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HumBug: The Butterfly House

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Red admiral chrysalis are marked with colorful pipe cleaners to help find them. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Red admiral chrysalis are marked with colorful pipe cleaners to help find them.

The butterfly house is comprised of a portion of the big main greenhouse netted off and provided with fodder for both larvae and adults of the residents. I was delighted to see their compliment of locally native species, including western tiger swallowtails, red admirals and anglewings. Since they provide larval host plants it is possible to see these species at their various stages of development.

Red admiral caterpillars feast on stinging nettle (their preferred food). - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Red admiral caterpillars feast on stinging nettle (their preferred food).
Angelwing butterfly. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Angelwing butterfly.
Just today they received a shipment of monarchs, which were acclimating.

This impressive North American species migrates thousands of miles. Many individuals overwinter in vast colonies in Mexico and Southern California. In the spring these adults migrate north to lay eggs on members of the milkweed family which lends toxicity to the larvae and butterflies. More generations live out their lives in the northern portion of their range but as autumn approaches the year's final generation migrates back southward. Presumably this has been going on for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. The question of how the migration information is transferred from generation to generation is a mystery. Since none of the returning butterflies made the original trip, they cannot have learned the route, but had to have it already imprinted when they were born. The mechanics of this transfer of instinct through generations is not well understood.

Monarch nectaring on a plant. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Monarch nectaring on a plant.

Although there are millions of monarchs their populations have been declining and their ultimate survival is in question for several reasons. Those overwintering locations are threatened by development pressures. The milkweed which is their sole larval food has been removed from much of their range. Neonicitinoid insecticides and GMO crops from which the adults sip nectar may either kill outright or reduce the butterfly's vitality. There are ongoing efforts to promote the population's well being and reintroduce milkweed to some of its former range.



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