Tag Archives: butterfly gardening

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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.

 

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This weekend we were inspired by an absolutely gorgeous new picture book, A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. (See review at Wrapped In Foil.)

Aston and Long have collaborated on two other wonderful books, A Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy. If you are familiar with those books, you will know to expect extraordinary illustrations and accurate, age-appropriate information written in lyrical text. In this book all about butterflies, they have outdone even themselves. A Butterfly Is Patient is definitely inspiring!

Activities to learn more about butterflies:

1. Study Caterpillar and Butterfly Anatomy

Have you ever spent time actually studying the parts of a caterpillar or butterfly? I know, it may be hard to look past the bright colors and beauty, but studying how these animals go together helps you appreciate them in a different way.

Try to find a smooth caterpillar like this tobacco hornworm (some of the fuzzy or spiky ones have stinging hairs, so don't pick up those.) Gently coax it onto a leaf or stem where you can observe it with a hand lens. See if you can find the following organs and structures.

In this side view of a moth caterpillar, we can see the thorax (the three segments right behind the head), and the abdomen quite clearly. The thorax is where we find the six true legs, which are the identifying characteristics of insects. What are those fleshy appendages on the abdomen, aren't those legs? From a scientific perspective, those are not true legs, but are called prolegs. They are used for walking and clinging to leaves just like legs, but they lack the joints of a true leg.  As you will see, the adult will have only the true legs.

The small circles on the sides of the caterpillar are spiracles, the openings through the insect's exoskeleton that allow it to take in air.

In this view, we can see the caterpillar's head. At the bottom of the head are the mandibles, the pruning scissor-like jaws that it uses to cut food. Slightly above and to the side of the jaws are the ocelli, which are simple eye spots. The caterpillar probably doesn't see much with those tiny spots, maybe only whether it is light or dark out. This photograph shows a better view of the jointed legs.

After the caterpillar transforms into a pupa and then a butterfly, we see different structures.

What a transformation!

Instead of tiny ocelli on its head, the butterfly has large compound eyes. The mouth has become a long tube for sucking nectar from flowers (some butterflies actually lack a mouth altogether). There were antennal buds on the head of the caterpillar, but now the butterfly has full blown antennae.

The true legs are long and delicate and the prolegs are gone. Attached to the thorax are the wings. If you read a book about how to identify butterflies, it will probably describe markings on the upper or forewings, or the lower hind wings. The raised structures in the wings, called wing veins, are also important for identification.

Can you find the mouthparts and the spiracles on this giant swallowtail butterfly?

Activity 2. Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterflies go through a complex series of changes during the life cycle, a process called complete metamorphosis.

Let's explore the life cycle of the queen butterfly, and then make a poster.

The queen butterfly starts out life as an egg laid by the female butterfly on a milkweed plant.

A caterpillar emerges from the egg, and begins to feed on the plant.

When it has reached its full size, the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis.

After a week or so, out comes the adult butterfly.

Use this information to prepare a butterfly life cycle poster, perhaps like this one from Enchanted Learning.

For more photographs, try these related posts:

Activity 3. Raise a butterfly or moth

At some point in their childhood, most budding scientists raise a caterpillar to find out what it turns out to be.

  • You might want to start with silkworms, which can be raised on an artificial diet or mulberry leaves.
  • Learn the ins and outs of raising caterpillars.

Activity 4. Make a colorful coffee filter butterfly craft here at Growing With Science

Activity 5. Butterfly gardening

It is amazing that you can bring butterflies into your yard by planting a few special plants. You can then watch the life cycles in a more natural setting.

Some butterfly favorite plants are:

  • milkweeds (monarchs, queens)
  • lantana
  • butterfly bush
  • ageratum (attracts male queen butterflies)
  • dill, fennel or parsley (swallowtails)
  • hollyhocks (painted lady)
  • passion flower (fritillaries)

For more ideas, see our  butterfly gardening post.

Monarch Watch has lesson plans, a ton of information about monarchs, and ideas for more activities.

And don't forget to read some books about butterflies, including the gorgeous A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston :

(Affiliate links go to Amazon, this book was provided for review purposes)

Plus, our growing list of books about butterflies and moths at Science Books for Kids.

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

As well as Aston and Long's other lovely books, A Seed Is Sleepy and


An Egg Is Quiet

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Week before last we must have had a spike in humidity levels because all the Texas sage bushes in the neighborhood started flowering. They were so pretty, I thought I'd add a plant of the week this week.

texas sage

Also called purple sage, or Texas silverleaf, the scientific name of this Texas native plant is Leucophyllum frutescens.  They appear gray because their leaves are densely covered with silvery hairs. The flowers may be white, pink, lavender, purple, or blue, depending on the variety. Texas sages characteristically bloom after a rain, or at least a local rise in humidity levels. This interesting trait gives them the common name of “Texas barometer bush.”

texas sage

Check out the white and contrasting spots in the throat of the flower.

Texas sage and other related species are widely planted as water-conserving ornamentals in the southwestern United States. They can get quite big if watered occasionally and allowed to spread to their natural form.

texas sage

It isn’t uncommon to see them pruned as well. Pruning does cut down on the number of flowers, which are at the stem tips.

texas sage

If you are interested in butterfly gardening, you might want to consider planting some of these shrubs. It turns out that they are also hosts for caterpillars, (although I’ve never seen any on ours.) Further south in Arizona there have been reports of caterpillars of the Theona Checkerspot (Chlosyne theona) using the sage as a food plant.

Caterpillars of an attention-grabbing moth called the Calleta silkmoth (Eupackardia calleta) also feed on Texas sage.  If you live in an area where they are found, you should look for them. Check the map at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website linked to the name of the moth.