Monthly Archives: June 2016

That First Monarch Butterfly Led the Way

My very first adventure with a Monarch butterfly was way back in the fall of 1982. I was a first-year teacher and had just started with a first-grade class at Timpanogos Elementary School, in Provo, Utah, USA.

Suzanne Tilton at Timpanogos Elementary School

Suzanne Tilton’s first year of teaching. Timpanogos Elementary School, Provo, Utah, USA; 1982

Timpanogos was a two-story school built in 1938. The floors in the classrooms were wooden and there were no modern conveniences. I loved that classroom, though, because large windows covered the east wall and I had a lovely view of Mount Timpanogos from my desk: verdant green in spring; the color of a hay field in summer; ablaze with yellows, reds and oranges in autumn; and snow-capped in winter.

Mount Timpanogos from Provo

Snow-capped Mount Timpanogos viewed from Provo, Utah, USA • Photo courtesy of Eric Ward via Wikipedia

I was blessed that year with a mentor who was a seasoned teacher. To help me get ready for the arrival of my students she took me to buy teacher supplies, she shared her lesson plans with me, she helped me organize my classroom, and she brought me a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar in a jar.

I had never seen a Monarch caterpillar, and I am not sure if I had even ever seen a Monarch butterfly. I set the jar on my desk that sat next to the windows so that we both could start our new adventure together.

I still remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I made so many mistakes it is a wonder I survived! By the end of the day I realized I knew nothing about teaching. What was I thinking? I never should have taken the job. I was destined for failure! I walked into my mentor’s classroom and cried. She reassured me that I would eventually get the hang of things.

Monarch Caterpillar in J Position

Monarch caterpillar in the “J” positon, hanging by its tail and preparing to shed its skin for the last time and pupate into a chrysalis.

The second day of school one of the students observed that the caterpillar had eaten all the leaves that were in the jar and it was hanging from the stem that was left over. The students were very concerned for the caterpillar because they thought it was dying. I reassured them that it was what the caterpillar had to do to become a butterfly.

Each day I found myself feeling more comfortable and self-assured. The students were also getting adjusted and were settling down to the classroom routine. Everyday I could feel improvements in managing the students’ behavior. I followed the lesson plans. As for the caterpillar, it just continued to hang from the stem, but now as a beautiful, jade-green Monarch chrysalis.

Monarch Chrysalis

Elegant jade-green Monarch chrysalis with its gold highlights.

Every morning at 10:30 we had recess, which was the favorite part of the day not only for my students, but also for me, because we loved going outside to play.  There was a door in the classroom that led to the outside through which we used to leave and walk to the playground.

Recently-emerged Monarch Butterfly

Recently-emerged Monarch butterfly.

One day, on our return to the classroom, a commotion erupted. The kids were jumping up and down and shouting excitedly, “Look Mrs. Tilton! Look!” As I walked in the room behind them I realized what all the excitement was about. A beautiful orange and black butterfly was now hanging from the stem inside the jar.

I calmed the kids down and explained that the butterfly needed it to be quiet or it would be frightened by the noise. I also realized that I would never get the kids focused on the math lesson I had planned to teach that day.

I gathered all the kids on the floor by my desk so we could observe the beautiful transformation that had occurred. They wanted to talk about what had just happened, so I gave every child an opportunity to discuss and ask questions. “Will it be able to fly away?” “Can we keep it?” “Where will it go?” “What will it eat?” I myself was new to this experience and did not know how to answer most of their questions. The Monarch butterfly continued to quietly hang inside the jar.

At lunchtime, I ran to the media center to find a book on butterflies, but could not find one. In the teacher’s lounge I saw my mentor and asked her what I should do. She said to take the lid off of the jar and when the butterfly was ready it would fly away. She then brought me a book about butterflies that I could read to the students and a filmstrip to show them. (If you don’t know what a filmstrip is, look it up on Google.)

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies

Wish that I had Carol Pasternak’s wonderful book, How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids back in 1982. Click here or on the photo for book details and to order your own copy.

The rest of that day we learned more about Monarch butterflies. We learned that they actually start life as an egg. We learned that Monarch caterpillars only eat Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) plants. We were amazed to find out that the Monarch butterflies were heading south to Mexico for the winter. We discovered that our Monarch was a female. We wrote a classroom story about our female Monarch and the children enjoyed drawing pictures of our beautiful butterfly.

Then something magical happened. The Monarch came out of the jar and flew towards the windows. The students screamed with delight, “Look, look, look!” The children jumped from their desks and ran over to get closer to the butterfly. I walked over to the large window and pulled it down to open. We then watched that magnificent Monarch gracefully fly outside and start her southward journey.

Monarch Butterfly on the Wing

Monarch butterfly on the wing. • Photo courtesy of Margot Leandro. Copyright © 2011 by Margot Leandro. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

That day the orange and black butterfly taught me a lesson. She taught me how to be a better teacher. I witnessed the excitement on my students’ faces as they discovered something new and experienced the joy of learning. Children need real-life experiences to be able to connect to the things they read about in books and see on the internet. They need to make connections to their world before they can write about them.

I hung the pictures of their butterflies on the windows and pinned their story to the bulletin board for the parents to enjoy for our first open house. How wonderful it was to observe these kids share their learning with their parents. Many of those parents who were doubtful about this first-year teacher were now reassured that their children would learn under my tutelage, and all because of a Monarch butterfly.

Suzanne Tilton at Timpanogos Elementary School

Suzanne Tilton (far right) and her first-grade class at Timpanogos Elementary School, Provo, Utah, USA; 1982-1983

Looking back on that experience I realize that it was very symbolic of that first year teaching those 26 first graders. I struggled to become an effective teacher, just as the Monarch struggled out of its chrysalis. It was the start to a very long teaching career, just as it was the start for a very long journey to Mexico for the Monarch. And just as the caterpillar changed into a beautiful butterfly, my students also transformed that school year into readers and writers and began their long careers as life-long learners.

Butterfly Excitement in Chapel Hill NC

Butterfly Excitement in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. The girl is holding a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly reared from one of Butterfly Lady’s Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits

I continued to teach in public schools and after 28 years I retired and started my own business. I now raise butterflies, including Monarch butterflies. I bring my caterpillars and butterflies to classrooms and teach about the lifecycle of a butterfly. I let the kids hold and touch the caterpillars and butterflies. I experience over and over the delight on a child’s face when they get to hold a butterfly for the first time.

Caterpillar Rearing Kit

Butterfly Lady’s Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit. Click here to check current availability and to place your order.

I also make low-cost Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits that I sell so that others can experience the joy of raising and releasing a butterfly.

Yesterday, I received an email from a teacher who had purchased one of those kits: “I am a first-grade teacher in Boise, Idaho, and we released our Painted Lady butterflies last week. I want to say how much I appreciate your gift. We loved watching them develop, then fly away. Thank you, Suzanne!”

I love being the Butterfly Lady and owe my humble start to a Monarch caterpillar that led me on my own metamorphosis and migration.

Judi’s Butterfly Garden

My friend, Judi, has created an absolute butterfly paradise in her backyard in Palm Bay, Florida, USA. She started butterfly gardening in 2008 in just one small section. Today her whole yard has been converted to a butterfly habitat that attracts a wide variety of butterflies.

Judi's Butterfly Signs

Bright and lovely signs greet visitors. Click here to view a selection of delightful butterfly garden signs for your own yard.

Judi’s private butterfly garden is open to the public a few times each year, including this coming Saturday and Sunday, 4 and 5 June 2016. Go to JudisButterflies.com for complete details and driving directions. (If you are reading this blog post after that date, click on the link anyway to discover when the next opportunity will come.)

If you’re anywhere between Miami and Jacksonville, it would be well-worth your travel time to visit Judi’s Butterfly Garden and to experience first-hand what can be accomplished in your own private space.

(For your convenience, you can follow links on the various plants mentioned here to check for availability and price.)

Butterfly Walkway Entices Visitors

Butterfly stepping-stones on the walkway lead to the garden. She often has extra butterfly nectar- and host-plants available for purchase, including those shown on the right. Click here to see whimsical butterfly stepping stones.

Butterfly Backyard

Judi’s backyard is furnished with stylish and functional butterfly-themed patio furniture. Click here to see a nice selection of available butterfly patio benches, chairs and tables.

Passiflora

Zebra Longwings (Heliconius charithonia), Julias (Dryas iulia) and Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are attracted to Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.) as both nectar- and host-plants. Judi has planted them throughout her garden to make it irresistible.

Zebra Longwing Caterpillar on Passion Vine

Zebra Longwing caterpillar eating a leaf of Citrus-Yellow Passion Flower (Passiflora citrina) which Judi purchased at world-famous Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida.

Wild Lime and Fennel

The Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) in the back left is covered with Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) caterpillars. A patch of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in the foreground feeds Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxanthes) caterpillars.

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) find Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) as well as native Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). She has Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia spp.) for the Polydamas Swallowtails (Battus polydamas) and Pipevine (Aristolochia spp.) for the Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor). I even found a cute little Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) caterpillar on her Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

Spicebush Caterpillar

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar on a Spicebush leaf, its host-plant.

Adirondack Chairs and Hackberry Tree

Adirondack chairs invite passing a relaxing afternoon in the shade of the Hackberry Tree (Celtis spp.), a host-plant for the Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis) butterfly.

Spicebush on Penta

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly on Penta (Pentas lanceolata).

A variety of flowers such as Pentas, Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) and Firebush (Hamelia patens) provide nectar for all these attractive native butterflies.

Julias Nectaring on Zinnias

Even small pots of Zinnias (Zinnia spp.) invite the butterflies, such as these Julias.

Butterfly Enclosure

Butterfly enclosure for Judi’s private butterfly zoo.

There is a screened-in enclosure where visitors can enjoy a close-up view of the butterflies nectaring on flowers, feeding on rotten fruit, and or puddling on the stone floor.

Queen and Julia Sipping Rotten Fruit

Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly, left, and a Julia butterfly, right, enjoying a rotten banana offered in a suet basket. Click here for various suet baskets for your own garden.

Julia Puddling on Wet Stepping Stone

Julia puddling on a wet stepping stone.

Greg and Judi

Greg and Judi

Judi, with help from her husband, Greg, certainly has accomplished “brightening the world one butterfly at a time.”

Rooftop View of Judi's Garden

Bird’s-eye View of Judi’s Butterfly Garden • Photo courtesy of JudisButterflies.com

Check out her website where you can see more photos of her garden and find helpful information. Also visit and Like her Facebook page.