Signs of Spring: Butterflies!


What images come into your mind when you think of spring? There are many things that may appear during this beautiful season – blooming flowers, budding trees, and many types of insects are a common sight. A very familiar, visual blessing is the butterfly. Butterflies are fascinating creatures that paint the landscape between spring and fall. There are about 165,000 known species that are found on every continent except Antarctica!3

Butterflies come in many various colors and types. The picture above is of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Have you ever seen this type of butterfly before? It is one of the most well known butterflies in the eastern United States, so there is a good chance that you have!

Are butterflies born looking like butterflies? No they aren’t! Butterflies go through a process called metamorphosis. First the egg is laid, the egg hatches producing the larva (caterpillar), it goes through the pupa stage which is also known as the resting stage, finally becoming an adult (the butterfly).

During mating, the males patrol habitats that contain plants that females lay their eggs on. The male releases a perfume-like smell to attract females. You may then see two butterflies flying together, flitting around, before landing together – this is the visual act of butterfly mating. Males also gather together in damp areas and near puddles.1 They do this to collect salts and other nutrients from the soil which is then transferred to the female during mating.2

Did you know that butterflies cannot fly when they’re cold? Butterflies are cold-blooded, meaning that they cannot regulate their internal body temperature. An ideal flying day for a butterfly is between 82°F and 100°F.2 If the temperature is under 55°F, the butterfly is flightless. They even have to shiver or lay in the sun to warm up all of its muscles on colder days!

Can you imagine that your feet actually functioned as your tongue? That is exactly the case for butterflies; they taste with their feet! They have receptors on the bottom of their feet that allow them to taste or know what they are standing on.4 When they are ready to eat, they use their proboscis, which is like a straw that stays curled underneath the butterfly’s chin.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is just one type in a vast array of butterflies. This spring, go outside and count the many different butterflies you find! Figure out ways to catalogue your many different finds (ie, complete a drawing or write a poem). Nature is full of amazing beauty; what will you discover?

Written By Kim Burndam


By |2016-10-13T15:26:49+00:00April 28th, 2015|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Otters in Ohio

Mustelids are what we call animals that are in the same family as weasels, minks, and ferrets. Perhaps one of the most lovable of this family is the river otter. River otters are a playful animal that spends much of its time in and around water habitats such as streams and lakes. These species were extirpated from Ohio in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This means that they went locally extinct from Ohio, but were still found in some other states. In the 1980’s a project was started to reintroduce these animals back into the rivers of Ohio. It is now thought that there are around 8,000 river otters in Ohio, many of them occurring in the northeast areas of the state.

In the area of Ohio where Heartland is located, the amount of river otters is estimated to be low to rare. However, as we were walking near Alum Creek on our property, we observed what appeared to be a river otter. We are curious to find out if we have an otter that has decided to make Heartland its new home. Next time you come to visit, check out our creek area and see if you can discover any evidence of this elusive creature.

For more information on river otters check out what the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has to say:

To see river otters in person, be sure to visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium which has a nice exhibit for viewing these curious and playful animals.

By |2016-10-13T15:26:54+00:00December 10th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Thanksgiving and Turkeys

This article was originally posted in the November of 2010 issue of Heartland newsletter Nature Notes.

Did you know that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621? A lot of people think that turkey was served at that meal, but no one knows for sure. It was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. After that the turkey became a very common item on the Thanksgiving menu. Some people also think that Benjamin Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey to be our national bird instead of the Bald Eagle. The Wild Turkey was not one of the options when our Founding Fathers chose our national symbol. After the Bald Eagle was selected as our symbol, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter suggesting that the Wild Turkey would have been a better option.

The turkeys that we eat today for Thanksgiving were domesticated in Europe back in the 1500s. The Pilgrims brought some with them when they came here in 1620. The pilgrims may have brought domestic turkeys with them, but we already had a lot of Wild Turkeys in the United States. The Wild Turkey has excellent hearing and daytime vision. That makes them pretty sneaky and hard to hunt. If you’re ever in the woods and you hear that distinctive gobble, then there’s a big male Wild Turkey somewhere in the neighborhood. Happy Thanksgiving!

By |2014-11-19T12:41:55+00:00November 19th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Hummingbird Moth

Heartland Conference Retreat Center is blessed with beautiful habitats that are perfect homes for many plants and animals. From the prairie to the stream, from the woods to the wetlands, there are so many places for the native creatures to live and thrive. And thrive they do. It is amazing how many interesting things can be found here, if you take the time to look.

Check out this hummingbird moth that was spotted at our prairie.



Hummingbird Moths are a diurnal moth that moves and looks remarkably similar to a hummingbird, hence the name. It even makes a similar humming noise as it beats its wings at an estimated 30 times per second.



What amazing animals will you discover here at Heartland?


By |2016-10-13T15:26:54+00:00August 13th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments


A constellation is a group of stars that form a pattern. There are 88 recognized constellations. The constellations that are visible differ throughout the year based on the revolution of the Earth around the sun. So why do people make patterns in the stars? This is something people have done for thousands of years. Constellations were used for navigating through deserts or across oceans, knowing when to plant or harvest, and as a reminder about ancient stories and myths.  The Big Dipper is a very well known pattern of stars but is not a constellation in itself. It is a part of the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear. The two stars of the Big Dipper that makes the end of the ladle point to the North Star, also called Polaris. Polaris is directly above the North Pole and is a valuable star to use for finding north. Polaris is also the last star on the handle of Ursa Minor, which we also call the Little Dipper.

Summer is on the horizon, and with it comes many warm, clear evenings. This would be a perfect time for stargazing. Some constellations you should expect to see this summer include Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Draco, Cygnus, Hercules, Scorpius and many others. Grab your telescope and explore outer space!

By |2014-05-23T12:00:05+00:00May 23rd, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Return of the Birds

The following was originally posted in the April 2012 Nature Notes, Heartland Outdoor School’s newsletter:

As spring creeps northward, it seems to be traveling on the wingtips of migratory birds. The majority of North American bird species migrate. Some Ohio species may not travel much further south than Kentucky while others may go all the way to South America! Many people believe these migrations are to escape the cold, but it is actually due to food availability. As the temperature drops, food becomes scarce and the birds must travel to areas with more food.

In the spring, flowers bloom, animals come out of hibernation and bugs emerge. All this activity transforms the north into an all-you-can-eat buffet for birds. Additionally, trees and bushes grow new leaves on their branches, which create prime nesting real estate. All types of migratory birds, from hummingbirds to raptors (hawks and eagles), travel north to take advantage of these resources. Some of these birds will be spending the summer with us here in Ohio. Others will just be passing through as they travel further north to Canada. As you go out this spring, keep an eye out for some of these marvelous migrants!


By |2016-10-13T15:26:55+00:00March 31st, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

The Swaggering Gentleman of the Forest

The following was originally posted in the May 2012 Nature Notes, Heartland Outdoor School’s newsletter:

This solitary critter will send the most fearsome of predators scrambling for cover.  The coyote gives him a wide berth, foxes cower from his presence, and only the Great Horned Owls dare to fly sorties against him; mainly because the owl cannot smell, at least not well enough to pass up a fine skunk dinner.  That’s right! A skunk!  Due to his repulsive spray, very few animals will go toe-to-toe with a skunk.  Most evenings in the spring will allow ample opportunities to view these fine critters ambling through the open fields without a care in the world; even to the point that a human can get really close without the skunk retreating (not a recommended practice).

Skunks belong to their own family and, despite earlier beliefs, are not related to weasels.  They are crepuscular and not nocturnal as many believe (so don’t panic if you see one at 3:00 PM).  Their diet consists mainly of insects but, due to their opportunistic nature, are properly categorized as carnivores.  Generally, skunks are courteous and will give plenty of warning before spraying as they only have 5-6 shots and it takes ten days to reload.  If you or your house pet fails to treat every skunk as though it were loaded (and trust me, it smells a lot worse up close), forget the tomatoes and grab the peroxide; it’s the only thing that will neutralize the spray.


By |2016-10-13T15:26:56+00:00February 26th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

How Earth Recycles

The following was originally posted in the May 2013 Nature Notes, Heartland Outdoor School’s newsletter:

Have you ever wondered where all the dead leaves, plants, trees and animals go after they fall to the ground? What do you think happens to them? Think for a second, what it would be like if nothing ever decomposed. If everything that died stuck around forever, there would be a layer of dead stuff on top of the ground so deep that we couldn’t walk anywhere. Decomposition is the process by which organic, or living, matter is broken down into simpler forms. When something dies, other organisms like insects, worms, bacteria and fungi help to break them down into nutrients that become part of the soil. When you have a compost pile at home, you are helping to create fertilizer for your garden, flower beds or lawn. All the stuff that you put in the compost pile is broken down into smaller pieces. When you spread it on your garden, insects and worms come to the surface and eat the organic material. They then travel back underground and poop out nutrients into the soil. So the next time you walk out on your lawn, think about all of the bug poop that you are walking on and how much that helps your plants! Happy composting!


By |2014-02-19T12:50:18+00:00February 19th, 2014|Conservation, Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Snow Fleas

The following was originally posted in the March 2013 Nature Notes, Heartland Outdoor School’s newsletter:

I remember when I was a boy that someone mentioned that when winter was drawing to a close the snow fleas can be seen on the melting snow. I immediately had visions of gullible young folks being taken in by stories of cow tipping, jackalopes, and snipe hunts. I discovered, however, that snow fleas are actually real and can be seen at the end of the winter time.

Snow Fleas are technically a creature known as a spring-tail and are not much larger than a comma on this page. Spring-tails are a type of Collembola and are actually not an insect at all. Spring-tails are present all year round; however, the snow fleas are more visible in the wintertime due to their contrasting color from the snow. Spring-tails gain their name from having a spring loaded tail that allows them to launch their bodies similar to a flea (hence the name). Spring-tails are decomposers and will feed on decaying organic matter which produces valuable topsoil. They produce a protein that operates similarly to anti-freeze that allows them to be in the snow. The protein is being studied for use in improving organ transplants and improved forms of ice cream (doesn’t that sound appetizing?).

If you want to see Snow Fleas, wait until a warm day when the snow is still on the ground and watch the patches of snow for little flecks of black. Get out your magnifying glass and look close for the tiny animals; particularly look near the bases of trees or newly exposed leaf litter. Happy flea hunting!

By |2014-02-17T21:19:32+00:00February 17th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments

Missing: Large Mammals of Ohio

The following was originally posted in the February 2011 Nature Notes, Heartland Outdoor School’s newsletter:

Missing: Large Mammals of Ohio

Did you know that the largest commonly found mammal wandering Ohio now is the Whitetail Deer? However, if you were to go back in time to the 1700’s wildlife would be very different. Imagine looking out your window and seeing a bison in your backyard. Until the mid-1800’s it would not have been uncommon to see many large mammals including the American Bison, Elk, Eastern Timber Wolf, Black Bear, Bobcat, Lynx, and Cougar.

The term for an animal that still exists but no longer lives in the area is extirpation or local extinction. All of these large mammals have been extirpated from Ohio. They were either hunted to extinction or were driven out from a decrease in habitat. However, over trapping and hunting are the main reasons why we no longer see these creatures. The Eastern Timber Wolf, for example, had a $15 bounty for each hide because they were killing so many sheep. Like the wolf, other large animals were either hunted out of fear or the desire for the pelts and meat.

As time has gone on, some things have changed. The Black Bear and Bobcat are both returning to Ohio very slowly, going from the extinct list back to the endangered list.

By |2014-02-04T19:59:59+00:00February 4th, 2014|Ohio Outdoors|0 Comments