 to one thousand to make it to adulthood.
Nesting occurs all over Florida, however the beach with the highest number (up to 20 000) of many sea turtle species is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge located in Melbourne. These graceful animals travel hundreds of miles from their feeding grounds back to their natal beach to start the cycle all over again. The offspring is sometimes born just within a few miles of where their mother hatched. This fact is simply amazing.
I plan my annual trips with the help of a lunar calendar as sea turtles seems to be more active during full moon and the beach is naturally illuminated, eliminating the need for any type of flashlight which should NOT be used, even red ones as this disrupts the behavior of sea turtles.
As soon as the sun sets, sea turtles will start to emerge from the surf. If you are walking along the beach, please keep your distance. Do not get close to them and, if possible, refrain from talking as they easily get spooked. This can result in a "false" crawl where the nesting female interrupts her process and heads back to the ocean without having laid her eggs. Please be considerate as these turtles had a very long journey, still have to make it up to the dunes, dig out a nest, lay their eggs, cover the nest and then crawl back into the sea. Interrupting this process is not humane in any way we look at it.
The Barrier Island Center has phenomenal programs such as guided turtle walks at night between June and July as well as hatchling releases in August. It is one of the best ways to "be with the turtles" and witness this yearly phenomenon while supporting a great organization that has a tremendous impact on the sea turtle conservation.
Here are some tips on how to help:
I will always remember the moment I saw "my" first loggerhead emerging from the ocean. Time stood still, the world disappeared and I hope it will do the same for you.
My Sincere ApologiesRead Now
Here is to the rivers, the springs and the creeks,
to all things that have wings and the ones in the soil underneath.
Here is to the valleys and the trees,
to the oceans and the bees,
Here is to all the things that breathe..
my sincerest apologies and deepest gratitude.
This is a poem that came to my mind driving down the road on my way to work after seeing yet another piece of nature being demolished and transformed into a subdivision.
Beaches are eroding, waters are filled with chemicals, tiny organisms have traces of plastics, our country is ravaged by intense wildfires, droughts and massive hurricanes while our ice caps are melting. It does not seem easy to be positive at times and all the help we provide seems like a drop in the ocean, however this is all I have left: HOPE. Hope for increasing awareness and awakening of compassion.
Become A Backyard HeroRead Now
Why do we garden? The answer for us gardeners is simple. It connects us with nature, relieves some of our stress, gives us a sense of accomplishment and keeps us physically active.
Unfortunately, we get so side tracked by the exotic beauties sold in the big box stores, which are also highly treated with pesticides. We tend to forget about our little critters that are just as beneficial to us as the plants are to them.
Here are some facts:
The math is simple, the more land we take, the more wildlife we lose. It is a sad fact but there is hope for anyone wanting to help. We can all add native plants to improve this dire situation and better yet, save money while doing it.
Native plants are resistant to pests, need less water and less fertilizer since they have co-evolved with each other.
Ninety percent of insects depend on native plants. The thing is, our ecosystem will collapse without them. Every animal on this planet depends on energy harvested from plants. Insects serve as the "bridge" to supply this energy directly (herbivores) and indirectly (omnivores).
When we think of bird food, we think of seeds and berries. However, offspring needs insects to thrive. An oak tree for example, provides a habitat for over 500 different kinds of caterpillars. One clutch of chickadees requires over 6000 caterpillars. We will not have birds if they don't have anything to raise their babies with.
Planting exotics is as if we are planting concrete statues in our yards. Natives do not recognize non-native plants as food. Besides birds, let us not forget about our pollinators that provide 75% of our fruits and vegetables: The Bees! Native bees are up to (and possibly much more) three times more efficient than honey bees in pollinating. There is no need to be scared of them either as they are docile since they don't have a hive to defend. They are solitary bees that are much smaller than the regular honey bee. The picture in this post shows the size of a native bee on the Indian blanket flower blossom, which is the size of a quarter.
Here are a few tips on how to become a backyard hero:
More information can be found at Florida Native Plant Society www.fnps.org
I also highly recommend the book "Bringing Nature Home" which was a source and inspiration for this blog.
Happy Planting Backyard Hero
A tiny little seed..Read Now
People ask me why I like butterflies, expecting a reply similar to "oh, they resemble transformation, beauty, freedom, etc." The truth is, I love butterflies because they are an indication of our environment. When I see them thriving in my backyard, it gives me hope for a better tomorrow and assurance I am at least trying.
Spring 2014 was the first time I heard about the Monarch butterflies alarming decline of approx. 90% in the last twenty years. Pesticide resistant crops, habitat loss and climate change were stated to be the culprits.
I never paid much attention to these little pollinators but I am a firm believer that we should help make a difference any opportunity we get. In this case is came as free milkweed seeds that I received from an organization that encourages the public to help the monarch population.
So here I was with the seeds in my hand, wondering and questioning how this could possibly have an impact. Let me just stop here and say I didn't have a clue what was about to happen. I started to read up on these butterflies and one article stated Monarchs can smell milkweed up to twenty miles away and the seeds I planted did turn my ordinary suburban yard into Monarch Mecca.
My family and I spent the summer witnessing many of these beautiful creatures laying eggs, watched the eggs turn into caterpillars demolishing the plants completely and watched them transform into a gold spotted chrysalis. The excitement was at it's peak whenever we got to watch a brand new monarch emerge and see it taking off into the sky once it's wings were dry.
As parents we tend to preach to our kids of what they should and shouldn't do but I strongly believe our actions will always resonate with them. My children experienced first hand of how something as tiny as a seed can make a difference. We gave the Monarchs a home and they gave us hours of astonishing moments. They have since returned every year.
If you decide to plant a seed, here are just a few trips that have helped along the way. I was NOT born a butterfly whisperer, although some of my friends will tell you I am.
If you already have tropical milkweed, make sure you cut it down in the fall as this plant can carry the parasite "OE" which is fatal to the butterfly.
I would like to finish with saying every little thing you do can change the world for the better, it's up to you to decide.
Linda Wilinski is a certified Master Naturalist and Springs Ambassador who sees herself as the bridge between humans and nature, raising awareness through her pictures.