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For our regular STEM Friday feature we recommend two books about trees for children, just in time for Arbor Day, next Friday April 24, 2015. (Read the rest of the reviews and see a video book trailer at Wrapped in Foil blog.) Then we'll finish out Butterfly Gardening With Children Week with a discussion of trees for butterfly gardens.

The first book, Branching Out: How Trees Are Part of Our World by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Wendy Ding (2014), describes a particular species of tree, how it used by humans, and what animals depend on that kind of tree in a series of four-page spreads. The 11 species of trees highlighted range from red maples and downy birches to pau brasil and cork oaks.

The second book, Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (2011), consists of a series of two-page spreads telling the stories of 14 famous, tall and exceptionally-old trees from around the world, the back matter gives more information about the trees and a number of suggestions about what the reader can do to help and encourage trees.

Appropriate for butterfly gardening week:  In the section about oak trees in the back matter of this book, we find out that a single large oak tree can support up to 34 species of butterflies!

That fact reminds us that although growing pretty flowers helps the adult butterflies, to have a truly productive butterfly garden you need to supply food for caterpillars as well.

Many beautiful species of butterflies require trees as larval hosts.

Examples:

1. Hackberry trees (Celtis species) are larval food for

  • Tawny emperor butterflies
  • Hackberry emperor butterflies
  • Mourning cloak butterflies
  • Question Mark butterflies
  • Snout butterfly

mystery-butterfly-2-identicationThe snout butterfly

Hackberry_Emperor,_Megan_McCarty46Hackberry emperor butterfly (Public domain photograph by Megan McCarty)

(Seed of the Week post about Canyon Hackberry)

2. Live oaks are larval food for California sister butterfly larvae.

California-sister-butterflyCalifornia sister butterfly, Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Some duskywings and hairstreaks also use oaks for food.

3. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees are larval food for:

  • Red-spotted purple
  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Coral hairstreak

4. Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

caterpillar-orange-dogAn orange dog caterpillar on a grapefruit leaf

In addition to larval food, trees provide shelter for butterflies (and a multitude of other animals), provide safe places for the caterpillars to pupate, and some flowering trees supply nectar for many more adult butterflies.

In his book, Bringing Nature Home, entomologist  Doug Tallamy gives a list of how many species of butterflies and moths are supported by 21 kinds of trees. The numbers are astonishing! He says oak trees (genus Quercus) provide food for some 534 different species of butterflies and moths. Given that those butterflies are important pollinators and parts of the food web, that is an enormous contribution.

Activity:

If you are going to plant a tree for Arbor Day or any other event, consider choosing a local species that will host butterflies. You will get yet another benefit from a tree. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about how to choose a suitable butterfly host tree for your area.

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Wrap-ups:

 This is the final post for Butterfly Gardening with Children Week. Hope you enjoyed it. If you missed the previous posts from the week, check our links page for topics we covered.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Interested in reading more great books about trees for Arbor Day? Try our giant, redwood-sized list of children's books about trees at Science Books for Kids.

tree-books-button

 

Disclosures: The books above were from my local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

 

Bees get all the buzz whenever someone brings up pollination, but butterflies deserve some credit, too. In fact, there are some flowers that are pollinated specifically by butterflies.

Background:

What is pollination? Remember visiting flower parts a few weeks ago? Let's look at the generalized diagram again:

Mature_flower_diagram.svg (“Mature flower diagram” by Mariana Ruiz LadyofHats. Public Domain image at Wikimedia Commons.)

Pollination is simply the movement of the pollen made in the anthers (pollen shown as orange balls in this diagram on the right) to the top of the female part of the flower, called the stigma. Sometimes the physical distance between the two seems quite small, but many, many plants need the assistance of animal pollinators to achieve pollination.

red-bird-of-paradise-228Take the red bird of paradise flowers. The long, red threadlike structures are the anthers on very long filaments.

red-bird-of-paradise239

What pollinates such an odd flower? It turns out that when swallowtail butterflies drink the nectar of these flowers, they get pollen all over their wings. When they drink at another red bird of paradise flower, they pollinate it.

Other flowers pollinated by butterflies include phlox, many of the flat-topped flower heads in the daisy family (asters, zinnias, etc.), and the milkweeds.

Butterflies are attracted to flowers so they can feed on nectar.

queen-butterfly-339-feedingButterflies use their proboscis (mouthparts) rather like a straw when they drink nectar. Can you see this queen butterfly's proboscis probing the milkweed flower?

Pollination-Related Activities

1. Nectar Cups for Young Children

Let young children pretend they are butterflies and make nectar cups for them to drink from.

Gather:

  • Plastic or paper cups with tops that have opening for straws
  • Straws
  • Construction paper or posterboard
  • Flower shape stencils (optional)
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Juice or other drink to serve as nectar

1. Have the children cut flower shapes from the construction paper. For very young children, adults may need to help draw the flower shapes using stencils and to help cutting out thicker posterboard.

2. Use a sharpened pencil to poke a hole in the center of the flower large enough to accommodate the straw.

3. Fill the cup with the drink ("nectar"). Cap the cup and then put the straw through the paper flower center and into the cap of the cup. Allow the flower to rest on the cap, so the children can drink the "nectar" from the "flower."

2. Investigate Pollination in the Butterfly Garden

Surprisingly little is known about butterflies and pollination. Older children may want to investigate butterfly pollination in their butterfly gardens.

Go out to the garden at the same time every day for at least once a day and count how many butterflies you see on a few different types of flowers over a given amount of time, say 15 minutes. Record the species you see with a camera. Graph your results and figure out which species of butterflies prefer which types of flowers.

(You might want to see a similar study for bees for ideas).

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Be sure to check our growing list of links to information about butterfly gardening with children.

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Instead of our usual Bug of the Week, today let's learn a bit about how to identify butterflies.

western-pygmy-blue-butterfly

Quick, do you know what kind of butterfly this is? Does it really matter?

If you want to have an active and successful butterfly garden, then it pays to know your local butterflies. That way you can tailor the plants in your garden to their particular needs.

Butterfly identification may seem intimidating, but there are some tricks to make it manageable. First, arm all your family members with cameras. A photograph can be very handy to help you study the identification details at your leisure. Second, learn the characteristics of the groups of butterflies called families. Once you have mastered those, a trip to the identification guide or website is much more successful. By the way, that butterfly in the photograph is a western pygmy blue, a member of the blue family.

Before we get started, if you are not familiar with what insect parts are called, check out our post with information about caterpillar and butterfly anatomy.

Next, if you are not sure the insect you have is a butterfly or moth, brush up on the differences between butterflies and moths at our website.

Butterfly Identification - Butterfly Families

Entomologists group butterflies with similar characteristics into families. You don't need to memorize the scientific names (unless you want to do so). I added them so you can add them to your search terms when looking for species.

1. Family Hesperiidae - commonly called skippers

Characteristics:  Skippers are butterflies that most resemble moths. Two differences are that they tend to hold their wings at a 45° angle (rather that flat out or folded back) and their slender antennae often end in a hook.

skipper-on-lantanaYou can see the angled wings very well in this photograph.

 2. Family Papilionidae - commonly called swallowtails

Characteristics:  Swallowtails are known for their bold, contrasting color patterns and the presence of extensions or "tails" on their hind wings.

giant-swallowtailThe giant swallowtail has the characteristic look of the family Papilionidae.

3. Family Pieridae - called whites, sulphurs, and orange-tips

Characteristics:  Most are white, light yellow, or orange, and have simple, rounded wings. They are medium-sized and have normal front legs.

sulphur-butterflyA sulphur butterfly's wings are simply elegant.

4. Family Lycaenidae - Coppers, blues and hairstreaks

Characteristics:  The members of this family are delicate, very small butterflies. The blues often have blue upper wings, whereas the coppers are brown. Hairstreaks have tiny tails on their hind wings.

hairstreak-on-dogwoodCan you see the tiny tails on the hind wings?

hairstreak-butterfly257How about on this one?

Some people think the tails resemble antennae, thus confusing predators about which end is the head.

5. Family Libytheidae- snout butterflies

Characteristics:  Snout butterflies are named for their long, hairy mouthparts that project forward from their head like a snout.

snout-butterflySee how the mouthparts extend way out past the eyes in this snout butterfly? Compare to where the eyes are in the other butterflies in this post.

6. Family Heliconiidae - called the heliconians

Characteristics:  Often brightly colored, with wings that are longer than they are wide.

zebra-butterlyThe wings of this zebra butterfly show the distinctive shape characteristic of the family.

7. Family Nymphalidae- the brush-footed butterflies

Characteristics:  This family is large and its members vary a lot in color, size and shape. The brush-footed butterflies have reduced (short) forelegs, but it isn't an easy trait to see.

buckeye-butterfly-sunningThe buckeye butterfly in the Butterfly Gardening Week button is a brush-footed butterfly.

 8. Family Danaidae - milkweed butterflies

Characteristics:  These large brown or orange butterflies are sometimes grouped with the brush-footed butterflies. Their larvae feed on milkweeds.

queen-butterflies-3-plusQueen and monarch butterflies belong to this family.

 1. Butterfly Identification Activity

Now let's put your new skills to the test.

What families do these butterflies belong to?

1. What family does this black, white and blue butterfly belong to?

Mystery-butterfly-1-identification

2. This brown, orange and white butterfly has one unique characteristic found in no other families. What is it?

mystery-butterfly-2-identication

3. What family does this butterfly belong?

mystery-burrefly-3-identification

(Answers are posted).

2. Butterfly Nature Journals and Art Projects

As I've mentioned previously, keeping a nature journal or photographic record of your findings is a great idea. Tied with that, drawing or coloring butterfly illustrations helps with recognition and observation skills. Look for free, printable butterfly pages that show realistic butterflies and make some creative art projects. Be sure to take note of the important features of each kind of butterfly.

Butterfly World has downloadable (.pdf or Word) coloring books that feature the exotic butterflies found in their exhibit.

Dover Publishers has a good selection of nature-related coloring books, as well. For example:  Butterflies Coloring Book (Dover Nature Coloring Book) by Jan Sovak

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Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

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Feeling Crafty?

Running with Scissors has an absolutely adorable butterfly metamorphosis smock to make for little ones.

 

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Be sure to keep up with all the posts relating to butterfly gardening with children at our links page.

If you are looking for great children's books about butterflies and moths, try our list at Science Books for Kids.

moth-and-butterfly-books-for-children-list