Cambridge Outdoors

playing, learning, and being outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.

A close observation of a Monarch before it is released into the wild


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Five Questions for Cambridge’s Monarch Nannies

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A family checks out the monarch butterflies still in their nursery boxes shortly before helping to escort them to the meadow for release on August 7.  Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s  Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit.  On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.

1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?

Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.

Martine Wong, left, with volunteer Lisa and MSYEP intern Shewit, at the Monarch Release event at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.

Cambridge Water Dept. staffer Martine Wong (left) with volunteer Lisa Recolta (middle) and MSYEP intern Shewit Yitbarek (right), at the Monarch Release at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.

2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?

Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.

3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?

pupating and hatching of Monarchs at Fresh Pond

Visitors to Fresh Pond Reservation this summer could view Monarchs at the Ranger Station, in various stages of their life cycle.

Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.

Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.

4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?

Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.

The adult Monarch in its new habitat at Lusitania Meadow, Cambridge

An adult Monarch butterfly raised in captivity by the Cambridge Water Department gets accustomed to its new surroundings. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?

Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!

Monarchs are released from captivity by Cambridge's Monarch Nannies


The butterflies are released! Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Dept. Photo

More:

  • Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
  • Read the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Cambridge Water Department Monarch Release on August 7, 2016.
  • Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a few moths) were part of the festivities and parade that escorted the butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a moth or two) were part of the parade that escorted the Monarch butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. The puppets were made by community members through the Cambridge Wildlife Puppetry ProjectKim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

"Killit"—group of urban turkeys hanging around at Thanksgiving, term invented for the Human Nature Dictionary.


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Cambridge’s Baird Creates “Human Nature Dictionary”

Cambridge Resident Freedom Baird’s open-source participatory project, the Human Nature Dictionary, is part of an exhibit running through August 8th at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Shocked that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed basic vocabulary words related to nature, the artist devised the Human Nature Dictionary as a form of protest. She saw the publisher’s pruning as a codification and endorsement of humankind’s divorce from nature, particularly as its locus was children’s access to language. It was an act needing correction.

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Field Desk, Human Nature Dictionary

Baird’s “dictionary” invites the public (including children) to invent, share, and restore  an English lexicon that conveys or reflects human perceptions, uses, and other relationships with the natural world. According to the main page for the online Human Nature Dictionary, it

“proposes not simply to reintroduce words about nature, but to create new language that shows that humans and nature are part of the same pan-natural system, and that our fates are inextricably merged.”

Examples of publicly-sourced Human Nature Dictionary entries include “Disney’s Law of Evolution,” the process by which animals found cute by humans experience population growth and habitat protection; “root-kilter,” a slab of sidewalk forced out of place by a growing tree root; and “april dregs,” garbage left behind after snow melt.

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Root-kilter. Photo by Freedom Baird.

Visit the Human Nature Dictionary online here.


Secret Lives of Flowers: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Milkweed

Purple Coneflowers are one of our beloved species of meadow flowers in Cambridge. A common garden plant, coneflowers are found at Fresh Pond Reservation and elsewhere—including in the Honk! parade.

These flowers are cross-pollinated by long-tongued bees, bee flies, Halictid bees, butterflies, and skippers. Among long-tongued bees, are such visitors as honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees (Melissodes spp.), and leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.). Butterfly visitors include Monarchs, Fritillaries, Painted Ladies, Swallowtails, Sulfurs, and Whites. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feed on the foliage, while the caterpillars of several moths feed on the flowerheads. These latter species include Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (Blackberry Looper), Eupithecia miserulata (Common Eupithecia), Synchlora aerata (Wavy-Lined Emerald), and Homoeosoma electella (Sunflower Moth). A small songbird, the Eastern Goldfinch, occasionally eats the seeds during the summer and early fall.

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Purple coneflower hats are part of the Cambridge Wildlife costumes at the Honk! parade every year.

Source: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Milkweed is an important host plant as well, with a specific relationship with Monarch caterpillars eating only milkweed species. Check out the red milkweed beetles on this plant, next time you are in a meadow!

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Call for Volunteers: Monarch Butterfly Release Parade

Adult/teen volunteers are needed for a fun nature event at Fresh Pond Reservation—a parade to celebrate the release of reservation-raised monarchs back into the wild!  At this writing (July 18) four of the creatures at the Water Department building have turned into chrysalises, with more to follow. The parade —open to all , costumes and noisemakers

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Multiple kids wear a monarch caterpillar puppet at the wildlife parade at Fresh Pond Day 2015.

encouraged—will begin at the Water Treatment Facility at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway, proceeding along the path to Lusitania Meadow. There, the butterflies raised by the Water Department will be sent  off into the meadow flowers.  

The parade will take place on Saturday, August 6, 2 to 3:30 pm (Rain Date Sunday, August 7).

To volunteer, contact Martine at (617)-349-6489 or fpr@cambridgema.gov.

 More information about the Water Department’s Monarch Release Project is here.


Cambridge Outdoors has launched!


I’ve recently overhauled this site to be a resource for families, kids, teachers, and residents interested in exploring the natural world in our small city (or anywhere). The blog portion of the site will continue. Bear with me while additional information about places, flowers, critters, and seasonal changes is being added.

IMG_7874Along with the re-engineered purpose comes a new name—Cambridge Outdoors. There is currently no other single organization or resource where you can find events, information, activities, and news about the habitats (and plants and animals) that exist in the city of Cambridge.  My hope is that Cambridge Outdoors will fill that gap.

Whether it’s outdoor learning or outdoor play that most interests you; whether you need resources for informal learning or for classroom- or OST-based learning; whether you’re a completely newbie to the natural world or a semi-pro at birding, or anatomy, or environmental sciences, I hope you can find something here that’s useful. I’m open to suggestions about content that would be helpful to have on this site. Email me.

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