Archives For butterflies

Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Butterflies & Blooms, we have a variety of butterfly species that fall under the genus Heliconius. This fascinating group is commonly referred to as the longwings.

Longwings are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the New World. This includes South America, Central America, and the southern United States. Florida’s state butterfly, the zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia), has been found as far north as South Carolina.

Zebra longwing butterfly (Heliconius charithonia)

Zebra longwing butterfly (Heliconius charithonia)

Despite their diminutive size, zebra longwings are noted for their long lifespans, which can be several months rather than several days or weeks. This is thanks to their ability to use pollen as a food source. Unlike nectar, pollen is rich in protein, and this healthy diet allows them to remain fertile for a longer period of time.

Mimicry in butterflies illustrated on these plates showing four forms of Heliconius numata, two forms of H. melpomene, and the two corresponding mimicking forms of H. erato. Image by see Source, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mimicry in butterflies illustrated on these plates showing four forms of Heliconius numata, two forms of H. melpomene, and the two corresponding mimicking forms of H. erato. Image by see Source [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

Heliconians are also known to be very “intelligent” and social insects. They roost together in large groups, respect their elders by giving them the best roosting spots, and even wake each other up in the morning by gently nudging one another. At Butterflies & Blooms, you can usually find them comingling in loose groups called “flutters,” roosting in long rows on our serviceberry trees, or even mating.

Like Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands, the Heliconians have provided evolutionary biologists with a wealth of information and are studied more than any other butterfly. In the Amazon, Heliconians hybridize, form subspecies and local phenotypes, and mimic one another, confounding even the most seasoned lepidopterists.

Longwings have a unique and bizarre mating tactic called pupal mating that is not seen in most butterflies. Males will seek out female pupae and insert their abdomens into the chrysalids, fertilizing the females’ eggs before the butterflies finish emerging from the pupal stage. Scientists are currently studying the evolutionary effects that this tactic may have.

A Heliconius erato male is attracted by pheromones of a female pupa. He waits until she starts to emerge to attempt mating. Photo ©Holger Klee via Flickr.

A Heliconius erato male is attracted by pheromones of a female pupa. He waits until she starts to emerge to attempt mating. Photo ©Holger Klee via Flickr.

At Butterflies & Blooms we always have Heliconians flying around. You may find the postman, zebra longwing, Doris longwing, and many others. Ask us where to find them and we’ll point you in the right direction. Until next time, enjoy the gardens and keep your antennae up for future updates.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

This weekend, the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition opens for its fifth season.

Early in the year we need to place our chrysalis orders with our suppliers for the season. This was the first time I had placed the order, so it was fun to look through the lists—reviewing what had done well, and adding some that we haven’t had. A field trip to the butterfly exhibition at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum gave us a few new ideas to add to the list. Butterflies are so colorful, and their varied patterns make them a joy to watch and photograph!

Snow Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

Snow peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Our first shipment of pupae has just arrived. It includes North American species gulf fritillary, painted lady, and white peacock—see them at Butterflies & Blooms.

Most weeks we receive approximately 200 pupae, which are mounted on dowels in the warmth of the exhibition’s pupa room. Visitors thrill at seeing the butterflies and moths emerge from the pupae (or cocoons for the moths). Some emerge relatively quickly while others take longer.

The pupae are all ordered through butterfly suppliers; none of them are collected in the wild. The suppliers receive shipments often from all over the world from the “butterfly ranchers” who specialize in raising butterfly pupae and moth cocoons. They are shipped overnight to us in that state, so all the butterflies can emerge on site.

Get a ten-punch pass for Butterflies & Blooms and the Model Railroad Garden and plan a trip with friends! Passes are available at the exhibition kiosks.

Butterfly species are seasonal—the chrysalides for a species are not available year-round. Our supplier ships us a variety of pupae each week based on what we have requested, but also based on what is available at that time. Some butterflies are more consistently available during the months our exhibition is open, such as the popular blue morpho (Morpho peleides) and giant owl (Caligo memnon). Others may come and go, which is a perfect reason to come to see Butterflies & Blooms more than once during the summer!

Here is a sneak peek at more of the butterflies and moths gracing the exhibition this season:

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)

Blue morpho (Morpho peleides)

Giant owl butterfly (Caligo memnon)

Giant owl butterfly (Caligo memnon)

Small Blue Grecian (Heliconius sara)

Small blue Grecian (Heliconius sara)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Pink Rose (Pachliopta kotzebuea)

Pink rose (Pachliopta kotzebuea)

Great orange tip (Hebomoia glaucippe)

Great orange tip (Hebomoia glaucippe)

Leopard lacewing (Cethosia cyane)

Leopard lacewing (Cethosia cyane)

Silver spotted flambeau (Dione juno)

Silver spotted flambeau (Dione juno)


Butterfly photos ©Anne Belmont, William Bishoff, and Robin Carlson
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Magnificent Owl

Patrick Sbordone —  September 1, 2015 — 3 Comments

Greetings from Butterflies & Blooms! I have great news for my fellow Lepidoptera enthusiasts! We have a very interesting new species in the exhibition. Meet Caligo atreus, also known as the yellow-edged owl, or our favorite: the magnificent owl. 

PHOTO: Caligo atreus ventral wing spots.

When resting, the eyespots of Caligo atreus are clearly visible. Photo by Stuart Seeger via Wikimedia Commons

This blue beauty is in the genus known as the owl butterflies (Caligo). They’re called owl butterflies because the markings on the undersides of their wings have large black eyespots that resemble the eyes of an owl. (You will typically see the eyespots when the butterflies’ wings are closed.) This is thought to help them ward off predators. Caligo translates to “darkness,” which corresponds to the fact that they prefer to fly in the early morning before their predators are out and about. They are native to the tropical forests of Central and South America, and are among the world’s largest butterflies!

PHOTO: A dorsal view of Caligo atreus, showing off its beautiful markings.

A dorsal view of Caligo atreus, showing off its beautiful markings

We also have a few other species in the owl genus, including the giant owl and the forest owl. However, the magnificent owl is aptly named, as it is much more colorful than its peers—its dorsal side has deep blue striping on the top part of the wing and bright yellow on the bottom half of the wing. During most of the day, you can find them hanging out on the fruit trays or resting in the shade, but if you come early, you’ll have a good chance of catching these graceful giants dancing around the exhibition, showing off their beautiful coloration.

Join us for our final week of Butterflies & Blooms, open through September 7. See you next season!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

July 29, exactly one week ago, was definitely the most exciting day for me at the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit this year! 

PHOTO: Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina).

Dorsal view of the enormous African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina)
Photo by Judy Kohn.

On July 3, we received what looked like “naked” pupae. These were the pupae of the bull’s eye silk moth, or African emperor moth (Gonimbrasia zambesina). Aside from a very slight wiggling the first day or two, the pupae just sat there in their box. Then, on Wednesday morning, I checked on them and noticed one of the pupae looked like it was broken open like an empty eggshell…but I couldn’t find a moth or anything else—until I looked up and saw it hanging in the top corner of the display! It was fabulous. I literally ran out to the volunteers to tell them the good news! (They ask, “Are there any new moths?” on a daily basis, and I usually have to say no.) I brought it out and placed it in the safest place I could think of, while still being easily visible to guests. I personally didn’t take a photo, but all the volunteers did—so that’s what you see here. It’s been a dramatic week!

PHOTO: Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina.

Ventral view of the Gonimbrasia zambesina
Photo by Judy Kohn.

As far as the native butterflies and moths in our exhibition right now, we received 30 white peacocks, 12 buckeyes, and 8 gulf frits. I’ve never seen a gulf frit, so I’m looking forward to those pupae hatching. They came in on July 28, so I expect them to emerge any time now. (The smaller butterflies seem to emerge the fastest.)

PHOTO: Patrick Sbordone talks butterflies with a group of younger visitors.

Come on by and ask me questions!
Photo by Judy Kohn.

Hope you can visit often—we have new species of butterflies hatching all the time! Check out our species list.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Monarch butterflies have left their overwintering sites in Mexico and are heading back toward the Midwest, including the Chicago area.

Unfortunately, far fewer monarchs will be making the northward flight this year and the chance to see large numbers of these beautiful butterflies in your garden or flying across a prairie is becoming less certain.

Explore pollinators at World Environment Day, June 7.

Join us Friday, June 6, for the Make Way for Monarchs research symposium.

PHOTO: Asclepias tuberosa, a native milkweed species, in bloom.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of many native milkweed species that provide food for monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for flower visitors such as bees and butterflies.

In the 1990s, hundreds of millions of monarchs made the journey each fall from the northern plains of the United States and Canada to forested sites north of Mexico City. In western North America, more than a million monarchs made a shorter flight to tree groves on California’s coast. However, monarch numbers have been declining for more than a decade, and this year scientists documented record low numbers. We have seen more than a 90 percent decline.

Why is this occurring? We don’t know for sure, although there are several factors that are likely contributing. Habitat loss due to urban development and large-scale agriculture are key concerns. Farms now cover vast areas and many grow genetically modified crops that allow herbicide applications to be used on and around the crop, including in areas where milkweed—the one plant that monarch caterpillars need—used to grow. These “Roundup ready” crops have been identified as a major cause of milkweed loss throughout the Midwest. Additionally, millions of acres of farms and urban land are treated with toxic insecticides. The loss of forest habitat in Mexico and the decline of monarch groves in California may also be playing a role. In the West, severe drought is likely contributing to reduced monarch populations. These threats are compounded by climate change.

We do not have to sit and watch these declines continue.

We can provide these butterflies (and other wildlife) with high-quality, insecticide-free habitats. This is not something that needs to be restricted to a distant wilderness. Indeed, it is a cause in which everyone can take part. Homeowners and farmers can plant milkweed to support monarch caterpillars, and native flowers to provide nectar for adult butterflies, and work to limit the impact of insecticides. Land managers can ensure that milkweed stands are adequately protected.

Sign up for “The Monarch Butterfly: How You Can Help Save This Iconic Species,” Saturday, June 7, at 1 p.m.

PHOTO: A native milkweed pod burst open in winter, distributing seeds.

The Milkweed Seed Finder gives you quick access to regionally appropriate seed sources, with options to search by milkweed species and by state.

The Xerces Society’s Project Milkweed has been working with native wildflower seed nurseries, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and community partners to produce huge volumes of milkweed seed that are being used to restore monarch habitat. In just three years, this work has led to the production of 35 million milkweed seeds! As a result of this effort, milkweed seed is rapidly becoming more available in many regions of the country. To make it easier for people to find seed sources, we’ve launched the Milkweed Seed Finder, a comprehensive directory of milkweed seed vendors across the country.

In addition, the Xerces Society’s work with farmers and the NRCS has led to the creation of tens of thousands of acres of wildflower habitat that includes milkweed, across much of the monarch’s breeding range.

Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” For the sake of the monarch—and so many other species—it is time to heal as many wounds as possible.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org