Tag Archives: host plants

“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

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.

Judi’s private butterfly garden is open to the public a few times each year, including this coming Saturday and Sunday, 4 and 5 June 2016. Go to JudisButterflies.com for complete details and driving directions. (If you are reading this blog post after that date, click on the link anyway to discover when the next opportunity will come.)

If you’re anywhere between Miami and Jacksonville, it would be well-worth your travel time to visit Judi’s Butterfly Garden and to experience first-hand what can be accomplished in your own private space.

(For your convenience, you can follow links on the various plants mentioned here to check for availability and price.)

Butterfly Walkway Entices Visitors

Butterfly stepping-stones on the walkway lead to the garden. She often has extra butterfly nectar- and host-plants available for purchase, including those shown on the right. 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.

Butterfly Enclosure

Butterfly enclosure for Judi’s private butterfly zoo.

There is a screened-in enclosure where visitors can enjoy a close-up view of the butterflies nectaring on flowers, feeding on rotten fruit, and or puddling on the stone floor.

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.

Greg and Judi

Greg and Judi

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

Rooftop View of Judi's Garden

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

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

Meadow Argus Butterfly of Tonga

The Meadow Argus (Junonia villida) is a butterfly found in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. I reared this one from the caterpillar stage. The butterfly is resting on my arm after being released. A few moments later, it flew up and away.

Meadow Argus

Meadow Argus (Junonia villida) butterfly.

If it looks familiar to residents of North America, there’s good reason. It’s related to the Buckeye (Junonia coenia). One of the host plants for Meadow Argus is Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), a wonderful nectar plant that grows along roadsides and in empty fields on the island of Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga.

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.

Can’t find these host-plant seeds locally? Order them here:
• Dill (Anethum graveolens)
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
• Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)
• Curly Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
• Rue (Ruta graveolens)

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. Collecting eggs and larvae from your garden or field and getting them home safely is easier with small condiment cups and lids. Click here to order a package.

Once you find the eggs or tiny caterpillars, remove the leaves or pieces of the plant they are on and place them inside a closed container. I like to use the salad containers from fast-food restaurants, but you can use any container with a lid. I use a push pin to punch air holes in the lid. Line the bottom of the container with paper towel or coffee filter. Be sure to provide plenty of the host plant leaves on which you found the eggs and/or caterpillars.

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.

“I have been transformed.”

El Salvador is still recuperating from a devastating civil war that wracked the country from 1980 to 1992, leaving at least 75,000 people dead and tens of thousands more displaced. My site, Segundo Montes, is a community made up of five towns in the eastern department of Morazán, formed in 1990 by repatriated refugees who fled the country’s civil war.

Teaching about Host Plants

Suzanne Tilton demonstrates the importance of butterfly host plants in the Mariposario Turístico Almirante de Morazán, a large butterfly enclosure in El Salvador.

After nearly a decade in refugee camps in Honduras, residents returned en masse 25 years ago to reclaim their livelihoods and dignity. I wanted to help this once-war-torn community’s iconography transform itself from memories of combat fatigues to fluttery symbols of peace and hope.

When I arrived at the Mariposario Turístico Almirante de Morazán, I was thrilled to see the abundance and variety of butterflies – from Blue Morphos (Morpho peleides) to Zebra Longwings (Heliconius charithonia) and everything in between – flying in the gardens outside. It was a delightful sight and I knew immediately that I had arrived where I belonged.

The butterfly exhibit was built in 2008 as an agricultural project to raise butterflies but, within two years, it was abandoned due to lack of knowledge and support on how to raise and manage the rearing of butterflies. My job as an Educational Butterfly Farm Management Specialist was to train butterfly wranglers how to cultivate butterflies and maintain a healthy habitat for them inside the exhibit.

Dressing up as a butterfly

A delightful child visiting the butterfly zoo has dressed up as a butterfly.

I also visited several primary and secondary schools to teach the life cycle of butterflies and why they’re important for the mountainous environment. Children had the chance to hold and observe up close live specimens in the forms of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies. I used props to dress up the children as caterpillars, butterflies and moths. They cheered in delight when we released butterflies at the end of the presentation and watched them fly freely into the sky.

I knew I was having an impact when parents would stop me in the community and share that they had learned all about butterfly metamorphosis from their children.

One of the highlights of my experience in El Salvador was a weekend visit by 50 students from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, who came across the border to learn butterfly biology and butterfly zoo management with an emphasis on environmentally friendly sustainability.

There is a concerted effort to develop tourism along the Ruta de Paz (Peace Highway) from Morazán’s capital of San Francisco Gotera to El Salvador’s border with Honduras, along Highway 7. The butterfly zoo is strategically located along this route and is well positioned to attract the attention of vacationers headed to the cool air and brilliant sunshine of Perquín, eight miles farther north.

Teaching about butterflies

Teaching a class on butterfly biology in El Salvador.

At 4,000 feet in elevation, Perquín is a popular destination of Salvadorans fleeing the heat and humidity of the coast and tropical lowlands. As time goes by, it is hoped that the Mariposario Turístico Almirante de Morazán will play its part in entertaining and educating tourists on the beauty of butterflies while it continues to contribute to the economic well-being of the community.

Heliconius hecale

A visitor to the butterfly zoo experiences the joy of holding a Tiger Longwing (Heliconius hecale).

In conjunction with the nascent tourism industry, I was privileged to make presentations and conduct field trips for university students studying tourism and hospitality at the nearby Technical Institute of Father Segundo Montes.

I experienced such a feeling of joy and satisfaction as I watched mesmerized visitors hold a butterfly for the first time.

Just as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, I have been transformed into a different person by serving as a Peace Corps Response volunteer.

Learning about the different parts of a butterfly.

Learning about the different parts of a butterfly; including compound eyes, hearing sensors, proboscis and wings.

Suzanne Tilton retired from teaching, mostly primary grades, after 28 years of service in 2010. She has raised butterflies for over 20 years and has shared the wonder of butterfly biology with thousands of children and adults. Suzanne and her recently retired husband, David, were so impressed with Peace Corps in El Salvador that they have applied for and been invited to teach English in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga for 27 months starting in August 2015.

Editor’s Note: This post was written and originally published in Peace Corps Passport, the U.S. Peace Corps’ official blog, on 22 April 2015 to commemorate Earth Day. Suzanne and her husband, David, eventually chose not to serve in Peace Corps, but did move to Tonga in October 2015, from where they continue to research, publish and teach worldwide about the wonder and joy of butterflies.