Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

Most of us have seen the black and white footage of teenage fans screaming for the Beatles, but there are very few people who are fans of U beetles, even though these insects are so important to our ecosystems. What would it take for people to call themselves “Beetles Fans”? I’m here to make a case for one of our most common and charismatic pollinating beetles, the Colorado soldier beetle.

Colorado soldier beetles are about 1 centimeter long, with a narrow body and long, thread-like antennae. A distinguishing characteristic of most beetles is that their 2nd pair of wings, instead of helping with flight, has become protective armor called an “elytra”. The elytra of Colorado soldier beetles is softer compared to other beetles, so another common name for these insects is “leatherwings”. Colorado soldier beetles are hard to miss with bold black and golden orange markings, which may vary according to body size and whether the beetle is male or female.

These bright colors serve as a warning to spiders and other potential predators. Soldier beetles secrete irritating chemicals that make them unpalatable. Bright colors advertise the danger, like a stop sign or caution tape. But that’s about the only sort of danger associated with these insects; they prefer to “make love, not war”. If you find one soldier beetle, you will probably find at least one more, usually attached in the act of mating. Pollen-eating beetles are usually called “mess and soil” pollinators for the slight damage they inflict on male parts of flowering plants, but I call Colorado soldier beetles “date and mate” pollinators, because they don’t let reproduction get in the way of a good meal. Perhaps it’s the insect equivalent of “dinner and a movie”. Anyway, the plants need them for their own reproduction, so who can judge?

Once they’ve mated, the female soldier beetle lays eggs on the soil surface, under sheltering debris. The shy grubs hatch soon after and eat small insects until the cold season. Eventually, they will pupate in the soil, then emerge as adults in mid to late summer, just in time for the bloom season of their favorite plants, such as goldenrod and rabbitbrush.

This species of soldier beetle is found primarily in grasslands on the plains; there are other species that are more common at higher elevations. As more people plant native plant gardens along the Front Range, these beetles are able to live peaceably among us in urban areas, as the true ambassadors of “flower power”. If you’d like to see more Colorado soldier beetles in your own landscape, you can plant more late-season blooming plants, such as dwarf rabbitbrush. Avoiding landscaping fabric and leaving last year’s debris in your garden also provides the perfect conditions for soldier beetle larvae, allowing the generations to continue. Then you too can join the Beetle Fan Club and appreciate these unsung local pollinators!

Want to learn more about pollinators and how to help them? Contact Butterfly Pavilion’s horticulture department at habitat@butterflies.org!

If you see this pollinator or others around Baseline, take a picture and upload it to Baseline’s iNaturalist page. By doing so, you can be a citizen scientist and help track the diversity and volume of pollinators at Baseline.

Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

In popular culture, the universal calling card for bees is bold black and yellow stripes. We associate this striking color combination with bees for a reason – once you get stung, you never forget! Seeing yellow next to black triggers those painful memories and reminds us to give danger a wide berth. But with 4000 species of bees native to the United States and close to 950 in Colorado, you are also bound to see bees sporting entirely different palettes in real life – silvery gray digger bees with mirror-bright eyes, furry bumblebees with bold red stripes. And then there’s the striped sweat bee who takes its look to a whole new level, looking more like jewelry than a hardworking insect.

The striped sweat bee belongs to the sweat bee family, Halictidae, which tend to be small, shiny and less furry than honeybees and bumblebees. Other members of this family are notorious for sipping human perspiration, sometimes giving a tiny sting if disturbed in their salty quest. However, striped sweat bees do no such thing, preferring the sweet stuff instead. These medium-sized (about half an inch long) native bees have metallic green or bluish-green heads and bodies, but their abdomens are often striped. Males sport yellow and black bands, while females have white and black stripes on their abdomens or no stripes at all.

There are over 40 kinds of striped sweat bees found from Canada to Argentina, found in a variety of habitats, including prairies, gardens and foothills. Striped sweat bees are generalists, which means that they visit many kinds of flowering plants. Some of their favorites are relatives of sunflowers, beans and roses. I often see them on different kinds of coneflowers, from black-eyed Susans to purple coneflower, but I also see them on my Apache plumes and cinquefoil bushes. Their scientific name Agapostemon translates to “stamen loving” because these bees are pollen-collectors. They have short tongues and can’t get nectar or pollen from deep flowers with long tubular corollas, so smaller flowers fit them best.

Striped sweat bees are usually solitary in their nesting habits. Each May, a female bee constructs a nest in bare ground or an open streambank. Each nest is made up of a long vertical tunnel with many short lateral tunnels each ending in a single cell. Some of these nesting tunnels reach 5 feet in depth! The female bee then will visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, sticking her cache to her hind legs for transport. Eventually, she’ll use the nectar and pollen to form nutritious pollen balls, sort of like bug-sized protein bars.  The bee mama places each pollen ball in a separate cell of her nest, then lays a single egg on top of the pollen ball. When the egg hatches, the larva has a complete food source while it grows. Multiple females may dig burrows in the same location, and in some species, females may even share one entrance to multiple nests, like an underground apartment building. This arrangement helps guard against nest parasites. You can sometimes see a bee sticking her head out of the nest hole, keeping watch. Later in the summer, the new adult males and females emerge and mate to continue the generation the following year. Only mated females survive the winter, returning underground to wait until spring.

Striped sweat bees are adaptable foragers and strong fliers. They can fly relatively long distances for such small creatures, looking for habitats with high densities of flowers. Landscapes with large swaths of colorful, blooming plants are their favorite places. If you want to create a space to attract metallic green bees, plant clumps of 7-11 of the same plant together, especially native coneflowers, Apache plume, blanket flower and sulfur flower. Late spring and summer blooming plants with bright colors and shallow shapes are the best for striped sweat bees. You can also help striped sweat bees by encouraging ground nesting – avoid using landscape fabric and keeping wild areas undisturbed. These simple steps make it more likely that the next time you are in your garden, there may be a flying jewel right under your nose!

Want to learn more about pollinators and how to help them? Contact Butterfly Pavilion’s horticulture department at habitat@butterflies.org!

Do you like spending time outdoors? Are you interested in taking an active role in conservation? Then you’re going to love our two new clubs — Citizen Science Club (for adults) and Citizen Science Club, Jr (for families and kids).

Citizen scientists are everyday citizens who help conservation organizations around the world collect vast amounts of data that can be used to help local governments make critical conservation decisions that protect entire ecosystems. To get involved, all you need is a willingness to learn and the dedication to walk locally.

Citizen Science Club

We’ll partner with our friends at Butterfly Pavilion for our first activities, the Monarch Larva Project and the Great Sunflower Project. At Baseline’s Honeybee Day, you will meet local conservation groups active in citizen science, like Butterfly Pavilion, People and Pollinators Action Network (who work to create legislation to protect pollinators) and more. If you’re interested in getting involved with this club, please contact Christine, your Community Life senior engagement manager.

Citizen Science Club, Jr.

To help grow and cultivate the next generation of conservation leaders, we partnered with Butterfly Pavilion to create Citizen Science Club, Jr.

For these quarterly club meetings, Baseline families will spend a day at Butterfly Pavilion exploring the wonders of nature. There will be an hour-and-half workshop, covering a different topic each meeting, an in-class project, a take-home project, as well as guest speakers. General admission is covered to the gardens, so plan to stay after the club meeting to enjoy all that Butterfly Pavilion has to offer.

For July, the topic is pollinators. We’ll meet at BP on Saturday, July 23, from 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. to learn about some of your favorite pollen carriers. Discover how engineering is related to pollination. And, test the best way to pollinate.  Sign up today. Registration for this club meeting is limited to 20.

In August, every Club Junior member who comes to Honeybee Day will receive an official Citizen Science Starter Kit. The first 25 members to arrive will take home a special Baseline Bug Bag. But, that’s not all they’ll enjoy. That day will be buzzing with fun for kids.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Citizen Science Club, Jr., please email Christine.

This week, witness Baseline’s creative culture in action at the Basin when Broomfield multimedia artist K. Vuletich works on two permanent installations — a hopscotch obstacle course and a “coloring page.”

Much of her inspiration comes from the hidden stories that exist in seemingly ordinary people and objects. “Just as broken pottery can become antiquity with time, something as small as a honeybee can be transformed into a gallery-worthy work of art and reveal a larger narrative about ourselves, our environment, and our relationship to the natural world,” says Vuletich.

She began her training at Regis University, under the mentorship of artist Tony Ortega, where she became interested in collaboration, mixed media collage, and pop art.

By incorporating found objects into her art, she aims to re-purpose and create something beautiful and compelling from something that would otherwise be unwanted.

In 2018, Vuletich received Colorado Creative Industries’ Career Advancement Grant and was a recipient of Denver Arts and Venues’ Urban Arts Fund. These grants gave Vuletich the opportunity to expand her collaboration with under-served, under-represented youth and to continue experimenting with multimedia installations.

Since then, Vuletich founded The Big Delicious, a Colorado-based art collective with a focus on art education and site-specific, collaborative installation.

You can learn more about Vuletich on her website kvuletich.com, by following her on Instagram @kvuletich, or by meeting her this week at the Basin.

If you miss her this week, you’ll have one more opportunity to watch this artist in action when she returns to Baseline, August 20, to create an interactive chalk piece at Checker Square for Honeybee Day.

 

Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

If I were to come up to you and say, “I’m planting a garden that attracts flies!”, what would you do? Would you back away slowly from me? Envision a trash dump? Flies are usually perceived as dirty, annoying insects, but there are over 16,000 species of flies in North America, and many of them perform important services for us. After bees, flies are the most significant pollinators of crops and native plants. (And, yes, I’m saying that even though I work for Butterfly Pavilion!).

Flies don’t sting like bees or ingest defensive toxic chemicals like butterflies, so how do they defend themselves? If you are a drone fly, you adopt the look and behavior of something scarier, in this case, a honeybee. You probably have seen drone flies in your garden without even realizing it – they are about the same size and shape of honeybees but have only 1 pair of clear wings instead of 2. Another good way to tell these two insects apart is to look at the eyes. Drone fly eyes cover much more of the head, and in the case of males, meet in the middle. Like honeybees, drone flies are adaptable in terms of habitat and may be spotted in grasslands, wetlands, urban gardens and roadsides across western North America. They are most active in the late spring through summer, but a few may survive into the early fall if the weather is mild enough.

These flies not only look like honeybees, but they produce a “buzzing” sound to fool potential predators as well. However, drone flies are also called “hover flies”, and their flight is quite distinctive – more like tiny helicopters than airplanes. The female’s first meal when she emerges in the spring is protein-rich pollen – this will give her the resources she needs to produce and lay eggs. From then on, they visit a wide variety of flowers for nectar, but especially members of the sunflower and carrot families. That means you are likely to see them on black-eyed Susans, zinnias, yarrow, fennel, and dill. Plentiful nectar fuels them in the search for mates and a good egg-laying spot.

The larvae of the drone fly are aquatic, so favorite egg-laying spots will be shallow pools, ponds and ditches, especially if there’s some decaying organic material nearby. No one said that child-rearing was pretty! The larvae have a breathing tube from their posterior end and are often called the glamorous name of “rat-tailed maggots”. They extend these appendages to the water surface and can be found in different depths of the water depending on time of day and food availability. Once they are ready to metamorphosize, they’ll find a drier spot in the soil and pupate for 8-10 days. There may be 2-3 generations of these pollinators in a year, with the final generation of the year overwintering as an adult fly.

Because of their amphibious lifestyle, water quality is especially important for the health of these pollinators. Avoiding chemical use will prevent polluting runoff that can endanger hover fly babies. Participating in stewardship projects that restore wetlands will also ensure that these animals always have plenty of places to raise their young. In your own garden, maximizing native plant diversity creates the niches that these shy and unassuming pollinators need to live. Plants with flat clusters of white or yellow flowers are especially attractive to hover flies. You may have thought that you never wanted to help a fly, but our gardens and farms depend upon them. Maybe you’ll be the first on your block to plant a habitat for drone flies?

Want to learn more about pollinators and how to help them? Contact Butterfly Pavilion’s horticulture department at habitat@butterflies.org!

Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

Butterfly Pavilion needs your help to count neighborhood pollinators this summer!

The Baseline community has been designed to provide habitat for pollinators, and Butterfly Pavilion regularly evaluates the progress of Pollinator District landscape goals. This summer, for the first time, Baseline residents can join in the science fun and help document the health of local pollinator populations.

What: The Pollinator BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species of pollinators as possible in Baseline over a limited time. For this project, we are including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and hummingbirds.

When: On Monday, June 20 from 9 am – 2 pm, Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion’s Horticulture Director, will be conducting pollinator observations throughout Baseline. Feel free to ask her questions, look for pollinators, or just say hi! Thereafter, the BioBlitz will still be open via iNaturalist through the end of September 2022, so you can continue to contribute your observations all summer long.

Where: Collect observations throughout your neighborhood, including parks and streetscapes, in Baseline.

How: Download the iNaturalist app on your smartphone or tablet (https://www.inaturalist.org and available through Google Play and the Apple store), then join the Baseline Pollinators project here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/baseline-pollinators. Using iNaturalist is as easy as taking a photo with your smartphone. There are tutorials available to help you if you have questions about using iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/video+tutorials

If you are not able to use iNaturalist, you can still participate! Send your pollinator photos to Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion horticulture director, at ayarger@butterflies.org. If possible, please note where and when you took the photo. Thanks for helping us learn more about pollinators at Baseline!

Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

There are certain garden stories that I hear so often, I can recite them from memory. This year, I predict that at least one person will tell me about the monarch butterfly that visits their garden every day at the same time. I will nod with interest until they conclude with, “But a yellow monarch, not one of the orange ones.” This is my cue to share the wonder of Colorado butterflies – we have more than monarchs. In fact, Colorado boasts over 230 species of butterfly, and our largest (and one of our most reliable) is the two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata).

I can see why people confuse this swallowtail with the fabulous monarch – both are extremely showy. However, the two-tailed swallowtail is larger, with a wingspan of up to 6 inches, and has yellow wings with black tiger stripes and 2 “tails”. A closer lookalike butterfly is the western tiger (Papilio rutulus), but the western tiger only has 1 tail per wing and tends to fly at higher altitudes. The two-tailed swallowtail often flies in neighborhoods, parks, streams and other developed areas at lower elevations in western North America – anywhere where their favorite larval food plants, ash trees or chokecherries, grow.

One reason these butterflies are so near and dear to people’s hearts is their habit of “patrolling” in late spring, when males follow a repeated route on their search for available females. You can almost set your watch by them when they are on patrol. Once mated, females lay their eggs one at a time to limit competition among siblings. The young caterpillars look like glossy, shiny bird poop at first, and to protect themselves from predators and weather, they fold the leaves of their host plant and tie them together with silk they make themselves. There they can eat in comfort as they grow and morph into big green caterpillars with eyespots behind their heads. These eyespots give these harmless caterpillars a snakelike appearance. If the scary eyespots don’t fool the birds and wasps, the threatened caterpillar will exude an unpleasant fragrance through horn-like organs called osmateria. Just imagine if your breakfast suddenly sprouted stinky horns- that would make me drop my toast fast!

Late in the summer, you may see these caterpillars, traveling across sidewalks or garden paths, looking for a safe place to spend the winter. Once they find a sheltered area, often at the base of a tree, they transform into a brown pupa that is held upright by a slender silken tether. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was just an extra piece of bark. There they will lie dormant until the following spring.

Unlike the migrating monarch, two-tailed swallowtails spend the winters here and are adept at surviving our sudden weather changes. They will find shrubs and trees to hide in on cold or blustery days, then hydrate on hot days by visiting lots of flowers. Many people express concern about butterflies in May and wonder if bringing them inside is the right thing to do. For the most part, these wild winged creatures have behaviors that will keep them safe and it’s better to let them fly free.

If you are as enchanted with two-tailed swallowtails as I am, you can help them by planting their favorite late-spring blooming flowers. Some of their spring favorites include showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), Rocky Mountain penstemon (Penstemon strictus) and lilacs (Syringa spp.). You can also help them during their quiet season by leaving leaf litter and other debris in place through the winter while they are pupating. Finally, just as with other butterflies, avoiding pesticides will protect these sensitive flower visitors. With the spread of the emerald ash borer (EAB) in Colorado, there has been more concern about the safety of the swallowtail’s ash hosts. The use of systemic pesticides in ash trees can kill swallowtail caterpillars as well as the invasive beetle pest. I recommend removing ash trees whenever possible and replacing them with the other host plant species for this butterfly such as chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata).

During these past two years, when it’s been so difficult to get out and see our loved ones, there’s something reassuring about building community with our neighbors. The two-tailed swallowtail reminds us that some of our tiniest neighbors may look like bird poop or glide gracefully on golden wings, but they always manage to connect us to home.

Want to learn more about pollinators and how to help them? Contact Butterfly Pavilion’s horticulture department at habitat@butterflies.org!

Your shortcut to Costco and Top Golf is temporarily closing for a few months. This summer and fall two major road improvements are going to happen near the corner of Sheridan and 160th Ave.

Construction is expected to start on Monday, June 20, and end in November 2022. Watch for signs in June, near the construction zones, confirming the start date.

Detour Map

 

Updates:

05/19/2022 – The construction start date has changed from June 17 to June 20.

While their new state-of-the-art facility won’t open its doors until 2025, Butterfly Pavilion is already present at Baseline in ways you may not realize.

Pollinator Survey

Before construction broke ground, researchers from Butterfly Pavilion (BP) visited Baseline’s acreage to count the total number and varieties of pollinators that lived here. BP Horticulture Director Amy Yarger returns twice annually to recount them. Our shared goal is for more pollinators to exist at Baseline after it’s fully developed. This summer, you can meet Amy when she returns for the count. Watch for details in our May and June newsletters.

Design Review Guidelines & Committee

To help ensure pollinators thrive at Baseline, Butterfly Pavilion contributed to our community design guidelines and has a seat on our design review committee. BP’s invaluable guidance helps us establish low-water landscapes that prioritize native plants around our homes, parks, trails, and eventually, Baseline businesses. In doing so, we not only create sustainable, natural beauty in our urban community, but welcoming habitats for pollinators, too.

Citizen Science

As an international research center, the Butterfly Pavilion is involved with many studies observing pollinator habitats. You can help BP with two of these — the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and the Great Sunflower Project. They will set up a special page on iNaturalist just for Baseline residents to record their pollinator sitings. The best time to record data is over the summer when Monarchs appear and sunflowers are blooming, so watch for more details in the coming months.

Pollinator of the Month

During the growing season, our favorite horticulturist, Amy Yarger, will teach us about butterflies, bees, and other Colorado pollinators in her monthly feature, Baseline’s Pollinator of the Month. This month, learn about one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring — the mourning cloak butterfly.

Community Events

Watch for Butterfly Pavilion tent on Honey Bee Day, August 20. We don’t want to ruin the surprise, but trust us when we say you won’t want to miss this community event. BP will have live critters, crafts, and other interactive activities for the whole family.

Written by Amy Yarger, Butterfly Pavilion Horticulture Director

Most of us think of butterflies as colorful, even gaudy. We imagine them frolicking in the warm summer sun without a care in the world. This month’s pollinator, however, is a butterfly of a different stripe altogether. The mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) wears dark, mysterious colors and prefers shady glens when the days are still springtime cool. Found in North America and Eurasia, this butterfly is named for its velvety maroon wings ornamented with gold edges and metallic blue spots – something a particularly elegant person might wear to a funeral. However, if you think this butterfly looks too jaunty for such a sad name, you can call it by one of its other many names: the Camberwell Beauty, the Grand Surprise, or the White Petticoat.

Members of the brush-foot family, mourning cloak butterflies have reduced, brush-like front legs. What sets them apart from their cousins, however, is the way they overwinter as adults. On warm late winter or early spring days, we may see these beautiful 4” wide butterflies feeding on tree sap or aphid honeydew. Unlike many butterflies, mourning cloaks prefer shadier, cooler spots and emerge early in the spring. During April and May, territorial males seek females to mate with. They select a spot, such as a sunny perch near a ditch or the edge of a stream, that females might like to visit, and then they go on patrol, waiting for that perfect female to arrive.

After mating, the female lays dozens of yellowish-green eggs on new shoots of willow, cottonwood, hackberry, birch, elm, or aspen trees. Caterpillars are mostly dark with black spines and orange spots along the top edge; they feed in social groups, relying on their formidable appearance to keep predators at bay. Their predators may include ants, wasps, praying mantids, and birds. When they are ready to pupate, the caterpillars then migrate away from their food plants and turn into brownish-gray, spiky chrysalids, which blend in very well with vegetation. By June or July, these caterpillars have metamorphosized into new adults, just as the last generation is passing away. Very few other butterfly species can live for a year like mourning cloaks can!

You won’t find these new adults in the summer heat, however – they find a safe spot, often under loose bark or in tree cavities, to rest in dormancy through fall and winter, emerging to mate and start the cycle all over again in the spring. On sunny mornings, they may open their dark wings and angle their bodies toward the sun to warm up their flight muscles. These butterflies have all sorts of tricks to defend themselves against their enemies, including playing possum, making loud clicks, and flying menacingly toward birds and other butterflies.

Mourning cloak butterflies, in their worldwide range, are usually thought of as mountain dwellers. However, we see them at our elevation as well. In this area, you are more likely to see this butterfly near creeks and wetlands – anywhere mature cottonwoods and willows grow. They benefit from open space, healthy trees, and clean water, just like we do. When we see a mourning cloak butterfly, we know that spring is on its way. We can also tell that our riparian forests are well established enough to support their offspring. The people of Montana appreciate this denizen of the woods so much that they declared the mourning cloak their state insect in 2001.

Gardeners can do a few things to help this gorgeous insect. When selecting a tree for your landscape, consider a hackberry or disease-resistant elm variety that can also provide food for the larvae of the morning cloak. Delay garden cleanup until May whenever possible, so that these butterflies can find shelter on cold nights. And finally, avoid using pesticides. Mourning cloaks aren’t picky but they are extremely sensitive to chemicals in their diet.

Want to learn more about pollinators and how to help them? Contact Butterfly Pavilion’s horticulture department at habitat@butterflies.org!