Tag Archives: butterflies

Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2018

Our monarch butterflies have left for Mexico, but many butterflies will stay all winter. They survive in an astonishing variety of life stages—as caterpillars, as adults, or in cocoons–tucked into crevices, resting on the ground, rolled up in leaves, or attached to twigs.

The pearl crescent caterpillar stops eating its usual aster plants and spends the winter resting at the base of the plant until spring.  The adult arctic skipper crawls into a crevice or tree bark and goes into a dormant state.

Some butterflies, like this black swallowtail, overwinter in a cocoon.  In summer, it will stay in the cocoon only 2 weeks, but if the chrysalis forms in Fall, it will go into a hibernating state called “diapause” until warmer spring weather.

At Lathrop, we save our overwintering butterflies by mowing only 1/3 of our meadows and fields each year, so that 2/3 of the overwintering butterflies survive.

In a garden, the more plant material you can leave over the winter, the more butterflies you will save.  Leave fallen leaves on the ground. Continue reading Our Meadows are STILL Full of Butterflies


Caterpillars on my Dill!

By Barbara Walvoord, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 4-17, 2018

Cute little caterpillars have appeared on Daphne Stevens’ dill plants on the north campus.  Her neighbor Carol Neubert sent me a photo, asking, “What are they?”

They’re Eastern black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes).  Let’s call this one “Pap.” Continue reading Caterpillars on my Dill!

A Butterfly Reveals All

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for July 28-Aug. 3, 2018

When you humans see us butterflies flitting from flower to flower, you may think we’re playful and carefree.  But actually we’re frantic.  As a butterfly, there’s a lot to do before you die, and for most of us, 2-3 weeks is it.

First, ya gotta eat.  Flowers are your only food.  And not all flowers.  Those tubular flowers?—you have to be one of the species of butterfly with a long tongue.  And some of us males, like the tiger Continue reading A Butterfly Reveals All


by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 23-29, 2018

Well, finally, something native is blooming in the native plant landscaped area near the Inn.

Last year, with money from the Residents’ Council and the Land Conservation Committee, and help from Facilities, we planted native shrubs and wildflowers that will nourish butterflies and birds better than the alien plants they replaced.  We used plugs instead of larger plants to save money, so they looked pretty puny earlier this spring.

To our embarrassment, however, there WERE robust plants and lovely early-spring blooms in our supposedly all-native garden—the Continue reading Finally!

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.