Meet the 2017-18 Environmental Educators!


2017-18 School Year Environmental Educators. From left to right: Leah, Augusta, Abby, Allison.

The fall at River Bend has been a whirlwind of crafts, kids and outdoor adventures. We are pleased to announce our Environmental Educator office is finally FULL! In celebration, we would like to share a little bit about ourselves with the River Bend community. Each one of us brings different experiences to this position and we are excited to combine our knowledge and creativity to deliver great programs. If you see us around River Bend, say hi!

Hometown: Fort Atkinson, WI
Major: Botany and Environmental Studies

Favorite Food: Tie between Indian food and cheese.
Inspiring Female Role Model: Nora McInerny Purmort.
Preferred MN weather: Snow days!
Favorite Animal: I’m more interested in plants, not great with the animals.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A hairdresser, because they are so friendly and talkative. But, it turns out I’m bad at doing hair and makeup…
Best Childhood Nature Memory: My little sister and I would get really into building sandcastles whenever we were at a beach.
Favorite Invasive Species to Kill: Garlic Mustard, because it is rewarding to pull and you can use it to make pesto!
Best River Bend moment so far: Coordinating our power rangers costumes for Bats, Bones and Bonfires.

Hometown: Duluth, MN
Major: Wildlife Ecology Research and Management

22405984_10208029831862844_8028356776603416466_nFavorite Food: Hard to choose between pizza and tacos.
Preferred MN weather: Cool summer nights.
Favorite Animal: Spotted Hyena.
Inspiring Female Role Model: Jane Goodall.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A wildlife biologist partly because of Steve Irwin and partly because my parents brought me to National Parks.
Favorite Invasive Species to Kill: Buckthorn.
Best River Bend moment so far: Making turkey calls with preschoolers.
Best Childhood Nature Memory: Watching a huge buck walk under my Dad’s deer stand.

Hometown: West Liberty, IA
Major: Animal Ecology and Forestry
18422354_10213685318873233_1698798777257918491_oFavorite Food: Any kind of soup-so happy it’s soup season!
Preferred MN weather: Sunny fall days.
Favorite Animal: Timber Wolf.
Inspiring Female Role Model: Terri Irwin.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A veterinarian because I love animals! I also wanted to have my own nature TV show.
Best Childhood Nature Memory: Adventuring along the river with my Dad and siblings, fishing and looking for creatures with dip nets.
Favorite Invasive Species to Kill: Garlic Mustard.
Best River Bend moment so far: Bug searching with some very enthusiastic kiddos! One of the best days.

Hometown: Blaine, MN
Major: Biology

14305358_1219794941421819_3626040391728042624_o.jpg Favorite food: All of the breakfast foods.
Preferred MN weather: Winter.
Favorite Animal: Fox.
Favorite outdoor recreation activity: Downhill skiing.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A veterinarian, because I love animals.
Best Childhood Nature Memory: Climbing pine trees at my family’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin. The not-so-fun part was trying to get sap off of my hands and clothes!
Favorite Invasive Species to Kill: Common Mullein.
Best River Bend moment so far: Building a beaver lodge with Science Club kiddos.





Highlights from Summer 2017!

Hoppin Around River Bend was a camp full of frog catching, lily pad tag jumping kiddos! We searched through the duck weed and sticks at Turtle Pond in search of tadpoles, caught frogs everywhere we turned, and even had a few kids bold enough to hold them on their own!


Wonders of the Woods was a half day camp of ALL GIRLS! Let me tell you, they were the cutest batch of explorers I could have ever asked for! We made our own binoculars and magnifying glasses to help us see and document all the animals and creatures we saw out in the woods! We also stuck play-do to different trees and objects to see the different textures we have out in nature! ….We also sang a lot of Frozen and Moana… I can’t complain.




Intro to Rock Climbing was soo rewarding to teach because you constantly saw “light bulb” or “ah-ha” moments with every child. The moment they conquered a really hard ledge or had the courage to reach up and grab a hold without knowing if they could make it, was amazing. These kids really knew how to push themselves…I may have had blisters all over my hands afterwards, but it was totally worth it.




Wilderness Games I and II were the craziest camps I taught, without a doubt. We always started the camp with a water day; full of water relays and slip-n-slide kickball as the huge finale game. But the best part of this camp isn’t water day (BELIEVE IT OR NOT!) it is Hunger Games day! We split up the kids into three districts, and their goal was to find as many of our hidden care packages as possible. We gave them a couple of acres to roam around in, walkie-talkies, and bandanas to use as lives, and let them loose! It may sound scary, but both groups did AMAZINGLY well with the freedom to run around and find the care packages! We also put in some water balloon throwing camp assistants to shake things up a bit…if you were hit with a water balloon a camp assistant got one of your lives. The kids absolutely loved it!




Fascinating Beasts was a hard one for me to plan, I wasn’t sure what direction I should go in. SO! I decided that teaching about the wonders of Minnesota would be the best way to go! We made Paul Bunyon beards and toilet paper tube Babes, we searched for Big Foot and FOUND him…not to mention we were able to ride Pepie the Lake Pepin monster around RBNC!



A Bug’s Life was full of BUTTERFLIES!



In Dinosaurs and Dragons we hunted for dinosaur bones like real life archaeologists, we made our own dragons, and we followed T-Rex tracks all the way to a treasure chest!!



There were so many more camps but this post is already too long! Until next summer RBNC…I will miss you!!!!!!




It Seemed to be Serendipity

At the beginning of the summer I was told I had a job with a company my mother works for. It honestly sounded like a dream; good pay, flexible hours, and I would get to see my mom every day!

However, when I came home after my college graduation I was told my position was filled with an intern from the previous summer. I will admit, I cried. I had no idea how I was going to make money this summer and save up for student teaching in the fall and I had no idea what direction I should go in.


~~And then~~


As destiny would have it, I saw a Naturalist Educator position on a job hunting website. I hungrily read the description, emailed my resume and waited anxiously. I kept thinking to myself, you’re an English teacher…why would they hire an English teacher?  And then I received a phone call from Amber asking for an interview. Lo’ and behold a week later I was offered the position and from that point this summer has been one for the books. **wink wink**


I have been able to let my creative juices flow, work with kids, TEACH, and most importantly have fun. If it seems like I am SELLING you this job, truth is, I am. I could gush about all of the moments that made this summer the best (and I will, on the next blog post) but something everyone should know is how amazing the River Bend Nature Center staff truly is.



  • Amber, our Education Coordinator is one of the most selfless and nurturing humans I have ever met. She helps you find your goals, listens to you when you feel like you’re not achieving them, pep-talks you into continuing, and then celebrates right alongside you when you have reached them. Whether those goals are in life or in education, she is the perfect person to have by your side as a mentor.




  • Our Administrative Coordinator, Cindy, is the chronic office smiler. I have never seen her frown in the 85 days that I have been working here. She is just so exuberant in everything she does; she’s like a breath of fresh air. You would think with a title like “Administrative Coordinator” she would be somewhat scary, but if she sees a butterfly in the garden or a wild turkey at the front door she will be the first person to come and tell you to take a look. Everyone needs a Cindy in the office.



  • Karen, is our part-time receptionist as well as our summer staff part-time mom. She has done my dishes almost every day even though I tell her not to, and she’s always the first to ask you how your camps/kids were that day.……She also laughs at all my jokes (even though I KNOW some of them aren’t funny)…which is only something a mother would do.




  • Stephanie is our Interim Naturalist/Monarch Butterfly Hotel Coordinator. If you have walked into River Bend, I am sure you have noticed the swarm of beautiful butterflies we have and are breeding, and this is the lady behind it all! She is the smartest, goofiest, most loving ball of crazy and scientific facts I have laid eyes on. She seems to memorize everything in life from FRIENDS episodes to baking recipes to geo-caching.



So I guess what I’m trying to say is….if you ever wanted to work in a creative and highly rewarding environment with some of the most amazing people you could possibly meet in MN, then I advise you to put in an application to educate with River Bend Nature Center.  It’ll be the best thing you do all year.

fam photo.jpg

Left to right: Jen, Kenzie, Breanna, Emily, Jason

Stephanie, Amber, Cindy, Sydney



This is Kenzie,

Signing out.


AND REMEMBER! **Adventure is out there!!**

Saving the Monarch Butterfly

Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack


According to recent data from overwintering monarch colonies, there are indications that both eastern and western monarch populations have declined by ~70% over the last 20 years—a dangerous figure when considering long-term survival of the species. These overwintering data provide scientists with information about survivors of each year’s migration to Mexico or California.  However, because monarchs are widespread throughout North America, it is extremely challenging to accurately understand and estimate how many individuals are present in the population before migrating. To help solve this problem the Monarch Joint Venture is partnering across Canada, the US and Mexico to engage citizen scientists in gathering data about the monarch late summer breeding population for one week (July 29th – August 5th). By collecting data from across the entire range during one small time window, citizen scientists from all three countries will help capture a snapshot of monarch breeding activity prior to peak migration.


Why a Monitoring Blitz?

Monarch butterflies are declining—this is a trend that has been seen over the course of several years, but it is still impossible to say just why it is occurring. It is easier for scientists to monitor monarchs in their overwintering sites due to their concentration in small areas. But this provides information during only a portion of the year, with several generations of butterflies occurring between each measuring period. With limited resources and a wide range to cover, it would be impossible for scientists to accurately measure monarch numbers throughout their breeding range. However, these numbers would provide new insight never yet considered, and would allow for a better understanding of why monarch populations are declining, and more importantly, what can be done to save them.

Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


How can we help?

Anyone can help during the week of the International Monarch Monitoring Blitz. All you need is a location where milkweed is growing, and a way to record and submit the data you collect.  The blitz runs from July 29th to August 5th, and covers the entirety of the North American monarch butterfly range, including Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Depending on your site location, there are three locations where data will be collected:


United States:




In order to record data, participating citizen scientists should become familiar with the monarch life stages (egg, larval instars, pupa, and adult), and be able to commit a block of time to searching for them. The time spent searching can vary based on the participants availability, but can range between fifteen minutes and several hours.

In order to participate in this exciting event, River Bend Nature Center will be hosting a Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) Training On Saturday, July 29th. Participants in this training will receive in depth information on the monarch butterfly including identification, life history, and rearing instructions. The remainder of the training will be an outdoor, hands-on data collection session. The information gathered during the course of this training will be submitted to the Monitoring Blitz, and participants will be able to use their knowledge to conduct their own data collection offsite.


Interested in participating in the MLMP training?

Seats are still available, but filling up fast! Pre-register online, over the phone, or in person in order to guarantee a spot.

New Summer, New Faces!


Here are the newest members of the River Bend Nature Center family! These three ladies are here for the entirety of the summer, helping out and teaching summer camps to all the little humans that come walking through our doors! Scroll down to get to know the new faces of RBNC!



Hello! I’m MacKenzie Nagel, but most people just call me Kenzie! I graduated from Bemidji State University this last Spring with my Literature and Arts Bachelor’s Degree, and will graduate this Fall with my Bachelor’s Degree in English Education. I LOVE the craziness, spontaneity, and creativity of kids- they make ME think out of the box on the daily and I just can’t get enough of that! I have a huge extended family, and am the eldest of five, so family is the core of my very existence. I am an avid reader, lover of all movies, Disney Karaoke World Finalist, professional sarcastic comment giver, 22 year old. I am constantly referred to as the “female Steve Erwin” if that gives you a better picture in your mind (not because I’m amazing with animals, but because I am so overwhelmingly charming …and the Australian accent helps.)


Favorite food: ANYTHING THAT IS MADE OUT OF POTATOES. And Chinese food.

Life motto: “Let your freak flag fly!”

Favorite Trail: Rabbit Trail, for SURE!

MN Spirit Animal: Coyote. I am very good at adapting to new situations, I love joking around, and I find joy in all the things I do. I am super close to my family, love to work with children, and know how to be myself! I feel like that is the very core of a coyote!

Favorite Outdoor Recreation: Sleeping…….outside… a hammock.



Sydney (Syd)


My name is Safari Sydney, Syd to my co-workers. I am a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and decided to leave the Great Smoky Mountains for the Minnesota plains. I enjoy biking and hiking around River Bend, my favorite trail being Trout Lily since it follows the river bank and is a shaded, peaceful ride. My favorite outdoor activity would have to be sea or flat water kayaking, I’ve always had luck seeing a variety of wildlife as a kayaker. I enjoy eating hot wings. My Minnesota spirit animal would be a Plains Hog-nosed Snake because these fascinating little snakes fake their own deaths and flatten their necks like cobras to defend themselves, pretty clever!




I’m from Grand Meadow, MN. I am the oldest of 4 kids. I graduated from Winona State University in 2013 and majored in Recreation & Tourism. I’ve been teaching Environmental Education for a few years now and have travelled somewhat extensively throughout the U.S. working in different places. My favorite outdoor recreational activities would probably be hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking. My favorite trails here at River Bend so far are Walnut and Raccoon. My favorite foods are Buffalo Wings (Garlic Parmesan), BBQ Ribs, and Chicken Fettucine Alfredo. My Minnesota spirit animal would be a lynx. My life motto would be the Henry David Thoreau quote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”



That’s all we have for THIS blog post folks!

And remember!!

Adventure is out there!



That Yellow Flower

While walking on the trails at River Bend, you may have enjoyed the sight of numerous summer flowers—in the prairies, forests, and ponds. And while these splashes of bright color are great for both nature lovers and pollinators alike, there is one species among them that acts as a bit of a villain. Chances are you’ve seen these plant before, but like any good villain, it stays well under the radar and disguises itself. Because of this, many people remain unaware of the danger. The plant in question is what’s known as “wild parsnip”. And if it sounds like something you’d find in the kitchen, you’d be right—the wild parsnip is a vegetable specifically cultivated for its large edible taproot (similar to carrots and other parsnips). It is a native plant to Europe and Asia, but after being brought overseas, it quickly escaped cultivation and took to forest and field with a vigor that outcompeted and overwhelmed most other native species of North America. In Minnesota, it is predominantly found in the southeastern region of the state, where it takes over prairies—sometimes to the point of turning them into complete monocultures. The resulting prairies resemble an “ocean of yellow”, as no other plants remain, leaving nothing visible except the bright yellow flowers on their tall stalks.



The Minnesota DNR describes parsnip as the following:

Appearance: Monocarpic perennial herbaceous plant (plant spends one or more years in rosette stage, blooms under favorable conditions, and then dies), 6″ high in the rosette stage and 4′ high on stout, grooved stems in the flowering stage.

Leaves: Alternate, leaf is made up of 5 -15 egg shaped leaflets along both sides of a common stalk; leaflets sharply-toothed or lobed at the margins; upper leaves smaller.

Flowers: Flat-topped broad flower cluster 2 – 6″ wide, numerous five-petaled yellow flowers; bloom from June to late summer.

Seeds: Small, flat, round, slightly ribbed, strawcolored, abundant take 3 weeks to ripen before they can reseed; viable in the soil for 4 years.

Roots: Long, thick, edible taproot.



Unfortunately, the plants’ aggressive tendencies really is the least of it. Not only does it push other species out, but it actually poses a health hazard. The danger lies in the sap of the plant—the juices that flow through the stem and leaves and bring nutrients to all parts of the plant.

There are chemicals in wild parsnip sap called psoralens (speifically, furocoumarins) that cause what dermatologists call “phytophotodermatitis.” That means an inflammation (itis) of the skin (derm) induced by a plant (phyto) with the help of sunlight (photo). When absorbed by skin, and then exposed to the sun, furocoumarins are energized by ultraviolet light (present during BOTH sunny and cloudy days) causing them to bind with nuclear DNA and cell membranes. This process destroys cells and skin tissue, though the reaction takes time to produce visible damage. In less severe cases, affected skin reddens and feels sunburned afterwards. In more severe cases, the skin reddens first, then blisters rise, with some potentially even being quite large. And for a while the area feels like it has been scalded. Places where skin is most sensitive (arms, legs, torso, face, neck) are most vulnerable. Moisture from perspiration also speeds up the absorption of the psoralens.


According to the Wisconsin DNR, concerning the burns:


  1. Everyone can get it. Unlike poison ivy, you don’t need to be sensitized by a prior exposure. Wild parsnip causes a non-allergic dermatitis that can occur with the right combination of plant juice and sunlight.


  1. You can touch and brush against the plant – carefully – without harm. Parsnip is only dangerous when the juice gets on skin from broken leaves or stems. Fair-skinned people, however, may be extra-sensitive to tiny amounts of juice.


  1. Wild parsnip’s “burn” is usually less irritating than poison ivy’s “itch.” Generally, wild parsnip causes a modest burning pain for a day or two, and then the worst is over. The itch and discomfort from poison ivy, in contrast, can drive people crazy for a long time.


At River Bend Nature Center, wild parsnip has become a large problem—it dominates the southern prairies, and creeps up into the edges of trails where the largest danger comes from unaware visitors (especially young ones) picking the attractive flowers. To help reduce this risk, the staff and volunteers of River Bend have been removing parsnip as it appears along trails in order to keep it “out of reach”. In addition to this, prairie burns are conducted, as well as organized pulls and cuts. However, due to the number of plants and the large area they cover, it is often a slow process which is difficult to see progress in. For this reason, River Bend relies on the help of volunteers and other members of the community. We rely on them to be aware of the plant, heed warning signs posted along trails, and to also help educate others. We also rely on their assistance with the removal of the plant itself.

If you are interested in land restoration and the removal of parsnip, there are several upcoming opportunities for you to get involved:


Restoration Work Day – Parsnip Pull

Ages 10 and up. Free!
Wednesday, July 12th, 2017, 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday, July 23rd, 2017, 10:00-noon

Join us for a restoration-themed work day.  Twice a month we’ll head out onto the River Bend property to remove non-native invasive species and work to restore native habitat.  You’ll learn restoration skills at River Bend that you can take home and implement on your property!  No experience needed, no commitment required.  Come once or come for them all!

This month’s program will be focused on the removal of wild parsnip. But the Restoration Program is ongoing through the summer on the 2nd Wednesday of the month from 3:00pm – 5:00pm, and the 4th Sunday of the month from 10:00am – 12:00pm, with a different focus each meeting.

To register, call or visit our website:


Read for a Good Time!



To the Newbies of River Bend!

WELCOOME! Just a few short weeks ago, I too, was a newbie of RBNC. I lived and grew up in Owatonna, and somehow had never heard of this magical little corner of the world until I filled out an application to be a Temporary Environmental Educator this summer! (Which is by far the best decision I have ever made.)


The first thing you see while walking into the Nature Center, is a smile from every employee and amazing murals covering every wall. Kids will be thrilled to see and possibly meet our various adorable Animal Ambassadors, fur friends are welcomed (on a leash) and will be amazed at the many trails they can sniff and walk their four paws on, and the general public will love the scenery and the pure smell of the outdoors.


Here are some of my FAVORITE MUST-SEE spots!



If you are looking for an entrance into another world, or have a daughter who is obsessed with faeries or Rapunzel from the Disney movie Tangled, THIS is the trail for you! The moment you step foot onto Rabbit Trail you are engulfed in long grasses and tall trees…add to that, blue skies, and you have yourself a perfect day and a gorgeous hike. In the early summer this picture perfect path turns into a sea of purple when Dames Rocket (an invasive but beautiful flower) pops up and blooms. This is a GORGEOUS MUST SEE!

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Length: 2 miles there and back


(photo credit: Jen)

If you are looking for a SUPER SHORT “hike” or it just rained for 5 days straight and you need to get out of the house for the afternoon…go to our charming home grown waterfall! The trickling of the waters, and the buzz of animal life around you provides the perfect background noise for a short adventure! Have the kids search for salamanders, see if they can make out some floating water bugs gliding on the streams surface, walk down the stream a ways to spot some deer…and don’t forget to take a gorgeous picture on our leaning tree on the way out!

Trail Difficulty: Medium (simply because it is somewhat steep)







Fact of the matter is, ANYWHERE you go while at River Bend Nature Center holds possible adventures and memories! So get out there!


This is Kenzie, SIGNING OUT!

And remember……!!!!


(photo credit: Google)

Growing up Monarch – 4

“Growing up Monarch” is an on-going segment in the River Bend blog that follows the lives of several monarch butterflies as they grow from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to adult. We’ll be updating with photos and fun facts and observations throughout the summer!


Time flies—literally—when you’re caring for butterflies. And those caterpillars who were smaller than pencil tips just a month ago are now full-fledged and flying strong. However, this transformation did not occur over night. When last we checked in, (on Monday, May 12th) all three caterpillars had successfully pupated, and all three were safely relocated to larger enclosures for observation. The chrysalises were also studied with a hand lens to determine their gender. This can be a difficult stage to sex monarchs, and it is also the earliest you can sex them without having to kill and dissect them.


Females can be identified in chrysalis by the line intersecting the upper abdominal segment. (Lower image) Males lack this line. (Upper image) Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


After looking closely at our three individuals, it was determined that the first (the largest caterpillar) was female, while the other two remaining chrysalises were male. While this will make little difference in the rearing process, it makes for interesting data and will allow for easier planning of potential breeding.


By the afternoon of Monday the 19th, the two older chrysalises had started to darken—revealing the colorful patterns on the butterfly’s wings. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

It takes approximately ten days for the chrysalises to mature to adult butterflies, and during this time period, very little occurs that is visible to the caretaker. The chrysalis will remain green and entirely stationary during the whole length of the 10-14 days, and only in the last twenty-four hours will a noticeable change begin to take place.

Just before emerging, the chrysalis darkens immensely—becoming so transparent that the butterfly and all details of its anatomy and coloration become visible. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


When the chrysalis darkens, everything becomes a waiting game. It takes less than a minute for a stationary (almost dead looking) chrysalis to emerge s a living breathing butterfly. With such a short window of time to watch for, even short lapses in concentration can cause the viewer to miss the opportunity. And yet, this can take hours. There is no clear indication how long it will take for a butterfly to emerge from her chrysalis. One the red of the wings is visible it could take anywhere between minutes, up to the length of a day. And so being able to witness the “eclosure” is a matter of patience and also of luck. The author spent just over two hours waiting for the second chrysalis to eclose, as the first (the female) had emerged overnight. Rather than staring for the entirety of those two hours, the author did risk moving back and forth between tasks, hoping to luck that the timing would work out. And after several hours in the early afternoon, a telltale, tiny, almost plastic-like “crack” became audible, and that was the only sign needed to know that something amazing was about to take place.


A timelapse of the second butterfly as he emerges from his chrysalis. The entire process takes less than a minute to occur. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


With what can be imagined as great strain, the butterfly pushes his legs and head against the walls f the paper thin chrysalis, which breaks along two lines—creating a piece that may be lifted up, similar to a door. This gives the butterfly an exit through which he can pull himself out by grabbing the chrysalis with his front legs and tugging hard. It’s amazing to see the butterfly come out of the chrysalis, as he still looks very chrysalis-shaped, despite the clear anatomical changes (wings, for example). His abdomen however is still the large bulbous shape of the top end of a chrysalis, and it falls down dramatically heavy once free to do so. Once the abdomen has dropped, it’s only seconds before the wings follow suit and suddenly the entire butterfly is visible—small, shrunken, and damp, but visible. He clings for life upside down to the chrysalis which had once been a part of himself, like a kid on the monkey bars. Hanging in this manner allows hemolymph (the insect alternative to blood) to flow from the abdomen into the wings, this “pumping” them up to their full size. As this occurs, the wings will enlarge and the abdomen will shrink. He also seems to experimentally flick out his proboscis—the new mouthpart with which he will feed with for the rest of his life. It’s much different than the leaf-cutting mouthparts of a caterpillar. Just minutes after emerging, the proboscis is actually split in two, and will fuse together into one apparatus while the monarch hangs. This “zippering” of the two halves is essential as it is their merging that creates the hollow “straw-like” central cavity through which the monarch’s entirely liquid diet will be “slurped”.

The process of drying takes much longer than eclosing, and in fact, for the first twelve hours, a monarch is generally unwilling or unable to fly or feed. But even after a half hour, he begins to look more full-formed, though still remains vulnerable. It’s important that they are not touched or moved during this sensitive time period, as this can damage their development, and a fall at this stage could even prove fatal.


Both the male (left) and female (right)  hanging from their respective chrysalises as seen at 1:22 pm on Tuesday June 20th. The third chrysalis (middle) is not yet ready to emerge, and would not eclose until the next day. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


After being left to their own devices until completely dry, the next step in the rearing process will begin: keeping and caring for adult butterflies. Generally this is an unnecessary step, and amateur or beginner monarch keepers should attempt this with the greatest care.


A monarch clings to his now empty chrysalis with hooked feet. The ring of gold is somewhat dimmed now, which suggests that its metallic coloring was due in part to yellow pigments (still visible on the empty chrysalis) and the concave curves of the butterfly inside (now lacking after the butterfly emerged). Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Adult monarchs are notoriously difficult to maintain, unlike their younger counterparts. They require larger spaces, proper lighting, and appropriate food daily. The first step in caring for them, actually involves a bit of science. The health of the butterflies needs to be determined, as rearing infected monarchs can prove detrimental for the species if allowed to spread the disease. In order to do this, a “Tape test” is administered—which should NOT be attempted without prior experience. It involves taking a piece of clear tape and gently pressing it to the sides of the butterfly’s abdomen—removing some scales in the process. This does not harm the butterfly. The tape is then placed on white paper and observed under a microscope.

The scales on a monarch’s forewing each have a distinct color which makes up the bright pattern which warns of poison. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


To safely handle a monarch, hold all four wings together and pinch gently on the top ridge where the wings are most rigid. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack
Scales from a monarch’s abdomen are visible on the piece of clear tape. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack



Looking at the scales under a microscope to determine the health of the monarch butterfly. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


When viewing the scales under the microscope, what you’re searching for are small spores from the obligate protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha which uses both the monarch and the queen butterfly as hosts. Infection from this protist can cause deformity in large amounts and even prevent the monarch from emerging from its chrysalis.



The spores of OE are very small in comparison to the butterfly’s scales.
Photo credit:


The third chrysalis emerged on the afternoon of the 20th. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack



After testing, it was found that all three of River Bend’s monarchs were healthy and free of parasites and were placed in a large free-flying enclosure where they will feed actively every day and also begin courtship before laying eggs and starting the life cycle all over again.


The female and one of the males perform pre-mating courtship behaviors. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Want to learn more?


Stop by our interpretive center any day during the week to talk to a naturalist and see the monarchs for yourself! The building hours are as follows:

Wed-Fri 8:00-4:30

Sat 9:00-4:30

Sun 9:00-2:00


Interested in getting more involved?


River Bend will be offering MLMP trainings to teach interested members of the community to become certified MLMP volunteers! Monitor at home or at River Bend, and help save this amazing insect from extinction.

Register online to attend the training scheduled for July 29th from 1:00-4:00pm.

For more information, see our website at:

Turtle Crossing

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the middle of June, but signs of summer are everywhere! Mulberries are putting out their berries, early flowers are going to seed, and at every pond around River Bend, female turtles have been leaving the safety of the water to make the long trek through woods and fields in order to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes, these treks become even more dangerous because of the presence of humans. While it’s not unusual to find turtles walking far from the nearest source of water during laying season, as human activity increases it’s becoming far more common for turtles to walk further than average. Pollution, lack of food, habitat destruction, among other stresses, all contribute to driving turtles of all species to travel far to find nesting sites.

A large snapping turtle crosses Rustad Road. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

At River Bend, the species most frequently encountered are painted turtles and snapping turtles. While at the nature center, you’re most likely to encounter a nesting turtle of either of these species as she moves from the water to the nesting site as this will often require her to cross roads and other paths. This can be extremely dangerous as not all drivers will see the turtles in time to stop, and turtles are not fast enough to get out of the way. This results in countless fatalities every year across the state, and may also be contributing to the decline of several species. Unlike deer, raccoon, or other animals frequently hit along roads, turtles do not rear their young or protect them in any way, and thus hatchlings have a very high mortality rate. Because of this, even the death of one adult individual can be catastrophic for the species as a whole.

That’s great, but how can I help?

The best way we can help turtles is by being aware. Many road collisions can be prevented if drivers maintain the posted speed limits and remain aware of their surroundings. Drivers should stop if safe to do so when a turtle is in front of their vehicle, but should avoid swerving violently or any other action that may prove dangerous to others in the area.

A turtle is walking across the road. What should I do?

As stated above, if driving a vehicle, stop if safe to do so, and if time and traffic allows, allow the turtle to complete its journey on its own. Alert other drivers of the crossing turtle as well. If you’re on foot, or if you do not believe the turtle will be able to safely cross on its own, the turtle may be carried across to safety, but several factors should be kept in mind:

  1. Follow the line of travel. Always carry a turtle in a straight line in the direction it was originally traveling. If you place a turtle on the wrong side, she will merely turn around and cross the road again. Place the turtle off the road, but no further. While it may be tempting to bring the turtle to the nearest body of water, it’s bet to let instinct take the turtle to where it needs to be, rather than interfering.
  2. Handling with care. Turtles should be lifted carefully by the sides of the shell (never by the tail or a foot!). The only exception is with snapping turtles and softshell turtles—both these species have a reputation for biting without excessive provocation, and their bites can be very strong. If you encounter one of these species, call River Bend staff for assistance. After handling any reptile, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water, all reptiles have the potential to carry salmonella.
  3. Document your find. Help scientists by recording crossing and mortality areas by participating in the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally & Count Project:

Parking lots can be a daunting cross for even the largest turtles. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

I want to help a turtle across the road, but I don’t think it’s a painted turtle or a snapping turtle.

Minnesota is home to eight species of turtle, two of which are quite rare: the blanding’s turtle, and the wood turtle. These two species are terrestrial, and spent their lives out of the water. They are both listed as protected throughout Minnesota, and therefore it is illegal to handle or possess either without special permitting. If you do not recognize the species, call for River Bend staff assistance to have the turtle identified.

I think I found a turtle nest.

It’s not uncommon to find turtle nests, though they’re most often discovered after the hatchlings have already left, as their will be a sizeable hole in the ground with remnants of eggshells. If, however, you have found a nest (either having witnessed the female laying, or by other means) the most important thing to do is leave it alone. Do NOT attempt to relocate the eggs or stop the female from laying. If the nest is in a location that appears unsafe on River Bend property, contact River Bend staff for assistance. If the nest is on your property or elsewhere, the DNR may be contacted to help guide you through what to do.

I want to keep and observe the nest.

If on your own property, a turtle nest can be an exciting opportunity for observation. However, turtle nests are often subject to predation by mink, raccoons, and other scavengers, and these animals are often attracted by the scent of humans. Do not excessively visit the nest. Instead, place a motion sensitive camera or view from a distance. If you’re concerned about predation, wire fencing can be placed around and over the nesting site to keep other animals out, but be sure to check back frequently in order to let the baby turtles out when the time comes.

IMG_20170612_124123Some species have already hatched–such as this nest discovered earlier last week.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Interested in learning more about the turtles of River Bend and Minnesota? Stop by our interpretive Center Saturday, July 8th for an Animal Ambassadors program and a chance to meet our turtles up close and personal. More information can be found on our website at .

Growing up Monarch – 3

“Growing up Monarch” is an on-going segment in the River Bend blog that follows the lives of several monarch butterflies as they grow from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to adult. We’ll be updating with photos and fun facts and observations throughout the summer!
All three River Bend caterpillars are 5th instars. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Another week has gone by and our three resident monarchs have grown an immense amount! When last we checked in, they were all what is known as 4th instars, meaning that they had shed their skins three times, and would have several distinct features: bold yellow triangles on their heads, “chunkier” bodies with dark banding, and long front tentacles (antennae) that go beyond their head capsules. By Friday the 9th all three caterpillars had shed once again and become 5th instars.

When shedding and during windy days a monarch caterpillar will produce silk (similar to spiders) in order to anchor itself to the leaf. Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers and it’s thought that pound for pound it is stronger than steel. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


As 5th instars our caterpillars are in their final stage as larvae. This means that within just a few short days they’ll be preparing to pupate. The 5th instar stage is marked as being the largest of all the stages, and their front tentacles will be extremely long, becoming noticeably “droopy” past the head capsule. Another key feature though sometimes more difficult to distinguish is a velvety appearance to the black stripes along their bodies.

The black stripes on 5th instars are very large and almost velvety in appearance.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

The front tentacles of 5th instars are extremely long and are distinctively droopy towards the ends. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

The facial markings of 5th instars are bright and clearly visible. Note the large triangle in the center. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Between May 30th (2nd instar) and June 10th (5th instar), just 12 days apart, our caterpillars have dramatically increased in size. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack
And while the caterpillars at this stage are very close to completing their time as larva, they still have a little bit of growing to do and a little bit of weight to gain and so of course that means…more eating! They have continued to feed almost nonstop (except to molt and produce frass). However, this constant feeding is noticeably slowing compared to their feeding habits as 3rd and 4th instars. More often they can be seen resting on the leaves—perhaps preparing their bodies for the big changes that are about to occur. In fact, scientists have dissected caterpillars at this stage to discover that several butterfly organs are already starting to form. And so even though these changes are not visible to us, we can imagine the amount of energy it would take to go from an animal that crawls on the ground to one that is capable of flying up to 2,000 miles (anyone would need a nap!).
Although nearly full size, the 5th instar caterpillars can still be seen feeding fairly frequently. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

With three caterpillars sharing an enclosure it’s never a surprise when overnight entire leaves will be consumed—not a single scrap being left (not even the stems)—leaving an empty tank with three very hungry caterpillars looking for seconds, thirds, and fourths. For this reason, rearing monarchs can be a very demanding job, requiring frequent trips to collect fresh leaves no matter what the weather may be.



Being larger doesn’t make you invincible. While 5th instars are notably more bold and more likely to explore their environments than their smaller counterparts, they will still consistently take shelter on the undersides of leaves, perhaps to prevent being spotted by predators. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


And while rearing caterpillars can be an immense amount of work, it is also a very rewarding process, allowing you to view them at every stage, and also witness infrequent or short-lived behaviors that would be difficult to spot in the wild if not impossible. One such behavior that the author witnessed on Saturday the 10th was especially interesting. With three large caterpillars all relatively close together it soon became apparent that this species is by no means gregarious, and has no instinct for companionship. Quite the opposite actually—they are notably aggressive towards those of their own kind, behaving in a manner that you would expect to see exhibited towards potential predators and not towards other caterpillars (who are so similar in size and appearance they may as well be identical). When one caterpillar wandered too close to its neighbors, close enough to brush up against them, the former responded by violently thrashing their head towards the intruder. This motion was repeated several times with a clear “back off” message similar to that of a lunging dog, but the recipient of these “attacks” appeared completely oblivious and merely continued on its way. Eventually the trespasser moved along far enough, and it would seem that touch was the catalyst for this behavior, for as soon as contact was removed, all normal activities of feeding resumed as though nothing had happened.


The caterpillar in the center wandered too close to its neighbors and was punished for doing so by both individuals on either side of it. When touched, the caterpillars will rear their heads and lunge at the intruder—perhaps to drive them off.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


It’s likely that this behavior is completely instinctual, rather than decision-based. It would seem that caterpillars are “wired” to rear up at unexpected physical stimuli, that is, to throw themselves at things that touch them. This would effectively make them look larger (and probably less appetizing) to would-be predators. It’s behaviors such as this that allow these caterpillars to survive their long lives in this vulnerable stage. For while they are toxic, not all animals have learned to associate the bands of black, yellow, and white, with danger, and will therefore feed on monarch larva before finally understanding that they all are unpalatable. This defensive behavior may also tie in with the necessity to roam. As the caterpillars continue to grow they will soon cease feeding altogether, just as they had when preparing to molt. This time however will be different, and the caterpillar will be searching for a very special location.


The large tentacles of 5th instars may be useful in sensing the environment, especially when exploring an unfamiliar location. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


When large enough, the caterpillars will stop eating and begin to move around more—even leaving their host plant entirely in search of a safe place to pupate.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


It’s important that the location chosen is perfect—protected both from the elements as well as from predators, as the next stage, the chrysalis, is by far the most vulnerable of all its stages. As a chrysalis, the monarch will be completely unable to move or defend itself in any way as it goes through the difficult transformation into butterfly. For this reason, it is immensely difficult to locate monarch chrysalises in the wild. They are often not placed on milkweed plants, and also camouflage well with their surroundings.


Over the course of approximately two to three weeks, a monarch caterpillar will increase its total mass 2000 times. Seen clearly in comparison between a 5th instar and a newly hatched 1st instar.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

A 5th instar puts on a lot of weight in order to pupate—and their body segments will become especially pronounced. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Once they have found the perfect spot, the caterpillar must do several things in order to pupate. First, it must start laying down a mat of silk. It would have done this every time it molted as well, as this mat of silk provides a surface on which to grip and adds extra stability. This time the mat is noticeably larger and thicker. The caterpillar will also create a small wad of silk that is much thicker—this will be the point at which it attaches itself during pupation. Caterpillars produce silk similarly to spiders—through an organ known as a “spinneret”. On monarchs it is located beneath the mouth. Silk begins as a liquid produced in the salivary glands after which it is excreted through the spinneret. Upon coming into contact with air, the liquid silk will turn into solid strands which the caterpillar may then place down. Throughout its life as a caterpillar they retain this ability, and it is most often used as a mat when molting, or as a “life line” if the caterpillar were ever to fall off its host plant. After pupating they lose the spinneret, and also the ability to create silk as it will not be needed in the adult stage.


The silver-white strands of silk are clearly seen crisscrossing underneath the caterpillar. Once finished laying down this mat, it will then begin work on a silk pad, visible here as a small white ball located beneath the caterpillar’s head. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack



Once the silk pad is completed, the caterpillar will turn around and grip the pad with its back prolegs. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


As of the afternoon of June 11th, both larger caterpillars were in the distinctive “J” of pre-pupation, while the third, smaller caterpillar, was still feeding.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Upon completion of its silk pad, the caterpillar will use this as a gripping point as it moves into the next stage of pupation. In order to form a chrysalis, the caterpillar will drop its head so that it will be hanging upside down by its back prolegs.  They will remain like this for anywhere between 10 and 24 hours, completely unmoving and unchanged—at least on the outside. It couldn’t be further from the case inside. As the hours tick by, the caterpillar will start to move again, appearing to almost be doing sit ups as it will move its head up and down repeatedly. Next, it will appear to grow tired of this movement and hang more loosely, looking less like a J and more like an I. At this point, if you look at its front tentacles carefully, you may notice that they appear shriveled—this is a sign that pupation will soon occur, as there is no longer any “caterpillar” inside that part of its body any longer, and it is ready to molt for the last time. The last sign will be a small tear along the caterpillar’s back, right behind the head. This tear will reveal the bright green of the chrysalis underneath and will grow larger and larger as the skin is worked upwards. This entire process once the skin splits takes just about a minute to complete, so viewing this phenomenon takes not just patience, but also luck and good timing. As the skin continues to come off, more of the chrysalis will be revealed, and many butterfly features will be clearly visible—such as the wings and antennae. When the skin has reached the rear legs, the chrysalis will start twisting around in circles—this serves a duo purpose: one, to remove the old skin completely, and two, to firmly attach itself to the pad of silk. This transition needs to occur quickly, as the caterpillar no longer has back legs to hold onto the silk with. Instead, it must use the cremaster (the black peg on the chrysalis) by hooking it onto the silk. The twisting motion increases the number of strands that hook on, similar to how Velcro works.

By the evening of the 11th both larger caterpillars had pupated and the smallest of the had begun work on its silk pad. Overnight, the smallest caterpillar pupated as well.


The two first chrysalises were carefully removed from where they had originally pupated in order to be relocated. If you raise your own monarchs, do NOT attempt this without prior experience. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


The morning of Monday the 12th both chrysalises were safely transferred to a new location for easier observation. The 3rd chrysalis had pupated overnight and was still too soft to move. Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack


Want to learn more?

Stop by our interpretive center this week to talk to a naturalist and see the monarchs for yourself! The monarchs will be available to view:

Mon-Fri     8:00-4:30
Sat              9:00-4:00
Sun             9:00-2:00


Interested in getting more involved?

River Bend will be offering MLMP trainings to teach interested members of the community to become certified MLMP volunteers! Monitor at home or at River Bend, and help save this amazing insect from extinction.

Register online to attend the training scheduled for July 29th 100-4:00pm.

For more information, see our website at: