We recently visited the Butterfly Farms in Vista, California. It was a great place to learn about butterflies — not only about their life cycle, but also about how to raise and protect them through conservation efforts.
The Butterfly Farms is a nonprofit organization that offers tours of their butterfly vivarium. They collaborate with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS) by monitoring butterflies, keeping count and even tagging their larvae, as well as documenting migratory patterns. There were even Monarch Butterfly waystations at the Butterfly Farms, like this photo reveals.
The Butterfly Farms has a beautiful array of gardenscapes for the various species of butterflies found in their location. Here we are enjoying the sunlight and scenery near the Butterfly Farms vivarium.
Before entering the Butterfly Farms vivarium, we had to be aware of the rules. The vivarium, after all, houses many butterflies. Butterflies are delicate animals. It was vital to be extra careful so as not to disrupt their behavior nor injure their fragile wings.
There were many different species at the Butterfly Farms vivarium. This one is a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), normally found with its host plant the Passion Vine. The host plant is the plant a butterfly lays its eggs on. Butterflies, meanwhile, can visit other plants, especially those with nectar to feed on.
This one is a Buckeye (Precis coenia). The Buckeye butterfly’s host plant is usually the snapdragon. Including host plants can invite particular species of butterflies to lay eggs in your garden. Interspersing your garden with both host plants and nectar plants can make your garden very butterfly-friendly.
Here’s a view of two Gulf Fritillary butterflies. As the photo illustrates, butterflies can be found resting on the ground or soil. It is very important to keep a good eye out for them so that you won’t trample them. Butterfly populations worldwide are in alarming decline from a combination of climate change, pesticide use, loss of habitat from urban sprawl, predation, and other factors. It is therefore important to protect butterflies as much as possible.
Gulf Fritillary butterflies have wings with upper surface coloration reminiscent of Princeton University’s school colors. But the Gulf Fritillary’s underwings have elongated silvery spots.
Interestingly enough, this photo is of a milkweed seed beetle. As its name implies, it feeds on milkweed. The Butterfly Farms vivarium had milkweed because they are host plants for the monarch butterflies.
As for this butterfly, this is a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Their host plants are the cassia/senna of the pea family. Gardeners say that purchased Christmas Cassia or Candlestick Cassia have been known to harbor Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars can turn green when they eat green leaves, and then turn yellow when they eat yellow leaves.
The Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) has Queen Anne’s Lace, Fernleaf Biscuitroot, fennel plant, anise plant, and even parsley for host plants. As part of its life cycle, the Anise Swallowtail, like all swallowtails, signals its readiness for forming a chrysalis when it purges itself with a blast of vomit or loose stool.
In this photo a butterfly landed onto a human hand. We waited patiently for the butterfly to transfer hands.
The butterfly instead decided of its own accord to land on my shirt.
We gave it another try for a different butterfly to crawl onto my hand. We made sure to be gentle and very patient.
But this butterfly had other ideas! It decided that my hair was a better place to rest upon. The hosts at the Butterfly Farms mentioned that butterflies taste with their feet, so they joked that I must have a sweet head for the butterfly to have landed on me.
Butterflies are essential to the ecosystem because of their ability to pollinate flowers. The Butterfly Farms therefore seeks to help in butterfly conservation efforts with its research and education programs.
Here’s another view of the butterflies at the Butterfly Farms vivarium.
We had a wonderful time at the Butterfly Farms. We learned a lot about these delicate insects.
We hope you’ll likewise be inspired to make your very own butterfly-friendly garden. Perhaps you’ll be visited by monarch butterflies, too.