“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

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).

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

For a demonstration of how to properly pick up and hold a butterfly, I turn to John – a professional butterfly farmer in the Southeast.

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.

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 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 lifelong 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.

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.

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.
Butterfly Walkway Entices Visitors
Butterfly stepping-stones on the walkway lead to the garden.  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.
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.

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

Greg and Judi
Greg and Judi

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

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

Raising Black Swallowtail Butterflies for Fun

One of my favorite butterflies to raise is the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). It’s an easy species to attract to your garden. You just need to provide their host plants on which the females lay their eggs, including Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Rue or Golden Alexander and they will find them.

Eastern Black Swallowtail and Host Plants
The beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly and five of its host plants, including common herbs: Dill, Fennel, and Parsley.
Female Eastern Black Swallowtail ovipositing
Female Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly ovipositing an egg on Fennel. Look closely at the end of her abdomen. Can you see the cream-colored egg?
Eastern Black Swallowtail Eggs
Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs on Rue and Fennel leaves.

Once you find the eggs or tiny caterpillars, remove the leaves or pieces of the plant they are on and place them inside a small plastic cup with a lid.  This keeps the tiny caterpillars from escaping.) Do not punch holes.

You can purchase 2-ounce or 9-ounce cups at most grocery stores or click on the link to order them online: https://amzn.to/2BmTy2Y

Keep them inside the cup until after they hatch and for a few days. Then you can place them inside a larger container. I like to use salad containers from fast-food restaurants, but you can use any container with a lid. I use a pushpin to punch air holes in the lid. Line the bottom of the container with a paper towel or coffee filter. Be sure to provide plenty of the host plant leaves on which you found the eggs and/or caterpillars.

Use a pushpin to punch air holes in the lid of the container.
Salad Container Repurposed as a Butterfly Habitat
This easy-to-assemble habitat is nothing more than a fast-food salad container lined with a coffee filter. A few holes punched in the top with a push pin complete the project. These Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars are dining on Curly Parsley.
Caterpillar Condo
I call this my caterpillar condo.

Check on your caterpillars each day to make sure they have enough food to feast on. Once they get bigger you will need to empty the fecal droppings (known as frass) each day and add a new coffee filter or paper towel plus fresh food.

Caterpillar Frass
Caterpillars make a mess! Be sure to clean your cage every day to keep your caterpillars healthy and happy.
All Five Caterpillar Instars
Caterpillars shed their skin five times as they grow. These stages are called instars. In this photo, you can see all five instars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar represented on my finger.

When they are ready to pupate, they will crawl to the top of the lid and make their chrysalis. Many people like to put sticks inside the container for them to use, but that is not necessary. However, it can be fun to see the different colors the chrysalis becomes.

Pupating Caterpillars
The caterpillar will crawl to the top and spin a silk girdle on the container lid before it sheds its skin for the final time.
Chameleon-like Pupae
Chameleon-like, the Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar will pupate with colors that match its surroundings in order to camouflage itself.

It usually takes about two weeks for the butterfly to emerge from the chrysalis. You can then experience the joy of holding and releasing your new butterfly.

Eastern Black Swallowtail on finger
A newly-emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly ready for its first flight.