Sunny Day at Gunntown, Butterfly Walk 2016: And Biodiversity!

Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny day at Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve. We had a walk n’ talk about nature, and just to get outside and have an appreciation for natural land, in its natural state, living with its (mostly) native species.

First we talked about the land, preserved by many people’s hard work. 39 acres (and counting?) of Naugatuck land in Connecticut, slopes of deciduous forest off of Andrew Mountain, with meadows and wetlands as well. This conversation happened at what I like to call “Nature’s Classroom”, a series of cleverly placed rocks with a larger rock (teachers’ s desk) and smaller rocks (students’ desks).

Then we hiked through the wetland first. A warm June morning (about 23C¬†with moderate humidity), the cool shade of the wooded wetlands felt good after the direct sun of the meadow. I personally had done the walk by myself about half an hour earlier. Grass had just been cut, so there was still that ugly, chunky dead clumps atop the anthropomorphically coined term “lawns”, where people could comfortably walk amongst the more natural successionary areas. Swallowtails, cabbage butterflies, dragonflies, swallows, garter snakes, monarch butterflies, a dead opossum, rain, sun, water, soil, etc. etc. It would all come in to play with so many more species to name… But the point is biodiversity. And this is nothing compared to other areas of the world.

But, compared to the monoculture of Homo sapiens lawns, this green haven is busting with life. You see, biodiversity is the number of different species living in an area at the same time. Gunntown is where I spend a lot of my time studying, but this is only in a formal capacity. As an outdoors person, I have enjoyed going out and observing natural phenomena my whole life. When one compares the diversity of life in a “lawn” to that of just six inch taller naturally occurring successional plants in the area, there is no competition.

Just by taking a look at the break where the grass is cut versus the taller meadow grass, one can assess the different colonies of plants and animals (and bacteria,fungi and protists too!, with the help of microscopes). The size of the grass allows larger animals cover, and grasses and certain plants make up the diet of most herbivorous insects, which in turn feed the predators.

Wildlife, whether they want to or not, are subjected to pressures in life. Those pressures are numerous but can be broken down into the three most important issues in a lifetime: getting food, preventing BECOMING food, and mating. Taller grasses provide the necessary components for all in the life of a Monarch butterfly. You see, the Monarch prefers milkweed plants, which cannot survive in a three-inch lawn. The Monarch as a butterfly has one idea in mind: drinking enough nectar from flowers to power its flight, in order that it can find a mate. Then eggs are laid under a milkweed plant’s leaves. After the eggs hatch, beautiful caterpillars emerge with one goal: eat as much ¬†milkweed as possible. Growing large enough to go through metamorphosis and become the adult butterfly we admire. All this requires undisturbed, passive area.

The evolutionary histories of Earth’s many species depend on an environment where the natural phenomena keep on happening at the same rate. Climate change, deforestation, and other human activities disrupt the rate of these changes, and in turn we are changing evolutionary tactics here, now and for the future. Rich biodiversity will allow more opportunity for some species to thrive. Low biodiversity means a single catastrophic event can wipe out entire ecosystems.

One need only go for a walk in the woods, in a wetland, or in a meadow to see the positive results of protecting land. The fresh air (trees make oxygen), the bubbling brooks (fresh water fuels all life), and the nutritious soil all lend itself to a steady stream of many species of life coevolving with each other, depending on one another, and thriving. That is biodiversity. That is successful life.