Galax Middle School Explores Dunson Farm

On Saturday, September 24th, an enthusiastic group of Galax Middle School students visited Bill and Margaret Dunson’s Baywood farm just a few miles west of Galax. 

The Dunsons bought this farm with the intention of converting it from agricultural use to a wildlife resource, with improving bird habitat as the guiding principle. They have returned fields to a more natural sequence of seasonal grasses and wildflowers with an emphasis on native plants. A series of small ponds dot the landscape, some with fish and some without, to demonstrate the impact fish have on various aquatic insects and to illustrate the contrasts.

Their farm is an oasis not only for birds, but butterflies, and other insects as well. This setting was ideal for a follow-up field trip based upon four in-school classes targeting butterflies, metamorphosis and migration. All of these topics continued to be covered during our day on the farm, with a variety of walks that explored many species of caterpillars and their association with specific host plants. 

On hand for difficult identifications, Bob Perkins volunteered for the more detailed inspections. The cattails growing along the edges of one fish pond were covered with caterpillars, hundreds…perhaps thousands…eating the green leaves down to mere nubs. The following is a report from Bob:

Caterpillars:
Marsh Dagger, Simyra insularis, on cattails
Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis, on coral honeysuckle
Woolly Bear, Isabella Tiger Moth
Pyrrharctia isabella, in field
Hickory Tussock Moth, Lophocampa caryae, supplied by Bill Dunson
Yellow-striped Armyworm, Spodoptera ornithogali, brought from home
Caenurgina sp, Clover/Forage Looper
 Galgula partita, Wedgling Moth

Many thanks to Bill, Margaret and Bob for a successful outing!