Tag Archives: Zebra Longwing

Perchance to Hold a Butterfly

I raise butterflies so children can experience the sheer joy of holding them and observing them up-close.

Monarch on Girl's Hand

A Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly perches on the hand of this delighted young lady who also sports a colorful butterfly T-shirt on her field trip to the butterfly farm.

Painted Lady butterflies in children's hands

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies in the hands of budding lepidopterists. This is the species you can raise with Butterfly Lady’s famous Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit. Click Here or on the photo for complete details.

Many people believe the old wives’ tale that if you touch a butterfly’s wings and it loses some scales, it will die. Not so.

The truth is that butterfly wings are covered with hundreds of thousands, even millions in larger species, of tiny scales that overlap one another like shingles on a roof.

These scales protect and strengthen the translucent wing membranes and help provide lift.

Morpho Wings

Close-up wing view (left) of this stunning Morpho (Morpho spp.) butterfly (right).

Magnified Morpho Wing

Same photo (from above left) of a Morpho butterfly wing magnified to show details.

Magnified Monarch Wing

Exquisite, cushiony patterns of orange, black and white scales on the wing of a Monarch butterfly. At this magnification, it appears to be a fine handiwork of needlepoint.

Drastic loss of scales will change the aerodynamics of the wing, making flight more strenuous and slow, but a butterfly can fly with most of its scales missing. In fact, butterflies are so resilient that they can still fly after losing parts of their wings.

Worn Wings of a Tiger Swallowtail

Amazingly, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterfly can still navigate the skies with substantial parts of its wings missing. It’s nectaring on faded blossoms of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Click Here or on the photo to buy seeds of this versatile nectar- and host-plant.

Worn Wings Julia

This tattered Julia (Dryas iulia) can also still fly. As bits and pieces of its wings fall off or are bitten off by birds, lizards and other predators, it quickly adjusts its motor skills to compensate for weight and balance.

Slipperiness and easy detachment of butterfly scales help butterflies escape predators.

Wear and tear is natural over an adult’s lifetime and a few scales are lost each time a butterfly flies. Severe weather, brushes with plants and spider webs all take their toll.

The longer a butterfly lives, the more likely its wings will be damaged. Scales form the colors and patterns butterflies need for mate selection, camouflage, predator avoidance and thermoregulation.

Zebra Longwing Worn wings

Yes, this Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly is still airworthy, but doesn’t have too many more miles in it.

Morph scales

Hundreds of butterfly scales ended up on my finger after handling a Morpho butterfly. Not to worry. There are millions more scales on its wings. They remind me of nature’s “pixie dust,” magically facilitating butterfly flight.

Although a butterfly will not die if you touch its wings, if too many scales are rubbed off, these benefits are diminished. So, handle them with care.

For a demonstration of how to properly pick up and hold a butterfly, I turn to New Zealand’s butterfly expert; trustee and secretary of the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust; and my friend Jacqui Knight (via YouTube).

So if you ever get the chance to hold a butterfly, it’s all good. Just be gentle, do it the right way, and treasure the joy.

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.

“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.