The Family Butterfly Book: Projects, Activities, and a Field Guide to 40 Favorite North American Species

The Family Butterfly Book: Projects, Activities, and a Field Guide to 40 Favorite North American Species

by Rick Mikula


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Offering 40 fun projects that include building butterfly habitats, feeding butterflies by hand, and even incorporating live butterflies into special celebrations, Rick Mikula encourages you to get the whole family involved as you explore the exciting and colorful world of butterflies. Providing a comprehensive overview of the butterfly lifecycle and close-up photography of 40 stunning North American species, this guide teaches you everything you need to know to identify, care for, and raise these beautiful and fascinating insects. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781580172929
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 10/11/2000
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 583,186
Product dimensions: 8.53(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.38(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Rick Mikula, author of The Family Butterfly Book, is known as the grandfather of butterfly farming. He owns Hole-in-Hand Butterfly Farm and serves as a habitat consultant for numerous museums, zoos, aviaries, universities, and parks, including Dolly Parton’s Butterfly Emporium at Dollywood and the Hershey Gardens Butterfly House. He gives hundreds of lectures and workshops every year, and his work has been featured in newspapers, in magazines, and on television and radio programs around the world. Mikula lives in Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

Getting to Know Butterflies

I Didn't Know That!

Have you ever heard that if you touch a butterfly, you'll rub off the powder from its wings, and it will die? Or that if a butterfly gets a drop of water on it, it will drown? Ever hear that a torn or broken butterfly wing will grow back? And everyone knows that all butterflies go to Mexico for the winter, right?

Well, if you believe any of that, I've got a few acres of swampland I'd like to sell you. Because, you see, none of these statements is true. (If you want to know what is true, you're going to have to keep reading.) A lot of myths like these were probably started with the best intentions, so that people wouldn't harm butterflies. Many people believe that butterflies are such delicate creatures that they would die in the simplest breeze or anything less than perfect conditions.

The truth is, butterflies have evolved to survive and thrive in extreme conditions. They exist everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. They are more in danger from environmental threats caused by humans than from natural weather conditions. They are hardier than we give them credit for, and they survive despite human intervention.

In Love with Butterflies

It seems that every society loves butterflies, and this goes all the way back to the dawn of civilization. Some butterfly petroglyphs date to the Bronze Age. On a trip to the Dominican Republic, I was privileged to see petroglyphs on the walls of a cave called Cueva de Borbon. The unknown ancient artist had painted the butterflies so accurately that it was easy to recognize the species as a Zebra Longwing.

The first entomology reports ever recorded in the New World were written off the coast of the Dominican Republic, by none other than Christopher Columbus in October, 1492. In his ship's log, Columbus described the large clouds of yellow butterflies that surrounded his vessels as he approached the island.

Flying Flowers

Columbus didn't introduce the joy of butterfly watching to the New World, of course. Native Americans apparently always had a fascination with butterflies. The Aztecs believed their god Quetzalcoatl entered the world as a chrysalis, then transformed into a butterfly. The Aztecs also believed that the "happy dead" would come back to visit in the form of a butterfly. Aztec men of high rank often carried great bouquets of flowers for visiting butterfly relatives to enjoy. Mortals themselves were forbidden to smell the flowers from anywhere but the side because the fragrance at the top was reserved for the butterflies.

This belief in reincarnation is still celebrated during the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead festivities on November 1 and 2. Whether coincidentally or not, the holiday nicely corresponds to the time when migrating Monarchs arrive at their overwintering sites. In the small town of Janitzio, fishermen load their "butterfly boats" with offerings of food and flowers that are taken to the cemetery for departed relatives.

Native American Traditions

Farther north from Mexico, the Blackfoot tribe was sure that butterflies brought dreams, and the women would place embroidered butterflies beside their children when they wanted them to go to sleep. And the Flatheads of Montana depicted the metamorphosis of various leps in their pottery, developing their art to such a high level of accuracy and detail that it's quite easy to identify the species being honored.

The Hopi also used butterflies in prehistoric pottery and Kachina figures; Poli Taka was the butterfly man, and Poli Mana was the butterfly girl. The most prominent members of the Hopi people were the Butterfly Clan, who took great pride in their butterfly dance.

The neighboring Zunis called the butterfly man Poli Sio, while the nearby Navajos called him Begochidi. Legend has it that the Great Spirit instructed his human children to whisper wishes to these colorful messengers, who would then carry the wishes to his sky lodge for granting.

Modern Lore

Butterfly lore continues to this day. In the Philippines, a black butterfly is a sign of bad luck. A Filipina acquaintance of mine lived, ironically, on Lepdos, the island of butterflies off the coast of Greece. One morning she was surrounded by a group of black butterflies while jogging. Remembering childhood folklore, she became frightened and ran home. As she entered her house, the telephone was ringing. It was her mother calling from the Philippines to tell her that her father had just passed away. Eerie but true.

In the Caribbean nation of Aruba, many people feel that a black butterfly is a messenger of death. Most often, though, the butterfly is a sign of good luck. In the Ozarks, one of the best things that can happen to a new bride is to have a butterfly land on her - definitely a sign of fortunate days ahead.

Caterpillar and Butterfly Anatomy

A butterfly goes through developmental phases that are remarkably different from one another. Although each species is unique, here are some general characteristics.

Name That Lep

Early European settlers so appreciated the resident American leps (though they unfortunately showed their appreciation by collecting them by the thousands and sending them back to Europe) that they developed many of the butterfly names we know today. For example, the Lord Baltimore, now referred to as the Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), was named for 17th-century colonist George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, because the butterfly's colors matched those on his heraldic shield. And in fact it was the Pilgrims who named the Monarch; they believed that the golden stripe encircling the top of the hanging chrysalis resembled the golden crown worn by their own monarch, King James I of England.

Long-Distance Travelers

Whatever size their wings may be, many leps are capable of great flights. The Painted Lady of Europe will make seasonal flights to Africa. And Cloudless Sulphurs, which normally inhabit the Gulf Coast, can often be found as far north as New York state as a result of natural fall dispersal.

In North America (unless, as happens occasionally during fall migration, they're blown off course and find themselves on the English coast) Monarchs regularly migrate from Canada to Mexico and return the following summer. Or at least their progeny do. No individual Monarch actually completes the round-trip migration. After wintering in Mexico or California (depending on where they start out), the butterflies head north and breed along the way. It's their offspring that return to the starting point. Researchers have no clue how butterflies navigate this astonishing journey.

All this traveling seems like an awful lot of work, considering that most butterflies are adults for only two weeks, though a few do survive for a few months. The longevity champion is not a butterfly but rather a larva, the tiny Banana Yucca Moth caterpillar, which is able to wait 30 years to form a pupa, or chrysalis, and then finally emerge in its adult form.


Whereas the Monarch is our most recognizable and familiar North American butterfly, the least familiar leps are the skippers, which aren't actually true butterflies (Papilionidae) but rather belong to the family Hesperiidae. The novice may easily confuse these generally unimpressive leps with moths. Skippers aren't very big; they're certainly not colorful - at best one subfamily manages a tawny orange, while the other subfamily is brown, gray, or black. And, being rather squat and hairy, they're far from what most people would consider pretty. But there are about 3,000 species worldwide, and they can fly in short bursts of 30 miles per hour, about the speed of a cruising cheetah. Their name was inspired by their flight pattern, which resembles a stone skipping across the surface of the water. While they look like hybrids of butterflies and moths, skippers can usually be identified by their antennae (see photo below).

But even skippers seem like slowpokes compared to their largest-winged cousins, which can achieve a burst of 45 to 50 miles per hour.

Butterflies in Danger

Ah, butterflies . . . colorful and gentle and floating through their day as we all wish we could. Our love affair with leps has never been more evident than it is today, given the specialized gardens being grown, magazines being published, and clubs being organized just to help these little critters. It seems that life couldn't be any sweeter for them, right? Unfortunately, that is just not so.

Urban Sprawl vs. Caterpillar Crawl

Butterfly species are disappearing faster than ever before. The more wildflower meadows that are dug up and replanted with shopping malls, the fewer butterflies we will see. Urban sprawl will eventually eliminate caterpillar crawl. Yes, butterflies are adaptable, but they can't possibly compete with us. We can now travel to any place in the world we want to in record time, but the roads and airport runways that take us there have covered over butterfly habitats. Some wonderful meadow that seems like the perfect place to construct a home was probably a nursery to thousands of little leps every summer for hundreds of years. And now there's a new threat: food crops that are genetically engineered to produce their own insecticides. Unfortunately, insecticides kill insects (that's their job, and they do it well) and butterflies are, after all, insects.

Creating a Butterfly Habitat

"Progress" is inevitable, of course. Homo sapiens is a significant species on our planet, but humankind's actions are causing our fellow inhabitants to suffer and in many cases perish, often to the point of extinction. We have "technology" on our side. We are winning the battle to expand our living areas at the expense of theirs. That is why butterflies desperately need our help. They need us to use our technology to help them maintain their fingertip hold on the cliff of survival.

The place to start helping is in your own backyard. There needs to be a biological bridge of gardens to attract butterflies from the woodland into the suburban/urban setting. If every neighborhood had one or two butterfly gardens planted, eventually there would be more butterflies for everyone living there to enjoy. It would give butterflies a reason to venture into that city or town. They need color and fragrance, flowers, ponds, trees, even mud, not the cold glare of glass and concrete, the pungent odor of pollutants, or the threat of death on the windshields and grilles of speeding vehicles.

Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, you can do many things to help butterflies beat the odds. Simply turn the page and start to become butterfly friendly. Follow these recommendations, and as time progresses, you'll begin to see more butterflies in your neighborhood. You'll also find suggestions for creating a butterfly-friendly habitat in your own yard.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Getting to Know Butterflies (1)

In Love with Butterflies - Caterpillar and Butterfly Anatomy - Water on the Wings and Other Common Myths Debunked - Long-Distance Travelers - Skippers - Butterflies in Danger - Creating a Butterfly Habitat

Chapter 2: Inviting Butterflies into Your Garden (15)

Facets of Your Garden - Favorite Nectar and Host Plants - Beyond Flowers - The Best Regional

Backyard Butterfly Plants Landscaping for Butterflies - Container Gardening - A Shady Situation

Your Own Butterfly Box - Make Your Own Butterfly Net

Chapter 3: Taking a Butterfly under you Wing (43)

Bring Up Butterfly Eggs - Raising Caterpillars - Make a Caterpillar-Rearing Container - Build a Hanging Butterfly Cage - Learn to Hand-Feed Butterflies - The Mating Game - The Magical

Emergence of a Monarch - Butterfly Life Stages - To Free or Not to Free

Chapter 4: Starting Your Own Butterfly Farm (65)

Raising A Quantity of Caterpillars - Containers and Cages - Making Caterpillar Cages - Tending the Chrysalis - Quirks and Peculiarities - Butterfly Atria - Marketing Butterflies - Releasing Your Butterflies - First Aid for Butterflies

Chapter 5: The Most Common Backyard Butterflies (89)

Learning to See - What's in a Name? - Swallowtails and Parnassians - Brush-footed Butterflies -

Gossamer Wings - Sulphurs - Whites - True Skippers - Neotropicals - Oddities

Chapter 6: Taking the Plunge! (145)

Share the Joy - Collecting Farther Afield - Look before You Lep - A Butterfly in Winter -

Photography Tips and Tricks

Appendixes (156) Hardiness Zones for Common Host Plants - Make A Butterfly Envelope - Development Time for Selected Butterfly Species - USDA Permit to Transport Butterflies across State Lines - Butterfly Web Sites

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