Tag Archives: butterflies

Hosts at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 27, 2017)

If you walk our meadows these days, it might look as though a host of different butterflies–fritillaries, monarchs, swallowtails, blues, crescents–are flitting around a host of different flowers–black-eyed susans, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, purple coneflower, blue vervain, and daisy fleabane–all in a whirling riot of color and flight.

But these butterflies and plants will pair up when it comes time for the butterflies to lay the eggs that will hatch into caterpillars. Then “host” will have a very specific meaning.

A plant is said to “host” a butterfly not merely when the butterfly sips its nectar, but when the butterfly can lay its eggs on the plant, and the hatching larvae (caterpillars) can eat the plant.  Plants develop chemicals that repel eaters, and co-evolving caterpillars develop ways to overcome the defenses, usually only the defenses of Continue reading Hosts at Lathrop


Butterflies and Trees

by Barbara Walvoord

This Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)  was gathering nectar and pollen from native Joe Pye flowers in the beautiful east campus Mulberry Meadow recently.  The path has been mowed, though the ground is rough underfoot.  Get a trail map in the lobby of each campus, or at https://lathropland.wordpress.com/trail-map-easthampton/

A tiger swallowtail begins as a single green egg laid on a tree leaf. The egg hatches into a caterpillar that eats the tree leaves and changes from brown (looks like bird poop)  to green (blends in with a leaf).  Next, it sits on a leaf and spins a mat of silk threads to cover the top of the leaf. When the silk dries, it shrinks, and folds the leaf into a hiding place.  Later, the caterpillar attaches itself by a silk Continue reading Butterflies and Trees

A Butterfly’s Guide to Plants

by Barbara Walvoord

So you’re a butterfly. You need nectar to eat. Plants do their best to produce nectar that you and lots of other insects can eat, because they want you to come for the nectar, get your body full of pollen (which carries the male seed), and carry the pollen to female parts of the same or other plants. Alien plants that have come here from Asia, Europe, or Africa also make nectar, and if the plant structure allows you to get your mouth in there, you can get their nectar. Great! A butterfly garden with alien plants works quite well for nectar. Butterfly bush? It’s an alien, classified as invasive, but who cares? It has nectar. Bring it on. Purple loosestrife? Sure, it’s taking over wetlands and driving out turtles and ducks, but who cares? It has nectar. Bring it on!

BUT WAIT. As a butterfly, you came from a larva–a caterpillar. The larva hatched from an egg laid on a plant by a female butterfly. As a responsible mama butterfly, you want to lay your eggs only on plants that your larvae can eat. As a larva, you don’t eat nectar–you eat leaves or stems. And not just any leaf–only the leaves of one, or perhaps just a few, plants.

Plants don’t like to be eaten, so they develop chemistry hostile to larvae. But YOUR larvae have developed ways to overcome the defenses of one, or a few, species of plants. If you’re a black swallowtail larva, only plants in the carrot family. If you’re a monarch larva, only milkweed.

That’s why a gardener who wants to support butterflies can choose nectar-producing plants, but also “host” plants that larvae can eat.

In our meadows at Lathrop now, you’ll see blooming some common natives on which butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) are very busy laying their eggs. Native aster supports 105 species of Lepidoptera, sunflower 73, and Joe Pye weed 40. At our meadow edges, native cranberry supports 286 species of Lepidoptera, serviceberry 119, and dogwood 115. In our forests, oak supports 518 species, and maple supports 287 (http://udel.edu/~dtallamy/host/). Controlling invasive plants helps keeps our land a rich nursery for butterflies. At Lathrop, we strive not only to PLANT butterfly gardens, but to BE a butterfly garden.

Becoming a Butterfly

by Barbara Walvoord

Adele Dowell recently found this beautiful caterpillar in her garden on the east campus. It’s going to become an Eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes).


That is, if no bird eats it. Caterpillars make up a huge portion of the diet that birds feed their nestlings. They’re full of protein, fat, and other nutrients.

And, that is, if it can pass through several wonderfully complicated stages. This caterpillar has already gone through 4 of its 5 “instars” Continue reading Becoming a Butterfly

The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening

by Barbara Walvoord

It takes 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise one nest full of chickadees. Almost all caterpillars eat only native plants, not aliens.*

Plants don’t want to be eaten, so they evolve to make themselves poisonous, distasteful, or inaccessible to insect mouthparts. But, aha! each native insect has co-evolved to overcome the defenses of one or several native plants. Thus the monarch butterfly lays eggs only on milkweed–the only thing its caterpillars can eat. Facing a 90% decline in monarchs due in part of disappearance of milkweed, the National Wildlife Federation and others are mounting a national effort to increase milkweed plantings.

Butterflies, bees, and birds–that’s why we need native plants on Lathrop land, including our gardens. Natives can be as beautiful, orderly, and well-designed as aliens.**

Stores may advertise “native” plants, but beware: natives from the Midwest may not be as good for our insects as Continue reading The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening

St. Michael’s Feast — For Monarch Butterflies

It’s nearly Michaelmas–Sept. 29, the feast of St. Michael– and, right on target, the flowers that colonists called “Michaelmas Daisies” are blooming in Lathrop’s fields.

Today, people call them asters, whose name means “star,” for their multiple petals in a star-like shape. Many of the native asters in our fields are various shades of purple

The purple New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) are a major source of nectar for monarch butterflies, which have hatched on our milkweed during the summer and are preparing for their long, long fall journey to Mexico. The butterflies are fleeing the dark, cold nights, from which St. Michael, the powerful, devil-fighting archangel, is invoked to protect those of us who have to stay here. Continue reading St. Michael’s Feast — For Monarch Butterflies

Butterflies! Even a Monarch!

Butterflies! Even a Monarch!

by Barbara Walvoord

Monarch butterly on swamp milkeweed in the townhome garden of Barbara Walvoord and Sharon Grace, July 14, 2014.
Monarch butterly on swamp milkweed in the townhome garden of Barbara Walvoord and Sharon Grace, July 14, 2014.

Our Lathrop fields are full of butterflies!

Here is how you can easily see them:

  • East campus: Walk down to the vegetable garden and follow the path along the tall grasses. OR walk down the wide mowed woods path to the meadow and follow the mowed path or just stand on the edge where you can see into the grasses.
  • North campus: I have not looked for butterflies there, but walk to your open areas with tall grasses and/or flowers.

Monarch butterflies, once numerous, are in disastrous decline. “I’ve only seen one monarch this year,” said Harvey Allen, prominent local naturalist who leads butterfly walks, and who visited our campus July 18.

One major reason for the decline is the disappearance of milkweed, due to use of herbicides and to land development. Monarchs may sip nectar from many flowers, but they lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, and the larvae can eat only milkweed.

Lathrop can help, because our meadows have milkweed. Some residents have tried to nurture the native milkweed that appears in their townhome gardens, but the plants sometimes fall over. Sharon and I planted, in our townhome front garden, a native species that has sturdier stems, so it is not falling over, but it still supports monarchs. It’s swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). We purchased it at Project Native in Housatonic.

On July 14, we saw a monarch butterfly on our swamp milkweed!

Here is that butterfly’s history, taken from a July 16 Washington Post article:

[Monarchs from the eastern coast]winter on a dozen forested mountain tops in central Mexico about two miles above sea level….From Mexico, as spring arrives, they head northward in a journey of generations. Members of the early generations have short life spans and don’t get all the way north. Each generation lays eggs and dies shortly thereafter, passing the mission onward to their progeny as they continue heading northward and then breed in the summer. The final generation-the fourth or fifth-is a super-generation, capable of living for nine months and flying the entire distance of up to 2,000 miles in the fall, back to the warmth of that exact spot in Mexico. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/16/this-animation-of-the-migration-of-the-monarch-butterfly-was-the-work-of-thousands-of-citizen-scientists/). Learn more at monarchwatch.org.