Monthly Archives: June 2016

Butterfly Puddling

One of the most popular pins on my Pinterest page, is this photo of a puddling station shared from a blog post by The Wildlife Gardener.

Puddling station

Butterfly puddling station constructed from a terra cotta saucer with gravel and a couple of rocks on which the butterflies can land to sip mineralized water. • Photo courtesy of The Wildlife Gardener.

Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. In many species, this “mud-puddling” behavior is restricted to the males, and studies have suggested that the nutrients collected may be provided as a nuptial gift during mating.

puddling

Stinky Leafwing (Historis odius) sipping moisture from wet sand.

In the heat of the day, water can help a butterfly cool off. According to Southwest Monarch Study, Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies are usually not known for puddling but, during periods of drought, low humidity and high temperatures, Monarchs are frequently found by creeks and streams seeking moisture.

Puddling Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies puddling in the creek at the Coronado Butterfly Preserve located in Santa Barbara, California, USA. • Photo Copyright © 2016 by Marc Kummel. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

It’s easy to create a watering station or wet area in your garden for butterflies and need not take much time or money.

Birdbath Puddling Station

Front and top views of a ceramic bird bath converted into a butterfly puddling station. Click Here to view an assortment of bird baths for your garden.

To get started, you will need a large, shallow dish or container. Use a container at least 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) wide. I used an extra bird bath that was lying around and placed it right in the middle of my garden.

Add sand or course dirt. Sand from the beach works extremely well because it already contains salts and other nutrients. You can also mix some manure or compost in with the sand.  Add a few pebbles and rocks that can be used for the butterflies to rest upon. Click Here to see a selection of decorative pebbles. Keep your sand just slightly moist and do not overfill. Butterflies cannot land on open water.

Watch Walter Reeves of the University of Georgia Extension Service build a butterfly puddle and fruit-feeding station in this demonstration video.

Click Here to read our illustrated blog post about feeding butterflies fruit.

Enjoy making your butterfly puddle. As always with butterfly gardening, if you plant it or if you build it, they will come.

“Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone”

“Blue moon,
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own.”
–Frank Sinatra, First Verse

Graceful Blue Moon (Hypolimnas bolina) butterflies dance in our garden with elegant dress here in Tonga in the South Pacific. Males all appear the same. However, the females are not only dimorphic (featuring different colors and patterns from the opposite sex), but also rarely look the same as other females, demonstrated by this photo essay.

Male Blue Moon Butterfly - Ventral View

With wings folded, this photo shows the male Blue Moon’s ventral view, the underside of its wings. As with most butterflies, its wings at rest are not nearly as showy as the dorsal or topside wings shown in the next photo, Blue Moon males are extremely territorially and will chase away other butterflies, even those larger than themselves.

Male Blue Moon Butterfly

Behold this gorgeous, velvety male Blue Moon butterfly, also known as Great Eggfly. I reared this one and dozens of others like him from caterpillars discovered growing on roadside weeds here in Tonga. The upper side of the wings of the male Blue Moons is jet black, offset with three pairs of white spots: two on the forewing and one on the hindwing. These spots are surrounded by purple iridescence that only appears when the light source is at the correct angle.

Female Blue Moon

The female Blue Moon butterfly has several different colorations. I’ve raised at least 20 females and each one has had different markings. The wings remind me of the colors and patterns of tapa cloth found in Tonga and in other parts of Polynesia. In fact, we’ve started referring to the female Blue Moon butterfly as the Tapa Cloth butterfly. I suppose that’s how butterflies get their common names.

Tapa Cloth

This is a typical piece of finished tapa cloth or ngatu (pronounced NAH-too) in Tongan. Tapa cloth is made from the inner bark of the Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) tree that is pounded thin and glued together with vegetable starch, usually from kumala (sweet potato) or manioke (cassava), then painted with traditional designs. Just as each work of tapa cloth is different and reflects talents of the artist, female Blue Moon butterflies seem to flaunt their own unique styles. • Photo courtesy of the Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces

Female Blue Moon

Another beautiful female Blue Moon butterfly with its own distinct pattern. For many months after moving to Tonga, we thought that we were seeing a multitude of different butterfly species nectaring on the flowers in our yard until I reared these and saw for myself that they are all female morphs of the same species.

Female Blue Moon Butterfly

Here’s yet another gorgeous female Blue Moon butterfly ready to be released into the wild. Her colors resemble the tapa cloth on the left in the next photo.

Long Tapa Cloth

Two long tapa cloths of approximately 60 linear feet (18.28 meters), each with its own patterns and earth-tone colors, just like the different female Blue Moon butterflies. I took this photo this year near Vaini on the main Tongan island of Tongatapu. The owner had placed them in the sun for the day to air them out. He was rightfully proud of his ngatu collection. Tapa cloths hold great value in Tonga, both monetary and sentimental, and are used ceremonially on special occasions. They are also given at graduations, weddings and funerals; and passed down as family heirlooms from generation-to-generation. Read more about tapa cloth in Wikipedia.

Tapa Cloth Butterfly - Female Blue Moon

This is one of my husband’s favorite female Blue Moon patterns. You can really start to imagine nature painting her wings the way Tongan women paint tapa cloth.

The female Blue Moon butterfly hovers over a plant to check for ants which might eat her eggs. After selecting a plant which has no ants on it, she lays at least one but often two to five eggs on the undersides of the leaves.

For months, we could not figure out which of the many host plants, that Blue Moon butterflies are known to use, might be available in Tonga. Then one day, to my complete surprise, a female Blue Moon “saw me standing alone” and landed right at my feet. She deposited eggs on a nearby plant, which we later discovered was Nodeweed. Mystery solved!

Nodeweed

Nodeweed (Synedrella nodiflora) is one of several host plants for the Blue Moon butterfly’s caterpillars. It grows wild in Tonga and can easily be found along unmowed roadsides and vacant lots.

Blue Moon Eggs

Two well-camouflaged green Blue Moon butterfly eggs hidden on the leaf’s underside.

Blue Moon Caterpillar

Blue Moon caterpillars are black and covered with prickly orange spines that deter predators (and handling by humans).

Blue Moon Pupa

Blue Moon chrysalises are brown with spines and well camouflaged. Adult Blue Moon butterflies eclose (emerge) about ten days after pupating.

Blue Moon butterflies are found from Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa, through South and Southeast Asia, to South Pacific islands (including French Polynesia, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa, and Vanuatu), and in parts of Australia, Japan, and New Zealand.

If you live in or happen to visit their range, keep an eye out for the snazzily-dressed males in their velvety black tuxedos with iridescent purple cummerbunds and the females styling their myriad elegant tapa-cloth formals. Two ladies never want to wear the same dress to the ball.

“Blue moon,
Now I’m no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own.”
–Frank Sinatra, Chorus

Life Is Like a Camera

Monarch on Camera

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly on a camera. This image was not Photoshopped. Neither was it posed. Photographer Julia Wade and her husband, Jonathan, were photographing butterflies just for fun in our private butterfly zoo in Cary, North Carolina, USA. When this Monarch landed on Julia’s Canon, Jonathan recorded the moment. • “Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t turn out – take another shot.” • Copyright © 2009 by Julia Wade. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. Click Here to visit Julia Wade Photography.

Perchance to Hold a Butterfly

I raise butterflies so children can experience the sheer joy of holding them and observing them up-close.

Monarch on Girl's Hand

A Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly perches on the hand of this delighted young lady who also sports a colorful butterfly T-shirt on her field trip to the butterfly farm.

Painted Lady butterflies in children's hands

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies in the hands of budding lepidopterists. This is the species you can raise with Butterfly Lady’s famous Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit. Click Here or on the photo for complete details.

Many people believe the old wives’ tale that if you touch a butterfly’s wings and it loses some scales, it will die. Not so.

The truth is that butterfly wings are covered with hundreds of thousands, even millions in larger species, of tiny scales that overlap one another like shingles on a roof.

These scales protect and strengthen the translucent wing membranes and help provide lift.

Morpho Wings

Close-up wing view (left) of this stunning Morpho (Morpho spp.) butterfly (right).

Magnified Morpho Wing

Same photo (from above left) of a Morpho butterfly wing magnified to show details.

Magnified Monarch Wing

Exquisite, cushiony patterns of orange, black and white scales on the wing of a Monarch butterfly. At this magnification, it appears to be a fine handiwork of needlepoint.

Drastic loss of scales will change the aerodynamics of the wing, making flight more strenuous and slow, but a butterfly can fly with most of its scales missing. In fact, butterflies are so resilient that they can still fly after losing parts of their wings.

Worn Wings of a Tiger Swallowtail

Amazingly, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterfly can still navigate the skies with substantial parts of its wings missing. It’s nectaring on faded blossoms of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Click Here or on the photo to buy seeds of this versatile nectar- and host-plant.

Worn Wings Julia

This tattered Julia (Dryas iulia) can also still fly. As bits and pieces of its wings fall off or are bitten off by birds, lizards and other predators, it quickly adjusts its motor skills to compensate for weight and balance.

Slipperiness and easy detachment of butterfly scales help butterflies escape predators.

Wear and tear is natural over an adult’s lifetime and a few scales are lost each time a butterfly flies. Severe weather, brushes with plants and spider webs all take their toll.

The longer a butterfly lives, the more likely its wings will be damaged. Scales form the colors and patterns butterflies need for mate selection, camouflage, predator avoidance and thermoregulation.

Zebra Longwing Worn wings

Yes, this Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly is still airworthy, but doesn’t have too many more miles in it.

Morph scales

Hundreds of butterfly scales ended up on my finger after handling a Morpho butterfly. Not to worry. There are millions more scales on its wings. They remind me of nature’s “pixie dust,” magically facilitating butterfly flight.

Although a butterfly will not die if you touch its wings, if too many scales are rubbed off, these benefits are diminished. So, handle them with care.

For a demonstration of how to properly pick up and hold a butterfly, I turn to New Zealand’s butterfly expert; trustee and secretary of the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust; and my friend Jacqui Knight (via YouTube).

So if you ever get the chance to hold a butterfly, it’s all good. Just be gentle, do it the right way, and treasure the joy.

The Beauty of Butterflies

I find the beauty of butterflies inspirational.

Morpho Butterfly

Morpho (Morpho spp.) butterfly. • “In His hand is the life of every living thing.” –Job 12:10