Monarch Butterflys

Photo copyright Lauretta Jones

Ten miles of trails have been cut through Angle Fly Preserve by the irrepressible volunteers of the Somers Land Trust and Friends of Angle Fly. The trails are well-blazed with maps posted at kiosks. The oldest trails feature well-trod footbeds where the soil has been compacted by the fall of many hikers’ feet. It’s hard to get lost.

However, the less-traveled paths offer more adventure. There invasive plants – such as Japanese stilt grass and barberry – rapidly recolonize the freshly opened sun-dappled soil. Maintenance is easier than cutting a fresh trail; nevertheless, like housework, trails require regular upkeep. So when my 15-year old niece Gwenevaer arrived from Ohio for a visit, I popped a sunhat on her head and marched her onto the trails to help us beat back the invading greenery. That’s when I was delighted to discover her keen powers of observation.

Several species of milkweed grow in the damp areas of Angle Fly Preserve. Milkweeds boast brightly colored bundles of flowers on tall, thick-leaved plants. Blossoms of purple, sherbet-orange or dusty pink (depending on the species of milkweed) add dramatic accents to the uniform green of mid-summer. What Gwenevaer spied was even more visually exciting. Tucked into the brilliant magenta blossoms of a Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) was a vividly striped caterpillar. Its black, yellow and white stripes shouted: Monarch!

The well-loved monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) lays its eggs on milkweed in the spring as it returns from its winter migration to the south. A monarch caterpillar can eat only milkweed and as it does, it absorbs the plant’s poison into its system. While many caterpillars blend into their environment, the conspicuous patterns of both the larva and adult monarch are a warning to birds and other predators that would target them for a snack. Nibble at your peril is the message.

If you would like to help keep the trails open while enjoying a hike and perhaps connecting with a colorful bit of nature, contact the Somers Land Trust through their website. See you on the trails!

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