Life Cycle of the Blue Morpho Butterfly

Four years ago I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador at a butterfly exhibit. The very first day that I arrived where the butterfly house was located, a dazzling Blue Morph greeted me and flashed its wings as it flew by. I knew then that I wanted to raise this magnificent butterfly for the exhibit.

Unlike most adult butterflies that nectar on flowers, Morphos (Morpho spp.) feed exclusively on rotten and fermented fruit. This made it easy to attract the butterflies. I just set out mangoes and bananas. Before long I was rewarded with their presence.

Morpho females use a variety of host plants and will lay a single egg on the underside of a leaf. Upon hatching, the first instar larva devours its empty shell, which provides an initial source of carbohydrates and proteins before it begins to feed on the host plant.

It takes up to 12 days for the egg to hatch. During this time, the egg may change color many times to help camouflage them from predators.

I found the various stages of the caterpillar to be fascinating. As caterpillars grow, they get to a point where they must shed their skin before they can continue to develop. The larva has five stages called instars. The larva of the Blue Morpho is quite distinct in each stage.

First instar larva

Second instar larva

Third instar larva

Fourth instar larva

Fith instar larva. This stage lasts 11-14 days.

The caterpillars have unique ways to defend themselves from predators. Coloration at each stage provides them with camouflage. The older larvae have a gland located on their thorax that emits a strong order when threatened, which some describe as rancid butter. The hairs on their body also can irritate predators once touched.

When they are not feeding, the larvae remain motionless.

The entire caterpillar stage lasts roughly eight weeks before forming the chrysalis. Immediately before pupation, the caterpillar enters a pre-pupal stage and the entire body color changes to light green lasting approximately three days.

Pre-pupal stage

The larva will attach itself to a twig or large leaf, and will rest for about 36-48 hours while the chrysalis develops beneath the larval skin. The larval skin splits along sutures on its back to reveal the chrysalis. The pupal stage lasts approximately two weeks before the butterfly is ready to emerge, but in the wild can last to several months in order to time their emergence with the arrival of seasonal rains.

The green color of the Morpho chrysalis blends in with the natural foliage and helps it stay hidden from predators.

Once hatched, an adult Morpho lives for about two to three weeks. The entire life cycle of the Morpho butterfly from egg to death is approximately 115 days, or just under four months.

 

Morpho T-Shirt in Baby Blue. Click Here or on the photo to see more and to make it yours.

Up-Close with Butterflies at the Smithsonian

Recently, I introduced my granddaughter to butterflies at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s butterfly exhibit in Washington, D.C.

This Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides), landed right in front of us, giving me the opportunity to show my granddaughter this amazing butterfly.

This indoor, tropical oasis offers visitors a rare opportunity to get close to a variety of live butterflies from all over the world. It’s a small exhibit and they limit the number of visitors inside at any one time, providing an up-close and personal experience with the butterflies.

The Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis) is a danaid butterfly found in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

The Rusty-tipped butterfly (Siporeta epaphus) is found from southern North America to central South America.

The Paper Kite or Rice Oaper (Idea leuconoe) has a wingspan of 12 to 14 cm (4.75 to 5.5 inches). It’s a native to Southeast Asia.

The Clipper (Parthenos sylvia) is found in south and southeast Asia.

It’s quite hot and humid inside so be prepared to break out into a sweat. Since many butterflies are attracted to salt, particularly males, one may just land on you to sip the salts from your perspiration.

This Paper Kite landed right on my son’s finger.

Lighting in the museum is not optimal for great photographs, but it easy to get up close with the butterflies to take photos.

The Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) is one of the largest species in the world.

The Forest Giant Owl (Caligo eurilochus) is an owl butterfly ranging from Mexico, through Central America, to the Amazon River basin in South America.

The exhibit has a rather large selection of butterflies. They receive pupa from all over the world and display them so visitors can observe the butterflies as they eclose (emerge) from their chrysalises.

Workers are on hand to answer questions and to make sure no butterflies escape when you leave.

While at the museum, visit the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden to see some of the plants that local native butterflies prefer for nectar (adults) or leaves (caterpillars). If it is the right time of year, you may see butterflies in action. This special garden is located just east of the museum, shown on the map as the green area along 9th street.

The Smithsonian’s Pollinator Garden showcases plants, grasses and trees that provide nourishment and shelter to pollinating insects. Visitors will enjoy a variety of plant species that attract butterflies and other pollinators. Click Here or on the photo for more information.

You can get more information and even schedule your visit and pay for tickets by Clicking Here.

Monarch Murals by Ink Dwell Studio

I’m seeing numerous Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies here in central Florida, and not just in my garden.

Downtown Orlando has six huge Monarchs flying right across from City Hall and the Dr. Phillips Center on a mural called “Midnight Dream” painted by Ink Dwell. This 3,500 square foot mural on the corner of Orange and Anderson, depicts Monarchs flitting about a patch of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a tribute to the magical qualities of this famous insect.

Delightful view of Monarch butterflies in downtown Orlando, Florida, USA.

Vibrant Monarch butterfly mural at Full Sail University, Orlando, Florida, USA.

Three large Monarch butterflies also flutter at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, located along University Avenue in Winter Park, Florida. This mural, titled “Milkweed Galaxy”, features Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnta). Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) plants are grow in front of the mural, attracting live Monarch butterflies.

Tropical Milkweed grows in several flower beds in front of the mural at Full Sail.

The murals are part of the Nature Conservancy’s new Monarch Initiative in Central Florida to restore the habitats of the Monarch butterfly. The Monarch Initiative seeks to educate the central Florida community on the importance of pollinators, such as the Monarch butterfly, through outreach and collaboration.

Can you see the Monarch? He was flying all around the milkweed in front of the mural.

Long view of the Monarch mural at Full Sail University.

Monarch butterflies have suffered a severe decline in population – decreasing from one billion in 1996 to 140 million 
in 2016. According to a U.S. Geological Survey study, as many as 1.8 billion additional Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) plants may be needed in North America to return imperiled Monarch butterflies to a sustainable population size. Adding Milkweeds and other native flowering plants into our gardens can help restore Monarch butterflies. Click Here to see my top favorite native Milkweeds.

An eight-story air-traffic control tower in Springdale, Arkansas, USA, provide the basis of this vertical butterfly mural by Ink Dwell.

Founded in 2012 by artist Jane Kim and journalist Thayer Walker, Ink Dwell Studio makes art that inspires people to love and protect the natural world. In addition to the two Monarch murals in Florida, they have also created a mural in Springdale, Arkansas, mounted on an eight-story air traffic control tower at the Springdale Airport.

Interested in learning more about Monarch butterflies and how you can make a difference? Click Here or on the photo below for more details.

Learn How to Raise Monarch Butterflies!

Butterfly Joy

The past two months I have been making, selling , and shipping Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits. Sometimes I hear back from customers who have purchased the butterfly kits. That’s part of the fun!

Wendy H. sent some pictures of her girls.

These girls are so excited to get a box in the mail!

The six little caterpillars inside the cups bring smiles to their faces!

Katrina W. texted me some photos of her and her children releasing their butterflies.

“We had our butterfly launch today. it was really OPTIMUM conditions: 70 degrees (F) and gentle to no winds. it was such a postcard perfect day!” she wrote.

“We drove to the park.”

“This guy was enjoying the warm weather and sunshine!”

“They warmed up nicely in the car so they had a lot of energy to fly and get some lunch!”

Katrina wrote, “Thank you again for sending these precious babies to us. We enjoyed every minute, and will miss them! The rest of the time we were at the park, we would occasionally see them fly by! It was like they were saying ‘look at me!! I’m FLYING!'”

I love making Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits because I know they will bring joy to children of all ages as they observe the caterpillars grow and transform into butterflies.

If you would like your child to experience the joy of butterflies Click Here or on this photo to order a butterfly kit. We will offer them throughout the summer to the beginning of November.

Learn about the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) with this t-shirt. Click Here or on the photo to order.

 

Five Favorite Native Milkweeds for Monarch Butterflies

If you want to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden you need to plant milkweed.

If you want Monarch butterflies, plant Milkweed!

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) lay their eggs exclusively on Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) in the genus Asclepias. Milkweed is named for its milky sap, which consists of latex containing alkaloid and several other complex compounds, including cardenolides, which are toxic and help protect the caterpillar and butterfly from predators.

Milkweeds not only will attract Monarch butterflies to your garden, but many other species of butterflies as well. The fragrant flowers are a favorite nectar source for Swallowtails (Papilio spp.).

There are approximately 72 different species of Milkweeds native to North America. Here are five of my favorites:

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, provides a fragrant nectaring station for all butterflies, as well as large leaves for Monarch and Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly caterpillars. Click Here or on the photo to shop for Common Milkweed seeds.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), is a critical plant for Monarchs but has a spreading root system so it needs plenty of space. It’s a wonderful choice for natural areas and an excellent replacement for tough invasive plants in sunny spots.

  • Perennial in USDA Zones 4-9.
  • Native to most of the eastern US and eastern Canada.
  • Full sun, but will tolerate some shade.
  • Height 2-4 feet
  • Thrives on almost any well-drained soil, even tough clay or dry sand.
  • Spreads rapidly by rhizomes, so it is best planted in a large area.
  • Drought tolerant.

Click Here or on the photo to shop for Swamp Milkweed seeds.

Swamp Milkweed (pink flowering) (Asclepias incarnata) usually grows in moist areas but it does not require a moist location in the garden. It will grow well in containers and can easily be grown from cuttings.

  • Perennial in USDA Zones 3-9
  • Native to most of the eastern US and eastern Canada.
  • Will tolerate shade
  • Height 4 to 6 feet
  • Needs moist to wet soil
  • Blooms throughout the summer.

Click Here or on the photo to shop for Butterfly Weed seeds.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is also called Pleurisy Root, Canada Root, Orange Milkweed, and Indian Paintbrush. It takes about two years before it flowers, but it is well worth the wait for the spectacular orange blooms. Unlike other milkweed species, the leaves don’t contain milky sap.

  • Perennial in USDA Zones 4-11.
  • Native to most of the Continental US and Eastern Canada.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Dry, sandy, well-drained and slightly acidic soil.
  • Height 30-40 inches.
  • Drought Tolerant.

Click Here or on the photo to shop for Showy Milkweed seeds.

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) has flowers that resemble a cluster of brilliant pink stars. Although it spreads through underground rhizomes, it is far less aggressive than common milkweed, and is an excellent alternative.

  • Hardy Perennial in USDA Zones 3-9
  • Native to western half of US and Canada
  • Height 4 to 5 feet tall
  • Blooms late spring to early fall

Click Here or on the photo to shop for Purple Milkweed seeds. Photo courtesy of Brenda Sattler Dziedzic, author of Learn About Butterflies in the Garden. Click Here to see Ms. Dziedzic’s book.

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) is similar in appearance to common milkweed, but the blooms are a deeper purple color and this species won’t take over your garden.

  • Perennial: USDA hardiness zones 3a-9b
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Height 2 to 3 feet
  • Needs dry soil
  • Blooms late spring to early summer

If you want plant native Milkweed seeds you need to start now! Native Milkweed seeds need a cold, moist stratification to encourage spring germination. With spring just around the corner, it’s time to get those seeds in your refrigerator!

Thanks to BASF Living Acres for permission to use this photo!

Step 1:  Milkweed seeds need to go through a period of cold stratification.

To do this, put your Milkweed seed in a damp paper towel or some damp sand inside a zipper bag, and place in your fridge for 3 – 6 weeks (30 days). Choose a low-traffic place inside your fridge where it won’t get damaged.

Step 2: Planting – Once the 30 days are complete, it’s time to plant the cold stratified Milkweed seeds. We recommend planting in 2-4” peat pots. Fill the peat pots ¾ of the way with a ‘seed-starting potting soil’ and gently add water.  Water should be able to drain through the peat pots. Once the soil is damp, place 1-2 cold stratified seeds into each pot.  To finish, place 1/4 inch of soil on top of the seed.

Step 3: Watering – Gently water the planted seed to give additional hydration. The best way to water is from the bottom up:  use a flat pan under the peat pots and add half an inch of water to the bottom of the tray. Don’t overwater, as it can cause fungus. Water every day, or every other day as needed. The best way to test the soil dampness is to touch it; if the soil seems dry then add water, but if it’s wet, wait for the soil to dry out before adding more water.