Butterflies love banana beer

Butterflies love beer. Banana beer, that is. Everybody loves a pretty butterfly. North America is home to 732 species of butterflies. Texas has 495 of those, the largest diversity of butterfly species in the nation.

Butterflies belong to the insect order "Lepidoptera", meaning "scaled wings". That powdery stuff you get on your hands from handling butterflies are scales from the wings. Don't worry, even though scales are rubbing off, you won't keep them from flying.

While you may get some butterfl ies as they migrate through the area, most will come from eggs laid on your property. Caterpillars emerge from the eggs. They then move into the pupa, or chrysalis, stage, where they may stay from a few weeks to a couple of years, depending on the species. Eventually, a butterfly emerges. This lifecycle is called a "complete metamorphosis".

It's that pesky caterpillar stage that drives us all nuts. Caterpillars are ravenous. Their entire goal in life is to eat, storing up energy to use during the pupa and adult stages of life. They can grow 100 times their original size before going into the pupa stage. So, if you want butterflies, you need to provide food for caterpillars. Use native plants in your landscape and around your food and herb gardens. These plants are genetically adapted to withstand a caterpillar onslaught. Provide them food they like first, and they just might leave your food alone. Caterpillars eat leaves and butterflies drink nectar. This is usually different plants. You need to provide both kinds.

Cater pilla rs have specif ic food sources. Because plants evolve certain defenses to repel predators, relationships develop between caterpillars and plants. The Monarch butterfly (our State Insect) prefers plants in the milkweed family, such as butterf ly weed or antelope horn. These plants have a high alkaloid content, which gives them a nasty taste, which in turn repels predators. The Queen butterf ly is a 'mimic' of the Monarch. Predators leave them alone, mistaking them for Monarchs. For other caterpillars: passionflower, cenizo, bluebonnet, coral honeysuckle, Texas redbud.

The butterfly's whole goal in life is to find a mate and make little butterflies. They live no longer than a month, so they have to find food easily. They don't like to hover when drinking, so provide plants that have 'platforms', or flat flowers, such as daisies, asters, purple coneflower, or gaillardias. Butterflies need water. Put it in a shallow dish in a shady area. Try keeping an area of soil damp to allow for 'mudpuddling', where butterflies congregate to collect salt through evaporation.

Moths and butterflies are cousins. Generally, here's how to tell them apart: butterflies fly mainly during the day and have clubshaped antennae. Moths generally fly at night, and have feathery antennae. Moths pollinate lots of night blooming plants, as well as cactus and yucca. As a matter of fact, each species of yucca has its own moth to pollinate it.

Did you know the Monarch butterfly is the only insect in the world that does a continent-wide migration? It over w inters in Mexico, then makes its way north in the spring through Texas, by June they are in Canada. The fall migration is particularly cool, as the entire Monarch population from up north flies through Texas back to Mexico. This is the best time to see them, as they have been busy breeding, which makes for lots of butterflies. The spring migration is smaller since they are just beginning to breed. Keep in mind that generations of Monarchs make the journey either way, so it's not the same ones from start to finish. Interesting websites:

Banana Beer

Slice slightly brown banana down the middle, place in shallow dish and add a small amount of water to make it mushy, put in the shade where dogs can't eat it. Or, just slice open the banana, and mush the inside a little bit. Banana will ferment and attract the butterflies, who proceed to get tipsy and have a great time.

Gause-area resident Shawn Walton is a Texas Master Naturalist with the El Camino Real Chapter. Read more at http://grovesite. com/tmn/ecrmn

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2009-06-18 digital edition

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