A Visit to the Yard of the Butterfly Lady

January 13, 2016

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

A group of local naturalists from the Peace River and Sarasota Butterfly Societies and some native plant enthusiasts were excited to visit the yard of Englewood, FL, resident Mary Brown who is famous for her skills in raising butterfly caterpillars, especially monarchs. Mary cautioned us that her yard was small, but it was huge in terms of its bountiful caterpillars. Indeed it is truly amazing what she has accomplished in a small space. One advantage she has is that she is on the outer edge of a gated community which backs up against a large natural area currently being operated as a ranch. Another is that she has a massive green thumb! Her plants are luxurious, some of which are covered with small and large caterpillars. Mary pointed out a beautiful passionvine which had many tiny just hatched caterpillars of Gulf fritillaries. Species of passionflower are the only larval food for this and the zebra butterfly. Monarchs on the other hand require milkweeds for caterpillar food. Mary removes some caterpillars from her outside plants (where they are subject to attacks from wasps, ants, spiders, birds and lizards) and brings them into a protected rearing cage where they feed on leaves from her yard. She uses leaves of the giant exotic milkweed (Calotropis, http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/GardenPubsAZ/Giant_Milkweed.pdf ) since they provide so much more food than the native species or other exotics. After pupation the butterflies are released.

Even though it was morning of a cool day we saw an adult monarch flying by and a white peacock sunning itself to warm up. Also a tropical skipper was seen sunning on the ground nearby.

Mary is to be commended for her exceptional gardening skills in raising butterflies and in providing a model for the rest of us to emulate. Her latest project is planting of a large wildflower garden in a buffer area behind her house after the grass turf was removed. This will be an intriguing experiment which we will follow with much interest. It is an extension of her desire to conserve butterflies by providing nectar sources for the adults.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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