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.