Monday, August 25, 2014

Flowers and Butterflies at Sarah P. Duke Gardens



The focus of this blog entry is on what brings a garden alive; flowers, butterflies, and bees. I wanted to let the pictures speak for themselves. Pictures are worth a thousand words they say and though a thousand seems a bit extreme, I find truth in those words. Gardening is an act of love and if you were to ask me the secret to gardening I would tell you patience (lots of it) and the rest of it is perspiration. Nature will run its course. Bugs will dine on your favorite tomatoes you were just getting ready to harvest, but you know what it is all part of the journey. I was having to remind myself of this once again yesterday as my heart sank at all the summer pests I’m dealing with. If you plan on starting a garden don’t get discouraged, but be encouraged for there is always another season to try try again! Be blessed and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Isaiah 58:11 “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

Learn more about Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University on their website and plan a visit! 

47-Painted Lady3

45-Long-tailed skipper2


40-lily long ways



Bumble bee diving in head first for a scrumptiously delicious meal. I don’t blame him!




Can you spot the hummingbird?




Two birds checking out the scenery.


41-common buckeye

42-common buckeye side view

   48-Hummingbird moth

My first photo of a Hummingbird Moth!

49-Hummingbird moth2

Note: If anyone knows of a good venue for selling photography or someone who would be interested in my work please contact me or leave a comment! I’m a young lady with a passion for writing, photography, and gardening looking for a way to get more of my work published. Thanks!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Raising Butterflies Made Easy


gulf fritillary egg

Have you ever wondered how something so tiny can turn into something so beautiful? A butterfly starts its journey in the humblest of ways. It starts out as a tiny egg that with the naked eye would be easily missed. In that egg resides the genetic make up for what will one day be a butterfly. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Butterfly raising is a journey. It can be frustrating at times, but oh so delightful if you stick with it. Like a caterpillar, you devour books and information to care for your precious soon to be butterflies. The metamorphosis takes place as you apply your knowledge and then that knowledge allows all those once distant dreams to take flight.

Gulf Fritillary laying eggs for book

What came first the egg or the butterfly? Well, in this case it all starts with a fertilized egg from a mother butterfly. This female Gulf Fritillary is curling up her abdomen and depositing a egg on her host plant passionvine.



For starts with butterfly gardening you are going to need flowers and lots of them. Be diverse and imaginative. Be observant. And lastly, learn to be flexible because butterfly raising can be unpredictable.


Next, you are going to need host plants. A host plant is what a female butterfly will lay eggs on. Each butterfly has specific plants she will lay eggs on. For example a Monarch (pictured below) will only lay eggs on Milkweed (pictured above). There are more than one kind of Milkweed that the Monarchs will lay on. The variety above is tropical milkweed that will grow happily in Florida and in the north can be grown as an annual. Milkweeds also make great nectar sources for a large number of butterflies including the skipper which is pictured above. If you are keen on going native, Common Milkweed is native to much of the eastern United States, but be fore warned that it does not transplant well.

19-Monarch butterfly


21-two containers for book

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. How exactly do you raise a caterpillar into a butterfly? For starts you are going to need a “home” for your just hatched caterpillar. I’ve used everything from peanut containers to salad containers. Caterpillars need to breathe so to solve that I cut a rectangle in the lid and then glued window screening over it. Just be sure the holes are small enough so the caterpillars don’t escape.


Caterpillars need food and lots of it! Be prepared for some mega munching machines. These Black Swallowtails will gladly dine on parsley, dill, fennel, and carrots which have given them a bad name. They have been called “The Parsley Worm.” I scrunch my nose at such a name. They are butterflies thank you very much! That “parsley worm” turns into the beautiful butterfly happily resting on my face below.

butterfly on face

caterpillar rear end    

Butterflies in their teenage stage (caterpillar) are sure to make you smile from time to time. This is the rear end of a Black Swallowtail caterpillar that has a surprising resemblance to a frowning face!


When the caterpillar has reached its full size and guzzled up a lot of food, it will find a place to hang and make a chrysalis. This Monarch caterpillar has attached itself with silk to the lid of my rearing container. 


The caterpillar sheds off its exoskeleton and underneath is a gem known as a chrysalis. Inside the caterpillar will turn into a butterfly. It will stay inside 10 – 14 days, but this can vary by species. Ten to fourteen days is the average length for a Monarch to emerge.

Monarch chrysalis diagram

I’ve labeled for you the cremaster which is attached to the silk piece that the caterpillar spun before making the chrysalis.

Monarch emerging 

And then one day, you notice a change. You see crystal clear the pattern of butterfly wings! The chrysalis can no longer hide the butterfly that is waiting to burst forth in a glorious display. All that remains is the rays of sun to heat up the chrysalis and give it energy to push open the chrysalis “door.”

Monarch wings open

And there you have it. A beautiful Monarch butterfly!

Monarch heart

I hope you loved this how to style entry on how to raise butterflies. Check back in a couple of weeks to read more of my adventures. My life is an adventure so who knows what I will write about next.

book cover

To support my work you can purchase a copy of my book or simply click the “like” button at the following link. In my book you will learn about the life cycles of 10 common butterfly species through pictures and facts. You will also learn more about how to raise butterflies plus several butterfly garden and conservatory tours. It is a great resource for teachers and includes activity pages that can be copied for classrooms. 

01-Painted Lady with verse

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Magic Wings Butterfly House at Museum of Life and Science


Butterflies alight in us a wonder and curiosity of how such a small insect can conquer and soften the hearts of people across the world. To see a butterfly brings peace. I can stay mesmerized for hours watching butterflies fly from flower to flower. All heads turn at the mention of a butterfly being present. We desire to know the secret of how a wiggly caterpillar can turn into a winged creature, but that mystery is the magic behind a butterfly. They appear to be amongst the most delicate of creatures, but it is because of this elegance and fragility that we seek to become attuned to our surroundings. Butterflies welcome us to explore the rest of creation. They invite us to take care of our environment and praise God who was behind every detail of their design. We have only begun to scratch the surface of life and science so I invite you to come along with me as I take you on a journey of pictures I took while visiting the Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life and Science.

Magic Wings Butterfly House Website:


The butterfly conservatory is the largest museum butterfly house east of the Mississippi. It is 35 feet tall enclosed in glass that simulates a tropical environment. Butterflies like tropical steamy environments and the exhibit caters to that. They have a water feature and keep the temperature at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 250 exotic plant species add color and vibrancy to the conservatory. They allure the butterflies down to allow us tourists to gaze at their beauty.


The Mary Martha Uzzle Emerging Wonders Window allows guests to see the magic behind the emergence of a butterfly.


To capture a photo of the Blue Morpho with its wings open is not common place. This is the first time in my 5 + years of raising butterflies and 12 years of photography that I’ve gotten such a crisp photo of a Blue Morpho in this position.


Butterflies are friendly and may land on you if you are patient. In is prudent not to try and catch a butterfly unless you are an experienced butterfly raiser. They are resilient, but still can be easily damaged.




There were a wide variety of tropical plants and some were simply on the wild side.


They also had trees like this Cocoa tree which is the source of a oh so delicious chocolate bar.


Outside of the glass conservatory the tour and learning experience continued with mounted butterfly specimens from around the world on different continents. The Bayer Crop Science Insectarium is part of the experience that has 25 live exotic and native species of insects and predators including a rather hairy tarantula. My first thought, “I wonder if they let anybody hold it?”


The conclusion or beginning of the experience depending on your perspective, was in the great outdoors where native plant species and wild flowers attract butterflies, bees, and pollinators. This patch above are Common Milkweed which are native to North America and are the host plant of the famous Monarch butterfly. Every flower is a source of food and nourishment for our winged insect friends. Thanks for joining me on this tour!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to Build your Own Butterfly Conservatory


finished butterfly conservatory

I’ve been raising butterflies for 5 years ever since I was 15 years old. I wrote my first book about butterflies after gathering research from all my experiences and stories. We call ourselves butterfly enthusiasts. You’ll know us we you see us. The people who wear everything from shirts with butterflies on them to butterfly purses and matching butterfly earrings. We are fearless and will climb through a poison ivy patch if it means finding a hard to find butterfly host plant.  We will tramp through roadside ditches if it means finding Milkweed for our Monarch babies. We will stop at nothing to insure the safety of our precious butterflies so beware. Alright, I’m exaggerating here, but I can assure you that butterfly lovers are among the coolest people I’ve ever met and are among the generous of people. There have been many people who have helped me along on my butterfly journey and below are pictures of my butterfly conservatory during the construction phase as well as pictures of my butterfly caterpillars.


The butterfly conservatory was created by recycling a patio pergola that was donated to us. Watching the transformation process has been great. My mom has put in countless hours to make it an exquisite one of a kind butterfly conservatory. The first step was painting the individual panels which took 10 cans of Rustoleum spray paint. Next, the conservatory was mounted on a 2’ x 4’ wood base with 8 inch anchors to secure it. To make the conservatory mosquito and wasp proof, we ordered 86 inch  by 100 feet of fiber glass pool screen. It was secured to the wood frame by using an air gun and then my mom hand sewed the walls by using 450 yards of outdoor thread and then sewing up the roof made up of 2 panels. The totals for the materials was around $200 and the frame was donated.


Rolling out the fiberglass pool screen for the butterfly conservatory.


In about two weeks time my babies turned into teenage caterpillars and will emerge as beautiful butterfly adults. There is a beauty and mystery in the butterfly life cycle. How a wormlike creature can grow into a winged insect. They will never lose their mystery. They are a reminder of the great Creator God who is too great to comprehend. And so I have faith and just have to trust God and realize I can’t possibly understand everything. I don’t need to know how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly in order to enjoy the beauty of it. And so it is with God. I don’t need to understand everything that happens in this world, but still I trust that God works all things for good.


I ended up getting thirteen chrysalises.


This is my first Monarch chrysalis in 1 1/2 years because of two moves and a lot of hard work to get our farm established. A good friend asked me what I’m going to name it and I decided on Hope because it has given me hope that I can with the help of others save the Monarchs. Some of my neighbors are jumping on board to help! I believe with all my heart that I can help save the butterflies and I will never give up hope. I believed this from the very beginning and still do to this day.

01-IMG_4190 04-IMG_4211  

I raise my caterpillars in containers and once they make chrysalises I move them into another butterfly habitat to prevent curious caterpillar from damaging new chrysalises. I get mine from Judi Sunshine owner of It is easy for chrysalises to get damaged if they have not hardened yet. For this reason I find it best to separate the different stages. I also separate some of the different caterpillar instars and eggs from caterpillars to avoid the large caterpillars from accidentally eating them. Another tip is to put Milkweed in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator if it is getting ready to rain or you want to save yourself from a trip to the garden. A great time saver. Here is a picture of my butterfly habitat inside my butterfly conservatory.


Milkweed = Monarch. Without it there are none so please start planting them today.  Get free Milkweed seeds and more here.