Butterflies are amazing creatures. I mean anything that will migrate annually at somewhere around 2,000 miles is pretty remarkable to me. Monarchs tend to fly from Mexico to the Great Lakes, and back to Mexico every year. Granted there are a couple of generations of Monarchs that make that possible, but still could you imagine their tiny wings flying that far?
There are over 24,000 species of butterflies in the world, and they come in nearly every color of the rainbow. However, their vision only lets them see red, green and yellow. In the fall, some people rely on the black striping of the Wooly bear caterpillar, if the bands of black are wider, it is said that we will have a harsher winter. If the bands of brown are wider, we are said to be in for a milder winter. I always hope for all brown caterpillars myself.
They also come in a multitude of sizes. The smallest butterfly is 1/8 of an inch, while the largest can be almost up to 12 inches large. The oldest species of butterfly is a moth and was found by Charles Darwin. The Morgan’s Sphinx Moth from Madagascar has a tube mouth that is 12-14 inches in length, which helps it to suck the nectar of orchids. I am sure that is something when seen in the wild would be hard to miss.
While in other countries people consider insects a delicacy because they are loaded with protein, us here in the states prefer to view them for their beauty and are thankful for their assistance in pollinating flowers and native species. Most butterflies can taste using their feet and use what they figure out in helping them choose a site to lay their eggs. They must find the correct plants that will then nourish the emerging caterpillars from them eating its leaves.
Some people even plant known host plants to make it easier for the butterflies and to help attract them into their landscape. At my house we plant bronze fennel, parsley, and dill so that the swallowtail butterflies will lay their eggs nearby and have a large food source close enough to find. We also plant butterfly weed so that the monarchs will feel right at home. Some types of moths never eat at all once emerged because they lack mouths and have to survive on the energy they gathered as a caterpillar.
Because my chickens are notorious insect hunters of all types, we use a netted container to contain the caterpillars and will let them hatch indoors where they are protected from predators until they are able to at least emerge from their chrysalis and fly away.
The life cycle of a butterfly goes from them being a caterpillar, then to forming their chrysalis and finally emerging as a butterfly. Butterflies such as the Brimstone butterfly have lifetimes of over nine months, where most other species are lucky to make it a few months. Other butterflies such as the Case moth, build a case around them made of a silk-type material they carry along with them everywhere.
And my favorite fact of all considering butterflies is that there are more species in one tree in the tropical rainforest than there are in the entire state of Vermont. While I have no travel plans for going to the rainforest anytime soon, I will continue to make sure I always have nectar rich blooming flowers for the area butterflies, along with some wet sponges set out for them to drink from.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.