Swallowtails in my Heart

June 4, 2010

“What is your favorite butterfly?” I am asked that question by both children and adults. So many of our butterflies are beautiful in both color and grace, so it can be difficult to pick just one to say its your “favorite.” Sometimes a favorite butterfly has a deeper, more personal meaning.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Maybe it’s just this time of year when the butterflies and wildflowers really begin to thrive, or maybe I’m just feeling sentimental, but when I see a swallowtail, I still feel like a little kid. My first butterfly was a black swallowtail, so for this and other reasons, it remains my personal favorite. Sorry, my beloved Diana fritillary, you are somewhat second when it comes to being my first love.

Balck Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

My love of butterflies began with a fifth-grade homework assignment. I am still in contact with my teacher. To a little kid, a caterpillar tucked into an empty pickle jar with a bunch of unidentified leaves wasn’t an epiphany until the black swallowtail emerged eight months later. Then, as my father can corroborate, I was hooked.

As I watch our swallowtails flit through the air, I do look at them with the eyes of an educated adult, but I still have a sense of awe and wonder. The swallowtails living in Arkansas are such amazing creatures, and you can enjoy them in both your yard and in our state parks.

Mud-puddling Zebras and Pipevine Swallowtails

Mud-puddling Zebras and Pipevine Swallowtails

Swallowtails on the wing in May include black, pipevine, zebra, Eastern tiger, spicebush, and giant swallowtails. Since more people are adding both nectar and host plants to their home gardens, more people are looking and attracting these insects. One of the best parts of my job is to give someone advice one year, and then listen to their success stories in the following years.

Perhaps one of the best examples of attempting to live in harmony with butterflies is the gardener who puts up with black swallowtail caterpillars on their parsley, dill, and fennel. To begin life resembling a bird dropping assures some demise. If only they started life as their mature yellow-green color, and if only they wouldn’t chow down on the same leaves we want to eat so rapidly! For this reason, I grow Queen Anne’s lace, just in case I need to transfer caterpillars.

Dark Form Female Tiger Swallowtail

Dark Form Female Tiger Swallowtail

More gardeners are becoming interested in growing Dutchman’s pipevine for pipevine swallowtails. This shade plant contains chemicals that once ingested, help defend both caterpillar and adult from hungry predators. Pipevine swallowtails are often the first swallowtail to emerge in spring, and have multiple generations in one year. Their iridescence is unmatched in the sunlight.

The tails of zebra swallowtails are longer in the summer form than the spring form, and both are master of dizzying flight maneuvers.

To study one or all of the swallowtails is a lifetime of fun in itself. For me, seeing a large butterfly with tails always makes my day a little brighter.

Just this week, I spent a mere 30 minutes standing in one spot on Will Apple’s Road Trail at Mount Magazine State Park, and saw a flurry of activity. A pipevine swallowtail unsuccessfully attempted to court a red-spotted purple. Talk about mistaken identity! A female giant swallowtail was flitting from hop tree to hop tree (aka wafer ash), searching for a suitable place to lay eggs. A dark-form female tiger swallowtail flew into the courtship of the other two black butterflies and disrupted them. A satyr flew by my head. I flushed a red-banded hairstreak from the ground. A fresh silver-spotted skipper was basking in the sunlight near its host plant, a black locust almost in fragrant full bloom. The pipevine swallowtail gave up the courtship and flew away. The red-spotted purple finally alighted on a cherry tree and basked in a sliver of sunlight. Everyone benefits by immersing themselves in a natural setting such as this. It frees the heart and mind.

One of the amazing aspects of nature is the symbiotic relationship between wildflowers and their butterfly pollinators. Later this May, male Diana fritillaries emerge from their chrysalises, with females following approximately three weeks later. This is well synchronized with the blooming of butterfly weed, purple coneflower, bee balm, and several others.

Kids really enjoy the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival!

Kids really enjoy the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival!

Arkansas has many butterfly “hot spots,” and special events designed to help visitors enjoy them more. The Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, coming up June 25-26, is dedicated to creating awareness of butterflies in their natural habitat and their importance as pollinators. The weekend is full of programs, hikes, children’s games and crafts, a live arthropod zoo, garden tours, and two concerts. It is a great way for families to spend a weekend together.

I think I’ll head outside and check my parsley (again) for black swallowtail caterpillars. I’m still a little kid at heart who would much rather be outside.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths, and has won multiple awards for volunteer work at Mount Magazine State Park and throughout Arkansas. Since she moved to Arkansas in 1992, Lori has been an active voice for creating awareness about Arkansas’s rich butterfly heritage and their conservation needs. She has been associated with the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival since its inception in 1997. She volunteers for four different organizations, including Logan County Master Gardeners, the Mount Magazine Action Group, and the National Association for Interpretation, and is both the Arkansas and Louisiana coordinator for the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Arkansas. She is both a Certified Heritage Interpreter and Certified Interpretive Guide. She received a national conservation award by the Daughters of the American Revolution recently.

Advertisements

Sharing the Trails with Snakes

May 24, 2010

I have learned that any time I hike a trail, and especially during warm weather, it’s always a good idea to watch where I step.  Not only does this prevent tripping over a rock or root or slipping on a wet spot, but also can help to avoid an unpleasant encounter with one of nature’s least liked wild creatures.  In Arkansas, snakes can be encountered just about anywhere, but it’s a good idea to be extra cautious when out in the woods, in a swampy-looking area, or walking around at night.

At Petit Jean State Park, more than 20 miles of hiking trails beckon park visitors to explore the area’s scenic beauty.  But people aren’t the only ones who may be out on the trails during the warmer months.  Peacefully sharing the trails with wildlife, including snakes and other reptiles, is what hikers are encouraged to do, for the safety of both the people and the animals.  36 different species of snakes are naturally found in Arkansas, and I have personally observed many of them on Petit Jean Mountain.  Fortunately, only 6 of the 36 are venomous.  Snakes I have seen recently include an Eastern hognose snake, a Western ribbon snake, a rough green snake, a ringneck snake and a redbelly snake.

A non-venomous snake attempting to hide from people.

A non-venomous snake attempting to hide from people.

Contrary to what some folks may believe, snakes don’t lurk around on woodland paths just waiting for an unsuspecting human to come along so that they can bite him or her.  A snake may be stalking its natural prey or searching for a mate or a good hiding place, but an encounter with a person is likely to be accidental (unless that person is out hunting for snakes).  A good general rule about snakes is that if you leave them alone, they will probably leave you alone.  Snakes tend to be afraid of people and will often try to get away if given a chance.  When a snake bite does occur, it is often because someone was trying to kill or capture a venomous snake, or accidentally stepped on it or otherwise got close enough to make the snake feel threatened.

To help protect yourself while hiking a trail, keep in mind that snakes are often well camouflaged – that is, they tend to blend in well with their environment.  For example, the venomous  and very common copperhead is usually light brown or grayish in color with a pattern of darker brown, hourglass-shaped cross bands.  This pattern of coloration can make this snake seem nearly invisible at times, especially when it is sitting on brown leaves.  I have come close to stepping on copperheads or other snakes  myself, even though I am used to watching out for them (but the only times I have been bitten were while I was either handling or attempting to handle non-venomous  snakes).  Being alert and watching where you place your hands and feet is your best line of defense.  Wearing sturdy boots or shoes that cover your ankles can also be helpful.

Rat snakes are sometimes used to educate park visitors.

Rat snakes are sometimes used to educate park visitors.

We often receive requests for interpretive programs on snakes at Petit Jean State Park, so if you would like to find out more about snakes of Arkansas, you might want to inquire if a snake presentation is scheduled during your next visit to the park.  Or, you can stop by the park’s visitor center and see if an interpreter is available to answer your snake questions.

Snake programs for all Arkansas State Parks can be found on our online Calendar of Events.

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel is a native Arkansan and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, with a Bachelor of Science in biology.  Her interpretive experience includes work as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Dardanelle State Park, 1997 -1999, and as a full-time interpreter at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 2003 – 2007.   She has been a full-time interpreter at Petit Jean State Park since September of 2007.  Rachel is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and became a Certified Heritage Interpreter in 2009.  “One of my favorite things I do in my job is helping park visitors discover new ways to enjoy and learn from nature.”


An Adventure in Spring

April 5, 2010
The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

Spring has come to the park once again. I love the smells and sounds of this time of year. There are tiny buds all over the trees. The spring birds are back and filling up the air with their songs.  The winter bleakness is behind us. The warm air hits my face as I hike on one of our trails here at Lake Catherine State Park. I decide to hike Falls Branch.

There is so much to see on this trail. There is a nice little creek that greets you at the beginning. There are a series o f bridges that you must cross to traverse the trail. In front of me, I find a fern garden. The fiddleheads are poking through.

As I start to climb upwards I am greeted by the novaculite glade. Novaculite is a very special rock found in Hot Springs. The Native Americans used this rock extensively in their everyday life. You may know it as the knife sharpening stone or whetstone. This rock weathers very slowly.

I continue on my journey stopping for a moment at a bench to rest and take a drink. There is a slight breeze blowing that gently pushes my hair from my face. I hike on. There is a group of rocks to my left that overlooks the area I just came from, I affectionately nicknamed them the Pulpit Rock as I can imagine someone standing in front of them and reading a verse or two.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

There is no creek on top of the mountain right now, but I know that I will pick up Falls Creek Falls soon. Upwards I climb, I pass the intersection of where Falls Branch meets Horseshoe Mountain and I know that I am on the downward stretch.  All around the Serviceberry has bloomed. I hear that they received their name because of the early days when there were traveling preachers, this was the bloom that coincided with the first services of the year as the snow melted and roads became passable again.  I start hearing the creek and I know that I will be on the home stretch soon.

There are many downed trees from previous storms around me and I am in awe to see the root system that they have and know that this tree had stood for 50 years before an ice storm or a mighty wind took it down.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

CCC steps along the trail.

CCC steps along the trail.

As I continue my journey down, I start seeing the series of waterfalls that will lead to the major waterfall. One waterfall has moss growing down and the water drips off the moss into the pool below.  I watch my footing as I descend steps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps many  years ago. Finally, I am at the waterfall. It is flowing pretty well as we had rain and it filled the creek. I take a few pictures and head on. I am almost to the finish now.  I see the lake in front of me and then there is Remmel Dam. The dam was built in 1924 and was the first hydroelectric dam in the state of Arkansas. This dam created Lake Catherine.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

I come to the swinging bridge. I love this part, wobbling across this bridge that expands over a small ditch.  I round the curve and see Bald Cypress trees to my right. This about the only place in the park that these trees are found. They love wet soil.

I walk on to the parking lot and my journey is finished for now.

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp is the park interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park and has worked there since 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and a member of the National Association for Interpretation. Julie enjoys photography and playing with her dogs in her spare time. She grew up camping in the state parks and likes to share nature with park visitors.


Because words can’t describe…

March 11, 2010

Instead of a regular post today we decided to leave you with a lovely visit to The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park.

The Lodge at Mount Magazine opened in the Spring of 2006 and is one of the great vacation attractions of Arkansas. All rooms and cabins have a view off the bluff-line overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. All cabins have a hot tub on the deck with the same view. Amenities include the Skycrest Restaurant, Conference center, free broadband internet access, indoor pool and fitness center, business center and gift shop.

Also in the park are miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill Trail which takes you to the highest point in Arkansas. A state-of-the-art Visitor Center greats visitors with exhibits of the mountains’ natural and cultural history and wildlife viewing areas. The park is also known for its wonderful programs that immerse you into the flora and fauna of the mountain. A slow drive through the park should include the Cameron’s Bluff Drive which has several overlooks.

Besides the lodge and cabins the park has a beautiful modern campground. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-479-963-8502 for the campground or 1-877-MM-Lodge for the lodge and cabins. We look forward to your next visit.


Pinnacle Mountain State Park Rocks!

January 11, 2010

Pondering Pinnacle Mountain

A cold, snowy day can be the perfect time to experience Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

A cold, snowy day is the perfect time to experience Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

This week Pinnacle Mountain has been frozen with solitude.  The warm-weather crowds have diminished to a handful of bundled, determined hikers.  I no longer see colorful climbing dots moving slowly to the top when I look up.  Instead, my eyes tend to focus on the protruding, sharp rock outlays along each side of the uplifted land.

As I gaze at the mountain’s nakedness, it’s easy to recognize why such a dramatic landform is admired by all who know it. What is not so easy to recognize, is how such a landform arose from the earth.

The Making of a Mighty Mountain

Composed of Jackfork sandstone, Pinnacle Mountain rises 756 feet from the base.  Like all the rest of the Ouachita Mountains, it is in the eroded “crumple zone” which resulted from the collision of two continental plates of the earth’s crust.  Before the collision process altered this region, the Ouachitas

The "boulder fields" on the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain make for interesting hiking.

The "boulder fields" on the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain make for interesting hiking.

were accumulating sediments on the ocean floor several thousand feet below sea level.  After 275 million years of erosion, the Ouachitas–including many peaks like Pinnacle Mountain–are the greatly reduced remains of a once young and mighty mountain range.  The “cone” form of Pinnacle Mountain we see today is simply a small resistant remnant of a highly eroded ridge which runs east and west for several miles.

(Click here to learn more about the six natural divisions of Arkansas.)

Look All Around, But Look Down Too

When you hike up the cone-shaped mountain, it is easy to divert your attention away from the wonders of the mountain itself.  It took me several climbs to condition myself not to focus on the sparkling waters of Lake Maumelle or Arkansas River in the

Hiking to the top rewards visitors with awe inspiring views.

Hiking to the top rewards visitors with awe inspiring views.

distance, but instead on the dramatic landform right under my feet. Once I took my eyes and camera off the view, I fell in love with the Jackfork sandstone and became filled with wonder at the creation of the Ouachita Mountains.  It amazed me how simple it was to connect those physical geography facts from high school and college to something that was right beneath me.  Before my discovery, continental plates existed only in text books and on exams, but truly, they are visible, touchable, and climbable!

Exploring with your sense of touch is encouraged.

Exploring with your sense of touch is encouraged.

This Stone is Full of Stories

One of my favorite parts of climbing the mountain is the feeling of the sandstone beneath my hands.   It has a rough grainy texture that embodies its name well.  There are countless sandstone boulder fields on the mountain and scattered around this 2000-acre park, which makes them easy to take for granted. However, without this stone, many important places around Little Rock would not exist as we know them today.  Over 75,000 tons of rock was taken from the base of the east side of Pinnacle Mountain to create the Lake Maumelle Dam for Little Rock’s water supply.  Also, rock was moved from other areas of the park prior to the 1950s to help build the local Joe T. Robinson Schools and Shrine Country Club.

Two Routes to the Top

The trails to the top can be challenging and enjoyable.

The trails to the top can be challenging and enjoyable.

There are a number of trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, all designed to showcase various aspects of this diverse landscape. Collectively, we hope they help you understand that everywhere you walk here, from wetlands to upland ridges, you see an ever-changing web of life that flourishes because diverse habitats are protected.

In case you haven’t been to the top of Pinnacle Mountain, you should know that there are two main routes for getting there. The most popular path is via the West Summit Trail. This rocky trail begins at the park picnic grounds and winds its way up to the top for ¾ of a mile. To return, you must retrace your steps, for a 1 ½ mile round trip journey, or hike down the other side of the mountain using the rugged East Summit Trail and return on the Base Trail for a total hike of about 3 miles.

If you prefer more of a challenge, plan to go up and down the mountain using the more rugged, ¾-mile East Summit Trail. This route is often referred to as more of a “climb” than a hike, as it crosses several boulder fields and takes a more direct (steeper) route to the top than the meandering West Summit Trail. Technical rock climbing is not required, but much of the hike does require hands-and-feet scrambling as opposed to upright walking.

Either way, this hike is considered strenuous and you should allow at least 1 ½ hours travel time—plus give yourself extra time along the way and at the top for reflection and exploring.

Learning from the Land

Pinnacle Mountain is a dramatic landform that has inspired me to learn more about my local surroundings.  It is also a place where I have been able to provide curious students with real world examples from their textbook lessons and state-mandated curriculum.

No matter your reasoning for visiting Pinnacle Mountain State Park, I am sure that the scenic view—and the mountain itself—will ignite your passion for understanding your environment. I hope you are one of the next bundled-up, determined, wonder-filled hikers that I meet at the top!

The park maintains over 40 miles trails with something for everyone.

The park maintains over 40 miles trails with something for everyone.

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root is a strong advocate of environmental education for urban children. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2007, stationed at Pinnacle Mountain State Park as a park interpreter. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide, and credits success on her career path to her B.S in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas.


Living Underground at Devil’s Den State Park

January 7, 2010
Icicles hang along the many bluffs on the Devil’s Den Trail

Icicles hang along the many bluffs on the Devil’s Den Trail.

The white blanket of snow piled inches deep brings an exquisite stillness to the landscape of Devil’s Den State Park. Icicles linger from the tops of torpid bluffs, slowly dripping their steady eroding force down the sandstone layers. Drip, drip in the sparkle of sunlight. Cedar waxwings dart between underbrush hoping for winterberries. Deer tracks prominently weave down well-worn paths.

It seems that winter reveals a secret beauty only shown to the brave visitor willing to adorn thick socks, gloves, and hat and be invigorated by a deep breath of the crisp, cool air. For these courageous souls, the exposed bluff layers with their leafy camouflage returning to the earth, the panoramic views uniting the valley and ridge with the horizon as far as the eyes can see, the glitter of snow and icicles enhancing every clump of moss and shard of shale, and the tranquility of the trails is theirs alone.

For shelter from the shivers of the cold, all one has to do is venture into Devil’s Den Cave. There the 54 degrees of the cave feels warm and a completely new stillness awaits.

Spencer Foster, Laurel Chafin, and Jay Chafin delight in finding tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) hibernating in Devil’s Den Cave

Spencer Foster, Laurel Chafin, and Jay Chafin delight in finding tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) hibernating in Devil’s Den Cave.

The unique sandstone crevice caves found at Devil’s Den State Park offer an intriguing immersion into the literal center of the layers of geology that support all life in the park. Typically upon entering their immenseness, one senses the stability and security of the rock walls. Not only do these walls lure in thousands of visitors each year, but they also make inviting hibernacula for at least five of the sixteen species of bats known to live in Arkansas, including the tri-color bat, the big brown bat, the Northern long-eared bat, and two endangered species: the Ozark big eared bat and the Indiana bat.

While at rest in hibernation, bats’ body functions slow, their temperature drops, and their immune systems become compromised. However, their long winter naps are essential to their survival, for in the winter, they cannot forage on the millions of pounds of insects they eat nightly during the warm spring through fall nights. Being awoken during this delicate period is devastating to the bats.

This winter however, it is not the excited shrills of thrilled visitors that park staff fear will wake these vital flying mammals, but rather a filamentous fungus known as Geomyces destructans that produces a distinctive ring of growth around the muzzles of bats — a condition known as white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome (WNS) was first noted in a cave near Albany, New York in the winter of 2006. Since that time, WNS has been detected in eight other states and has infected hundreds of thousands of bats within dozens of caves with a 90% mortality rate of infected populations. At this rapid rate of spread, scientists and resource managers fear that the loss of these natural insecticide agents could have one of the most devastating environmental impacts felt ever.

Dozens of tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) use Devil’s Den Cave as a hibernacula in the winter months

Dozens of tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) use Devil’s Den Cave as a hibernacula in the winter months.

Unfortunately, there are still many unknowns about what is spreading the fungus and how it is killing the bats. One theory is that unsuspecting cavers are the carriers of the fungal spores and that the fungal infection acts as an irritant to the bat, causing it to wake and use precious stored fat reserves meant to last all winter. In a precautionary effort to protect these ecologically significant species, caves across the Northeastern United States are being closed to the public. In addition, visitors to caves that are still open are being asked to make sure that their clothing and gear have been decontaminated. Decontamination procedures can be lengthy, including submersing gear and clothing in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, or simply not wearing any clothing or taking any gear that has been used in cave environments before. (a complete list of procedures)

Snow covers the entrance to one of the many sandstone, fracture caves at Devil’s Den State Park

Snow covers the entrance to one of the many sandstone, fracture caves at Devil’s Den State Park.

As the threat moves closer to our area, our park staff is working with multi-state agencies to develop a plan to protect our fragile bat populations. At this time, Devil’s Den State Park has closed three caves to the public, two of which are known hibernacula of endangered species of bats. We hope that through education of the public about this potential threat, we can prevent the spores from entering our caves without having to close them.

However, our job is not only to educate the public about Arkansas’s amazing resources, but also to protect them for future generations. Please help us to spread the word about the potential threat of white nose syndrome that any visitor could be carrying on a shoe, flashlight, or glove that has been into an infected area. Though the park feels at peace and the stillness serene, there is a silent struggle to protect one of Devil’s Den’s favorite winter residents — the bats!

Rebekah Spurlock, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock, Interpreter, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock is a native Arkansan, originally from the Delta. Since graduating with her Master’s in Geography in 2007 from the University of Memphis, Rebekah has called Devil’s Den State Park home.