I am reading a fascinating book by Anurag Agrawal, an American professor at Cornell University of ecology, evolutionary biology, and entomology, called Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution. In it he describes the unique relationship between monarchs and milkweeds.
Monarchs need milkweed to survive since it is the only plant they use to feed their young. Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs. Fortunately, in North America alone, there are 100 different species of milkweed on which female monarchs seek to lay their eggs.
Milkweeds get their common name from the milky color of its sap. The sap contains toxins, called cardenolides, which the monarch has adapted to be able to ingest. These toxins serve to protect both the plants and the monarchs from predators. Milkweed provides protection for the monarch larvae as well as the adult butterflies. But the milkweed plants can also be toxic to the caterpillars so they have developed strategies to benefit from the alkaloids in the latex sap to prevent from being killed by those same toxins.
The newly hatched tiny caterpillar must face the challenge of the milkweed latex as it begins its first meal. A first instar caterpillar is so tiny this sticky substance can easily immobilize it if it isn’t careful. Typically the newbie caterpillars chew a small circle and then are able to eat the center portion. This behavior is called “trenching.” By doing so, the caterpillar effectively drains the latex from that small area of the leaf, and makes itself a safe meal. The method isn’t foolproof, however, and a good number of early instar monarchs become mired in latex and die. According to some research, as many as 30% of first instar caterpillars do not survive. (Source : It’s the first bites that count: Survival of first-instar monarchs on milkweeds by Myron P. Zalucki.)
Fourth and fifth instar caterpillars larvae deactivate latex before eating leaves by chewing a shallow notch in the petiole (the stalk which attaches the leaf blade to the stem) of the leaf they are eating, which causes the leaf to fall into a vertical position. After the leaf hangs down, the caterpillar will flip around to eat the leaf.
Monarch larvae consume so much milkweed they increase their body mass by as much as 2,000 times or more during the larval stage.
To help monarch butterflies to survive and to thrive we need to plant more milkweed. You can never have enough milkweed when you are feeding hungry monarch caterpillars!
When planning a butterfly garden one typically thinks of planting flowers. But did you know that trees are some of the best plants for attracting butterflies?
Three common species of trees that support dozens of butterfly species and hundreds of moth species include oaks, willows, and chokecherries. Xerces Society’s Gardening for Butterfliescalls these three trees “Keystone Trees” because attract multiple species of butterflies.
Oaks (Quercus spp.) support many different species of butterflies including the myriad hairstreak and duskywing species as well as the California Sister (Adelpha californica) and the Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia). Oaks also support the Imperial moth (Eacles imperiali), the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and the Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) in addition to others.
There is such an incredible diversity of oak species that exist across the entire North American continent, many of which are small shrubs that can be used to add to your landscape. Some examples are the California Shrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia), the Gambel Oak(Quercus gambelii) found in the Southwestern deserts into the Great Plains, the Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) of the Southeast and the Scrub Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) of southeastern Canada and northeastern United States.
The Chokecherry(Prunus virginiana) is another tree that is distributed throughout much of the United States and southern Canada and is quite adaptable to various soil types and planting conditions. Chokecherry attracts widespread species of butterflies, both as a host plant for caterpillars and as a source of nectar for butterflies. Among the butterflies that use the Chokecherry as a host plant are the Lorquin Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), the Tiger Swallowtail(Papilio glaucus), the Two-tailed Swallowtail(Papilio multicaudata), the Spring Azure(Celastrina ladon) and the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus).
Various willows (Salix spp.) are host plants for the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and the Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini). Willows are found in every part of the United States and Canada, with locally-appropriate native species available for any butterfly garden. These awesome trees are fast-growing and will tolerate many soil types. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Most willows do well in full sun and moist environments.
There are many different trees that attract butterflies, both as a source of nectar and as a host plant for caterpillars. (Click here to see a list of host trees.) Trees also provide butterflies protection during bad weather as well as a place for them to perch during the day and to roost during the night.
Remember, you will only attract butterflies that are native to your area. Find out what native tree species grow best for your region. The best place to start is a native plant nursery. Click on this link to help you find a native nursery where you live: http://www.plantnative.org/national_nursery_dir_main.htm
Some books are meant to be read to children while they sit on your lap. A Butterfly Is Patient is just one of those books.
An incredible variety of butterflies and caterpillars are illustrated in real-life colors and sizes, from the iridescent Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus) and the brilliant orange Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) to the tiniest butterfly, the Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis) and the largest, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae).
The lyrical text makes this a beautiful, yet informative and entertaining read.
I look forward to my granddaughter sitting on my lap so I can share this lovely book with her.
A Butterfly Is Patient was written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Click Here or on the book cover to add it to your butterfly library.
So many wonderful books have been written for youngsters. Here are some of my favorites.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Of course, my all-time favorite children’s book is Eric Carle’s masterpiece. What a classic! This is a fun book to read, but it is not the best book to teach children about butterflies. After all, caterpillars do not eat oranges, or apples, or chocolate cake. Neither do caterpillars make cocoons. But it will delight children and start them on their journey to learn more about butterflies.
Waiting for Wings
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Uniquely designed and illustrated, this delightful story explains the life cycle of butterflies. Rich language and the author’s clever use of rhyme make this book appealing to young children. Complete with butterfly and flower facts plus identification tips, as well as a guide to planting a butterfly garden, this butterfly book is like no other.
Gotta Go, Gotta Go
written by Sam Swope and illustrated by Sue Riddle
This is a very fun book to read aloud to children, beginning with the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar chanting, “I don’t know much, but I know what I know. I gotta go! I gotta go! I gotta go to Mexico!” In simple, jaunty text and pictures, children will learn about the magical transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and its fantastic journey to Mexico.
How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids
by Carol Pasternak
If your children want to learn how to raise Monarch butterflies, this is the book you must have. Carol Pasternak, The Monarch Butterfly Crusader, has filled the book with colorful and detailed photos. She shares secrets to help you find eggs and caterpillars, then provides detailed instructions on how to feed Monarch caterpillars, as well as how to take of Monarch adults.
A Butterfly Is Patient written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long
Children will learn so many interesting facts about butterflies in this beautifully illustrated book. From iridescent blue Swallowtails (Papilio spp.) and brilliant orange Monarchs to the world’s tiniest butterfly, the Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis), and the largest, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae), an incredible variety of butterflies are represented in all of their beauty and wonder. A lyrical text makes this a beautiful yet informative and entertaining read. Click here for a more detailed review of A Butterfly is Patient.
My, Oh My–a Butterfly!: All About Butterflies written by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu
With a little help from the Cat in the Hat, Sally and Dick observe a small miracle in their own backyard—the metamorphosis of an egg into a caterpillar into a chrysalis into a bright new butterfly! Along the way, beginning readers will discover how butterflies see thousands of images at once, drink nectar from flowers, avoid predators; and how they can be identified by size, shape, and color. This book engages everyone with a fun combination of Dr. Seussian rhymes. It’s a delightful read, not only for children, but for adults, too.
Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Lois Elhert
I know, I was just supposed to name the top children’s butterfly books but, caterpillars do become butterflies, and I just have to share this delightful book. It is written by Bill Martin, Jr., who wrote Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and is illustrated by Lois Elhert, who wrote and illustrated Waiting for Wings(featured above). Each caterpillar has its own fun adventure. “The tenth little caterpillar hung on an apple tree… until by and by, it became a butterfly.” The rhyming is delightful. There’s also a glossary filled with intriguing information about all ten of the caterpillar stars!
The Reason for a Flower written and illustrated by Ruth Heller
The relationship of butterflies, as well as other pollinators, are beautifully illustrated in this delightful book. The book is all about the reason for a flower and how plants make their own seeds.mThe reason for a flower? To propagate plants, clearly… but, as the illustrations show, also to enjoy!
Butterfly Alphabet Book
written by Jerry Pallotta and Brian Cassie and illustrated by Mark Astrella
Welcome to the wonder and beauty of butterflies! Learn about these amazing butterflies, and more, as you read from A to Z about a group of the world’s most beautiful insects. This book will be a favorite with both the young butterfly lover and the experienced lepidopterist!
Fancy Nancy, Bonjour Butterfly written and illustrated by Ruth Heller
Fancy Nancy, who adores butterflies, has been invited to a butterfly-themed birthday party. But to her disappointment, she can’t go because her grandparents’ fiftieth-anniversary party is the same day. The story, in typical Fancy Nancy style, is original, wonderfully written, and includes a lesson for the little ones…not to mention the illustrations are absolutely beautiful! While this book is not really about butterflies, it is a fun read for anyone who loves butterflies.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
An exceptionally crafted visual biography of a pioneering entomologist and naturalist who lived a life devoted to discovery, Maria Sibylla Merian, was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. In this nonfiction biography, illustrated throughout with delightful full-color original paintings by Merian herself, author Joyce Sidman paints her own picture of one of the first female entomologists and a woman who flouted convention in the pursuit of knowledge and her passion for insects. A must read for young girls and boys, young adults, and older adults!
Monarch Butterfliesby Ann Hobbie and Illustrated by Olga Baumert
With easy-to-read text and colorful, engaging illustrations, Monarch Butterfliespresents young readers with rich, detailed information about the monarch’s life cycle, anatomy, and the wonders of their migration, as well as how to raise monarchs at home and the cultural significance of monarchs in Day of the Dead celebrations. As the book considers how human behavior has harmed monarchs, it offers substantive ways kids can help make a positive difference. Children will learn how to turn lawns into native plant gardens, become involved in citizen science efforts such as tagging migrating monarchs and participating in population counts, and support organizations that work to conserve butterflies.
If you want to learn more about butterflies and how to attract them to your garden, I offer you six of my favorite butterfly books to add to your library.
The Life Cycles of Butterflies: From Egg to Maturity, a Visual Guide to 23 Common Garden Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards
An excellent book to learn about the life cycles of common backyard butterflies, there are hundreds of stunning, full-color, up-close photos, all taken in a live garden setting. Each butterfly is shown from start to maturity, with sequential photographs of the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and emerging adult butterfly of each species.
This rich visual guide to the life cycles of butterflies will appeal to wildlife enthusiasts, gardeners, teachers, and families alike. It has earned two national awards from Learning Magazine:
• Teacher’s Choice Award for “Children’s Books”
• Teacher’s Choice Award for “Product of Excellence for the Family”
Do Butterflies Bite?: Fascinating Answers to Questions about Butterflies and Moths by Hazel Davies and Carol A. Butler
This book covers everything from basic butterfly biology to their complex behaviors at every stage of life to issues in butterfly conservation. You’ll find tips on how to attract more butterflies to your garden, how to photograph them, and even how to raise them in your own home.
Arranged in a question and answer format, the book provides detailed information written in an accessible style that brings to life the science and natural history of these insects.
In addition, sidebars throughout the book detail an assortment of butterfly trivia, while extensive appendices direct you to organizations, web sites, and more than 200 indoor and outdoor public exhibits, where you can learn more or connect with other lepidopterophiles (butterfly lovers).
An Obsession With Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect
by Sharman Apt Russell
Why are we obsessed with butterflies? Sharman Apt Russell reveals the logic behind our endless fascination with butterflies and introduces us to the legendary collectors and dedicated scientists who have obsessively cataloged new species of Lepidoptera.
A luminous journey through an exotic world of passion and strange beauty, this is a book to be treasured by anyone who has ever experienced the enchantment of butterflies. This is such a beautiful book to read and if you love butterflies you will love this book, too.
The Family Butterfly Book: Projects, Activities, and a Field Guide to 40 Favorite North American Species by Rick Mikula
This was the very first book I read about butterflies and it remains my favorite. It’s such a fun book to read and you will learn all kinds of fun and creative activities to do with butterflies.
With stunning color photographs and detailed illustrations, Rick explains how to attract, safely catch and handle, and raise and support butterflies. He also discusses how to make irresistible habitats for butterflies and emphasizes the importance of basking sites, water sources, and shelter.
Did you ever want to hand-feed a butterfly? Have a live-butterfly tree? Feature butterflies in special celebrations? Rick explains all that and more.
Raising Butterflies in the Garden by Brenda Dziedzic
This is a comprehensive book on how to attract butterflies to your garden, using both nectar plants and caterpillar food plants.
Brenda wrote her book based on years of personal experience attracting butterflies to and raising caterpillars in her small yard.
If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, Brenda will show you exactly what you need to do.
The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect by Wendy Williams
Once I started reading this book I could not put it down! Williams will mesmerize and delight you with fascinating details about butterflies and the people who pursue them.
“Combining humor and poetry, Wendy Williams explores both butterflies and the people who love them…Humorist and poet though she may be, you don’t need to read Williams’ author bio to know she’s really a journalist, because she has a clear, logical style and a reporter’s instinct for telling stories through the people. One of the pleasures of the book is how gracefully Williams shifts between mini-profiles of pioneering butterfly fans and experts, the majority of whom are female or children or both…A charming, even suspenseful tale.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Want books specifically written for children? Here are my favorites.