Painted Lady Irruption

Suddenly there were thousands of them. It was, in biologists’ terms, an irruption, a sudden sharp increase in the relative numbers of a population. My grandpa’s eyes had never witnessed such a dramatic increase. Unusual things like these a naturalist remembers and records. My experience has recorded nothing of this magnitude before. It may be a lepidopterist’s dream come true.

You ask what “irrupted”? You may be questioning the use of the word. The word irruption is not a mistake, the term is not “erupted”. An eruption is for volcanoes, and rashes. Our subject is an irruption of butterflies. The sudden appearance of thousands and thousands of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) to be specific.

As this holiday weekend began we had the privilege of traveling with 4 grandchildren across half the state of North Dakota to connect them with their cousins for a time with family. It is nearly 200 land miles, or 3 hours of driving time. On the outbound trip, there were thousands of painted ladies crossing the road headed south, likewise on the return trip. Even more astonishing, the return trip was 3 days later. How many butterflies flew southward during the time we were with family? When we returned there were still thousands flying. All were southbound. Arriving home last evening, we found dozens on the flowers of our postage stamp sized prairie. Today my 11 AM estimate was 40 butterflies. Most years there are 3 or 4. The large number is highly unusual, but within normal for the painted lady butterfly. From season to season, this butterfly has noticeable population increases and declines. The current irruption is massive and impressive, the largest in memory!DSC_0086 (2)sig

During these times of irruption, thousands to millions of individuals can be seen. Since they migrate close to the ground, just 6-12 feet above the surface, they are easily noticed. Most of the world’s population has had opportunity to see painted Lady butterflies since they are found on every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. Many painted ladies migrate from the south in spring before the more well-known migrator, the monarch butterfly arrives. Perhaps one reason painted ladies are found in almost all parts of the world is their ability to feed on many different types of plants. Few other butterflies will forage on such a wide range of flowering plants. Over 100 have been recorded. The painted lady butterflies in the photos were feeding on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) flowers. Possibly a second reason there are so many painted ladies in our prairie garden is the great abundance of cup plants growing there. Painted Lady butterflies prefer composite flowers that are tall. Cup plant grows tall. The plants in the prairie garden tower more than 10 feet in height. Go ahead try to imagine dozens of painted ladies on tall yellow flowers. They too are pollinators, while they seek food for life, the plants they feed on are able to develop seed from the mix of pollen moved by butterfly feet, proboscis, and even wings.DSC_0029 (2)sig

From egg to prickly caterpillar, to chrysalis and on to adult, the painted lady really lives a life of mystery. There have been thousands of words written, hundreds of websites produced and thousands of school children studying the painted lady. Yet, it lives its life largely away from human attention. Most humans are unaware of the wildlife that lives just outside their homes. The coming change of season will move the painted lady butterflies to their winter places. It is why they are moving now. In spring the mystery is continued. It is reversed, painted lady butterflies will move northward.DSC_0024 (2)sig

The greatest naturalist the world has ever known was King Solomon. He spoke about plant and animal life to the kings of the world at the time. Solomon also reminded us that there is a God directed time for everything. He said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”

This is the season of the painted lady.DSC_0114 (2)sigDSC_0023 (2)sig




Last night I listened to a pastor speak. He said he would not preach a sermon. He spoke about the Bible. He said many things. My little mind retained one thought: The Bible is God speaking, my task is listening. Listen to God speak. It is the main reason to read the Bible.

“Listen to God speak” was in my mind as my morning walk/run began today. “Speak to me God,” came from my mouth. My usual practice is to walk and pray. This morning I walked. Single words came to mind, family, wife, country, a friend, and more. I walked. I listened. While running, I listened. God is continually speaking. We drown out his voice with our constant chatter.

I am not a young man. Prayer has been a part of my life for decades. Yes, my ears have heard others say be still, listen to God speak. “Be still and know that I am God” are important words of guidance to me. But listening to God speak is not a strength of mine. God does not mind. He patiently continues to speak. He surprised me today.

Still listening, and on the cool down part of the morning’s exercise, God spoke to me. Not with words, but with an acorn.  He had me kick an acorn. As it rolled in front of me, the thought came to me to pick it up. I walked. I listened and thought about how few acorns there are this season. Then I was reminded acorns come every year during this time of late summer. Some years abundantly, others like this one they are scarce. But this is the time of acorns, each year. Almost home, still listening, but now my mind pondered the consistency of the annual acorn crop. Why is it so predictable, so regular?DSC_0019_535sig

A word came to mind: synchronized. My walk did not begin with this idea. It came with listening. A student of nature for years, my way of describing the seasonal occurrence of natural events was to call it phenology. It means a study of the seasonal occurrence of natural events. A few steps later He surprised me again. My eyes glimpsed the complete exoskeleton of a cicada. Its life cycle ended, another creature had made a meal of its insides. But it was complete on the outside.DSC_0020_536sig

I picked it up. My other hand-held the acorn. I thought, “God did this too. It’s all synchronized.” Holding the acorn and the skeletal cicada, my feet carried me back to the house listening and thinking. God is the eternal Synchronizer. It is possible the cicada I held in my hand was the one I photographed 20 days earlier as it emerged from its earth home to shed its exoskeleton and become an adult.

In the evening, on a walk with my wife my eyes followed a south bound monarch as it flew 20 feet above ground toward its winter home in Mexico. My eyes also witnessed the first few scarlet red leaves on the sumac plants along our path. Later my eyes lifted to the sight of 4 night-hawk birds also winging in a southward direction. Each of these living things were moving and changing with “set your clock” by them regularity. These are the common sights of the season. They are synchronized.

Humans are able to coordinate events that occur at the same time. Perhaps we can pull off multiple events simultaneously. It is humanly impossible for us to synchronize the number of natural events occurring at the same time during this time near the end of summer and the start of fall. Hundreds of thousands of natural events are happening concurrently. The number is likely higher. When we add just a few celestial events like a solar eclipse, sunrise and set and the rotation of planets, it becomes mind-boggling.

God is the great, almighty Synchorizer.

Inside our house I read these words from the book of Daniel chapter 2, verses 20-22.

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”

God also synchronized the birth of Jesus, his son. Jesus walked on this earth as a sinless man. He died on a cross for your sins and mine. And someday as God has synchronized, Jesus will come to earth again to bring to heaven with him all who believe in him as Savior.

Setting out to listen to God never included an acorn and an insect exoskeleton. God put them in my path. It is like him to use common things, his things. And there is no special line to heaven for me. You and I have the same means of hearing God speak. All we need do is listen, he is speaking.

Toxic Caterpillar a Silent Witness


DSC_0007_530sigIntroducing the Tussock Moth the carrier of cardiac glycosides.  It feasts on milkweed and dogbane. This little invertebrate is filled with silent witness examples of a Creator. First, because of the glycosides, predators find this fuzzy caterpillar highly distasteful. Not only foul tasting, cardiac glycosides toxins can disrupt human heart activity.  Besides being toxic the tussock moth caterpillar is able to make warning clicks with tymbal organs. Last, the orange and black colors also warn predators that this is a foul-tasting mouthful.  They may taste horrible, but they are beautiful with symmetry of color and design.

We may admire its beauty. We may find its fuzzy tufts astonishing, but this little invertebrate leads us to One greater, much greater.

How does this caterpillar eat poison and live? Gradual development of tolerance to cardiac glycoside is not possible-it is poison. If it could not consume the toxins found in its host plant from the beginning, it would die-no more tussock moths. But an Almighty Creator would have no difficulty in creating a moth larva that eats toxic milkweed.

Do you need hard evidence of God? This little caterpillar is. It is a living witness to God, infinite, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present God. Read Romans 1:20.

This caterpillar gives witness to God. He exists. This calls for a significant question. How is your relationship to God? Non-existent? Do you want a little of God when you are in trouble? God designed the tussock moth perfectly, and all of creation with it-including me and you. Now to the biggest question: are you satisfied with no God; a little God? Perhaps you want a bit of God like poet Wilbur Rees:

 Three Dollars Worth of God.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man

or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

— Wilbur Rees

God, infinitely wise Creator of the tussock moth, wants an all-in relationship with you and I. You can know Him.

Do we settle for 3 dollars’ worth?  Only 3 bucks of an interminably endless, boundless in power God? Look at it this way, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all you heart. God is all set to love you as only he can; since before you were born.  Think about all the good things in life-realize none compares to the eternal goodness of a life lived all for God. Nothing is lost- eternity is gained. Why settle for 3 dollars’ worth? God has given us his all. What would your life be like? God is a perfect Creator, his specialty is humans.




Do you ever have thoughts about God, thoughts about what is important in life? They often come best while outside. Charles Spurgeon writes morning and evening are prime times…First, read Genesis 24:63 for context.

“Very admirable was (Isaac’s)choice  of place. In the field we have a study hung round with texts for thought. From the cedar to the hyssop, from the soaring eagle down to the chirping grasshopper, from the blue expanse of heaven to a drop of dew, all things are full of teaching, and when the eye is divinely opened, that teaching flashes upon the mind far more vividly than from written books. Our little rooms are neither so healthy, so suggestive, so agreeable, or so inspiring as the fields. Let us count nothing common or unclean, but feel that all created things point to their Maker, and the field will at once be hallowed.”  Charles Spurgeon, from Morning and Evening

To Become Wise

It happened in an early summer thunderstorm with wind. The top of the red oak was broken. Not simply a limb, the entire top of the tree fell to earth.

It was my pleasure to clean it up for my neighbor today. While working from the top down, small limbs to the main trunk, the reason this oak snapped off became clear: ants

Precisely stated, the carpenter ant felled this mighty red oak. Based on its size, it easily weighed 5 tons from earth (we are not counting the roots!) to tip of the out most branches. Felled by ants.DSC_0094_518sig

The Red Oak tree will grow across most of eastern even southern United States. In fall its leaves are usually a brilliant burgundy. The acorns of the tree are highly desired by wildlife from squirrels to black bears. It is a majestic, beautiful tree. It is cold and winter resistant. It survives winter temperatures as extreme as -35 F.

This tree grew where temperatures regularly reach -20 to -30 F.  At its base the trunk is about 30 inches in diameter, its large. Yet this large tree did not survive the onslaught of carpenter ants. From the point where the wind broke the trunk, carpenter ants had colonized the inside of the tree for a vertical distance of at least 12 feet. At the break only two inches of solid oak remained on the trunk. It did not take a severe wind-just a gust, and crack, the entire sizeable top came down.

While carpenter ants can be destructive in the wood of our homes, they play a vital role in the food chain of a forest where they are native. They break down wood. They do not eat it. While this tree was severely weakened to the point of breaking, carpenter ants hollow other trees creating nesting places for woodpeckers, ducks and mammals like squirrels, and raccoons. While the ants inside the trunk of this tree were safe from predators, wood peckers had been exploring what would have become a major banquet for a strong bird such as a pileated woodpecker if the tree had remained standing.

There were possibly 10 thousand individual ants in this colony. Likely there are nearly 10,000 more in the still standing and large trunk. Since they emerge from their colony after sunset, they escape daylight predators. They use chemicals to scent their trail back to the nest. Colonies may use the same trails for years. Worker carpenter ants come in 5 different castes. Only 10-15% of the workers are outside at any time searching for food including human food and of course insects. Inside workers are creating new nest space, caring for the larva, pupa and queen. Different sizes mean ability to do different things. Amazed yet? 10,000 individuals all with the same goal: a healthy colony. Does any ant stop its work and take a different task? Never, workers work whether inside the colony or outside.DSC_0091_515

How can a colony of 10,000 individuals consistently work together with an unchanging mission? Have we considered how 10,000 humans are able to work together?  How do they-every individual-know what to do? How do we explain this always balanced work? Amazed is not strong enough-stunned is better. Finally, have we considered how these worker carpenter ants are able to chew through OAK-with insect mandibles?

The wisest man in the world, Solomon, an ancient king of Israel applied his God granted wisdom to explaining how things in nature worked. The Bible tells us he spoke 3000 proverbs. In one of them, Proverbs 6:6, Solomon reflects on the mind-blowing industry of ants. He said, “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise .”

We can learn a great deal from the ants. They are plainly stamped with the initials of their Creator: God.DSC_0093_517sig

One Without the Other


You can’t have one without the other. This thought began today when my camera strap went around my neck. The air temperature was 68 F. That is important when your subject is invertebrates. Rain had fallen earlier, so insects were moving slowly.

After a few moments of observation, my subjects became the soldier beetle and showy goldenrod.

After taking their photos, my goal was to share them with you. Reading about them soon led me to the idea that, you can’t have one without the other. Without the pollinating work of the soldier beetles, there would be no showy goldenrod. Yet, without the showy goldenrod, there would be no soldier beetles.

Soldier beetles, like most insects, overwinter in the larval stage. Overwinter in some latitudes within beetle range means surviving average daytime temperatures of teens above zero and nighttime temperatures of 5 to -10 degrees F. (a range of -3 C to -22 C) Adult soldier beetles emerge from the pupa stage in later July to begin their life with pollen. Pollen of the goldenrod and other flowers blooming at this stage of summer is their food. If a flower blooms from mid-July till freeze up, it is likely a soldier beetle will visit it for a pollen dinner. Native plants have a symbiotic relationship with this common beetle. Both plant and insect benefit.

Showy goldenrod is beautiful. My favorite yellow is goldenrod yellow. This yellow is appealing to more than only my eyes. Many call this goldenrod the most attractive. This essential native plant grows throughout all of eastern and mid-western United States and in Manitoba and Ontario. It is a beneficial food source for butterflies. But, there is another one without the other showy goldenrod relationship. This is the most important one. It’s about when showy goldenrod blooms.


It is not chance that brings showy goldenrod into bloom when the soldier beetles hatch from the pupa they were in during early summer. These two natural events occur almost simultaneously with symbiosis the goal.

Yes, there are many more “one without the other” relationships.  A few that may come to mind are:

  1. Loyalty and trust
  2. Experience and wisdom
  3. Success and sacrifice
  4. Happiness and peace of mind
  5. A beginning an end
  6. A healthy environment without predators
  7. Healthy forests or prairies and fire
  8. Flowers and pollinators
  9. Rivers, lakes or oceans and water
  10. Life and death
  11. Forgiveness of sin and Jesus

One without the other relationships are part of all human existence. But, number 11 is the only eternal one without the other relationship. We may ignore our conscious. When we do, we can ignore the fact that we sin. Yet, we fall short of God’s standards for humans every time. Sometimes ignoring our sin is less painful. But ignoring our sin is just a Band aid. Ignoring may cover-it up, but our sin is still there. Jesus came to earth to take away our sin. We cannot have our sin forever removed without Jesus. This is the one without the other relationship that matters for eternity. Everything else is trivia in comparison. One that has power to make the showy goldenrod and soldier beetle emerge at the same time of year has power to forgive your sins. We can’t have one without the other. The most important “one without the other?” It is forgiveness of sins and Jesus.

 “Brothers (and sisters), listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Acts 13:38  


The Source of Power

Focus your thoughts on power, as in strength, might and intense energy. It is not about a power that can move massive objects. Still, this is about real power. Power as found in a bird. Weighing between 2 and 6 grams (or about 2-6 raisins), this is one of the smallest of the earth’s birds. Its wingspan is between 3 and a bit more than 4 inches.

DSC_0017_503sigIt is not difficult to justify its power. The Ruby Throated Humming Bird is a medium to long distance migrant. Plainly spoken, this means that Ruby Throats migrate considerable distances. Gradually moving southward as summer wanes, some ravel more than 2,500 miles. They do so on 4-inch wings. With its wings outspread a Ruby Throated Hummingbird would fit in the palm of most adult hands. Then, for added amazement, those wings beat at a rate of 50-55 times-per second and that makes 3,300 times per minute! How might we explain this? Power.

On 4-inch wings Ruby Throated Hummingbirds fly about 25 mph. During spring and fall migrations many fly across the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is 500 miles across north to south this is the shortest distance. It takes the average (if this bird can ever be called average) Hummingbird 18 to 20 hours to fly this distance. This is a truly a supreme marathon. Have you considered how many wing beats that would be?

How does this tiny bird sustain the energy needed for the 500-mile trip? No animal on earth has a faster metabolism than a Ruby Throated Hummingbird. They often eat 1 ½  to 3 times their weight each day. Before migration in the fall Ruby Throats must double their weight. Could a human move with a doubled weight in the same time a hummingbird does? Unlikely. They fly: 3,300 wing beats per minute, with weight doubled-on 4-inch wings. Some spend winter in Panama. Can you feel the power?

Where does this power come from? No, my question asks you to pull on the power cable all the way to the source. Is it the sun? Go further…the Source is God eternal. A little bird weighing less than 7 raisins flying over 2,000 miles in wind and rain evidences real power. Jeremiah said this about power and its source, “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom…for he is the one who formed all things. Jeremiah 15:15, 19 Does a hummingbird give evidence of God and His power? Contemplate the facts.