Monday, December 28, 2009

Cloudless Sulphur Caterpillar Camouflage


Cloudless Sulpur caterpillars use camouflage for protection as they feed on Cassia trees. During the summer months, the caterpillar's green color matches the leaves of Cassia plants. In November the Cassia becomes covered in beautiful yellow flowers. As the caterpillars eat the flowers, they begin to turn yellow. This yellow color provides perfect camouflage while the caterpillar crawls among the blossoms.

green caterpillar

This Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar has a greenish hue. It has been feeding on Cassia leaves. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars green color provides the best camouflage during the summer months. The caterpillars will begin turning yellow only in the fall months when the Cassia tree blooms and the caterpillar feeds on the yellow flowers.

arrow points to silk

The arrow points to the silk created by the industrious creature. The silk secures the bud to the stem and keeps it from falling with the extra weight of the caterpillar.

One day in my garden, I discovered yet another survival skill of the Cloudless Sulphur. On my Cassia flower buds I noticed holes, but didn't see a caterpillar crawling near by to create the chew marks. As I inched closer to observe, a caterpillar head suddenly passed inside the hole. At that moment, I realized a creature had made a home inside the flower! I also noticed that this industrious creature wrapped silk around the stem and bud to keep it from falling with its extra weight.

inside home for blog

With my curiosity rising, I gently opened the bud. To my surprise inside was a yellow Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar! Inside its “home” It was happily eating without having to worry about wasps or predators bothering it. I discovered that this Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar is a wonderful house keeper. In the flower bud it had neatly piled its droppings in the corner and wrapped it in silk. The caterpillar wasn't very happy with my ruining its “home”. I gently transported it to my caterpillar nursery.

caterpillar in blossoms

Through this discovery, I learned that not only can Cloudless Sulphurs eat among the flowers, but they can also eat inside of the flower buds. The small lighter weight caterpillars are more likely to stay inside the buds. The large caterpillars are too heavy and eat too much to feed inside. They must depend on their camouflage to protect them from predators. Life as a caterpillar is difficult, but camouflage is one of the defenses God has provided for these amazing insects.

15 more days until my Costa Rica tour!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Diseases, Defects, and Injuries of Butterflies

In nature, butterflies with defects soon become part of the food chain. When raising caterpillars and butterflies inside an enclosed area, injuries and disease can be observed first hand.  Some of the problems a caterpillar may encounter are bacterial diseases, defects during development, or falling before the butterflies wings are completely dry. Watching a butterfly struggle as it tries to overcome its impairment is saddening. I have also learned that in the wild the survival rate of an egg making it to a butterfly is less than 10%! By rearing caterpillars in captivity this can be reversed so that up to 90% can survive to be butterflies. 

Bacterial Infections

Dented chrysalis Active caterpillars crawled over my soft chrysalises causing punctures.

Raising caterpillars in captivity has many benefits, but it has disadvantages as well.  I have had as many as forty caterpillars in one container. The result was that the active caterpillars began to crawl over the soft chrysalises before they hardened resulting in damage. Some chrysalises became disfigured or got punctured allowing unwanted bacteria to enter. Also, the abundance of waste was difficult to manage. One way to overcome this problem is to gently remove the caterpillars before they make a chrysalis. The finding of this experiment was that the maximum of 20 caterpillars per my 12” x 8” container is the most effective way to prevent overcrowding problems.

White Peacock bacteria

For the sake of my readers and completion of my research on defects, I decided to open one of the punctured chrysalis effected by overcrowding. With the help of tweezers, I gently removed the thin chrysalis covering. My discovery was that bacteria had entered and began to eat away at the once developing butterfly. The butterfly was dark brown, and mushy. Its antennae, eyes, proboscis, wings, and abdomen were packed neatly inside. It proboscis was still two separate pieces instead of one long tube. Looking inside was unpleasant, but I learned what the effect is of bacteria attacking a chrysalis.

Monarch bacteria 

Finding bacterial infections in chrysalises is an unpleasant subject, but it is part of raising butterflies. The Monarch above did not have a puncture in the chrysalis. The bacteria must of been acquired as a caterpillar. Rain and damp weather can have this effect and result in a black mushy chrysalis. Infected chrysalises should be removed and disposed of properly. I put mine in a sealed container and put it inside the freezer before getting rid of it.

Wing Damage of Fallen Butterflies


Butterflies have soft wings when they first emerge. Loosing their grip as they are hanging to dry can be fatal. They quickly are snatched by a lizard, bird, or other creatures. Raising butterflies in an enclosed area gives you more control. If the fallen butterfly has minimal damage, it can be safely transferred to an object to finish drying. Most of the time the butterfly is found too late. This Gulf Fritillary above fell resulting in damaged wings.

ed the butterfly

This is my first deformed Monarch butterfly we named “Ed”. It emerged April 16, 2009 when my journey with butterflies was just beginning. In my journal, I found the pages where I logged its life.  I fed it banana, pineapple, and honey water. “Ed” lived one week because I fed and cared for him. “Ed” was unable to fly because of its injury. Even though a butterfly is damaged, my experiment shows that a damaged butterfly can survive at least a week in captivity.

Defects During Development

antannae and proboscis deformed

Some deformities are genetic. They take place inside the chrysalis during it’s development. This Gulf Fritillary butterfly emerged with one deformed antennae and a short split proboscis.



This Polydamas Swallowtail’s wings did not develop correctly. Its hindwings and forewings are too small for flight.  It will not survive.

deformity for blog

Problems can arise as the caterpillar is going through its last molt to become a chrysalis. This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar head capsule did not shed off during the molting process. It died at this stage.

These are just some of the defects I have observed while raising butterflies.

My Costa Rica tour is in 22 days.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Uninvited White Peacock Butterfly in My Bedroom

IMG_3502Peacock in bedroom 

I walked in my bedroom and almost stepped on an insect. Not just any bug, but one of my White Peacock butterfly! At first I thought my sister had played a trick by putting a dead butterfly on my bedroom floor, but after closer examination I realized it was real. I have found caterpillars crawling in our house, but never a live butterfly. It must of taken a ride on my back entering the house, after my morning in the garden. It was quite an adventure with my siblings and I chasing after a loose butterfly in the house!



The next day the sun illuminated my room, and the butterfly began to fly around my room. With my hand made butterfly net I finally caught it! I took it outside and released in my garden where it belongs.

Split proboscis

The butterfly’s proboscis had not completely fused together when I observed it. The butterfly’s proboscis is two separate pieces when it first emerges from the chrysalis. After curling and uncurls the long drinking tube, it becomes connected. Not all proboscis are connected properly, resulting it trouble drinking from flowers. Hopefully this butterfly will be able to complete the connection of the proboscis in the hours to come.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Milkweed Seed Pods

 spider mite webbing

Tiny drops of dew collected on my milkweed leaves and on the webbing that had been created by tiny spider mites that morning. Spider mites are pests of Tropical milkweed plants. They ingest sap out of leaves decreasing the nutrition needed by Monarch caterpillars and can attack young caterpillars. To remove these tiny red spider mites try spraying infected plants with water. Be careful not to spray off Monarch eggs also! When my spider mites get out of control, I trim back the milkweed and have to dispose of infected leaves. I haven’t trimmed back my milkweeds yet because they are covered in large milkweed seed pods that will soon open.

seed pods for blog

Each flower that is pollinated, will produce one large seed pod. Sometimes two pods can come out of on flower. The seed pod will begin to darken before opening. The crunch of the seeds can be heard when the pod is squeezed.

   pod opened for blog

The seed pod will begin to crack to reveal crisp brown seeds. I counted 110 in just on pod and I have about thirty large seed pods on my Tropical Milkweed! The milkweed seeds are designed to fly. Each seed has white fluff attached to it that catches the wind and results in flight. I try to collect the seed pods before this happens. I remove the soft fluff from each seed and separate them in bags. The fluff can be used as stuffing. It is important to wash your hands after handling milkweed seeds and leaves because they are poisonous.

milkweed bug for blog

Milkweed bugs wait for the seed pods to open. Inside is their favorite meal, milkweed seeds! They have a tube that they use to suck the nutrients out of the multiple seeds.

be on milkweed for blog 

Honeybees are to thank for the formation of my milkweed seed pods. They are dedicated to coming back each day to drink nectar from the milkweed flowers. In return for the nectar they provide pollination. Honeybees are declining, but you can help by planting nectar rich plants like milkweeds. Remember to not use pesticides because they harm bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.

monarch egg for blog

The Monarch butterflies are still coming to my garden this winter season in Florida. They deposit the eggs on tender leaves, among flower buds, and even on seed pods.

monarch on pod

This tiny Monarch is resting on a seed pod. The large pod is too tough for the small caterpillar to eat, but large caterpillars can eat the pods. Milkweeds provide food and a home for many different insects. Aphids and spider mites suck on leaves and then are eaten by ladybugs. Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves. Bees and butterflies drink from the milkweed flowers. Milkweed bugs then eat the seeds that were formed after the flower pollination.  I have discovered this amazing web of life just from observing the milkweed plant. God created the milkweed and each insect to depend on each other. What would happen if milkweeds were all destroyed?

Please help the Monarch butterfly and insects who depend on milkweeds. You can get free milkweeds seeds at .

My Costa Rica tour is in 29 days!

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Long-tailed Skipper Life Cycle

 skipper for blog

The Long-tailed Skipper butterfly is a large skipper that is an attractive addition to every garden. The Long-tailed skipper is easily recognized because of the long “tails” that protrude from its wings. There are thousands of different skippers that live worldwide. Skippers are smaller than other commonly seen butterflies and many feed on grass. Skippers were given this name because of their appearance to skip as they fly.

flower for blog

The Long-tailed Skipper's caterpillars feed on plants in the bean family. One of their host plants is the Butterfly Pea plant which has beautiful purple flowers. They often lay they their eggs on bean plant in agricultural fields. Sadly it is thought of as a agricultural pest by bean growers along the southeastern U.S. I welcome the Long-tailed Skipper in my “Secret Garden” and enjoy taking photographs of this unique creature.

long tailed skipper eggs

A female Long-tailed Skipper deposited eggs on my butterfly pea plant while visiting. Long-tailed Skippers often lays their eggs in groups underneath leaves. They even will lay eggs on top of each other. Their eggs are round and cream colored. Inside the egg the caterpillar is developing. The tip of the eggs will turn a dark color when ready to hatch. The black area is the head of the caterpillar.

tiny caterpillar

The tiny caterpillars ecloses from the egg shell by chewing through the tip of the egg. The new caterpillars are yellow with black heads. They begin crawling around the plant and chewing slivers out of the leaves to construct their special hiding spot.

large nest for page skipper curled leaf for book

The Long-tailed Skipper caterpillar must hide from predators after hatching. Some of its enemies include wasps, birds, spiders, ants, dragon flies, and frogs. The caterpillar will choose a leaf and start working on creating a shelter to hide inside. It makes a shelter by chewing out a piece of the leaf and wrapping it around itself. The caterpillar hides in its shelter during the day, but eats at night when fewer predators are around. Long-tailed skipper caterpillars have earned the name “bean leafroller” because of this action.

skipper caterpillarbig caterpillar 

The tiny caterpillar won't stay small for long. Its skin becomes too tight and it will have to shed it off. The caterpillars appearance changes as it gets larger. Its body turns green with yellow stripes along the sides. The caterpillar's head is black with small red spots that look similar to “eyes”.


The Long-tailed Skipper caterpillar's head will begins to turn dark red as it nears pupating. The caterpillar does not hang or attach itself to branch. Instead it hides in a leaf and makes its pupa inside. The brown pupa is covered in white powder that easily rubs off. Its pupa looks similar to the droppings from a frog.

skipper wings open

The butterfly stays in the pupa for about 10 days before emerging. The Long-tailed skipper butterfly has long “tails” and its antennas are hooked at the ends. When the skipper opens its wings, its colorful scales can be seen. The scales are a bluish green and look like fuzz growing on the skipper's butterfly. These scales are easily removed when your finger is rubbed across them. Its long “tail”, colorful scales, and quick flight make this butterfly attractive and easy to recognize.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

Butterfly Conservatory front

For Thanksgiving weekend our family went on a trip to Key West. The highlight of our trip was visiting The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory .

IMG_3021 Glass Butterfly Conservatory

This beautiful Victorian style structure includes a gift shop, gallery, learning center, and a 5,000 sq. ft. glass enclosed conservatory. The conservatory is full of 50-60 different exotic butterfly species from butterfly farms from around the world. The conservatory has a computer controlled weather system that provides a tropical climate for the many butterflies (this was my dad’s favorite part).

Sam Trophia owner

Sam Trophia (above) and George Fernandez are both owners of The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Sam Trophia gave me a tour of the conservatory and shared how it is operated. It was a pleasure to hear about his own journey with butterflies.

Learning Center

Butterflies of the World

To begin our tour we entered the Learning Center. Inside was a map showing different butterflies of the world and where they are located. There was a short film showing the life cycle of butterflies and interesting facts. My favorite exhibit inside the Learning center was three enclosed glass containers where you can observe caterpillars feeding on their host plants.

Morpho sign  Morpho caterpillar

During our tour, Sam Trophia let me take a closer look inside the Blue Morpho caterpillars enclosure. I finally got to see a Blue Morpho caterpillar! It was quite funny looking and not beautiful like the adult butterfly it will become. It had a strange hair style and bright colors along its back. Touching a Blue Morpho caterpillar’s hair is not a good idea because they cause skin irritation. I better bring gloves when I go the Costa Rica!

Butterfly Conservatory


(Picture taken from the second floor during our ‘behind the scenes” tour.)

My excitement grew as we entered the butterfly pavilion. Every detail was perfect. The tropical flowers were bursting with blooms.  Large Blue Morphos and tropical butterflies swirled around us giving us a sense of peace and tranquility.

Morphos on dad Morpho on my shoulder

Dad and I discovered how sociable Blue Morpho butterflies are. We were told that if a butterfly lands on us we are blessed. I thought I was special to have one land on my shoulder, but soon discovered my dad had two land him! One on his head and the other on his leg. They blend in very well with their wings closed so follow the pointing arrows to find them. The butterfly on my hat is paper, but the one on my shoulder is real. The paper butterfly is a gift to all visitors to the conservatory.

feeding platter

The multiple fruit platters around the conservatory attract many different butterfly species. Butterflies are treated like royalty at this conservatory! Note the colorful flowers on the elaborate plate.

Beautiful Butterflies

It took some thought to pick out my favorite butterfly pictures. I purchased a Butterfly Identification Guide at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory gift shop to help identify the different tropical butterflies I saw.

Blue Clipper Rice paper butterfly

1. Blue Clipper                            2. Rice paper

Tailed Jay purple butterfly

3. Tailed Jay                              4. Doris Longwing

Blue Morpho Butterfly 1

4. Blue Morpho                        5. Crimson-patched Longwing


Inside the conservatory were beautiful waterfalls and a brook with Koi fish swimming around. Mr. Trophia pointed out baby fish living with their parents. The water adds moisture to the air which helps to provide the humidity tropical butterflies need.

quail and baby fat bird

Inside the conservatory are a variety of about 15 different small birds that eat fruit and seeds, but don’t harm the butterflies. Instead of using chemicals that kill butterflies, they use birds to control mosquitoes and aphids. (The first picture is a quail and her new baby eating.)

Butterfly Laboratory


Visitors are unable to go inside the laboratory, but Mr. Trophia, who is keeper of the laboratory keys went inside and snapped a photo for me. Now you can get a glimpse inside the laboratory where the butterfly chrysalises are kept.

 Chrysalises 1

A closer look from my outside view shows the emerging butterflies. These are large Owl butterflies that fly at dusk in the rain forests of Costa Rica. On January 12, my mom and I leave for Costa Rica and will stay in the jungle where the Owl butterfly lives.

The owners of the conservatory are concerned about butterfly conservation. The butterflies (and birds) flying in the conservatory are not captured from the wild. They are bred in captivity in different areas of the world. Regulated Butterfly farming provides income for people living in rain forests. Instead of destroying trees for agriculture, people can live off of the land. The extra butterflies that are not sold are released into the wild further helping the butterfly populations!

“Behind the Scenes Exclusive Tour for Elizabeth’s Secret Garden”.


The butterflies live a wonderful life in the conservatory, but will eventually die. The owner, Sam Trophia, recycles the specimens by creating artwork with them and selling them in the art gallery. He creates ornaments and shadow boxes with the deceased butterflies. My favorite piece was a mirror surrounded by blue butterflies. You can purchase them online and ship them almost anywhere. They are a perfect gift for family and friends this Christmas season.

Click on this link to see butterflies in display cases that are available for purchase. 

To see the other gift shop items visit IMG_3068

Butterflies are carefully preserved and sorted in the correct boxes. They will later be turned into beautiful art arrangements.


The Atlas Moth is the largest moth in the world. It was proudly displayed at the top of bulletin board along with the Owl butterfly and other species.

I strongly recommend that everyone visit The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. I want to thank Sam Trophia for making our visit very enjoyable. My love for butterflies has increased, but most importantly my love for the God who “painted every color on their wings” has grown. (The phrase in parenthesis is quoted from Abigail Breslin in the movie “The Ultimate Gift”.)

When you visit, tell them “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” sent you!

Below is a video I put together of our trip to Key West.

Also check out my book on butterflies!

It includes all about how to raise butterflies, their life cycles, and butterfly gardens/conservatories I have visited. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is included in my book. Happy Butterfly Gardening!

Purchase book here to support my work: 

book cover