The butterfly breezeway greets visitors to our annual Festival of Butterflies — final weekend this Friday to Sunday, August 14-16. The breezeway is filled with wild Monarchs and other butterflies including all stages of a butterfly’s life cycle from eggs to caterpillars, chrysalis and adult butterflies.
Children, parents and grandparents happily enter to find a beautiful space filled with butterfly nectar and host plants and accompanying butterflies. An expert guide is always on hand during the festival to answer questions and point out unique eggs, caterpillars and to identify plants in the display.
The tiny white spot on this leaf is actually a Monarch butterfly egg. All butterflies begin their life as an egg, laid by their mother on the appropriate plant for them to eat (in this case, a tropical milkweed). There is no parental care so this egg is on its own and subject to a whole parade of predators.
We have some unusual caterpillars on display including this large Pandorus Sphinx caterpillar. It was found in our vineyard eating the grape leaves and moved into the breezeway where visitors can view it. It is now feeding on the leaves of a potted grape. It will grow up to be a beautiful moth that flies with hummingbird -like grace at dusk.
Children (and adults too!) can get there “butterfly groove” on by making an antennae headband to wear at the Festival.
In the conservatory where we display butterflies from Florida, Texas and Blue Morphos from Central America, be sure to see the chrysalises hung in their hatching cages. These Zebra Heliconian chrysalises look like bugs with large pinchers on their head; presumably to deter predators. The reflective, metallic-looking spots on their back look like evil eyes glowing in the dark.
The elaborate chrysalises of Variegated Fritillary look gilded in real gold; presumably to look inedible to a predator.
Approximately 25 species of butterflies and moths are now in flight in the conservatory. The Atala butterfly depicted is one of our most unusual and as difficult to find as Waldo in the Where’s Waldo books. The glowing blue spots are actually phosphorescent, while the bright red body warns would be predators that this is a toxic butterfly. Atala is a conservation success story as this butterfly was once thought to be extinct in its only American range in South Florida. Its caterpillars fed on uncommon wild cycads but suddenly switched to eating cultivated ornamental cycads found in yards and gardens. The butterfly is now prevalent in the Gold Coast of South Florida but limited by any freezing winter weather to spread northward.
We received cocoons of the Cecropia from Florida: the largest moth in North America. Many have emerged and they sit and while away the day and are active only at night. Easy to photograph, they are a visitor favorite in the conservatory. Cecropia are native throughout eastern North America and found wild at Powell Gardens but in low numbers and only from May-June; rarely as late as the Fourth of July.
The beautiful female Promethia moth is also in flight in the conservatory. This female is only perched on a Verbena flower. Promethia (and the prior cecropia moth) are wild silk moths that have no mouth. They emerge from their cocoons only to breed and carry on the species — only their caterpillars eat. Promethia is found wild east of here in Central and Eastern Missouri though our cocoons came from Florida.
The male Promethia moth looks completely different and flies in the late afternoon to search for his mate. I have always admired the purple sheen to this dark brown moth and will never forget when my dad brought me home one he had caught with his hand while golfing one afternoon. I have been interested in butterflies and moths since childhood in Decorah, Iowa!
North America’s largest butterfly is also in flight in the conservatory: Giant Swallowtail. Visitors have made me see the clown face smile of spots on this butterfly, something I had never noticed in over 30 years of acquaintance with this butterfly. Here is a freshly released butterfly perched on the chrysalis hatching cage. Giant Swallowtails until relatively recently were solely a tropical butterfly. They have since become residents through much of the central and southern United States as far north as Southeastern Minnesota. If you plant citrus family plants (herb rue, hoptree or prickly-ash) in your yard and garden you will attract this butterfly and its unique bird-dropping-look-alike caterpillars. We should have these weird caterpillars on display at the festival too.
Our final “butterfly house” is the Caterpillar Petting Zoo and Monarch Watch Science Center. Here volunteers from the Johnson County, Kansas Extension Master Gardeners guide visitors to actually touch caterpillars — guaranteeing a close encounter (and carefully monitoring and switching them out so none get overhandled). Monarch Watch from KU in Lawrence, Kansas is also present here and will demonstrate how to hold and tag Monarch butterflies. They have many chrysalises waiting to emerge right before your eyes….
All eyes and cameras are on a Monarch chrysalis as it emerges. Monarch Watch staff will call out when a Monarch emerges and if you stick around long enough you will observe this miraculous event.
The Insectaries – butterfly Garden surrounding the fountain continues to attract a wide array of wild butterflies. Linda Williams, local Missouri Master Naturalist will take you on a camera safari to see and photograph the creatures of this garden (10a.m. Friday and Saturday; 1p.m. Sunday).
The hot weather last weekend made the Fountain Garden and exquisite place to cool off! This weekend’s seasonal weather will also invite visitors for a splash.
Stop in to also cool off in the Visitor Center’s air conditioning and visit the Butterfly Museum. Here you will meet Betsy Betros, local author and naturalist and she will show you some interesting caterpillars and local butterfly and moth collections. Betsy wrote the local book A Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies of the Kansas City Region. Consider purchasing this beautiful and great resource and have her sign it on the spot!
Friday through Sunday, August 14-16 will be the last weekend of our Festival of Butterflies so come out for a close encounter with these remarkable and beautiful creatures. The butterflies (including the brilliant blue tropical morphos –see prior blog) in the conservatory will be at peak and the breezeway and science center are filled with wild Monarchs and other butterflies. Powell Gardens also is exuberant with lush plantings in flower and fruit so be sure and walk the grounds from the Heartland Harvest Garden to the Perennial Garden. The conservatory butterflies will remain on display from now through Sunday, August 23 but without the activities and experts to interpret them. The butterfly breezeway and science center will be open only through this Sunday (August 16).