Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees forum: December 2014 Butterflies, Moths & Larva

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Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 1, 2014 10:49 AM CST

Moderator

We came from here: The thread "November 2014 Butterflies, Moths & Larva" in Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees forum

Okay, I have to leave for the movies in 15 minutes so let's keep this short. It may be December but there are still butterflies to be had. Granted, I think I have most of them at this point but I will keep us going strong through the winter!

Yesterday, just before I was ready to leave, a butterfly emerged. They always know when I'm getting ready to leave and do this. In this case, it was a Buckeye. Now, most people think of Buckeyes as brown butterflies with cool eyespots. But when you see a fresh one you can see just how many colors they have. Pretty amazing little things, aren't they? I love the blue and purple inside the eyespots the best.

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Name: Catherine
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Cat
Dec 2, 2014 8:03 AM CST
@mellielong You should do some articles on this. I would love to read and see more!
Cat
"Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers." - Veronica A. Shoffstall
central Illinois
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jmorth
Dec 2, 2014 4:42 PM CST
That's a good idea!
Nothing that's been done can ever be changed.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 3, 2014 10:21 AM CST

Moderator

Well, I must admit I enjoy reading more than writing. But I was talking to dad about it this morning and I was thinking maybe I should write something about pipevines since a lot of people probably don't know the tropical varieties kill the Pipevine Swallowtail cats. Or maybe something for herb gardeners telling them Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars are not the enemy? I'll think about it. It's funny because a lot of my friends from other hobbies have been telling me I should be a writer. My genealogy friends (and my therapist) think I should write about my family. I have a friend in Hollywood who likes the movie reviews I post on my Facebook page and thinks I should do movie reviews. And you guys want me to write about butterflies! Maybe I should just get the message already? Hilarious!

First off, here's some pictures of my Monarch cats from Monday. One was still eating but the other one made its "J". Mom made sure to inform me of that fact. As you can see from the picture of the cat that's still eating, it's pretty easy to find a cat if you look for the frass.

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So today I did a general walkabout of the yard, just checking on everything. It's super nice outside. This is why all the Canadians come down here in the winter. Seriously, it's like, open your windows weather. Except I'm allergic to everything so that's a no-go. I saw a Gulf Frit and a Sulphur but they weren't stopping for anything. And I chased that Frit around for a while. I think it was a female because it kept landing on all the plants, just tasting them. I have two kinds of passion vine growing but it didn't seem to find either one. Silly butterfly. I did get some pictures of a Long-Tailed Skipper that was enjoying the porterweed. As you can see, that's my front door in the picture. Unlike lots of wildlife, butterflies will come right up to your house which is very convenient, in my opinion. Going to have to tell Mom it's time to change that wreath from "autumn" to "holiday". But then she'll blame Dad for not getting the decorations down from the space above the house (I don't think it qualifies as an attic, so I don't know what to call it).

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And my Monarch friend decided to make a lovely chrysalis. The other one wandered off; I can't find him. Don't worry about that drop on the bottom; it's just water. The chrysalis is not leaking. Somehow, the weatherman's 10% chance of rain landed right over our house. For two days in a row. I'm not complaining, though. We'll take all the rain we can in the dry season.

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Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 9, 2014 8:07 PM CST

Moderator

Here's a Monarch that's been flying around for the past few days.

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And here's another Polydamas that didn't get the "overwintering" memo.

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Name: Margaret
Near Kamloops, BC, Canada (Zone 3a)
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mcash70
Dec 10, 2014 4:46 PM CST
Really good shots Melanie! Thumbs up You getting better with the new camera??? Green Grin!
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 11, 2014 9:28 AM CST

Moderator

I think I'm learning this new camera, but today really tested me because I was taking shots of tiny little Monarchs and eggs! Yes, it's Monarch Madness here at Melanie's house! I suppose I should have guessed it would come to this with that female flying around. Mom actually found the two largest caterpillars this morning. I placed one on the Giant Milkweed so it would have plenty to eat. I think he's opting to sunbathe instead.

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Couldn't move this guy because he's molting. I'll keep an eye out for him, though. The plant he's on doesn't have enough leaves for him to make it to adulthood.

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Mom can't find the little guys, but that's what I'm here for. There are a bunch of them this size all around the yard.

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What's super strange is that the Monarch laid eggs on the Giant Milkweed! They hardly ever do this. They'll eat it if I put them there, but rarely have I seen them lay eggs on it. Sort of like how Zebra Longwings only lay on certain passion vines but if you move them, they'll eat most varieties. If you recall, I said earlier I was going to pull up my tropical milkweed and replace it with natives, but keep the Giant Milkweed (even though it's not native) since they don't tend to lay on it and it makes for a good emergency supply of food. I wonder if I got a weird Monarch or if she was that desperate to lay eggs? Here you can see two eggs on the leaf in this picture.

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Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 13, 2014 1:40 PM CST

Moderator

I had a little bit of action in the yard today. It's finally warming up again. We've had 60s for highs for like 5-6 straight days. I know, #FloridaPeopleProblems. But usually when a cold front comes through, we get 2-3 days of cold and then it warms right back up. So this past week has been unusual. Plus, it was cloudy and rained which made it even weirder.

I went out to collect Monarch cats to take to the museum tomorrow. I captured twenty. I only got the small ones and left the big ones on my plant. Here's one of the big guys.

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But I'll have more caterpillars soon because this keeps happening. And on the Giant Milkweed, too!

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I was walking around and scared up what I believe is a Barred Sulphur. A little on the large side, but that's good. It was blending in to the grass and dead leaves so well I was having trouble finding it with the camera.

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And another Polydamas emerged! I think since I have them in the family room they hear the weather forecast on the TV and don't realize it's almost winter. Hilarious! I've never had this many not overwinter. Usually, I'm yelling at them in the spring to get out so I can clean out my critter keepers.

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Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
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Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle Plant Database Moderator Garden Ideas: Level 2 Photo Contest Winner: 2014
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jmorth
Dec 13, 2014 4:50 PM CST
Nice to see some BF's...you're 'the winter connect' Melanie!
Nothing that's been done can ever be changed.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 13, 2014 9:13 PM CST

Moderator

I try to keep us going as best I can! I'll be at the museum tomorrow so expect to see some more photos then.
Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: Margaret
Near Kamloops, BC, Canada (Zone 3a)
Region: Canadian Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Tip Photographer Garden Ideas: Master Level I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Charter ATP Member
Morning Glories Critters Allowed Birds Houseplants Butterflies Garden Photography
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mcash70
Dec 13, 2014 11:40 PM CST
Thank You! Melanie, you do a super job!! Hurray! Going to be a long time before I see a butterfly in my garden. nodding
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 14, 2014 1:10 PM CST

Moderator

Hello everyone! I am here to rescue you from your winter doldrums. It's a beautiful day here in Tampa. It was a bit cool this morning but was supposed to warm up to around 70. And the sun is shining bright so that's nice. I took a whole bunch of photos today so let's dive right in!

This morning everyone was still hanging out because it was so cool. We had the heat lamp on, but it took everyone a while to wake up. Lots of Julias in the flight cage right now.

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And the Zebra Longwings were hanging out, too.

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This Julia was just posing too nicely and I couldn't pass it up.

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We still have a lot of Malachites but most of them are caterpillars. Here's some of the butterfly for you, though.

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I caught a Gulf Frit outside and brought it in. I first saw it on some pentas but couldn't catch it. So I walked around the entire garden trying to capture this thing. I lost sight of it so I just started wandering around. Then, I spotted it again. On the same pentas it was on in the first place! If I had just stayed put for five minutes I could have saved myself a lot of energy. I guess the butterfly figured I needed a workout. Rolling on the floor laughing

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I also spotted this Cassius Blue out in the garden but left him alone except for pictures. I'm not sure what kind of plant it's on. There were plumbagos right nearby. The Cassius Blues never venture far from their host plant, plumbago. This camera also did a pretty good job of capturing this tiny butterfly!

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There was an Eastern Black Swallowtail in the flight cage which is really making me wonder if the Swallowtails know something I don't about how this winter is going to go down.

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I found an Orange-Barred Sulphur cat outside and set up a tank for him in the lab. I thought he might like the flowers to eat. They always like the flowers this time of year. And see how well they blend in?

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The Imperial Moth cats are really big. More on that in a moment. The one in my hand is the true color. I don't know why my camera turned the other one green just because I was holding it in front of our green door. They're all brown caterpillars.

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Now, many of the Imperial Moth cats were wandering on the floor of the pop-up and not on the plant. And you know caterpillars do not leave their plant for no reason. I thought maybe they wanted to pupate, but I knew this species burrows under the soil and leaf litter to pupate. So I did what we did with the Hickory Horned Devils (Regal Moths). I took some of our compost and put it in a shallow plastic tub. I placed the cats on it and watched them for about ten minutes. They started burrowing down in it except for a couple. I bent one of the branches over the tub so if they wanted to get back on the plant, they could escape.

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I didn't even see this Long-Tailed Skipper until a kid asked me if it was a moth.

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And we had two Buckeyes in the flight cage but neither was very willing to pose. But here's one in shadow.

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Well, that's the show for today. Think warm thoughts and the butterflies will be back before you know it!
Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
central Illinois
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle Plant Database Moderator Garden Ideas: Level 2 Photo Contest Winner: 2014
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jmorth
Dec 14, 2014 3:29 PM CST
Great to view. Made for some sun on a cloudy day.
Nothing that's been done can ever be changed.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 19, 2014 2:54 PM CST

Moderator

Well, I went outside to check my orchids, as I have a few that are about to bloom. And while I was out there I wandered around to see if anything was going on but no one was flying. It's still been fairly cool for us here. But I did find some caterpillar action so I'll at least share that with you.

Now, when you hunt for caterpillars, there are several ways to find them. I've mentioned finding their frass a lot. But the most obvious method people use (for better and for worse) is to look for damage to the plant. Some of us yell, "Hooray" when we see this, while others reach for pesticide. You know which team I'm on! Hilarious! So I was looking at my Passiflora suberosa (Corky-stem passion vine) and thinking how nicely it was recovering after being devastated by hungry Zebra Longwings in the spring. Seriously, if you want Zebra Longwings, you must have this plant. But preferably a lot of it. As soon as it would stick out a new leaf, there would be an egg on it. As you can see from the first photo, something has been eating it! I looked around and found the culprit down on a lower leaf, having just molted. I think he's a Gulf Frit, but Zebra Longwings can appear orange-ish when they're really small. Still, this one looks too orange. I'll keep an eye on it. Sorry I couldn't get a better pic of the cat. He was super small and I've still got to figure out the macro thing on my camera.

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Then, it was over to the Giant Milkweed where I knew I had a big caterpillar. He was hanging out near the chrysalis. So I took a shot of them together, and then each one separately.

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As for that chrysalis, I was thinking it had been more than the usual 10 days since it made that thing. In scrolling up this thread, I see I posted a picture of the newly made chrysalis on December 3. And today is the 19th. So you do the math. I've never known a Monarch to overwinter, but I do believe they can delay coming out based on weather conditions. If it was diseased or parasatized, it would have shown signs of that by now. And on a related note, a lot of the eggs laid haven't hatched yet. I was thinking maybe they were duds. Eggs also are affected by the weather. I tell people at the museum they usually hatch in 3-7 days, with it usually being the lower number. But that's during the summer. In early spring, I've had them go almost 10 days before hatching (I forget what species that was but I was about to throw them out when they hatched). But then I found this little guy on the plant so at least one of them has hatched! And hey, the early caterpillar gets the milkweed so good for him!

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Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
central Illinois
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle Plant Database Moderator Garden Ideas: Level 2 Photo Contest Winner: 2014
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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jmorth
Dec 19, 2014 3:32 PM CST
Got a new camera myself - learning the subtleties...
Nothing that's been done can ever be changed.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 21, 2014 12:19 PM CST

Moderator

I tried to take some pictures in my yard yesterday but no one was cooperating. The Cassius Blues won't hold still. I saw a Long-Tailed Skipper and another large skipper but I couldn't get a decent picture of either. The weather here is very cloudy and it's supposed to rain this afternoon. And then it's supposed to rain for the next three days. I'm not even kidding about that. Three straight days of rain in the winter? This continues to be a strange year.

So today at the museum not many butterflies were flying even though it was in the low 70s. It was just so cloudy. But I still got some good pictures to share with everyone. I also met a family from Estonia! Luckily, I knew that the shortlist for nominations for the Best Foreign Film Oscar just came out and the entry from Estonia was on it. So I looked like a somewhat culturally aware American, I hope. They were using AirBnB to stay at a person's house in St. Pete so I told them to go to the Dali Museum. They're doing a special exhibit on Dali and Picasso and their influence on each other's art. I'm going to go after the holidays.

But back at my museum I had the Imperial Moth caterpillar out and was scaring people with it. I had a few brave souls who wanted to hold him or touch him, including my new Estonian friends. There's only one left that hasn't pupated. But speaking of those that have pupated, I checked on them to make sure they were all right after last week. My bosses added some leaf litter on top of the loose soil I had in the tub. Here you can see the pupa is kind of reddish on this moth. Right above the pupa are the anal prolegs of another caterpillar that shed its skin. Also, I took a picture where you can see the shed skin that I pulled off the pupa. And these pupa do move when you disturb them!

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Here's some Zebra Longwings roosting like they do.

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I released quite a few Julias. They have blue eyes! I keep confusing guests who think I've named the butterflies (kids think this a lot). And I have to tell them, "No, that's literally the name of the species." The latin name is Dryas julia.

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We had one very tattered Monarch in there. I couldn't get a good shot because it was on the backside of a hanging basket. So this is me twisting the hanging basket with one hand while awkwardly taking a photo with the other. The Monarch cats I brought last week got really big so we should have more Monarch butterflies soon.

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This Malachite was hanging from the bottom of a basket. And another one was nicely showing the top of its wings so I could show guests the difference.

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I thought we were all out of Atalas but I found this one caterpillar on the coontie. He's going to be all alone, though!

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My friend Dominic stopped by and talked me out of a few caterpillars. I asked him if I looked like Santa Claus. I cave easy, but there are some things he can't talk me out of. Like, if he can't name the host plant and confirm he's growing it at his house, I won't let him have it. Here he is hamming it up with a Gulf Fritillary I had released a little earlier.

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That Eastern Black Swallowtail was still in there but I could never get a good picture. While I was talking to a guest, it naturally took the opportunity to keep landing on my shirt. Since this is a male, I think it wanted the salt from my sweat. Here's a picture of it from this morning when it was still hanging out on the screen.

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And finally, here's the underside of that Gulf Frit. They always look white in the photos, but are actually a silvery color when the sunlight hits them. If you've never seen one, come visit us down South and you'll be sure to spot one. They're the most common butterfly in the Tampa area. I had a guest from Orlando saying how she was growing passion vine and kept getting butterflies around it and orange caterpillars so I told her they were Gulf Frits and pointed out the one in the flight cage. She was proud that she had her passion vine for three years and hadn't killed it! She bought it at the UF butterfly exhibit that I still haven't been to (soon, I promise!). I told her that was a good reason to go with native plants - they are very hard to kill.

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Name: josephine
Arlington, Texas (Zone 8a)
Hi Everybody!! Let us talk native.
Native Plants and Wildflowers Organic Gardener Butterflies Garden Ideas: Master Level Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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frostweed
Dec 21, 2014 12:41 PM CST
Wonderful reporting Mellanie Hurray!
Wildflowers are the Smiles of Nature.
Gardening with Texas Native Plants and Wildflowers.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 21, 2014 1:19 PM CST

Moderator

Thanks, Josephine! I also want to mention that when we had the Hickory Horned Devil (Regal Moth) caterpillars, my friend Dominic there was the only person brave enough to hold one. He turns 13 in January and kids can volunteer at MOSI starting at 14 so I've been telling him that in a year he can be my apprentice. I could use a teenager full of energy to carry stuff and lift heavy things for me! I did warn him though that when you volunteer, you don't get to take the caterpillars home with you. Rolling on the floor laughing And that usually, it works the other way around and we bring our extras from home to the museum.

A lot of teenagers volunteer at MOSI to get their service hours in. Either for the International Baccalaureate program (which I graduated from), the Bright Futures Scholarship program (which is a thing through the state of Florida where you get free tuition if you meet GPA and SAT guidelines), and I think even the Advanced Placement program has some kind of volunteer requirement. But I think Dominic might actually be a budding lepidopterist. He's been visiting me since he was about eight years old! And I think we all know that for a kid to be interested in anything for that long is very unique. I told him he could get a Bright Futures scholarship and go to UF for free where they have the McGuire Center for lepidoptera study. He told me he had one of those pre-paid college funds and I told him he could use that for grad school. Rolling on the floor laughing He says his mom wants him to be a lawyer but I gave him the talk about following your own passions, not your parents, because he's the one who has to live his life. Naturally, I said this when his father wasn't around. Hilarious! Mentoring is fun! Plus, my therapist says this is all good for me.

I get a lot of parents telling me their kid is a budding zoologist. I haven't met any budding entomologists or lepidopterists, oddly enough. And I'm totally supportive but the fact is, most kids have no idea what that actually entails. And I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but any time you work with animals or nature, you face death, predation, parasites, disease, etc. My boss has had to let volunteers go because they weren't able to put down butterflies that came out of the chrysalis messed up or were diseased. Dominic has raised many caterpillars so he's had to do that himself so I know he's already used to dealing with the down side of raising insects. Not to mention he has no delusions about the "magical" nature of raising butterflies. My Imperial Moth cat pooped a few times today and I love showing people that this job is not glamorous. It can be very rewarding, but it also involves an awful lot of cleaning. I even got to talk today about how caterpillars will throw up on you as a defense mechanism. MOSI's mission statement is "making science real" and I am out there keeping it real every Sunday. Okay, that kind of turned into a little bit of a rant. Sorry about that! Rant over. Hilarious!
Moderator of the best forum on ATP, the Butterflies, Bees, and Birds forum!
Name: josephine
Arlington, Texas (Zone 8a)
Hi Everybody!! Let us talk native.
Native Plants and Wildflowers Organic Gardener Butterflies Garden Ideas: Master Level Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier Birds Cat Lover Xeriscape
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frostweed
Dec 21, 2014 4:48 PM CST
Melanie, how do they go about putting down caterpillars or butterflies at Mosi ? I am just curious.
Wildflowers are the Smiles of Nature.
Gardening with Texas Native Plants and Wildflowers.
Name: Melanie Long
Lutz, Florida (Zone 9b)
Larva tested, Pupa approved!
Butterflies Hummingbirder Birds Bee Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Region: Florida
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Bromeliad Native Plants and Wildflowers Forum moderator Plant Identifier
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mellielong
Dec 21, 2014 7:50 PM CST

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It's usually the butterflies I have to put down as I generally find the caterpillars when they're already dead. But, in either case, I cut the heads off with scissors. Not my favorite thing to do, but I figure it's better than throwing it outside so it can get eaten alive by ants or have its wings torn off by a bird before they eat the body. Luckily, I don't have to do this too often. When we get a breakout of OE in the Monarchs then, yeah, it gets bad and I have to do it because they're diseased and messed up. And that's if they even make it out of the chrysalis. Sometimes I have to cut their heads off when they're still half stuck in the chrysalis. But you know they're completely incapable of life as a butterfly at that point, plus they're infected with a spore they will only spread to other butterflies, so it's for the greater good. Hate that phrase, by the way. Since our butterflies are pretty well protected in the flight cage, we can release them if they have minor problems. Like, today there was a Malachite who had some curling near the bottom of the wings. Even Dominic noticed it. But I pointed out that it could still fly - and it did right across the flight cage - so it was fine. In nature, maybe not so much. Also, we try to keep the lab as clean as possible. I wash my hands a lot, too. Mostly because handling frass is yucky, but it also cuts down on me transmitting anything from one tank to another.
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