Category Archives: Butterflies

Spring Migration

There is nothing more exciting than finding a field full of native Milkweed plants. Even more exhilarating is when you discover Monarch butterfly eggs on the leaves of those plants!

Looking for Monarch butterfly eggs on young milkweed plants.

Monarchs are leaving a trail of eggs as they travel north. The first generation departing overwintering sites in central Mexico only migrates as far north as Texas and Oklahoma. The second, third, and fourth generations return to their northern breeding locations in the United States and Canada as spring progresses.

Female Monarchs find milkweed on their journey north through a combination of visual and chemical cues. When they land on a plant that might be Milkweed, they drum their forelegs on the surface to release chemicals. Then, sensors on their legs and antennae called chemoreceptors to identify if it’s Milkweed and the quality of the plant. They like placing their eggs on tender new leaves of the Milkweed plant, probably making it easier for the young larva to feed on.

Female Monarch depositing eggs on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Purchase Tropical Milkweed seeds here: https://amzn.to/2xU5M1c

You can report your sightings at Journey North

Spring migratory routes are considerably more difficult to identify and study than fall routes because in the spring Monarchs are dispersed and consequently less noticeable than the fall migrants, which form roosts. Scientists are still learning about the Monarchs’ spring migration thanks to the help of citizen scientists from every US state and seven Canadian provinces. They report their first sightings of Monarch butterflies every spring. Through these reports, we can learn about when and where Monarchs travel as they migrate north in the spring.

Generation 1 monarchs are the offspring of the monarchs who overwintered in Mexico. Each successive generation travels farther north. It will take 3-4 generations to reach the northern United States and Canada.

High-quality habitat with abundant Milkweed is critical for Monarchs at this stage of their annual cycle. Explore Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Market and Monarch Joint Venture’s Milkweed & Wildflower Vendor Map. Plan and plant your pollinator garden today!

Young Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Purchase seeds here: https://amzn.to/3cK8ANe

Winter Sowing Milkweed Seeds

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook about how to winter sow milkweed seeds using milk jugs.

Native milkweed seeds and many other perennial plants need a period of cold stratification in order to germinate. Cold stratification is simply exposing the seed to a period of cold treatment. I’ve always prepared milkweed seeds by using the artificial stratification method (click here for instructions), however, was intrigued by this unique method.

Daria Fedorovich Murphy shared her method for sowing milkweed seeds on Facebook.

The holidays were spent at my son’s house in Michigan. I brought some milkweed seeds as a Christmas gift. He and his wife recently purchased a home and expressed an interest in planting a butterfly garden. I had planned to sow them directly into the ground but wanted to try using the “milk jug method” instead.

Using individual biodegradable planter cups to plant the milkweed seeds, I figured would make it easier to transplant the seedlings when they are ready. I placed potting soil inside the cups and watered the soil to moisten it, then three to four seeds were placed on top of the dirt and gently patted them down. (You do not cover the seeds with soil because they need light to germinate.)

To prepare the milk jugs punch four drainage holes on the bottom of the jug using an awl. (You could also use the tip of a heated glue gun or drill the holes with a small power drill.) The holes need to be about ¼ inch in diameter to allow good drainage.  Cut the milk jug in half with sharp scissors, leaving about an inch for a hinge.

Leaving a hinge is essential to keep the top attached to the base.

Place the planter cups inside the milk jugs and use duct tape to seal them closed. Be sure to leave the caps off of the containers so the milkweed seeds will get watered from Mother Nature. I placed the milk jugs inside some planter trays for stability. Oh yes, and don’t forget to label the milk jugs! (I used a permanent marker, but a grease pencil will also work. Or you can use a planter label for each individual cup.)

Labeling your plantings eliminates confusion later in the season.

Now you just leave the milk jugs outside and let Mother Nature do her magic!

Even in the snow, the seedlings are protected inside the milk jugs.

Click here for more detailed instructions on how to winter sow seeds using milk jugs: https://springcreekhomesteading.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/milk-jug-sowing.pdf

You can purchase these native milkweed seeds here: https://amzn.to/2UsvcKn

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed” T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: https://amzn.to/2PFvZn4

Fear of Butterflies

Did you know there are actually people out there who are scared of butterflies? It is called Lepidopterophobia. It is hard for me to imagine anyone being afraid of these beautiful delicate creatures that bring me so much joy. Yet some people have that fear.

https://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/about/photo-galleries/drawing-illustration-scholastic-gold-key-art-awards-2017

A few years ago a group of children from a preschool came to one of my butterfly farm tours. It was obvious that one of the teachers was quite uncomfortable during my presentation about butterflies. Then when we took the children inside of the butterfly house she refused to go in. Afterward, she admitted to being deathly afraid of butterflies. Her fear prevented her from sharing the enjoyment her students were experiencing.

Young children experiencing butterflies up-close.

 

Australian actress Nicole Kidman admits to having an extreme fear of butterflies. As a young schoolgirl in Australia, she came home from school to find “the biggest butterfly on Earth” waiting to greet her at her front gate. She’s been traumatized since. She tried to confront her phobia by visiting the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, but she crumbled and ran out of the building.

Nicole Kidman Premiere of the movie “Queen Of The Desert” By Siebbi CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39253160.

Fear may serve a purpose when it prevents us from doing something harmful or dangerous. But most of our phobias are unjustified. These kinds of fears can prevent us from having many wonderful experiences such as the joy of observing a beautiful butterfly. So don’t be afraid and let fear rule your life. Enjoy the butterflies!

Native American Legends of the Butterfly

Butterflies have played a large role in Native American culture. Native American tribes all had their own unique meanings for the butterfly.  Native Americans have a strong spiritual connection to nature, which was often represented through the butterfly. They often decorated their clothes, teepees, and possessions with butterflies.

This is a famous photo of Sitting Bull taken circa 1880-1890 wearing a hat with a Monarch butterfly on the hatband.

My favorite legend is a story among some Pueblo tribes. According to this legend, the Creator felt sorry for the children when he realized that their destiny was to grow old and become wrinkled, fat, blind, and weak. Hence, he gathered beautiful colors from various sources such as sunlight, leaves, flowers, and the sky. These colors were put into a magical bag and presented to the children. When the children opened the bag, colored butterflies flew out, enchanting the children who had never seen anything so beautiful. The butterflies sang which further delighted the children. However, songbirds complained to the Creator because they were jealous that butterflies were both so beautiful and could sing like birds. So the Creator withdrew the ability to sing from butterflies. And, accordingly butterflies are so beautifully colored but are now silent.
https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/HowTheButterfliesCameToBe-Papago.html

Bear Painting, Native American Myth “How Butterflies Came to Be” by Colorado Artist Nancee Jean Busse. https://nanceejean.com/workszoom/2676060#/

For the Blackfeet, the butterfly was associated with sleeping and dreaming. They believed that butterflies delivered dreams. It was the custom for a Blackfoot woman to embroider the sign of a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin and tie this in her baby’s hair when she wishes it to go to sleep. At the same time, she sings to the child a lullaby in which the butterfly is asked to come flying about and put the child to sleep.

Butterfly symbols are found on this Pendleton butterfly pattern from the 1920s.

The butterfly was a prominent figure in the myth and ritual of the Hopi. This insect occurs frequently on prehistoric pottery and in the “Butterfly Dance”. The Butterfly Dance, a traditional social dance of the Hopi, is held in August or September after the gathering of the harvest and presentation of the Snake Dance. It is a thanksgiving ceremony for the harvest, chiefly for the corn crop. Like most Hopi ceremonies, the Butterfly Dance is a petition for rain, good health, and long life for all living things. The dance also recognizes the butterfly for its beauty and its contribution to pollinating plant life.

The spirit of the butterfly is also personified in Hopi Kachina figures. Kachinas are the spirit essence of everything in the real world. They represent game, plants, food, birds, insects, and even death itself is given a Kachina form. Among the various insect Kachinas are three of butterfly origin.

Poli Taka (Butterly Man), Poli Sio Hemis (Zuni Hemis Butterfly Kachina) and Poli Mana (Butterfly Girl)

I am not sure this legend is legitimate, but it’s still beautiful nonetheless and frequently repeated when butterflies are released at various celebrations:

If anyone desires a wish to come true, 
they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it.
Since a butterfly can make no sound,
the butterfly can not reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all.
In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom,
the Great Spirit always grants the wish.
So, according to legend,
by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom,
the wish will be taken to the heavens and be granted.

Art by Larry Selman @http://selmanart.com/ Used with permission.

This delightful retelling of a Native American folktale is “a satisfying selection, creatively designed, with beautiful pictures and striking imagery. See more here: https://amzn.to/31bDUyg

A portrait of Sitting Bull, looking back on the events that shaped his life and fate. Click here to see more:  https://amzn.to/2OQr2ef

Black Swallowtail Chrysalises

Sometimes when raising Black Swallowtail caterpillars inside a closed container, such as a butterfly habitat, they have the tendency to pupate on top of each other. This prevents the butterflies from eclosing properly so you must separate the pupae.

These Black Swallowtail pupae are connected with each other by silk threads.

 

Below is a step-by-step for how to remove and separate the pupae:

First, spray the area where the pupae are attached with water. This makes it very easy to remove them.

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Once you have sprayed the area, you can easily remove the pupae.

I find it interesting the colors of the pupae are different.

Using a pair os scissors, cut the silk girdle.

Now you need to be sure to remove all the silk that is still attached to the pupae. You can spray with water to make this easier.

The silk threads were spun by the caterpillar to attach itself. They need to be removed or this butterfly will not be able to eclose (emerge from the pupa).

The silk thread can gently be removed from the chrysalis.

Once all the silk is removed from the pupae, you can place them on the bottom of a butterfly habitat. The butterflies will emerge and then climb on the sides of the netting to dry their wings.

You can purchase butterfly habitats here: http://butterfly-lady.com/marketplace/caterpillars.htm

Newly eclosed female Black Swallowtail.