Picture walks: Mourning cloak butterflies

A mourning cloak butterfly. Photo by Jeanne Church.

By Jeanne Church

If butterflies played the game of Survivor, mourning cloaks would probably win! The average life span for most butterflies is around one month, but mourning cloaks often survive for 10! Amazingly, they spend the better part of their adult life enduring our cold Michigan winters! Through snow and wind and freezing rain, mourning cloaks tuck themselves away in tree cavities, leaf litter, cracks in rocks, loose bark, and the crevices of unheated buildings to survive. 

Sometimes, during March and April, on those rare occasions when our temperatures exceed 60 degrees, these butterflies will venture out to feed on tree sap, particularly from oak and maple trees. Once the cold temperatures return, they will head back to their hiding places and wait for warmer weather to return.

I spotted my very first “winter” mourning cloak in late March of last year. There was still snow on the ground, but it was an amazingly warm 65-degree day! I had been walking along a wooded path at the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan when a solitary mourning cloak landed on a nearby sign. That first encounter with a winter butterfly totally surprised me! I had no idea that some butterflies could be out and about while there was still snow on the ground and wondered how that was even possible.

Apparently, butterflies that overwinter enter a state of existence known as diapause; a type of hibernation for bugs. Mourning cloaks shut down all their non-essential systems like reproduction, and slow their metabolism dramatically. They also have special chemicals in their bodies that work as a type of anti-freeze. Butterflies that don’t overwinter as adults will spend our snowy, frigid days in one of three other life stages: as an egg, a caterpillar, or a chrysalis. Other butterflies, like the monarch, will just find a more hospitable place to spend the winter than Michigan!

You can look for mourning cloaks during May and June, particularly in wet, wooded areas. After that, they will be harder to find as their eggs hatch into caterpillars, and their caterpillars transform into butterflies. The butterflies will then “sleep” through our hottest months of summer for a period of dormancy called aestivation. In late summer and early fall, you can look for them again as they flutter about seeking nectar and other nourishment to help sustain them during the snowy months ahead.

If you want to help overwintering insects like mourning cloaks, you can start by not cleaning up your yard too early! Leave all that leaf litter beneath your trees and in your gardens. It’s likely to contain overwintering caterpillars, eggs, or adult butterflies. If you find what looks like a dead chrysalis in your garage or garden shed in the winter, leave it where it is. The butterfly inside may well emerge when spring comes along. You can also set up a fruit feeding station in the spring with overripe bananas, cantaloupe, or rotting fruit that will provide sustenance for the mourning cloaks and other butterflies that have been overwintering.

Also, if you want to make your yard more attractive to mourning cloaks all year long, try planting some of their favorite trees like willows, cottonwoods, aspens, poplars, birches, hawthorns, elms, hackberries, or mulberries. These are host plants for mourning cloaks where they like to lay their eggs.

Even though these superstar survivors are considered plentiful across their range, mourning cloaks are still at risk of decline from insecticides and habitat loss! It’s vitally important that we all work to maintain as many natural areas as we can, and that we refrain from the widespread use of insecticides!

Community corner: Older Americans Month

By Sarah Cagney

May is Older Americans Month, a time to celebrate older adults, their stories, and the contributions they have made throughout their lifetimes. Older adults play vital, positive roles in our communities – as family members, friends, volunteers, and more.

Just as every person is unique, so too are how they age and how they choose to do it – and there is no “right” way. That’s why the theme for Older Americans Month (OAM) 2022 is Age My Way.

This special recognition provides an opportunity for our community to explore the many ways older adults can remain in their own home and be involved with their communities. By engaging and supporting all community members, we recognize that older adults play a key role in the vitality of our neighborhoods, networks, and lives. Communities that encourage the contributions of older adults are stronger!

This year, South County Community Services is excited to celebrate OAM with our partners in the aging community. We are excited to build and promote partnerships with aging services networks. They play a critical role to ensure individuals have information available to access community resources for services, enabling all older adults to age with dignity in a safe environment. Many healthy aging programs exist that play a role in aging in place (emphasizing that what each person needs and prefers is unique). Collectively, we offer support to older adults and their caregivers in areas such as nutrition, social and emotional support, falls prevention, transportation, home safety, job training, and benefits enrollment.

Please join South County in strengthening our community and embrace aging by celebrating the ways in which older adults keep our communities vibrant!

Following are some ways you can help observe Older Americans Month:

Reach out to an older person (a friend, family member, neighbor, or colleague) and spend a couple minutes asking about their lives and experiences. If you can connect on a periodic basis, even better.

Help your older parents write their story or interview them for a video. Their stories and contributions help support and inspire, plus it’s a great way to learn things about your parents that you probably never knew and will become a legacy you will cherish forever!

Spend the day doing something meaningful with an older relative – choose a favorite childhood food item that they used to cook and make it together, spend the day watching movies, help organize their boxes of photos, use Google Maps or Google Earth to visit their old neighborhoods or their hometown – and make new memories while working together.

Help older adults connect with South County Community Services (649-2901) if they have questions about aging, need to ask about resources, or if they want to find opportunities to connect with others.

Learn more about OAM and discover additional ways you can celebrate the older adults in our community by visiting https://acl.gov/

Happy Older Americans Month to all!

Sarah Cagney is the Senior Outreach Coordinator for South County Community Services. She has a special place in her heart for helping seniors learn about aging resources and navigate assistance. She can be reached at 649-2901 ext. 7.

For more information on South County Community Services, please check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/southcountycs or visit our website.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes supports the community

The Vicksburg Rotary Club recently hosted Greta Faworski, associate director of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, as a guest speaker. She described the organization and how it meets needs in the county for four decades.

“Loaves & Fishes has been promoting a hunger-free community since 1982,” Faworski told Rotarians.

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes (KLF) is an independent food assistance organization. It is in the top 300 Food Bank List for the State of Michigan with $8 million in revenue, including in-kind food donations.

“The organization has the capacity to source, store and distribute food like a food bank, but maintains a client-focused program model of food pantries and direct social service programs. As such, anyone in Kalamazoo County and surrounding communities can self-declare the need for food assistance.

“No IDs or income verification are required for service. In fact, self-declaration of need is a founding ‘stake in the ground’ for the organization,” Faworski said. “This recognizes that there are many reasons someone might need food assistance and KLF wants to respect and serve anyone who cannot consistently put nutritious food on the table.”

She described local needs from 2019 data in “Feeding America: Map the Meal Gap.” It shows 32,300 individuals, 12.3% of the population, experience food insecurity, including 6,620 children. Eight percent of the county’s local seniors live on less than $12,000 per year. Every school district in Kalamazoo County has at least 25% of its student body eligible for free/reduced meals. It is estimated that these numbers have increased by at least 25% during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, KLF operated 30 pantries using an in-person shopping system that provided four-days’ worth of food for each order, using the KLF Call Center to make the appointments. In addition, KLF completed five mobile food distributions , 600 weekend food packs per week to 11 schools, and partnered with 8-10 agencies to provide food for congregate meals, emergency pack and pantries.

Since the pandemic, Faworski said, KLF now operates 19 pantries with curbside pick-up at most locations providing approximately seven days’ worth of food per participant. Mobile food distributions more than doubled and up to 60 home deliveries are arranged and completed each day. The number of partner agencies for congregate meals, emergency packs and pantries increased as well.

Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes distributes both perishable and non-perishable food and is a direct distributor of USDA food, which is approximately 35% of its inventory, but very volatile. The agency purchases between 45-50% of its inventory to meet its service commitments. Other sources of food include local farmers, grocery stores, and community food drives, such as the South County Annual Postal Food drive each May.

“Due to the amazing generosity of its supporters, KLF now owns a large warehouse on Portage Road just north of Vicksburg. This enhances its reach and ability to serve approximately 27,000 unduplicated individuals and 10,000 households every year. Both Generous Hands and South County Community Services have been long-time partners with KLF. Their directors (Sheri Louis and Drew Johnson, respectively) are grateful for the amazing support KLF provides. In addition, Vicksburg United Methodist Church operates the KLF monthly mobile food distribution in South County,” Faworski said. A client survey in the spring of 2021 showed that 70% of clients preferred curbside pick-up and would like to see it continue. It also became clear that many people had no way to travel to a pantry to obtain necessary food. As a result, the agency decided it was time to invest in two refrigerated vans and software to optimize delivery routes. Each van is able to make about 30 deliveries each day. When asked how the agency could afford such an investment, Faworski noted that 75% of its operating budget is funded by community contributions — and that its long-standing history of support from the community has allowed it to grow and pivot to meet the emerging needs of KLF families.

“We look forward to collaborating with our community to reach people in new ways, strengthen and broaden our partnerships and make appropriate investments for the next 40 years,“ Faworski said.

Editor’s Note: The South County Annual Postal Food drive is scheduled May 14.