Tag Archives: butterfly

Nature Notes: Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly overwintering grounds in Mexico

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN for PBS. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.

This blog post complements a nature-based STEAM programming about butterflies and their life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on Common Milkweed

Monarch butterfly laying eggs on common milkweed, © Sean Kent

Monarch Caterpillar on it’s host plant Common Milkweed

Monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed, © Sean Kent
Monarch Caterpillar

Engineer a Butterfly Habitat

To engineer a butterfly habitat, you need to think about and create a list of what a butterfly needs to survive during it’s entire life cycle as an (i) egg, (ii) caterpillar, (iii) chrysalis, and (iv) butterfly. The following are a few things to think about when engineering a butterfly habitat.

  • Food 
    • Host plants for caterpillars
    • Nectar 
  • Water
  • Places to shelter or hide

After thinking about how to create a butterfly habitat, design your habitat to contain everything a butterfly needs and draw it on a piece of paper. After drawing your butterfly habitat, if you have a couple of pots for plants, a garden, or another area you could modify, you could engineer your own butterfly habitat.

To attract black swallowtail butterflies, you can plant parsley in your garden.

My Parsley Is Attracting Butterflies - Learn About Attracting ...
File:Black swallowtail caterpillar.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How to Create a Nature Journal

Get outdoors and record your nature observations in your very own nature journal. You can make one with materials you have at home!

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Painted Lady Butterfly

If you’d like to learn about nature drawing, including drawing butterflies, enjoy this wonderful blog post by acclaimed artist Barry Van Dusen about Getting Started with Nature Journaling. Below is a sketch of painted lady butterflies.

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Monarch Butterfly

During his artist in residence, Barry Van Dusen visit …. and closely observed Monarch Butterflies. Here is an image of his sketchbook page from that day.

“On one liatris plant, I count eight Monarch butterflies – a phenomenal concentration of these handsome migratory insects, whose populations have been down in recent years.  There’s just time enough to do some sketches before I leave to catch the ferry at Vineyard Haven.”

~ Barry Van Dusen in Martha’s Vineyard

Spice is nice: Nature Notes from the Sanctuary

Wow, it’s been a hot, dry summer at the Museum of American Bird Art, yet, life keeps on living in our streams, pine forests, and meadows. Animals explore our meadow, monarch caterpillars chomp on milkweed growing in our fields, and fishers saunter through our pine forest. Here are a few highlights from the past couple of months.

A coyote drops by for a quick visit



Every morning, hundreds of bumblebees and native bees buzz through our recently planted native plant meadow collecting pollen and nectar from partridge pea, great blue lobelia, sunflowers, and much more. Last year, no bees buzzed or goldfinches ate seeds because the meadow was a mowed lawn. _SMK5573In April 2016, we removed all the lawn in front of our bird and photography blind and planted approximately 26,000 native plant seeds and 72 native plant seedlings. The new meadow should also greatly improve the photography opportunities at our blind because of  increased cover for birds visiting the feeders. For example, this past week, we had over 50 migratory sparrows, including Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows, feeding on the abundant seeds in the newly planted meadow.

Check out a few pictures of our meadow in the making, with help from our homeschool classes too!

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Monarch Caterpillars

If you walked through our meadow on a daily basis, it would seem that the monarch population was hurting in Canton because I only saw two monarch butterflies this entire summer. However, we’ve had lots of sneaky monarch butterflies because we’ve had lots of caterpillars chowing down on the milkweed in the sanctuary. Check out these pictures.

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Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail


Not a snake, but a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly is a fascinating creature that belongs to an extremely diverse group of butterflies, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail you may see flying around or munching on the parsley in your garden (black swallowtail caterpillar).

Sam Jaffe's photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

Sam Jaffe’s photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

As an adult, the spicebush swallowtail will drink nectar from many plant species. Caterpillars eat leaves from plants in the Laural family (Lauraceae). The two species in Massachusetts are it’s namesake Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which typically grows in wet habitats, and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). 


This spring and summer we were extremely fortunate to have many Spicebush Swallowtails gliding through the dappled light of our pine forests. During our summer camp, many kids collected and cared for spicebush caterpillars and watched their development from egg to butterfly.

Spicebush caterpillars have amazing adaptations to scare or deter predators. They secrete chemicals from their horns (osmeteria) that have been reported to deter ants (Eisner and Meinwald 1965).  Spicebush caterpillars also mimic bird droppings as early instar caterpillars and mimic snakes and tree frogs during their late instars to deter bird predation. Enjoy a few photos from this past summer.

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To learn more about this amazing species, you can find a species description from Mass Audubon and a fantastic indepth article by the University of Florida’s entomology department. 

Beautiful Wildflowers

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Amazing Insects

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Eisner T, Meinwald YC. 1965. Defensive secretion of a caterpillar (Papilio). Science 150: 1733-1735