Pollinator Week Wrap-up: Advanced Butterfly Gardening
By Laurie Sheldon
At the Meeting
Because the majority of our chapter members are well versed in the basics of butterfly gardening, Edith's presentation focused on some of the more advanced concepts involved in butterfly and moth rearing, including nutritional requirements, parasitoids, and diseases of viral and fungal origin. She also made sure we knew that, contrary to popular belief, butterflies do not sleep in "butterfly houses" (bird houses with narrow vertical entrances).
|Butterflies "puddling" on manure.|
Photo credit: Kris and Kevin Brady
"Puddling," a phenomenon wherein butterflies gather to sip from wet sand or soil, is an important activity to males of the species. They do so to get the nutrients they need to bolster their fertility. In the wild, males frequently feed on cow pies and carrion. Rather than incorporating damp sand into your butterfly habitat, Edith recommended providing manure or damp cat food to maintain the health of male lepidopterans. She also has nectar feeders filled with Gatorade at her farm.
We also learned that not having the space for host plants does not preclude you from raising Painted Lady caterpillars and butterflies. Stonefly Painted Lady Artificial Diet can be used as a substitute, which is good news for educators and apartment dwellers alike.
|These tachinid fly larvae just emerged from the|
adjacent chrysalis. Photo credit: S. Altizer.
Unlike parasites, which feed on other organisms but don't necessarily kill them, parasitoids mean certain death. All stages of the lepidopteran lifecycle are threatened by parasitoids - from eggs and caterpillars to chrysalises, and adults. Tiny wasps can inject their eggs into the soft shells of butterfly eggs; these hatch and eat the matter inside of the caterpillar egg, then use their mandibles to cut open the egg and escape. Newly formed chrysalises can also be attacked in a similar manner. Adult wasp and fly eggs will infest the bodies of caterpillars as well, either by injecting their eggs in with a stinger-like structure, or laying eggs on foliage that the caterpillars will eat. Aleiodes, brachnoid, chalcid/yellow chalcid, copidosoma, eulophid, ichneuman and trichogramma wasps, euplectrus ectoparasitoids, and tachinid flies are common parasitoids in Florida.
Nuclear polyhedrosis (NPV) is one of the more contagious viruses lepidopterans are susceptible to. It basically causes caterpillars to melt. Beauveria is a fungal disease that attacks caterpillars (and many other insects). Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) and Nosema are single-celled spores that grow and multiply with their host organism. OE is exclusive to Danaidae, the Monarch family of butterflies. For more information about OE, see the resource list at the bottom of the page.
|Left: Gypsy moth infected with NPV. Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw.|
Right: Monarch larva infected with Beauveria. Photo credit: S. Altizer.
Several years ago, I gave a milkweed plant with monarch eggs to a 9-year old boy as a birthday gift, hoping to interest him in something other than video games. A week later I called to see how the caterpillars were doing, and he told me they started producing a bright green liquid, then died. You can imagine how awful I felt, especially because I just didn't understand what happened. I'd reared hundreds of butterflies in my lifetime, and never came across anything of the sort. Edith told us that the bright green "puke" was caused by insecticide! Apparently, the plant was sprayed with a systemic product before reaching the nursery where I purchased it. Lesson learned. Be careful where you buy your plants from.
|The Ixia chapter gathered around as butterflies took flight.|
|When we say White Peacocks like|
Florida natives, believe it!
|Junonia coenia, Common Buckeye|
At the Farm
|The Shady Oak Butterfly Farm Complex|
|Inside one of the greenhouses|
From Mating to Shipping
All of the mating and egg-laying is done in the "apartments," which have two layers of screening to prevent predators like mice and snakes from entering. Edith told us that mice have a penchant for butterfly abdomens, but will leave the rest of the body in tact (yuck!).
Once the apartment females lay eggs, they are removed and taken to a washing facility. Because the first meal a freshly hatched caterpillar eats is its own egg, it is important that the eggs are free of diseases like OE. Eggs are washed in a solution of 19 parts water to 1 part bleach - this must be done very quickly, because the eggs will begin to dissolve after just over a minute. After they have been disinfected and dried they are put into small plastic containers with mesh lids where they will hatch and grow for a short while.
|Outside of the "apartments"|
Shipment is done in nesting boxes with a faux-ice cool-pack, which slows the metabolic process. Caterpillars and eggs travel in small plastic containers, chrysalises go into special foam inserts, and adult butterflies are put in glassine envelopes, with wings positioned in the same manner they hold them while asleep. By the time the package heads out the door it is able to withstand the Samsonite gorilla test.
Edith gave us several awesome demonstrations. The first one was to illustrate the one of the functions of wing scales - waterproofing! She told us at the meeting that butterflies can fly from under water, but seeing is definitely believing. Rather than describing it, just check out this video:
Another thing she showed us was how moths are situated in the large cocoons they form. These are basically just fluffy sleeping bags, and can be cut open to reveal a pupating moth without injury.
With all of the forces working against butterflies it's easy to get a bit choked up. The important thing to remember is that, even though the vast majority of these beautiful creatures will fall victim to one of numerous diseases, parasitoids, or predators, if they all lived we simply would not have enough food to sustain them. It is nature's way of dealing with carrying capacity, keeping them in check, or maintaining ecological balance - whatever you call it, it's nothing short of wonderful.
Chrysalis and fly larvae
*unlisted photos were taken by Ixia chapter members Ginny Stibolt and Laurie Sheldon
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm: www.Butterfliesetc.com, and www.Butterflyfunfacts.com