For a long time, I have wanted to produce enough butterflies to be able to release some into the wild. After all, the numbers of butterflies are dropping everywhere. The reason is deforestation and the use of chemicals for insect control.
Between all the work that is required here, and the need to constantly replenish our flight house (because most of our butterflies only live 4-5 weeks) I never seemed to get around to it. But all that began to change recently.
Almost a year ago, El Valle friends Deborah Landsing and Michael Lundsford asked for plants to help establish their yard as a butterfly sanctuary. I was glad to oblige. But the conversation progressed to a discussion about not just feeding butterflies, but also raising them.
It was funny hearing Deborah express her thanks for my help in getting her started. Because for me, it represented the realization of one of my long held goals.
At last, here we are, installing her first generation of larvas from the gorgeous Blue Morpho. She has since raised a couple more generations.
In case anyone doesn't know, here is what the adult looks like. It is the most beautiful butterfly in all the Americas.
A tidbit of interesting information about the Blue Mopho; the brilliance is actually a defense. When they are flying, the brilliant wing topsides contrast with the dark undersides to create a flashing light, similar to a strobe light. The effect is that it slows or mesmerizes the brains of predators (like birds) so that the butterfly has time to escape. Pretty amazing!
By the way, the flashing wings have the same effect on us. When we watch the Blue Morpho fly, we actually become relaxed-I call them the "yoga butterfly."
After a hiatus, we began reproducing Owl (Caligo) butterflies again. They are the largest butterflies in all the Americas.
Here is a short video of Cleo releasing our excess males (they are very territorial-they chase the Blue Morphos and sometimes they even harass visitors!)
They young caterpillars rest in the ridge of the Heliconia or Banana leaf during the day where it is barely noticed. They feed at night when their movement isn't seen by predators.
As the Owl butterfly caterpillars grow, they are able to crawl to the stalk of their host plant to rest. Can you spot the large one on the left side? It has a brown stripe down its back and it is around 3/4 the height of the photo. It grows to nearly 7 inches long! Notice how their markings and coloration camouflage it so well.
When resting, they tend to group together in order to look like a larger organism that is harder to attack.
Lastly, the pupa (or chrysalis) of the Owl butterfly exactly resembles a dry, curled leaf. It even looks like it has veins.
Isn't nature amazing?
This is why we offer informational tours at Butterfly Haven. I had been to many butterfly houses, but they only provided a walk-through and an opportunity to ask questions.
As I learned how interesting these creatures are, I wanted our guests to share in the amazement by providing informational tours about their lives and their habitat.
Hopefully, we could leave them with a greater appreciation of nature. In our highly technical, fast paced lives we have lost our connection with the natural world.
We should not forget that we need nature (although it surely doesn't need us)
Working with butterflies everyday has changed my reality. I am more open to the uncertainty and wonderment of life. For example, watching friends help fulfill my goal of releasing butterflies!