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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Butterfly Haven

Spending time with my college age daughter now that she isn't living at home has become precious. We had a magical, beautiful summer day visiting Hershey Gardens in Hershey Pennsylvania.

The Butterfly House is part of the childrens' area but with the butterflies, the bird observation area, the ABC garden and all the little extras to attract kids to the plant world, I enjoyed this area as much as any child.

Listed below are some of the numerous types of butterfly species housed within the greenhouse type structure. The attendants for the butterflies watch over them with great care. It is very important that they don't escape so visitors are inspected before exiting for any butterflies hitching a ride. Strollers are not allowed due to space restrictions and also since the butterflies are everywhere it is easy to harm them by accidentally stepping on them. Without predators, these flying flowers float around without a care. They have food, shelter, water, warmth...what a life during their short adult life spans which averages two weeks to a few months depending on the type. Included was a display of all the various types of chrysalis' so amazingly camouflaged to look like leaves and bird droppings.

The buckeye caterpillar is part of the brushfooted family. It is found throughout most of the U.S. except for the Rocky Mt. states. It is found in open areas with low vegetation, such as along roadsides, railroads, fields and meadows. To attract them plant snapdragons as a food source for the larvae and a variety of flowers for nectar for the adults.

The julia is a subtropical butterfly from Brazil to southern Texas, Florida and Mexico. They feed on the nectar of firebush and lantana.

The malachite is a tropical butterfly widespread in Central and South America. In America, they can be found in Texas and Florida. The caterpillars feed on green shrimp-plant and the adults feed on fermenting fruit.

Several types within Hershey's Gardens are from the swallowtail family. This family contains species that are the largest butterflies in North America. Swallowtails get their name from the "tails" on the back edge of their wings that reminded people of the forked tails of Swallows.

The tiger swallowtail butterflies can be found all throughout Alaska, Canada south through the U.S. east of the Rockies. Swallowtails favor broadleaf trees and shrubs. Birds avoid them due to a chemical in its body that makes it distasteful. Very common among gardens, farmland and meadows.

The spicebush swallowtail is such a beauty with its blue and black markings. Sassafras and Spicebush are North American natives and are the needed host plants for the caterpillars. The eyespots and big head make this caterpillar ferocious looking to predators. Adults feed on honeysuckle, butterfly bush, Joe Pye wee, zinnias and coneflowers. Birds avoid this type as well due to its foul taste.

The zebra swallowtail has a favorite location around the Potomac area near Washington, D.C. and into Virginia along rivers, but they do extend westward to the Great Plains. A host plant for the eggs to be laid is the paw-paw tree. Adults dine on a variety of sources with sweet nectar. These butterflies can live for up to six months.

Another swallowtail, the eastern black swallowtail, has a range all the way west to the Rockies and then the western black swallowtail is found. Plant preferences are parsley, carrot and dill and nectar sources include phlox and milkweed. Very common among gardens and farmland but avoids wooded areas.

Viceroy butterfly
is often confused with the monarch butterfly. There is an extra black line across the viceroy's hind wings that distinguishes it from the monarch. Milkweed butterflies such as the monarch are distasteful to predators, therefore similar looking types are also avoided. Viceroys live throughout most of the U.S. and Canada. They frequent moist areas as well as open meadows seeking thistles, asters and goldenrod. The larvae eat the leaves of trees such as the aspens, poplars, willows and fruit trees.

Easy to identify because of the stripes and long wings, the zebra longwings are normally found in the south and mid-western U.S. They prefer the edge of forests. Passionflower is the sought after host plant for the larvae. The flowers are toxic but harmless to the longwings and makes them distasteful to predators. This type of butterfly can live up to three months. They are the only butterflies known to eat pollen, which is a form of protein, enabling them to live longer than living on only nectar (sugar) sources.

Being a tropical resident, the white peacock is active throughout the year. They are closely related to the buckeyes and are native to the very southern Florida and Texas areas and like wet, swampy habitats. Caterpillars feed on ruellia and water hyssop plants.

Hershey Gardens included a few moths as well. Moth larvae develop in cocoons rather than chrysalises. Moths can be distinguished from butterflies in that they are night dwellers, have heavier bodies, and have feathery antennae, whereas butterlies' are wiry with clubbed tips.

moths are widespread across the U.S. and Mexico and often can be as large as 4 inches across. With its long tail and eyespots as a distraction from its head, they can often escape predators. Luna caterpillars feed on the foliage of broad-leaved trees such as birch. As adults they do not feed at all, so only live a few days.

Looking surprisingly like a butterfly, the cecropia moth belongs to the family of silk moths. Its range extends east of the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. and southern Canada. Also known as the robin moth, this moth is the largest in North America with a wingspan of six inches. Having no mouth parts they only survive long enough to find a mate and breed, from one to two weeks. The caterpillars feed on shrubs and trees, such as dogwood, box elder, willow, sugar maple, alder, birch, and fruit trees.

About the same size wingspan as a hummingbird as well as rapidly beating its wings as it feeds, the hummingbird clearwing moth is also called sphinx moth or hawk moth. These moths can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. Common in the eastern U.S. and Canada these moths feed on hawthorns and flower nectar during the day. Caterpillar food source include shrubs such as the viburnum. Rather than spinning a cocoon, the caterpillar digs into the soil.

I'm not sure if this type of moth was at Hershey Gardens but it frequents our area and it is so cute I had to mention it.
Its common name is Rosy Maple Moth
The habitat is deciduous forests but its eggs are laid in maple trees.
They range from Canada down to Florida over to Texas

The many plant types throughout the butterfly house included:
Butterfly bushes, lantana, coneflowers, rubeckias, verbena, lobelia, joe-pye weed, salvia, phlox and the shrub called spicebush.
Other valuable plants include dill, fennel, nettles, butterfly weed, milkweed, aster, marigold, zinnia, tithonia and the shrub buttonbush.
Water was supplied by way of a little pond and puddling areas.
Fresh fruit was offered on plates at ground level.

A great source for more information:
Host plants for caterpillars 
Nectar plants for butterflies