Archives For butterflies

Mud puddling…

and more tips for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard

Karen Z. —  August 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Imagine this:

PHOTO: Monarch butterfly on scarlet bloodflower.

A monarch butterfly enjoys the nectar of plants in the milkweed family (Asclepias species).

You are a monarch butterfly. You weigh less than one gram. You are traveling 1,000…2,000…perhaps 3,000 miles on migration from Mexico to your northern breeding grounds. You are desperate for flower nectar; for the safety and shelter of shrubs and trees; for shallow, still water to “mud puddle” in; and for milkweed plants on which to lay your eggs. Suddenly you see a sea of color—a flower-filled yard in a yawn of lawns…

You are a hummingbird. You weigh less than a pencil. You have just flown 500 miles nonstop (not to mention crossing the Gulf of Mexico) in search of the perfect spot to build your walnut-sized nest. You need fuel: the nectar from tube-shaped flowers, and lots of it, as in sips from 1,000 flowers per day. Suddenly you see a mass of flowers below…

PHOTO: Hummingbird hovers for nectar from a pink turtlehead bloom.

Pink turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is a late-summer favorite of hummingbirds.

You are a homeowner with a yard. You are weighing a new approach to your landscape: you’d like to incorporate butterfly/hummingbird-friendly plants. You’ve heard about butterfly bushes, and you picture a yard filled with flitting and fluttering all summer long.

You need Tim Pollak. He’s the outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and he’s our resident butterfly guy, who teaches frequent classes at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden on the subject of attracting butterflies and hummers to your yard. Consider this a mini-class: in the video below, Tim brings you up close to flowering plants that are both butterfly-attractive and visually attractive to you and your neighbors.

Click here for Tim’s tip sheet of simple steps for attracting all sorts of winged creatures to your yard.

Imagine that!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

King Cracker

Courtney Quigley —  August 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

The king cracker (Hamadryas amphinome) is our featured butterfly this week. 

The king cracker is part of a larger group of butterflies called crackers because of the sound males make with their wings when they fly. You guessed it, they make a cracking sound! Only males can make the sound, but both males and females can detect it. We still don’t know why they make a cracking noise; perhaps it has to do with mating, or maybe to deter a potential predator. Regardless, it is fun to hear!

PHOTO: King Cracker butterfly

King cracker male (Hamadryas amphinome)
Photo by Bill Bishoff

The king cracker is native to Mexico and Peru, but has been spotted in the southern United States as well. It has a very unique color pattern that is truly remarkable to see. On the top of its wings is a stunning blue and white calico pattern. Underneath is a brilliant brick-colored patch that gives the butterfly its other common name, red cracker.  

The king cracker is a master of disguise. The mottled blue and white tones allow it to blend easily into the bark on trees. Tree trunks are a favorite resting spot for king crackers and they, unlike most butterflies, rest with their wings open; ready to take flight at any moment. Even the the pupae are disguised to look like withered leaves.

Another interesting fact about the king cracker is that it feeds mainly on decomposing fruit and not nectar. It is easy to spot a king cracker grabbing a quick bite on any of our four feeding dishes. So come on out to the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition and see if you can see or hear one today!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is our featured butterfly this week. This beauty can be found in the southern half of the United States all the way south to Mexico. Occasionally it can even be found further north. In Mexico, pipevines can be found all year round.

PHOTO: top view of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Top view of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor)
Photographs by Bill Bishoff

Like many butterflies, the pipevine swallowtail warns potential predators with its bright colors that it is inedible. Caterpillars feed on the toxic leaves of Aristolochia species and become unpalatable, staying that way through their metamorphosis. Females even pass the toxins along to eggs, which then also become protected.

Another beautiful native, the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) mimics the pipevine swallowtail as a form of defense—the pipevine’s bad taste and toxic makeup are enviable traits in a butterfly! Though not toxic itself, the spicebush’s convincing disguise fools predators into thinking twice before snacking.

PHOTO: side view of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Side view of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Like many other butterflies, the pipevine swallowtail gets its nutrients from “puddling,” in which a group of butterflies gathers at one location, such as a shallow puddle or a mud pile, and drinks any available liquid. This is a common way to supplement their primary diet of nectar with much needed salts and minerals.

This beautiful butterfly regularly visits our coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition, and can easily be spotted. Make sure to check them out on your next trip to the Garden!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A longtime favorite of staff and visitors alike, the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius) is our featured butterfly this week. This graceful Lepidoptera is native from South America to South Texas and Florida, and occasionally an immigrant can be found as far north as Nebraska! The zebra longwing is the state butterfly of Florida.

One very interesting thing about these beauties is that they roost communally in groups of 25-30 butterflies. In our exhibit they tend to use the same branch night after night and can be seen in the morning all resting together. These friendly butterflies even eat together, bask together (open their wings to gain warmth from the sun), and take flying trips together around the house.

The zebra longwing is extremely calm and easy to approach, so it’s a super fun addition to our butterfly family. You’re sure to see some on your next visit to Butterflies & Blooms.

PHOTO: Zebra longwings rest together

Zebra longwings resting together on their favorite branch.

PHOTO: Zebra longwings basking

A trio of zebra longwings basking together in the sun.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

PHOTO: hand-colored copper engraving.

Hand-colored copper engraving from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium

The Lenhardt Library hosts remarkable exhibitions throughout the year. These exhibitions highlight parts of the collection that visitors might not otherwise see, and the exhibitions are among the Garden’s best-loved secrets! Stacy Stoldt, public services manager of the Lenhardt Library, curated the current exhibition, Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined, open now through August 18.

By far, the highlight is Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of Surinam Insects) by Maria Sibylla Merian, published in 1719 in Amsterdam. This volume is on loan from the Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, Bio-Medical Libraries, University of Minnesota.

 

PHOTO: illustration by Maria Sibylla Merian

An illustrated panel by Maria Sibylla Merian

See Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined at the Lenhardt Library through August 18, 2013.

PHOTO: Anna Maria Sibylla Merian from the 500 DM Banknote.

Maria Sibylla Merian, from the 500 deutsche mark bank note

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) was a fascinating woman, artist, and naturalist. While she was known for her watercolor paintings of flowers and insects, embroidery patterns, and copper engravings, she is also credited with being the founder of German entomology. At age 13 she began studying the metamorphoses of silkworms and butterflies. After five years of intense study, Merian found that adult insects actually lay eggs, disproving the earlier theory that caterpillars were born out of spontaneous generation.

Divorced in 1699, she traveled with her daughter Dorothea to the Dutch Colony of Surinam (now known as Suriname) that same year to continue her entomological work and art. Her spectacular artistic abilities and scientifically accurate representations make Metamorphosis of Surinam Insects a monumental tome. Carl Linnaeus consulted Merian’s illustrations in the course of his taxonomic work in the eighteenth century. Nine species of butterflies, six plants, and two beetles were named for her. She is still a well-known historic figure today and is represented on the 500 deutsche mark bank note and a German postage stamp; she was the subject of Google’s Doodle of the day on April 2, 2013, celebrating her 366th birthday.

Butterflies in Print was designed to complement the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition that showcases native and tropical live butterflies; Maria may have even seen some of these species in Suriname 300 years ago!

Want to know more about our rare books? Read Stories from the Rare Book Collection, monthly highlights from our collection written by curator Ed Valauskas.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org