On May 16, 2002, Blackwater Refuge celebrated the official opening of the Native Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden
at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The garden was funded by the Dorchester
Garden Club and was constructed by George Corey of Wye Tree Landscapes,
Inc. of Easton, Maryland.
The garden is located behind the Visitor Center and
features not only a wonderful selection of butterflies and butterfly-attracting plants, but
also two observation benches and a beautiful bronze monarch butterfly sculpture.
This impressive sculpture was created by twin brothers Stewart and Steven Wegner of
Wegner Metal Arts Inc. in Fredericksburg, Virginia (the brothers' portfolio includes
the well-recognized casting of eight immigrants for the Statue of Liberty on Ellis
Island in New York).
The Friends of Blackwater and the Blackwater Refuge staff are proud
to offer visitors not only a chance to see a butterfly garden in action,
but also an opportunity to learn more about creating their own gardens.
In addition to the garden, the Refuge offers educational exhibits
about butterflies and butterfly gardening, and
visitors can purchase butterfly-related items in The Eagle's Nest
Book & Gift Shop.
The garden is a welcome addition to the many unique and inspiring
natural attractions at Blackwater Refuge, so be sure to visit the garden soon and
experience it for yourself (also be sure to visit our Wildlife page to see butterfly flash cards
of the species you're likely to see at the Blackwater garden).
In "The Family Butterfly Book," author Rick Mikula says, "The destruction of
habitat is killing butterflies. The more asphalt we lay, the fewer butterflies
we will see. The more wildflowers we replace with hybrids and ornamentals, the
fewer caterpillars we will find. The more insecticides we spray, the fewer
the wings that will fill the sky. Nine out of ten butterflies never reach
adulthood. If the eggs aren't crushed or the caterpillars eaten, the adults
will probably die of thirst or drown in pesticides somewhere along the way.
Butterflies desperately need our help! They need healthy surroundings in order to survive."
Butterflies are beautiful
bits of life that are easy to attract and bring joy wherever they go, so why not take a moment to learn
more about butterflies and how you can help them prosper
in our modern world.
A butterfly's life has four distinct stages: the egg stage, the larva or
caterpillar stage, the pupa stage, and the adult stage. The average length
of time for the completion of all four stages depends on the species,
but all species go through the same process of metamorphosis.
Since most butterflies specialize by feeding on a limited number of plant types,
the female butterfly lays a single egg or multiple eggs on or around plants that
will eventually serve as food for the newly-born young.
Once an egg hatches,
a young caterpillar emerges and begins feeding on the host plant. The
caterpillar continues to eat and grow, shedding its skin four to six
times until it reaches its final size. As it prepares to enter the pupa
stage, the caterpillar leaves the host plant and attaches itself to the bottom
of a leaf or stick with a few threads of silk. Here the caterpillar molts one
last time and its new skin becomes a camouflaged case called a chrysalis.
The chrysalis is a hardened sack that holds the liquefied substance that
eventually develops the wings, legs, and other body parts of the adult
butterfly. Once the butterfly's development inside the chrysalis is complete,
the pupa breaks open and out comes a fully-grown butterfly.
Upon emerging from the pupa, the butterfly's first act is to dry out its
body and crumpled, wet wings. The adult butterfly will not grow any larger and,
depending on the species, will live an average life span of about two weeks.
Butterfly gardens can be located in window boxes, indoor greenhouses,
backyards, and even wildlife refuges like Blackwater! So if you're interested
in creating your own little colorful oasis, read the following for some
advice to get you started.
Adult butterflies need nectar, so the first step in attracting
butterflies is to provide lots of
nectar-producing flowers in your garden. The next step is to provide
host plants where the females can lay their eggs and where caterpillars
can feed. This ensures that you will keep the adults and young around
for as long as possible.
Some other tips to help attract butterflies to your garden:
- offer a variety of plants that bloom throughout the growing season
- locate the garden in a sunny and calm location
- provide water, preferably moving
- offer shallow mud puddles where males can obtain soil minerals
- include flat surfaces where butterflies can bask in the sun (butterflies can't fly when they're cold)
- plant large-petaled flowers or bright clusters of small-petaled flowers with
a mix of yellow, white, purple, and pink
- offer leaf litter or wood piles as a shelter for the
chrysalises and as protection for overwintering guests
- avoid the use of pesticides in your garden
You can visit these websites to learn more about butterflies and butterfly gardening: