Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

joan-hannon-zebra-swallowtailA new friend of ‘We Love Butterflies’, Joan Hannon, contacted us to tell us about a beautiful butterfly she spotted near Lincolnton, North Carolina one morning.  

Joan captured this fascinating photo of this zebra swallowtail butterfly on her white profusion butterfly bush ‘Buddleia’!

Thanks for thinking of us and sending us this great shot Joan!

Posted in Butterfly Pictures |

Butterfly Tattoo for Thyroid Cancer

Thanks to Leah Wohlgemuth Guljord of West Melbourne, Florida for her submission:

thyroid-cancer-butterfly“In 1995 I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. Thankfully this was the beginning of the Internet as it was the only place to find support and information. Although very little information. Several of us would meet once a week in a private AOL chat room to try and figure out what this cancer was about, where we could find the proper care and how we could help others.

Eighteen years later ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association has helped thousands of other survivors find support and get educated as well as fund $1.2 million in research grants.

I got my butterfly tattoo to represent the thyroid with is shaped like a butterfly and had it colored with the thyroid cancer colors of pink, purple and aqua.”

For more information about ThyCa, please visit their website at:  http://www.thyca.org/

Thanks again Leah for sharing your story and your butterfly tattoo.

Posted in Butterfly Tattoos |

Southern Swallowtail from Morocco

Thanks for submitting your picture for identification Eilean Wilson of Morocco!

swordtail butterfly - moroccoThis little guy certainly is a beauty. He’s been identified at the Iphiclides feisthamelii, or more commonly known as the Southern Butterfly.

This butterfly can be found in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morrocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Also note, he apparently loves the vibrant colors of the bougainvillea in Eilean’s garden!

Posted in Butterfly Pictures |

There’s A Butterfly on My Milkweed

sung to the tune of “straighten up and fly right”

There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
Drink up baby and be on your way

Took all summer and into the fall
You must have been having a ball
Heading south before the frost
Hurry my friend and don’t get lost

There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
Drink up baby and be on your way

That flower’s been waiting for you

Wondering if you’d ever come through
So glad you stopped to get refueled
Come back again baby after winter’s cool

There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
There’s a butterfly on my milkweed
Drink up baby and be on your way

We’ll be looking for you some fine spring day.


Posted in Milkweed |

Earth-Friendly Gifts for the Gardener

Maybe you recently received the same email I did about an “import-free” holiday season. Basically, the message was: Skip buying cheap decorations and gifts, and carefully select meaningful items that support the local economy. Less junk, less clutter, and better for all of our neighbors.

Bring butterflies like this tiger swallowtail into the garden with perennials like hyssop.

Not long after, a blog I subscribe to had a post with gift ideas for people who support pollinator conservation. Already primed to the idea of meaningful gifts, I clicked on the blog link, but was dismayed to find that instead of gifts that in one way or another promote pollinator conservation, the “gift ideas” were actually an assortment of plastic items with an image of a pollinator on them.

Let me offer my suggestions, then, for gifts most gardeners will enjoy that also have the Earth in mind. Circle your personal favorites, then innocently leave this section on the kitchen counter for someone to see.

The gift of hummingbirds: Our native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is a small, multistemmed tree that grows to about 25 feet at maturity. Bright red flowers are borne in upright, cone-line panicles in May, just in time to provide nectar for returning hummingbirds. At home in moist, shady sites, red buckeye does not tolerate drought or hot soils, but will grow happily in woodland settings or under the shade of mature trees. Use this garden addition as an indicator plant to prompt the cleaning and filling of hummingbird feeders. Find this tree online, at your favorite garden center (to plant in the spring) or at Secrest Arboretum’s spring plant sale.

Nighttime visitors: Ever wonder who visits your garden or wooded path at night? Find out with a motion-activated wildlife camera. Many natural areas use this kind of camera to capture evidence of black bear, coyote and other nocturnal visitors. The Audubon BirdCam promises to be the most unusual gift under the tree (with the exception of the natural suet feeder, below).

Water recycling: Rain barrels have become increasingly popular. These large drums are connected to the downspout, and will provide a renewable source of water for the garden. Summit Soil and Water Conservation (http://summitswcd.org) offers two popular options, single barrels or linking barrels to provide additional storage. Check with the Summit Soil and Water office, or the office in your county, for 2012 barrel availability and prices.

For the birds: Providing a water source is one sure way to enhance the garden habitat and favor bird visitors. It doesn’t have to be complicated or require lots of maintenance. A birdbath can provide enough water for wildlife and is easy to maintain (rinse out and refill once a week during the growing season). Even a hardy, shallow decorative bowl can suffice — a nice option for the eclectic gardener who prefers a dash of color or an artistic addition.

Welcome butterflies: Few garden guests are as welcome as native butterflies. Perennial plants that provide a source of nectar will draw in butterflies. An assortment of sun-loving perennials with a succession of bloom will keep butterflies returning throughout the season. A gift certificate for a local garden center will let the gardener pick out plants once spring arrives. Some butterfly favorites: perennial phlox, goldenrod, hyssop (such as ‘Blue Fortune’), Joe-pye weed, purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, salvia, catmint and mountain mint.

Birds in winter: Besides the obvious gift of feeders and seed to bring birds to the winter landscape, try an inexpensive heater that will keep birdbath water from freezing, offering a well-needed water source no mater how frigid the weather. Many birdbath heaters are available online for well under $50.

Apple pies for years: Give a gift certificate to Miller Nurseries (www.miller
nurseries.com) or Stark Brothers (www.starkbros.com). These two mail-order nurseries are favorite sources of fruit trees and other edibles for home gardeners.

An inventory of plants: Give a blank book or garden journal with plenty of pockets to collect tags and gather notes for all newly acquired plants.

Unlimited garden walks: Give a membership to Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, the Cleveland Botanical Garden or the Holden Arboretum. Members receive benefits, access and discounts, and can feel good knowing they are helping to support Earth-friendly organizations.

Natural suet: Finally, for an inexpensive gift that they’ll never forget, consider hanging a deer carcass bird feeder in a tree.

This Earth-friendly gift option comes from Dr. John Loegering, wildlife biologist with the University of Minnesota. According to Dr. Loegering, the practice of hanging a deer rib cage in a tree is common in rural communities in more northern states. The rib cage is hung about 8 feet high in a tree once the hunters have removed venison for human consumption. The remaining meat and fat provide a natural source of food (think suet) for many types of birds.

In northern climates, the meat remains frozen all winter, providing food for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and tree squirrels into March. Because of Ohio’s freeze-thaw cycle, this practice is unlikely to have favorable (however memorable) results here. Perhaps a dozen suet blocks and a few wire mesh feeders might be a better option.


Posted in Milkweed |

Salado: School Butterfly Project Gets Underway

Last week, students at Thomas Arnold Elementary School and Salado Intermediate School were briefed on Monarch butterflies and their contribution to society.

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

Monarch Butterfly

On Monday, Phase I of a beautification project will begin that includes putting in a Monarch way station at Thomas Arnold Elementary School.
Click here to find out more!

To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources, way stations serve as milkweed habitats that the butterflies need to exist.

The project is the first phase of a bigger project to beautify and sustain Salado with partnerships between schools, Master Naturalists, PTO, Keep Salado Beautiful and local citizens.

A plot of land next to the elementary and intermediate schools on Thomas Arnold Road will someday house an educational center with a monarch station.

There have also been talks of putting in an organic garden, nature preserve and improve the recycle center, organizers say.

Work to expand the recycling program is expected to begin in January and could include fencing the center to look like a nature preserve, as well as inviting local art students to paint a surrounding trailer and various structures on the property.

The beautifying project is meant to teach students about nature through hands-on experience.

Organizers hope that the final project will prevent litter by making the area more visibly attractive.


Posted in Milkweed |

Caterpillars, Butterflies and Transformation

One of the most spellbinding few hours I have ever spent was when I watched the emergence of several monarch butterflies from their chrysalises anchored to a bouquet of milkweed at one of our past Bugfest events. Somehow, I had managed to get through my childhood, and much of my adulthood, having never had such a treat. Oh, sure, I knew about it. I was well-versed on the stages of butterfly metamorphosis. But it was another thing entirely to observe each green chrysalis up close, as it slowly became transparent, revealing the black and orange wings of the insect inside. Finally, the insect would manage to break free, so fragile and trembling, pumping fluid into its expanding wings and preparing for a first flight. How does one possibly witness a thing as this, and not be equally transformed?

Michael Olive watches a monarch butterfly as it emerges from its chrysalis during the Crosby Arboretum’s Bugfest event

Throughout my time at the Crosby Arboretum, I have spoken with many parents and teachers who have enjoyed raising caterpillars into moths or butterflies, to the delight of fascinated children. This is a simple, inexpensive way to provide an educational experience that can remain for a lifetime.

The Arboretum’s travelling educators’ box on the topic of insects contains two excellent books on the subject of keeping insects for observation: “Pet Bugs: A Kid’s Guide to Catching and Keeping Touchable Insects”, and “More Pet Bugs”, by Sally Kneidel. Both of these books will provide great winter reading and are currently available for only a penny each (plus shipping) on the popular book sites that also offer used book sources.

You may search for caterpillars in your local field or forest. However, when you find a caterpillar, pay attention to the surroundings, as the chances are good that the plants you discover it on, or near, will be its “host plants”. If you prefer a particular butterfly, find out what its preferred host plants are. For example, gulf fritillary caterpillars feast on passionflower vines, and milkweed is the host plant for the popular monarch butterfly.

It is important that you make a positive identification of your caterpillar, so you can provide him with the food he needs. If you are not sure of its species, it would be best to let it go because the insects are very particular about the food they consume.

This week, our new senior curator Richelle Stafne found a caterpillar that at first glance appeared to be a luna moth. The head and body certainly resembled the photos we found. However, she observed that the caterpillar in the photos lacked the purple marking found on her caterpillar. As caterpillars will pass through a number of stages, called instars, it seemed possible that it might currently be lacking some characteristic. Based on thinking this was a luna moth, we gathered sweetgum, maple, and beech leaves.

A day later, further research revealed that the caterpillar was instead the larval stage of a polyphemus moth. Preferred food luckily included the maple leaves we had gathered, but other common host trees were cherry, oak, and willow. But on Sunday, the caterpillar solved the food problem and spun a cocoon. Polyphemus moth caterpillars go through multiple generations from May through October. Some will overwinter. Since this one was discovered late in the season, he will be kept outside in order to avoid the chance of emerging in a nice warm house, only to search in vain for a mate.

There are many containers suitable for rearing caterpillars, such as a spare aquarium with netting over the top, or special collapsible butterfly cages. Add sticks to the container so the caterpillar can use them to pupate (turn into a chrysalis). It is also a good idea to consult websites on the Internet to learn in more detail the process for rearing butterflies, or to order chrysalises. For example, caterpillars usually like more humidity than found indoors, and a misting bottle may be used. But, too much water can cause bacterial growth.

Another simple way to contain caterpillars is to modify a container such as a glass jar, using aluminum foil over the mouth, or a margarine tub with holes punched in the lid. Place water in the container. With pruning shears, cut stems of the plant desired host plant material at a sharp angle for maximum exposure to the water. Place the cuttings into the holes. Don’t let the leaves touch the water (to avoid decay). Tightly cover the mouth of the container, to prevent the caterpillar from falling into the water.

Purchase a yard or so of netting at the fabric store and drape this over the plant material. Use a rubber band to attach the netting around the base of the container. The netting is easily removed to clean out the droppings daily that will collect in the bottom as the caterpillar feeds. It is important to keep a fresh supply of cuttings available for the caterpillar until he begins to pupate. This method would work well for monarch caterpillars, however, for luna moth caterpillars or other caterpillars in the Saturniidae family, it is best to maintain an aquarium with a carpet of leaves to replicate the forest floor, as these caterpillars often pupate in cocoons that are rolled inside leaves on the ground.

Come take a walk at the Crosby Arboretum soon, and enjoy the cooler weather. For more information, please see our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu, or contact the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).

For further exploration

1) What does a Polyphemus moth look like? Search the Internet for a photo. You are really in for a treat.

2) What other moths are found in the Saturniidae family?

3) Make a list of area butterflies or moths that you find particularly fascinating. What plants do their caterpillars eat? Learn how to identify, and locate, these plants. Make a plan to search for them, and raise them, next spring.


Posted in Milkweed |

How to Plant Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies

Dwindling monarch butterfly populations have prompted some gardeners to pepper their landscapes with milkweeds, the various plants in the Asclepiadaceae family on which monarchs lay their eggs. Chubby, zebra-striped monarch caterpillars gorge themselves on the plants’ milky alkaloid sap, which makes them poisonous to birds.

The question for many isn’t whether to grow milkweed, but how — and which kind.

Milkweed-asclepias-curassvica In Connie Day’s Santa Monica garden, a tiger-colored monarch spars with another butterfly, chasing it from a patch of milkweeds.

“The challenge is keeping the food here,” Day says, noting that a few monarchs can defoliate a plant in a couple of weeks. Day favors South American blood flower (Asclepias curassavica), right, because it’s leafy all year, unlike native milkweeds, which are dormant in winter. The South American blood flower catches the eye with brash little flowers in smoldering colors, including ember red and orange-singed yellow.

But some scientists recommend the natives. These experts suspect that the supply of exotic milkweeds is prompting some monarchs to loiter in California, and those that don’t migrate seem to be more vulnerable to parasites, according to entomologist Brent Karner. And, true to their name, the nonnative plants are a bit weedy.

The loveliest of the California natives is showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). Its carnation-scented blossoms are two-tiered: Five-fingered pink coronas are backed by petals that blush a rosy mauve. Velvety leaves glow in soft light. Alas, monarchs seem to prefer speciosa’s homelier cousin, the narrow-leafed milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis).

So what to do with a spindly, often-bare plant? Scatter it among low-growing native shrubs, says Mike Evans, president and co-owner of Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

Monarch-caterpillar “Place it behind some native grasses or irises,” says Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden Curator Jill Morganelli. “That way you can still see the flowers but you miss a lot of the ‘skeletonization’ that happens because the caterpillars don’t eat all the way up to the flowers.”

Look for a sunny place — away from pets and traffic — where the butterflies can spot the plant from above. After seeing and smelling a plant, they come to it and test it, biologist Bob Allen says.

“The female takes her front legs, which have chemical receptors, and scratches the leaf, tasting it with her feet to confirm it’s milkweed,” he says.

The aforementioned South American blood flower is widely available, as is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); but for the California species you’ll have to visit a native plant nursery or troll ButterflyEncounters.com.

Start from seed to avoid systemic pesticides that some growers apply. To encourage leafy growth, cut milkweeds back after they bloom. Adult monarchs need nectar, so entice them with plantings of flat, upward-facing flowers.

There’s no guarantee you’ll be graced with monarchs, but Southern Californians have a good shot. Plus, milkweed flowers feed a variety of butterflies.


Posted in Milkweed |

Igloo is Cooler at ElectriCritters

Home on the range will look a little different at River Bend Nature Center this year, thanks to its latest addition — an igloo that can’t melt. The igloo will make its debut at the nature education facility’s annual holiday display, ElectriCritters, which opens at 6:30 tonight for its five-weekend run.

Times Record News file art Roses light the path at River Bend Nature Center's ElectrCritters. More than 40,000 lights illuminate 150 lighted nature forms at the nature education center during the holidays annually, from coyotes to a hooting howl, Old Man Winter, tulips, chicks and more.

“If you took a sphere and cut it in half, the radius at the bottom would be 8 feet, and it’s 4 feet in height. We’re trying to make it just about right for small children to go and play in,” said Rip Martin, one of the Midwestern State University engineering students who volunteered to build the igloo for River Bend.

What’s neat about the structure is that, while it isn’t made out of the traditional igloo material — ice — it is made out of something near and dear to River Bend’s heart.

“We’re making it out of recycled Styrofoam blocks,” Martin said.

Recycling and reuse have always been big buzz words for the nature center, which champions the idea of being good stewards of the environment.

The engineering students were approached by ElectriCritters committee member Jill Avis in the summer. They worked on the cold-weather habitation at an off-site location for several weeks before setting it up in the pavilion area.

The group is working on lighting the structure in some way, as is the modus operandi of ElectriCritters, and perhaps including a way for parents to view inside so they can peek in on the little ones.

The igloo isn’t the only new feature at ElectriCritters, by the way.

Organizers are also adding toasty Frito chili pie to the menu for the first time.

The chili pie be a welcome addition to a menu that will see the return, once again, of a perennial favorite, s’mores, at a time when it looked like s’mores and campfires might be out of the equation because of the recent burn bans during the summertime drought. But no worries.

There will be s’mores, along with hot cocoa, warm cider and popcorn.

Beyond the eats, visitors to ElectriCritters — roughly 4,000 to 5,000 visit annually over the five-weekend run — can make their way through the Bryant Edwards Learning Center and the Ruby N. Priddy Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. It’s in the learning center where guests can commune with a menagerie of creatures, like mice and spiders.

And in the butterfly conservatory, the center’s “indoor nature lab,” they will find living organisms and replicas of organisms that they would find in the Rolling Plains region, along with more than 100 native plant species and an indoor pond where they can view aquatic life.

Of course, they might see a butterfly or two, as well, though at nighttime, the butterflies are more likely to be gathered in the conservatory’s trees.

Beyond that, several musical groups will perform during the run of River Bend to add a little sparkle to the season.

On the schedule are vocalist Michael Merrill on Saturday, the Rider Guitar Ensemble on Dec. 2, Floral Heights United Methodist Church’s Chancel Choir on Dec. 3, Kirby Junior High Choir Dec. 9 and the Faith Baptist Church Senior Adult Choir on Dec. 16.

The highlight of River Bend, of course, is viewing the lighted nature forms on the nature trail and throughout the nature facility. After curving down the switchback portion of the paved walkway that leads to the nature trail, visitors will see everything from a snow storm, complete with snowflakes, to a deer herd, animated coyotes, Old Man Winter blowing a cold blast of air, an owl, alligator and more. And some of the lighted displays come complete with nature sounds.

The display includes some 150 lighted nature forms illuminated by about 40,000 twinkling lights.

Guests also won’t want to miss Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph in the general store and storytelling in the covered wagon. And the gift shop will be open for unique gift-giving ideas with a nature slant, from sparkling minerals to water bottles.

ElectriCritters will be open Friday and Saturday nights through Dec. 17, then Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 23.

The event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for River Bend, which is known for such events as Not-So-Scary Halloween, Earth Day and BugFest, to name a few.


All performances during the run of ElectriCritters at River Bend start at 7 p.m.

Saturday: Michael “The Voice” Merrill. Merrill, who managed fitness facilities while serving in the Air Force, turned to singing after he retired. The Chicago native has performed at everything from FallsFest to the famed Johnny High’s Country Music Revue in Arlington. Merrill will perform traditional holiday music and tunes from his Christmas CD.

Dec. 2: The Rider High School Guitar Ensemble. Rider High has performed several times at River Bend for ElectriCritters. The group’s repertoire includes everything from Spanish and Baroque tunes to classical and contemporary pieces. The ensemble is under the direction of Bruce Canafax.

Dec. 3: Floral Heights United Methodist Church’s Choir, under the direction of Karen Lambeth, returns to River Bend to bring sparkle to the season with holiday tunes.

Dec. 9: The Kirby Junior High School Choir also is a returning performance group to ElectriCritters. The choir is led by Melanie Coons.

Dec. 16: The Faith Baptist Church Senior Adult Choir will bring on the festive and reverent holiday tunes.


Posted in Butterfly House |

End of The Road for Butterfly House

IT was a popular park attraction for years, but the Butterfly House at Wilton Park has now closed.

Gerry Hird is sad about the The Butterfly House at Wilton Park closing after three-and-a-half years.

The house was created by the Friends of Wilton Park and opened in the greenhouse some three-and-a-half years ago.

Over this summer alone it has seen more than 6,000 people through the doors, but Friends chairman Gerry Hird has made the heart-breaking decision to call it a day.

Despite its popularity, Gerry said he didn’t have the time to run the attraction almost single-handedly and no volunteers were coming forward.

“For the last three months I have been asking people for help because I have been up here every day for a good three years,” he said. “I’m not able to do it any more.

“No-one has come forward so now we’re getting rid of everything.”

What started off as a small project for the greenhouse escalated into a full nature centre, with the Butterfly House not only housing the winged beauties but also rabbits, birds, fish and even tortoises.

Gerry said all the animals and associated equipment was now for sale.

“We’ve had everything in there,” he said. “There’s been several types of birds, 50 or 60 types of tropical fish, guinea pigs, snails, lizards and there was even a snake in there at one point.

“There’s been all sorts. And the only time we’ve closed since the project started was for a month.”

While it may be a sad day for Wilton Park, news of the closure is not the end for the greenhouse.

After taking a short break Gerry hopes to open a smaller-scale project with plants, bees and butterflies next year.

“It won’t have to be manned every day like it does now, but it will still be there for the public,” he said.

Wilton Park warden Barry Daly thanked Gerry for his hard work over the years.

He said: “There was a time when there was nothing going on at the top of the park, but Gerry put so much effort into the greenhouse and brought it back to life. He really got it going.”

In a statement the Friends thanked the public for its help and generous donations over the last three-and-a-half years, as well as Kirklees Council and the parks department.


Posted in Butterfly House |