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(Euchaetes Egle, Milkweed Tussock Moth)

The funny thing about nature is…the more you know, the more you understand how little you know.

What you might know:

Many butterflies rely on specific “host” plants to lay their eggs. Monarch butterflies, for instance, require milkweed plants as their host plant. Milkweed gets its name from the milky substance inside its stem and leaves that contain toxic chemicals. Those chemicals don’t hurt the monarch caterpillars, but they will hurt anything that eats them as larva or in their final adult butterfly forms. For instance: a bird will stumble on a monarch caterpillar or butterfly and decide to eat it despite its bright “warning” colors. The bird will get a very upset stomach, throw up, and learn to associate the colors of the monarch with an upset stomach, dissuading them from eating them again in the future.

(Danaus plexippus, Monarch Butterfly)

What you might not know:

Common Milkweed is also host plant to the milkweed tussock (or tiger) moth caterpillar (Euchaetes Egle). The chemicals inside of the milkweed plant protect this moth in almost the same way that it protects the butterflies. The difference is found in the dark…

Since tussock moth caterpillar is bright and showy, it is pretty easy for birds to pick out as a “don’t eat me” prey during the day. The Tussock moth, however, looks a whole lot like other ‘boring’ brown moths. So how do birds know not to eat it?

Well, they probably don’t.

It’s a moth, not a butterfly. Moths are active at night and so are their predators: bats. Bats don’t give a flap about the color of their food BUT they learn a different association (or dissuasion) for the toxins from the milkweed plants the tussock larva ate. The milkweed tussock moth evolved an organ that emits an ultrasonic signal easily detected by bats that is specific to them. The signal, and the association of that signal, warns bats that eating this moth will be rewarded with a noxious, vomit inducing meal.

Cool yeah? These guys will be in their larval stage at the end of August into early September and they’re known for living on the milkweed plants you can find at Latta Nature Preserve – come see them! In fact, if you want to be a hero to these little tigers and their endangered milkweed neighbors (the monarchs) plant some milkweed in your backyard!

Want to learn more about butterflies and their host plants? Check out this fantastic article from Birds&Bloom that explains common myths about butterflies and how to attract them to your yard.

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by Joli Reynolds, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation

Latta Nature Preserve sits along several miles of Mountain Island Lake's shoreline. You may be familiar with its tranquil waters and quiet coves, but did you know that this little lake is part of a much larger watershed?

The Catawba River stretches 226 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains through North and South Carolina to the Congaree River. Along its route there are eleven reservoirs including Lake James and Lake Norman. Mountain Island Lake is one of the smallest of these reservoirs and the most important to life here in Charlotte.
Catawba-Wateree River basin and Duke Energy service area in North and South Carolina.

A Shared Resource

The water resources of the Catawba River provide the most essential services of civilization, including drinking water, electricity, and agriculture.

Just across from the nature preserve at Cattail trail, kayakers can paddle over to a large water intake. This pump station pulls water to be treated and distributed to the homes and businesses of over 2 million people in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

The electricity in our homes also relies on this lake, in part for the hydroelectric power generated at Cowans Ford and Mountain Island hydro plants, but also for the cooling water used at various coal and nuclear plants along the watershed, including McGuire nuclear station at Lake Norman, and formerly the coal station at Riverbend.
Mountain Island hydroelectric facility

Our Responsibility

This shared resource requires protection and oversight to ensure there is enough clean water throughout the Catawba watershed for all communities, not just the biggest or the furthest upstream. To that effect, Mecklenburg County Government protects the water with the following activities:

  1. Land acquisition & conservation: Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation manages seven nature preserve properties on and around Mountain Island Lake. The stewardship of these lands protects sensitive areas from development.

  2. Storm water management: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services prevents, monitors, and manages runoff-related issues including non-point source pollution and flooding.

  3. Prevention and mitigation of invasive species: Park & Recreation's Natural Resources team manages terrestrial invasive species on county properties, and public-private partnerships monitor and mitigate aquatic invasive species in the rivers and lakes of the Catawba-Wateree watershed.
Mountain Island Lake and Park & Recreation properties

Your Responsibility

Just as everyone relies on these resources, we all have a responsibility to protect them. Below are some actions that any resident or visitor can do to help protect Mountain Island Lake and our greater watershed:

  1. Dispose of waste properly: Litter, yard waste, and lost fishing lines all contribute to pollution of our water. Be sure to clean up after yourself here at the preserve and at home!

  2. Leave a shoreline buffer: If you are lucky enough to have a waterfront property or a stream in your backyard, keeping plants along the shoreline will help absorb any contaminants before they enter the drinking water. This includes pesticides, lawn care chemicals, animal waste, and sediment erosion.

  3. Clean your gear to prevent invasive species transfer: paddlers and boaters should know that invasive species can hitchhike on their gear from one body of water to another! Be sure to check for any debris and clean your boat and trailer regularly to reduce the spread.

  4. Be conservative with energy and water use: A renewable resource is not infinitely renewable. We must be conservative to make sure this resource continues to support the whole community along the watershed.

  5. Enjoy it! Visit one of your nature preserves, go for a hike, fishing, or paddling on the lake and make the most of this shared resource!

Me enjoying the lake via stand-up paddleboard.

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Spring is here and with it comes warmer weather and increased activity across the preserve. The bees are buzzing, the birds are singing, and the snakes are slithering!

Snakes are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources to provide adequate temperatures for them to thrive; they do not create or maintain their own temperature like mammals. As the weather cools in the fall and winter, native snakes respond by entering brumation. Hibernation and brumation are very similar: they are periods of dormancy in which an animal becomes less physiologically active, growth stops, and metabolic processes slow down. Unlike hibernation however, snakes do not sleep for the entire duration of their dormancy period; they will experience periods of activity in conjunction with periods of milder weather. During these brief periods of activity, the snakes will leave their chosen hiding spot or den to bask in the sunshine or find a drink of water.

As the seasons turn and the world warms back up, the change in temperature, the photoperiod (number of daylight hours), humidity, and even barometric pressure, all tell animals that spring is coming and it’s time to start preparing. This time of year, we begin seeing more and more snakes on the move through the nature preserve. Having relied on their built-up reserves of fat and glycogen all winter long, these reptiles are hungry and on the prowl for snacks! But you shouldn’t worry- humans are far too big for any local snakes to chow down on; our scaly friends are far more interested in rodents, small birds, and even other reptiles.

As they start becoming more active, you may encounter snakes hanging out in nature, by the road, or even near your home! The staff at Quest recently uncovered a little rat snake hiding in our conference room, likely looking for a dark, quiet place to warm up in. Do you know what to do if you find a wild snake?

  1. Don’t panic! Contrary to what the movies teach us (looking at you, Samuel L Jackson!), snakes are NOT out to get you. So, stay calm and carry on!

  2. Avoid disturbing the snake- you don’t want to drive it into hiding, especially if it’s in your home.

  3. If possible, carefully open a nearby door and use a broom to gently herd the snake outside.

  4. If you can’t herd the snake and it’s coiled or bunched up, slowly place an appropriately sized container over it, then put a weight on top to trap the snake.

  5. Call for help! You can call a private pest removal service to remove snakes from your home or living area.

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