Category Archives: Butterflies

Painted Lady Kits

I started raising butterflies as a classroom teacher of young children many years ago. My students were enthralled with the process of watching the caterpillars grow and turn into butterflies.

Butterfly joy on the faces of delighted children.

The look of sheer joy on their faces when we released our butterflies, watched them flutter their wings, and take off for the first time was delightful to behold. Maybe these young children saw the parallels in their own lives.

For 10 years, I have offered Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits online. It’s probably the easiest and most hassle-free way to rear a butterfly because all one does is observe the caterpillars without having to clean the cup or to add any leaves. The kits are self-contained environments.

A crystal-clear 9-ounce cup forms the caterpillar habitat. It’s easy to hold and to observe by kids of all ages. Each Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit is shipped with six healthy caterpillars.

The caterpillars climb to the top of the cup and attach themselves to the paper disk so they can pupate. Once that happens, the paper disk can be removed along with the chrysalises and placed inside a butterfly habitat for continued observation. Once the butterflies emerge, they can be kept inside the habitat for a few days and then released or released that very day.

In this photo, the paper disk at the top of the caterpillar cup has been removed and attached to the side of a pop-up cage. Five caterpillars have pupated into chrysalises. From these pupae, adult butterflies will emerge in about 10 days.

The kits are made using clear plastic cups. An artificial diet is poured into the cups. Once the food has dried, a filter and a lid go on the top to keep the food from drying out. Each cup has six newly hatched caterpillars inside a smaller cup with enough food to nourish them during the first week. The smaller cup allows the caterpillars to travel safely during shipping.

Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits being prepared for shipment.

The two cups are packaged in a box along with instructions, a paintbrush that is used to transfer the caterpillars to the larger cup, and a pushpin to place holes in the top of the larger cup.

Components of the Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit.

Budding lepidopterists anticipating the release of their butterfly brood.

If you would like to experience the joy of raising and releasing butterflies with your children or students, Click Here or on any of the photos in this article to order Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits.

Enjoy the Butterflies!

Worldly Monarchs

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are best known for their annual migration in North America. But many people do not realize that Monarch butterflies are not just found in North America. These iconic butterflies can be seen around the world and form populations that do not migrate or that only migrate short distances.

Monarchs cluster together in colonies in a forest of Oyamel trees in Mexico. (Photo by Carol Pasternak. Used with permission.)

Monarchs thrive throughout Central and South America. They are residents in the islands of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and Cuba. Monarchs live in North Africa and migrate to the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, Portugal, and Spain. Even on occasion a rare migrant can be found in the United Kingdom. They have also been seen in Bermuda, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Ceylon, India and Nepal. Monarchs live year-round on the Hawai‘ian Islands as well as on other Pacific Islands. They are abound in New Zealand and Australia.

Scientists believe that the Monarch butterfly is originally from North America, but over the years they have made their way throughout the world colonizing new locations where they could find various species of Milkweeds for their host plants. For example, Gomphocarpus physocarpus, commonly known as Swan Plant, is a species of Milkweed native to southeast Africa, but it has been naturalized in New Zealand, most likely before the Monarchs arrived. Monarchs were probably knowingly or unknowingly transported on ships and then were able to find their host plants to survive.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus, commonly known as Balloonplant, Balloon Cotton-bush, Nailhead, or Swan Plant, is a species of Milkweed. The plant is native to southeast Africa, but it has been widely naturalized. The name “Balloonplant” is an allusion to the swelling bladder-like follicles which are full of seeds.

It’s possible that extreme weather events helped to relocate Monarchs. It is believed by some that Monarchs were carried to Australia from New Caledonia on cyclones. Once they arrived, they found MilkweedGomphocarpus physocarpusoriginally from South Africa, and the Asclepias Curassavica  from Central America that had become naturalized and the butterflies successfully established a breeding population.

The Monarch butterfly, also known as the Wanderer in Australia, makes limited migratory movements in cooler areas. It has only been present in Australia since about 1871.

Monarchs spread throughout much of the world in the 1800s. They were first seen in Hawai‘i in the 1840s, and spread throughout the South Pacific in the 1850s-60s. In the early 1870s, the first Monarchs were reported in Australia and New Zealand.

Monarch butterflies were first recorded in Tonga in 1863. It’s believed these butterflies were transported from Hawai‘i and adapted to eat Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea).

Wherever they are found, Monarchs have become one of the best-known and favorite butterflies throughout the world.

Monarch flying over Tenerife in the Canary Islands. (Photo by Margot Leandro. Used with permission.)

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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.

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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) https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8545093

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 https://celestegagnon.wordpress.com

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 http://www.craftours.com/trips/?page=mexico_monarch_0218                     (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.

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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 https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaButterflyLady/

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. http://www.bhg.com/halloween/pumpkin-carving/printable-pumpkin-stencils/butterfly-pumpkin-stencil/#

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.

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

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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!