Friday, August 16, 2013

Monarch Migration Endangered?

By: Elizabeth Mann, creator of “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden.”


The Monarch migration is a phenomenon that has baffled scientists and been a source of awe and wonder for butterfly lovers. What is it that astounds us about the Monarch migration? Is it the fact that a delicate butterfly can fly 2,000 – 2,500 miles to reach the Sierra Mountains in Mexico or how they cling to the Oyamel trees by the millions? While the Monarch is not endangered, they have suffered great losses due to loss of habitat, pesticides, weather, and logging. I posed questions to Sun Butler, Farm Educator at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, about his eye-witness experience of the Monarch migration in North Carolina and his experience of the shifting Monarch route.

Monarch poster

Eye Witness Account from Sun Butler,
Farm Educator at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

Q: What is the location of migration you observed?

A: “Topsail Beach is where we saw the migration every year until 2,000.  I have also seen them along the Appalachian Divide.”

Q: What were the months of this occurrence? What was the length of time when the Monarchs passed by?

A: “September - October. The migration lasted about two weeks.”

Q: What was this experience like for you?

A: “Magical and deeply spiritual.  The Monarchs fly down the beach one by one, sometimes stopping to land on us to lick salt off of our skin as we sunbathed or came out of the water.”

Q: At what point did the Monarch numbers going through Topsail Beach begin to decline or stop altogether?

A: “The year 2000”

Q: What were your feelings with this loss?

A: “Incredibly sad.  I am 56.  I have enjoyed Monarchs all of my life but now I only see a few every year.”

Information from Elizabeth Mann’s research

Where can you view the Monarch Migration in North Carolina?

Two popular sites for viewing are on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Cherry Cove Overlook just south of Mount Pisgah at milepost 415.7 and Doughton Park at Buff Mountain between mileposts 238.5 & 244.7. (Source: )

From the middle of September and continuing for several weeks, the monarchs make their way through the Great Smoky Mountains at Wagon Road Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway about 35 minutes south of Asheville.  (Source:

Explore why the Monarch migration could become endangered.

book cover

To learn more about butterfly life cycles along with how you can start raising your own butterflies you can purchase my book. It will teach you about 10 different North America butterflies with colorful photos and my personal experiences of raising them. I also include different butterfly conservatories and gardens I’ve toured in the United States. It is a great resource for teachers and loved by adults as well.

Also, watch this video I made of how to harvest milkweed seeds so you can plant them and help the Monarch butterfly!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Butterfly Conservation in Europe by Guest Blogger John Gower

“I call the United States my home, but butterfly conservation efforts are taking place around the world. Butterfly Conservation in Europe is one such effort that guest blogger, John Gower has graciously offered to give us an in depth look into in this blog entry.” – Elizabeth Mann, writer and creator of Elizabeth’s Secret garden

Article By Guest Blogger John Gower

Monarch butterfly

Butterflies are a necessary component of many good environments. They are important pollinators, indicate the ecological quality in a given habitat and make up an important component in the food chain. In exchange, they’re very rarely a threat to plants, animals or the environment. They’re beautiful, benign, and useful.

Facing dangers like urbanization, pollution, industrialization and more, butterflies are facing tough times around the world, including in Europe. With all of these factors working against their survival, it’s more important than ever to work to preserve the lives of butterflies. Luckily, a number of groups exist which are fighting to save the butterfly population in Europe, an issue discussed in greater detail below.

Deforestation in Central America 
Deforestations is threatening butterflies around the world. Photo above depicts deforestation in Central America.

What is Butterfly Conservation?

Conservation is a movement in the social, environmental and political sense, which seeks to protect natural resources. These resources include animals, plants and fungi as well as their natural habitats. Conservationists aim to protect the resources well into the foreseeable future, allowing animals and plants to survive despite negative human impact.

Butterfly conservation then is the act of conserving butterflies and moths. Butterfly conservation is widely practiced and includes the preservation of butterfly’s natural habitats.

Who Runs European Butterfly Conservation?

Groups dedicated to butterfly conservation are scattered throughout Europe. Butterfly Conservation Europe was started by several of these organizations in November of 2004 to serve as a sort of “parent organization.”(1) Organizations that helped to found the initiative include the Dutch Butterfly Conservation and Butterfly Conservation (UK). These groups are two of the premier butterfly conservation groups in Europe, though several other countries also have conservation foundations.

What are the Goals of Conservation Groups?

Butterfly conservation groups in Europe typically share a set of similar goals, enacted in part by Butterfly Conservation Europe. First, they generally work to enact a variety of programs to record and monitor the well being of the many species of butterflies. Conservation groups provide advice about maintaining butterfly habitats and preserving endangered species. They provide education about issues surrounding conservation and advocate for better conservation practices. This advocacy might come in the form of legislation, financial aid, educational initiatives and more. And of course, conservation groups aim to teach everyone to cherish the butterflies and moths around them.

How Does the Conservation Process Work?

The conservation process is not a step-by-step process. Instead, it must change according to the climate and circumstances of the times. Typically speaking, conservation groups will start by setting some goals regarding what they hope to do. The goals might include preservation levels, initiatives to enact and legislation to pursue. A conservation group then pursues their goals based upon the needs of the butterflies in their region, the political/social environment, financial factors and other issues impacting conservation work.

Are the Foundations Available to Visit?

Many of the butterfly conservation groups have locations that you can visit. Throughout England are local branches of Butterfly Conservation (UK). You can visit the local branches to see butterflies, learn about preserving them and to get involved with butterfly conservation in the area. The Dutch Butterfly Conservation has similar local options available, as do many other European butterfly conservation groups. Just check out the areas you’re planning to visit to see if there’s a butterfly conservation group in the vicinity.

Butterflies are declining in population around the world and specifically in Europe. Important members of the ecosystem, it’s necessary to preserve the livelihood of the species. These conservation groups are working hard to make sure that butterflies live on, not going extinct as humans encroach upon their habitats and homes.

Learn more about Butterfly Conservation Europe

John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a site dedicated to helping consumers find the best rates for credit cards.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What is Eating my Parsley? Journal of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

The Black Swallowtail butterfly is one that has often been misunderstood and sadly mistaken as a pest. You may have heard it referred to as the parsley worm, but that name does not do justice to the beautiful butterfly it will become. Yes, I know that it is frustrating as a gardener or farmer to come out to see your parsley ravished by caterpillars, but I actually grow it specifically for these butterflies. If you are experiencing this, I suggest setting aside some plants for the butterflies and some for yourself. You can transfer the caterpillars to the plants you’ve designated for them and then you can have the best of both worlds! What a tragedy to kill these beautiful creatures just to have a garnish for our culinary dishes.

Black Swallowtail host plants: Parsley, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, Rue, and sometimes even cilantro and carrot leaves.

Journal of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly’s Life

Female black swallowtail

The arrows are pointing to the spots that resemble eyes. These are a defense mechanism. The bird may mistake these for eyes and snap at them instead of the butterfly’s head. A life saving tactic for the butterfly. If you see a butterfly’s wing that has a beak sized slice missing from the wing, that is probably the culprit.

Male Black Swallowtail  

The male and female Black Swallowtail are different. I recently had a friend ask how to tell them apart. Well, the female has reduced yellow postmedian band and an increased blue band on the hindwings. The differentiation is clearly visible when comparing the photos.

Caterpillars eating parsleyButterfly castle

The Black Swallowtail butterflies can really be a hassle to garden nurseries and farmers. I gladly collected the Black Swallowtail caterpillars off the parsley at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Farm. I took all of them except a few baby ones. I have a soft spot for butterflies.

You can buy butterfly enclosures called butterfly castles at They also give away free Milkweed seeds if you want to help the Monarch butterflies.

Black Swallowtail egg

The Black Swallowtail egg is so tiny. I’ve developed an eye for spotting butterfly caterpillar eggs. It reminds me of a tiny pearl and it really is a treasure.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar day 1  

This caterpillar is one day old. Below are the previous blog entries I’ve done to chronological the Black Swallowtail’s complete life cycle.

Egg – Day 4

Day 6 – 9 

Making a Chrysalis

Caterpillar osterium

Beware of this orange filament! It releases a pungent odor when the caterpillar is bothered. If you touch it or arouse the caterpillar, it will arch back and try to smear it on you which will leave a rather unpleasant smell. If you wish to move them to a different branch, I suggest pinching off the leaf at the stem and then moving it while it is still of the leaf.

black swallowtail frowning face

This is another defense. On the backside of the caterpillar is what I think looks like a frowning face. As it was with the fake eye spots on the butterfly, it is better for the predator to strike the caterpillar’s rear end than it’s head.

 Black Swallowtail hanging  
Arrows point to where the caterpillar has spun silk by which to attach itself.

I had a hard time finding out how long the Black Swallowtail stays in the caterpillar stage. At my previous home in Orlando (with all that heat) the caterpillar stage lasted 11 days. In the cooler weather it will take longer because the caterpillar’s body begins to slow down. Now for the chrysalis, that can take between 2 – 3 weeks or it may even overwinter. Some butterfly raisers purposefully trigger overwintering by putting the chrysalis in the refrigerator for a week.

Green chrysalis brown chrysalises 

An interesting fact is that the last color in nature the caterpillar sees is the color its chrysalis will be (no, reds or blues though. lol.)  If it is near green leaves in the spring it will be green, but in the fall with the dying leaves it will be brown. The brown chrysalises, I had kept in a darker spot and this replicated the fall conditions. Don’t get too worried if a month or so goes by and they don’t come out. Unless the chrysalis gets squishy and diseased, it is overwintering and will come out in spring.

 Butterfly ready to emerge

The final revealing has come! The Black Swallowtail has just an hour before it will emerge. The chrysalis has become transparent so you can see its wings. I hope now you will agree that the “parsley worm” is worth keeping.

Watch all my butterfly videos on my Elizabeth’s Secret Garden youtube channel 

Please support my work and buy my butterfly book

book cover

My book describes the life cycles of 10 different common butterfly species. It takes you through the stages from egg to butterfly. Want to help butterflies in your area? My book will teach you how to start your own butterfly nursery. It contains butterfly garden and conservatory tours. The pictures are colorful and help to bring this book to life. It also has discovery pages with facts. It is loved by adults and I’ve had teachers purchase it.

Here are what some of my butterfly book fans have said;

Elizabeth's book opens the doors to the mysterious and transformational life of the butterfly. With beautiful pictures, diagrams and discussion she educates and inspires you to the point that you want to build your I did. I just released my 60th monarch on mothers day. I have given.her book as gifts to friends age five to eighty, and they all love it. Kudos to you Elizabeth. – Sheila

Elizabeth's Garden was written by a young woman whose passion for butterflies comes through on every page. Whether you are interested in raising butterflies, creating a butterfly garden, or just love these beautiful creatures, this book is for you. My first grade students were enthralled with the pictures and the information found in this book. It helped us to begin to create a butterfly garden at our school. – Susan