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Lepidoptera Curious
Tales from the Butterfly Keeper
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9th-Jun-2008 03:22 pm - A lateral move
Due to the very easy to access content and icons of friend pages (not all of which may be entirely appropriate for my museum audience), this blog will be shifting to a new home at http://lepcurious.blogspot.com/

I will hope to still syndicate here, but I am mostly mothballing this blog. Please, if you have a mind to, please do keep up with Lepcurious at its new home.

The bug gardener
6th-Jun-2008 11:31 am - Buckeye in the garden
The Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) is a fantastic little insect that is especially common throughout the southeast of the United States. Every time I work with them, I just can't shake the feeling that all those eye-spots are staring back up at me. There is something subtle in their colors and patterns which I think makes them more stunning than some of the more brightly colored butterflies.

Local photographer, Gregory Hess snapped this remarkable image of a displayed Buckeye sitting on a stem of parsley in my garden last week.

You can see more work by Gregory Hess at his Flickr photostream.
14th-May-2008 09:20 pm - Pipevine Swallowtail
Today I found several clutches of Pipevine Swallowtail eggs deposited on various pipevines about my garden. Hopefully, these eggs will hatch into caterpillars that will mature into gorgeous black butterflies with iridescent blue lower wings and delicate white margin spots.

The Pipevine Swallowtail is a tricky swallowtail to attempt to rear. This swallowtail hosts on various types of pipevine (aristolochias), but only on particular species of this vine. These are often not the ones most likely to be found commercially, especially here in Florida.

Aristolochia elegans, A. gigantea and A. grandiflora are easiest to find here in Florida, but these are only suitable for rearing the much less picky Polydamas Swallowtail. The Pipevine Swallowtail will mistakenly lay eggs on these species of vines, but their caterpillars are simply unable to consume these pipevines and will die.

To rear Pipevines from their tiny reddish eggs laid in small clusters, you'll need a collection of native pipevines like A. serpentaria or A. californica according to where you are located. Unfortunately, their native Florida host, A. serpentaria, is small, has few leaves, and only grows in well shaded forest areas which make it less than ideal for rearing swallowtails in any number.

Luckily, I have found another answer to my dilemma of how to rear these gorgeous bugs without having to spend copious time traipsing about the forest: Aristolochia trilobata! (More plant data here) Although it is native to Belize (along with a host of other pipevines) the caterpillars readily accept it, it grows in Florida, and grows much larger and more robustly than native counterparts. Since I have an A. trilobata growing strong on a trellis, I should have plenty to feed these 20 eggs and thus rear some really marvelous butterflies.

Photos to follow later in the season. These caterpillars are something! Photo here at Bug Guide

Photo of A. trilobata here

More information on Pipevine SwallowtailsCollapse )

I found this list of other Pipevine swallowtail friendly hosts.

Pipevine listCollapse )
1st-Apr-2008 03:14 pm - Noxious Weeds
Yesterday, a homeowner visiting my garden told me that her subdivision in Wisconsin has classified milkweed as a 'noxious weed' and thus residents are strictly prohibited from planting it on their properties. I clarified that she did in fact mean asclepias that was used by Monarch larvae for food. This means that milkweed is classified with ragweed...

I do fairly regular interviews concerning butterflies and the common questions of 'Are there less butterflies now than when I was a child? It seems that way'. Is it so shocking?

Humans move in to an area and build their homes, landscape their yards... and then often say they miss the things that drew them to that area. Butterflies, flowers, birds. Yet, we make no provisions for them and in some instances even ban their food plants. So yes, there are likely less butterflies than you can remember as a child... that or they had to wing much farther away to find food and you will never see them.

How very sad.
21st-Dec-2007 10:30 am - Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs.
Well, it seems I have landed a grant for the garden that will allow me to create signage that identifies almost all of the plants on the grounds by their common name, botanical name, native status, and care requirements. Also, we will be creating a native plant guide to help explain the value of native plants in a yard to reduce watering costs and increase habitat for butterflies and other native critters. Lastly, I get to construct a few rain barrels, paint them, and put them in the garden for use.

I have wanted this for years! Yay! I could just river-dance!

As soon as the funding actually arrives I'll be sending in the signage order. Myself and a colleague have been furiously researching all of the information and fact checking it twice. I'll make sure to get pictures.

This almost balances out the fact that I will be here on Christmas Day... as someone must feed the bugs in the lab. Yes, the glorious life of a butterfly keeper. Up to the elbows in larvae 3 hours before Christmas dinner with the family.
20th-Dec-2007 03:41 pm - Gaudy Sphinx: Eumorpha labruscae
Brought to me in a shoebox, this green Gaudy Sphinx is pretty gorgeous.

Picture and info behind cutCollapse )
14th-Nov-2007 09:36 pm - Changes to the Journal
Due to a fairly remarkable number of spam comments, comment settings on this journal have been changed. To comment you must now at least have a registered Livejournal account.

Also, I must speak to the comments asking for help with rearing caterpillars and pupa taken from the wild. If you are not familiar with rearing lepidoptera, any insects you find outside will probably fare better being left outside. I would prefer not to advocate the removal of wildlife from outside, so I would rather speak to questions concerning other butterfly and moth topics.

Thanks for understanding.
8th-Nov-2007 09:08 am - The Butterfly in Winter
As the cool air has come to Florida, the question keep coming up in my conversations around the garden.

Question: Where do butterflies go in the winter?

Answer: There are a few parts to this answer because different species of lepidoptera can overwinter in different stages of the life cycle. In fact, butterflies and moths overwinter as eggs, larva, pupa, and as adults depending upon their species. Let's take a better look at this after the jump.Collapse )
5th-Sep-2007 08:27 am - Garden Slide Show
You can see a photo slide show from my butterfly garden at its feature page on the museum website. Go take a look
5th-Sep-2007 08:17 am - Sphinx Moth of Some Variety
A volunteer dropped off two caterpillars that she had described on the phone as 'having a big spike on their butts' which to me screams 'sphinx moth'. I never did get to see the caterpillars as they pupated over my long holiday weekend (speaking of that, there are scads of polymedes swallowtails in the Ocala National Forest). Since I have little background in sphinx moths, I guess I am going to have to wait until they eclose to even attempt an ID. Here is how they look this morning.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
28th-Aug-2007 10:21 am - My Big Fat Imperial Moth
It's four inches in length and makes a great desk mascot.

Eacles imperialis. Distribution: East coast and west to Kansas, Texas. Larval hosts: variety of hardwoods, some pines. Adult: Wingspan 4-4.5 inches.

There is a great picture of an adult Impreial Moth at Virtual Insectry
7th-Aug-2007 08:39 am - In the news.
I was quoted (a lot) for an article on butterfly gardening in the Tampa Bay area. I am searching for a digital copy of the article since the magazine FLAIR only has a local/regional distribution. The pictures through the article are all from my butterfly garden, and my bugs are stars now! I am very thankful that no pictures of me worked their way into the article.

It is kinda fun to read your own name and words in glossy print!

Aug 5, 2007
FLAIR Magazine
A part of the Tampa Tribune
6th-Aug-2007 03:46 pm - Variegated Fritillary!
I found a Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)! She's kind of chewed up (literally- I watched her escape from a lizard) but I am pretty certain that I have the species right. Looks like they have been reported in this county in the past, but I can honestly say this is the first time I have seen one. More info here on Variegated Fritillary.

Image of my injured fritillary after the jumpCollapse )

In other news, the Palamedes Swallowtails have not produced any eggs yet (but I am holding out hope) and the White Peacocks have started going to chrysalis in droves (for which I am thankful, crawling about in the swamp isn't much fun).
3rd-Aug-2007 11:24 am - Palamedes Swallowtails!
Spicebush Caterpillar
For the first time, I am rearing Palamedes Swallowtails. They are remarkably beautiful.

A volunteers brought the caterpillars in and they were mislabeled as Spicebush Swallowtails. They looked just like them, and were eating Red Bay. They weren't rolling their leaves to hide inside, which seemed odd for Spicebush caterpillars but I didn't think much else of it. Even the chrysalis looked just like a Spicebush. I was pretty surprised (but very happy) when Palamedes Swallowtails emerged from the chrysalis. I have 5 currently, and two more nearing ready to emerge.

Here's to hoping they will lay eggs and I will have a whole new population.

Also, I am overrun by White Peacock Butterflies and must go venture out into a retention pond to collect their host plant, water hyssop. Wish me luck.
20th-Jun-2007 03:42 pm - Food for Thought
Just finished with planting all the summer annuals in the garden, which is very hot work for June in Florida. I am very glad to be done with annuals until winter replant in december or january. Today's question came from a young lady called "Sissy" by her much younger and toddler brother.

Sissy asks: What eats butterflies?

The answer: Darn near anything that can catch them at any stage of the game.

Food for ThoughtCollapse )
20th-Apr-2007 09:58 am - Butterfly Explosion
Wow. Walked into the garden this morning and I was really surprised at the number of butterflies. Luckily, I managed to get all of the watering done fairly early and before they got moving. I don't think I have a way to get video, which is kind of sad. There are a ridiculous number of butterflies in the garden today, and to see them all moving is really a wonder. There are still more emerging from chrysalis as I type. Today will be a busy day.

Anyway, here is a shot of the recently remodeled garden taken from the third floor of another building in the museum. I have more pictures but I'm having some technical difficulties. I hope to have them up later today.
4th-Apr-2007 12:02 pm - Woah!!!
I have more Monarch and Gulf Fritillary caterpillars than I know what to do with! I stopped even attempting to count them when I hit the 150 mark. For the rest of this week there is no way I will finish up with feeding and lab cleaning before mid-afternoon.

Also, the garden is lousy with butterflies and every time I turn around, more have emerged from chrysalis. I wish they could all emerge on time and work with my schedule, but it never works that way.
2nd-Apr-2007 11:47 am - New in the Garden
Grand Re-Opening
The BioWorks Butterfly Garden @ MOSI just celebrated its 10 year re-dedication and looks pretty fabulous. If you are local to the Tampa metro area, drop by and check it out! This is what has been keeping me so busy and away from up-keeping this journal, but now the big work is complete and I am officially back. Sorry for any questions I may have missed... feel free to ask again.

In the lab
Currently rearing:
1.) Monarchs on scarlet milkweed
2.) Cabbage Whites on collard greens
3.) Julia Longwings on passionvine (Maypop)
4.) Zebra Longwings on passionvine (Maypop)
5.) Gulf Fritillaries on passionvine (Maypop)
6.) Polydamas Swallowtails on pipevine
7.) Giant Swallowtails on sour orange
8.) Imperial Moths (I'm waiting for the cocoons to realize it is spring)

Yep, definitely spring. You can always tell by the bugs.
16th-Feb-2007 11:32 am - Poison to Caterpillars
Spicebush Caterpillar

Question: I raise monarch caterpillars at home but I am having some trouble. The caterpillars have started dying. They will lay on the bottom of the cage half curled with green fluid coming out of both ends and then die. Some are not able to fully make a chrysalis. What could the problem be?

Answer: Like all living things, poison is bad for your caterpillars. It sounds like a pesticide has been introduced to your population through their food source. Let's talk about how to diagnose this issue, how to deal with it, and how to avoid it in the future. This is a common problem.

Read more...Collapse )

I must apologize for being away so long, but I have been working diligently on major improvements to my butterfly garden. What once was a dreary breezeway is now a fully functional, well equipped and beautiful classroom. Where the screens and doors were time-worn on the enclosure, they have all been replaced with new materials. Blank walls have been covered in colorful banners of inspirational butterfly oriented quotes. The pond has been given new life with waterfalls and new plantings.

The whole of the butterfly garden now appears transformed and I am working on the last few pieces of this metamorphosis. Benches, metal art pieces, donor plaques, aquatic plants, plumbing repairs. Soon it will all be done.

It is a great thing to have a dream for a place, of what it could be some day, and then to slowly bring that dream to reality. The BioWorks Butterfly Garden @ MOSI is beautiful!

And now, any questions about all things lepidoptera?
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