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Happy National Learn About Butterflies Day! (March Edition)

Category: Pollinators | Posted by: Mike Forste

March 14th is not only a day to celebrate with pie (3.14), but it is also National Learn About Butterflies Day!

Everyone can appreciate the beauty and majesty of a butterfly, but not everyone is in tune with the best ways to ensure their safety and increase their likelihood of survival from the beginning stages of their lives. Continue reading to learn more facts about these creatures and a few tips on how to support them.

Butterflies undergo a process called complete metamorphosis during their lifetime. This means that at every stage of their life, they look and act completely different!

  1. Egg – individual or clusters … no movement, hard to notice
  2. Larva (caterpillar) – segmented body with multiple legs and moves in a crawling wave-like pattern … eating machines! Look for holes in your leaves.
  3. Pupa (chrysalis) – caterpillar turns into a ball of goop inside the chrysalis as it begins to develop further
  4. Adult (imago) – butterfly emerges with the gift of flight and a thirst for nectar

DIET

Caterpillar Diet – Devour leaves and stems. What they eat as well as how much they eat can affect their size as a butterfly, as well as the colors in their wings. Bright colors and intricate patterns can help confuse predators or act as a warning not to eat it. What they eat also contributes to their toxicity level, making them poisonous to predators or other animals that may be trying to eat them as a snack… cuz caterpillars are like nature’s high-protein sausages… YUM!

Butterfly Diet – seek out nectar (sugary plant water) from flowers. They have a tube-like tongue called a proboscis that unrolls and gets down deep into flowers to get at their nectaries or the site that contains the nectar. Developed an evolutionary codependency with flowers (evolved for many, many years alongside each other to each other’s benefit) When they feed, butterflies get covered in pollen grains. Flowers and butterflies help each other: flowers use pollen to reproduce, and butterflies help transport it. After feeding, butterflies take pollen grains to new flowers when they fly away. Flowers have special shapes, patterns, and colors to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

‘Puddling’ – when adult male butterflies land on a wet sandy, or muddy spot to suck up essential nutrients like salts and amino acids that are believed to be essential building blocks for them being able to mate and reproduce. They even display this act on poop, dead animals, and rotting food!

VISION

Butterfly vision– the compound eyes of butterflies provide them with almost 360 degree vision. They can see everything at the same time, so they can eat and be on the lookout for predators at the same time. We perceive colors in a different way to butterflies, as they are ultra-sensitive to Ultra-Violet (UV) light as well as visible radiation. Flowers have UV patterns that are invisible to humans but which can be recognized by butterflies. These UV patterns guide butterflies to the source of nectar in much the same way that runway lights guide an aircraft in to land.

Compound eye– Instead of an eyeball with one lens, like our eyes, insects have compound eyes, made of many lenses, making them look like a tiny honeycomb. Scientists think compound eyes see the world in a very different way. They don’t give a nice, clear picture like the ones we see. But they’re very good at detecting movement. Some insects have better vision than others. Grasshoppers have only 2 lenses, while small flies have five thousand. But the winner in the compound eye world is the dragonfly. It has thirty thousand lenses, giving it the clearest flicker picture of them all!

FLIGHT PATTERNS

  • Circling/Soaring … most common, butterflies seek the path of least resistance with thermal vents and other air currents
  • Erratic … used to avoid predators, sersies of abrupt side-to-side and up-and-down manuevers
  • Variable … butterflies are trying to find the best path for themselves to travel using steady, alternating changes in flight

A typical butterfly flaps about 10 times per second, compared to 200 flaps per second for a honeybee.

Tips for Planning your butterfly garden:

  • Nectar sources are important for adult butterflies, but you must provide food for the young because they eat leaves and stems of the plant.
  • They lay their eggs directly on their food source (so when the caterpillars hatch, it’s like being born into a bowl of mac n cheese)
  • An appropriately planned butterfly garden contains food sources for both the caterpillar and the butterfly stages of life.
  • Nectar sources should be clustered together in mass for large, easy to identify targets.
  • Provide a puddling station in your bird bath… stones/sand/salts… keep moist.

So this Thursday, grab a slice of pie and start planning how you will help support our fantastic, flying friends!

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