Butterflies

An adult Eastern Black Swallowtail feeds on nectar in our Butterfly House.

An adult Eastern Black Swallowtail feeds on nectar in our Butterfly House.

June 30, 2022| Categories: Fairbanks Museum, What's Happening

Have you visited the Shippee Family Eye Care Butterfly House yet this year?  If not, you’re missing out on one of our most amazing exhibits.  The Butterfly House now has dozen of native butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, Eastern Black Swallowtails, Spice Bush Swallowtails, Mourning Cloaks, Commas, and Painted Ladies.

The Butterfly House has both nectar plants to feed the butterflies and the larval host plants for the caterpillars.  Currently, there are eggs and caterpillars for both Painted Ladies and Spicebush Swallowtails.  The Painted Lady caterpillars are on a variety of different plants, but they favor Hollyhock and Marshmallow.  The Spicebush Swallowtails, as the name suggests, only feed on Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  And their caterpillars, well, they are just flat out amazing in their use of mimicry to avoid predation.  When they first hatch and for their first three molts (instars), the caterpillars are mottled brown and white so that they look like bird droppings.  With the fourth and fifth molts, they are either green or orange with giant eye spots. They mimic a snake’s head!  If startled, the caterpillar will even curl its own head under while raising up the “snake head” to further the illusion of it being a snake.  You have to see it to believe it, and they’re here now to see!

The main attraction, the butterflies, are plentiful.  We’ve nurtured native species from eggs through chrysalis until magnificent butterflies emerge. Monarchs, Admirals, and Swallowtails have the showiest patterns. Their colors are especially striking as they nestle on cone-flowers, bee balm, or marsh mallow for nectar.
Our Butterfly House is an immersion into the world of these real-life “transformers” that rely on various host and feeder plants through all stages of their brief and spectacular lives. If you’d like to bring more butterflies to your gardens, take note of the plants — all are native to northern New England, and all attract these lovely pollinators. For each butterfly species, the space contains nectar plants for the butterflies to feed on and feed plants for their larvae.  The Painted Ladies have been particularly busy in this regard, laying eggs on the hollyhocks and mash mallows.  These eggs have started to hatch with the caterpillars chomping away, continuing the lifecycle.
We encourage visitors to the Butterfly House to take their time and enjoy the space.  Benches are plentiful so you can relax and take in the experience.

On your way to the Butterfly House, try the Monarch Migration game — will you make it to the end?

Tags: butterfly, museum, Natural History, New England, outdoors, tiger swallowtail, vermont, wildflowers