Category Archives: Butterflies

Love Is in the Air

I’ve given many presentations about butterflies to both children and adults, always allowing time at the end for questions. Once, a young girl surprised me by asking, “How do butterflies get pregnant?”

It’s complicated.

A pair of mating Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus).

When female butterflies first emerge, they already have about 400-700 eggs inside their abdomen. Most butterflies have a very short adult lifespan of three to four weeks. Females must quickly find a mate to have enough time to lay all her eggs.

I was trying to get a nice shot of this female Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) when the male swooped in after the female.

When female butterflies first emerge, they already have about 400 to 700 eggs inside their abdomen. Most butterflies have a very short adult lifespan of three to four weeks. Females must quickly find a mate to have enough time to lay all her eggs.

Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais) butterflies are found from Colombia north through Central America and Mexico to southern Texas.

Depending on the species, but usually within three or four days, the female will be ready for romance. But the female butterfly is picky. She wants just the right male who will provide just the right quality offspring.

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterflies are found in the southeastern United States, Central America, and throughout much of South America.

The male, in order to entice the female butterfly, will perform a courtship dance. These “dances” consist of flight patterns that are peculiar to that species of butterfly. If the female is interested she may join the male’s dance. The two flutter and twirl through the air together. The male releases pheromones, a natural cologne, from scent glands in an effort to entice the female to mate.

Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) are the largest butterfly found in North America.

Once the female is satisfied with her suitor, she allows him to attach himself by extending and offering her abdomen towards the male for coupling. The male butterfly has a pair of claspers at the end of his abdomen used to hold onto the female during the mating process. Males and females lock together at the ends of the abdomens and may stay attached for anywhere from an hour to up to twelve hours or more. In this way, males ensure that they are the only ones who fertilize the females’ eggs. During mating, males provide a spermatophore, a sort of “package” of sperm and nutrients the female needs to produce and lay eggs.

There are some species, such as the topical Heliconius butterflies, where the mating ritual is not so romantic. As a female Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) gets ready to emerge from her chrysalis, several males maneuver around her, each one trying to get the advantage over the others by pushing each other aside. Whoever wins this contest mates with the female. But because the male is so anxious to copulate he will not wait until the female emerges from the chrysalis. This behavior is sometimes called “pupal rape” since the female is still inside the chrysalis and unable to escape. A rather more politically correct description would be “forced copulation” or simply “pupal mating.”

Just as with humans, the mating rituals of butterflies can be perplexing. I have seen some unusual behavior among butterflies inside butterfly exhibits. One day I walked inside the butterfly house to find several male Zebra Longwing butterflies flying wildly around a newly emerged female Black Swallowtail. I suppose the males were confused and misread the olfactory clues that they use to find females.

The next time you see that “love is in the air,” quite literally, you’ll know more about the birds, and the bees, and the butterflies.

“Without Change There Would Be No Butterflies” T-Shirt. Sizes for Women, Men, and Youth in five different colors. Click Here or on the photo to see more.


Fascinating Facts About the Monarch Butterfly Migration

North American Monarch butterflies do not like cold weather, so every fall they head south for the winter. According to Monarch Watch, the Monarch’s migration is driven by seasonal changes. Shorter days and lower temperatures influence the movement of the Monarch.

They fly at speeds ranging between 12 to 25 miles an hour using updrafts of warm air, called “thermals,” to glide as they migrate on their 2500-3000 mile voyage from the Great Lakes in Canada to the warm Central Mexican oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Michoacán.

The butterflies fly through the Sierra Madre mountains on their way to their over-wintering grounds in Michoacán. (Photo by Omar Franco Reyes)

All along their migratory route, they will join together at night in clusters called roosts to rest. Sometimes they roost overnight, and other times they will roost in the same place for several days, waiting for optimal weather to head back on their southern journey. Scientists believe this roosting behavior provides safety from predators.

Butterfly Roost By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)

A monarch butterfly weighs less than 1 gram, about what a paper clip weighs, yet they are able to travel 1500-2500 miles to their over-wintering grounds. And according to Journey North, they have been known to fly as high as 11,000 feet. Most migrating songbird migrations occur in a range of 2000-4000 feet high.

See more of Celeste’s wonderful illustrations at

Not all Monarchs migrate to Mexico. Monarch butterflies that live on the west side of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in eucalyptus and pine trees in various places along the California coast between Sonoma County and San Diego.

A cluster of Monarchs in Goleta. Click here to see more over-wintering sites in California.

A few years ago I visited an over-wintering site in Pacific Grove. When you first enter the site early in the morning you do not see the butterflies because they look like leaves in the trees. But as it warms up they become active and will open their wings revealing the brilliant orange colors.

Monarchs roosting in Eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove. Notice how in the first photo it is hard to see the butterflies.

Monarchs begin to arrive in Michoacán, Mexico, during the last week of October and the first week in November. In fact, the natives in that area believe the butterflies are the souls of their dead ancestors coming to visit. Altars of food and flowers are constructed to celebrate their arrival. (To read more about Day of the Dead, Click Here.)

This beautiful altar celebrates the Monarch butterflies during the Day of the Dead. Photo by Monika Moore, California Butterfly Lady

Millions of butterflies will stay for the winter months high up in the trees, protected from the cold weather. Tens of thousands of Monarchs can cluster together on one oyamel tree in order to keep warm.

Wouldn’t you love to see this in person! Save Our Monarchs is sponsoring a trip. Check it out at  at                     (Photo by Carol Pasternak)

As warmer weather arrives, the Monarchs will become more active flying down to sip water in nearby streams. Click here to watch A “cascade” of monarch butterflies at an overwintering site in Mexico – an incredible sight!

In late February these Monarchs will begin their northern travels back to the United States and Canada. They will mate and lay eggs along the way where they find flowers to nectar on and milkweed for their young. This generation will not make the trip back form their starting point. They leave that journey for their children and grandchildren.

Map of Monarch Migration courtesy of BSAF Living Acres.

Celebrate the Monarch butterfly migration with this t-shirt.

Now available in purple, green, blue, lemon and black. sizes for women, men and children. Click to expand your wardrobe:

Butterflies and Pumpkins

I love fall! Butterflies are abundant this time of year. Monarchs are migrating south. Autumn leaves are starting to show their crimson, orange and golden colors. And, then there are pumpkins!

Pumpkins all lined up and ready to be taken home to carve.

Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate this wonderful time of year with butterflies and pumpkins.

Monika Moore, the California Butterfly Lady, always creates fun fall butterfly displays using Monarchs she’s raised.

You can check out more of Monika’s festive photos at

Heather Ward of Heather Ward Wildlife Art carved this Monarch butterfly. She explained, “When carving a pumpkin, it is important to cut out pieces in the right order. Start with the smallest first. In this case, I had a ton of tiny dots. Those were actually the easiest to put in – I just used a drill bit to poke holes in. Then I worked on the smaller patches on the wings, then the larger ones. I still broke a few lines, but it held together. Last, I carved the antennae and upper part of the background circle, then the lower part of the circle.”

Like a moth to flame, this Monarch butterfly can’t get enough of Heather Ward‘s  enchanted jack-o-lantern.

This adorable little girl and her butterfly won the 2014 This Old House Pumpkin Carving Contest.

“Pumpkin carving of a girl with a butterfly. I used various size knives and drills for this project. Also used a few toothpicks to hold it in place.” Jina L. of Mississauga, Ontario.

Need some help carving a butterfly? Download this free stencil with instructions from Better Homes and Gardens.

Download this free stencil with instructions from Better Homes and Gardens.

Don’t feel like you are creative? Jill Staake of Birds and Blooms used metal butterfly-shaped cookie cutters and a rubber mallet to make these butterfly designs. She used smaller “pie pumpkins” to create this small collection.

Hollow out each pumpkin as you would for traditional carving. Then, center a cookie cutter on one side and gently tap with the rubber mallet until the cookie cutter goes all the way through the flesh.

Start in the center and work side-to-side to avoid bending the metal. Remove the cut pumpkin along with the cutter, and clean up the edges with a sharp paring knife.

Find a butterfly-shaped cookie cutter at and

You might want to consider purchasing a Professional Pumpkin Carving Tool Kit to help you carve your pumpkins.

You can find this Professional Pumpkin Carving Tool Kit at Amazon.

If you raise Monarchs you know that this time of year there is always a shortage of milkweed to feed starving caterpillars. Did you know that you can feed 4th and 5th instar Monarch caterpillars fresh pumpkin?

Monarch larva will eat pumpkin during their last stages. Notice the color of the frass is dark orange rather than dark green.

When you are finished with your pumpkins, save the leftovers for your Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Happy Butterfly Halloween!

Butterfly Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner. Do you have your costume ready? Here are some butterfly-themed costumes you might like.

What an adorable idea for a couple!

Julie Ann Art created this unique Monarch butterfly costume.

Here is another cute duo.

Katie Van Blaricum of Insect Art and her darling little caterpillar.

This family dressed up as the whole lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly.

Aryn Bedrick made a costume for every member of the family to represent the four stages of a butterfly.

Don’t you love this adorable little butterfly?

Check out these butterfly costumes for babies on Amazon. Click Here or on the photo.

Even dogs can fly!

Don’t miss out on these butterfly costumes for doggies! Click Here or on the photo.

Sometimes a child-created costume can be the best!

Click Here or on the photo to see how to make your own butterfly wings.

And if you are not creative and just too busy to make a butterfly costume, you can always find one online.

Click Here or on the photo to shop for butterfly costumes.

Click Here to see more butterfly costume ideas on Butterfly Lady’s Pinterest pages.

Enjoy the butterflies!

Painted Lady Butterflies

All across Canada, in the northeastern United States and in the Midwest, people have reported seeing scores of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui).

In fact, the National Weather Service posted an image of a bewildering blob this week of a great mass of colors spread across Denver and neighboring counties. Weather scientists weren’t sure what to make of it. At first, their best theory was that they were looking at birds. But it turns out that it was migrating Painted Lady butterflies.

A radar image that shows migrating Painted Lady butterflies. (National Weather Service)

Todd Stout, of Raising Butterflies, said, “We are experiencing an unprecedented southward fall migration of the Painted Lady butterfly. In all the 30 years I’ve been studying butterflies in Utah, I have never seen anything like this–not in the fall. It is even more pronounced east of us in Colorado and the midwestern states. Yes, Painted Ladies migrate north into Utah from Mexico during the late winter/early spring. This is well documented and well known amongst local butterfly lovers.”

Painted Lady butterflies nectaring on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.).

The Painted Lady is native throughout the United States. In fact, it is the most widely-distributed butterfly in the world. It is found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and Central America. It is not a permanent resident in the eastern United States, but quasi-periodically migrates there from the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. These migrations are sporadic, sometimes enormous, and often follow rainy periods in those deserts.

Painted Lady larvae feed on a wide variety of host plants from the families Compositae (especially thistles), Boraginaceae, Malvaceae (especially the hollyhock Alcea rosea), common mallow (Malva neglecta), and a number of legumes including Iowa soybeans.

The Painted Lady butterfly and some of its host plants.

Some confuse these butterflies with the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). While their color scheme may be similar to Monarch butterflies, Painted Ladies have eyespots on the underside their wings in addition to brown coloring on both sides. Painted ladies lack the vein pattern that monarchs are best known for. Painted ladies are also smaller than Monarchs, with a wingspan measuring less than 3 inches.

Dorsal and ventral views of the Painted Lady. Note the yellow-tipped knobs on their antennae.

Thanks to favorable temperatures, there has been a huge influx of Painted Lady butterflies this fall. Some observers have spotted more than 100 in a single garden! To attract these and other butterflies to your garden you can hang up fruit inside a suet feeder.

A couple of Painted Lady butterflies enjoy sips of sweet fruit juice on a summer afternoon. • Click Here or on photo to view a variety of suet baskets.


Enjoy the butterflies!