Butterflies & Barbie at the Albany Library

Together again for the first time! Christina Van Horn, creator of the amazing Barbie Display – last spotted in October in the El Cerrito Library display case, and I with an expanded version of the butterfly display I had there in June, have teamed up and taken our combined show on the road – actually just a few miles down San Pablo Avenue to the Albany Library.

Barbie and Butterflies

Barbie and Butterflies at the Albany Library

Christina’s “Say Hello to Barbie!” is a loving tribute to an icon, a playful and creative reminder for us to reach back to that part of ourselves that we may have packed away when we put our toys and dolls aside. The power of Barbie to evoke emotions was evident when several people stopped to share their memories of the dolls as we were putting the display up.

Say Hello to Barbie!

Say Hello to Barbie!

Christina has dressed and accessorized seven Barbies from a range of years. The variety of the garments in which Christina chose to dress the Barbies is amazing. And check out the great hairstyles! Christina even constructed and sewed the sumptuous bed and bedding in which ‘middle-aged’ Barbie lies, reading. She also describes Barbie’s history, and discusses her impact, including citing controversies, which, she notes, often involve parodies of Barbie and her ‘lifestyles.’

Butterflies in Your Garden

Butterflies in Your Garden

One of my aims for my part of the display is to show people that they can garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

It’s great timing to have the display in Albany right now – the monarch butterflies have returned in great numbers to the shelter of the eucalyptus trees on Albany Hill.  This is a photograph I took two weeks ago there.

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

If you have any questions about Barbie or butterflies, just let Christina, George, and me know in the comments.  We hope you can make it to the display!

Here are the pdfs I mentioned above — click on the bolded text to download each pdf.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

George also wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

First monarch caterpillar emerges

Did you see my post about the monarch butterfly in our garden? 

And my follow-up post about the eggs that she left on our milkweed?

Here’s one of my photos of mama monarch:

And here’s one of my closeups of one of the eggs we found – for scale, remember that they’re about the size of the head of a pin!
I keep telling you about the size of the eggs, so here’s a photo I took of an egg alongside a normal-sized straight pin:
We decided to raise them inside, because it greatly increases their survival rate. We found 13 eggs, and carefully brought them inside on Thursday. By Saturday some of the eggs had lost their yellowish color, now appearing grayish-white with darker shading inside (the caterpillar’s skin has formed and is showing through the egg, which is actually translucent).
Here’s a tighter closeup:
And voila! By Saturday evening the first tiny caterpillar had eaten its way out of its egg. The newly-hatched larva is a little more than a millimeter long, and has a gray body with a shiny black head. Here he (or she) is:
You can see its egg to the right. The tiny caterpillar is exploring and eating the milkweed.
I just checked, and more of the caterpillars are emerging, so check back for more photos!
In fact, here’s a new photo of our second baby. This caterpillar emerged from the only egg of the batch that we found on another type of milkweed, the Asclepias physocarpa.
He’s headed back to eat more of his eggshell.
And finally, another photo with a pin for scale, showing the size of the newly emerged caterpillar:

Monarch eggs in the garden!

Well, guess what? George was right that she was a female – she left us some precious gifts. Yesterday I noticed many tiny yellow eggs sprinkled on our milkweed plants. Here’s an extreme closeup of one, it’s about the size of the head of a pin!
Isn’t it amazing how she tucked it up under the cap of the bud of the unopened milkweed flower? Most of the eggs that we spotted are on the Asclepias cancellata “Wild Cotton,” which we got at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.  You can read about this beautiful milkweed plant on Annie’s website. Here’s another extreme closeup:
You can see the oval shape and tiny lines (which my poor eyes can’t even see without blowing up my photos).  This side view really shows the oval shape:
 I think this one is getting ready to emerge from the egg – the black speck appears to be the tiny larvae (caterpillar) breaking through:
Click here to see an incredible time lapse video on Youtube of a monarch caterpillar breaking out of its egg.  Pulling back a little, you can see this one tucked among the unopened flower buds:
Finally, I really hate to post an out-of-focus photograph, but I took this one last night when we first found them, and the light was fading and I had no time to set up my tripod (excuses, excuses), so sorry for the fuzziness, but it shows you the size of the egg in scale with George’s finger.
I mentioned in my prior blog post that we have hardly seen any monarchs in our garden for a couple of years. I checked, and it was Spring 2009 when we last had the good luck to find monarch eggs on our milkweed. We raised and released them, and I photographed the entire process. You can see those photos by clicking here.  The mortality rate of butterflies left outside is quite high, due to predators, weather factors and other causes, so raising them indoors greatly increases the chance that they will survive. We’re honored that this monarch trusted us with her eggs, and we will guard and nurture them until they emerge, then let them go to continue the cycle!

Monarch in the garden

A good day –a monarch butterfly is flitting around our garden! Here she is perched on the leaves of the peach tree.
Monarch butterfly perched on a peach tree
It has been a couple of years since George watched a monarch lay eggs on the milkweed in our backyard. We brought some of the eggs inside to raise in safety.  Click here to see the photos I took of the whole process, from the tiny eggs, to the caterpillars, to the chrysalises, and finally to the butterflies which emerged (and which we released.)
But despite all of the milkweed George has planted to attract them, we’ve hardly seen any monarchs in the garden since that special year.  So imagine my delight when I saw this one — she (George got close enough to identify her as female) was sunning on the angel’s trumpet, and she also seemed to like the fennel plant and the dogwood tree, as well as the milkweed.   Here she is on the dried seed pods of the fennel, which is one of the anise swallowtail butterfly’s larval food sources.
She spent quite a bit of time on the milkweed, and I’m hoping she left some eggs.
I love this milkweed, it’s Asclepias physocarpa. Bees like it too – can you see the honeybee a bit to the left of the butterfly? Physocarpa is also known as “Family Jewels” because the seed pods look like … well, here’s a photo I took yesterday of one of the dried seed pods, see for yourself.
Here’s a closeup of the butterfly on the milkweed, you can see her poor tattered wing.
Did you know that one of the monarch butterfly’s protective characteristics is to poison its predators? In the larval stage it eats milkweed leaves to incorporate the milkweed toxins into its body. Perhaps a bird realized after getting a bite that it didn’t want to keep eating.

Photo of the week

Has it really been a week since I posted my first Photo of the Week? Yikes, well okay then, here’s the second – my favorite photo(s) from this week, with some background …

Admiral butterfly feather collage

Admiral butterfly feather collage

Okay, obviously not a straight photo. It’s a collage from three photos I took this week. I started with my photo of a red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta):

Red admiral butterfly

Red admiral butterfly

George and I trekked up Albany Hill to check on the monarch butterflies – starting around this time of the year they overwinter in the eucalyptus trees there. Last year we only saw a few, so this year we were very encouraged to see far more. Hopefully they’ll keep coming.  I didn’t get any photos of the monarchs because they were fluttering around high up in the sky, but there were a lot of red admiral butterflies flitting lower down and then landing to sun their wings on the duff. This one let me creep close enough to get a shot.

I blended that photo with a closeup I shot of a small bouquet in a vase on my windowsill. It’s a black and white striped hen’s feather next to a dried stalk of some soft pouffy grass.

Feather and grass

Feather and grass

I was struck by the conjunction of the lines and disparity of the textures and tones.

The third photo in the collage is another closeup of part of the same bouquet.

Silver dollar plant

Silver dollar plant

It’s the remains of a seed pod of a money plant (Lunaria Annua), also known as silver dollar plant. The plant has been slowly eroding, and I liked the juxtaposition of the frame of the disk with the empty spaces and few remaining tattered pieces.

I used the layer blending tool in Photoshop Elements to blend the photos. I liked a few of the different settings to blend the first two, but finally settled on the ‘overlay’ setting.  I then added the money plant and blended them all into the final collage.  When I make my blended abstract collages I usually take photos from different years – it was fun to use three that I shot on the same day.  Here are some of my other blended collages.  You can see that butterflies appear in many of them. What are your favorite subjects in your art or photos?

Photo of the week

My first in a series of weekly posts, where I show you a photo I took, throw in a little background … short and sweet!

Buckeye wing in spider web

A bright color caught my eye as I glanced out my bedroom window.  This is one wing of a buckeye butterfly, caught in a spider’s web. Buckeye butterflies are common in our area.  Below is a photo I took last year.

Buckeye butterfly on milkweed flowerYou can see what the entire butterfly looks like — this one was feeding on the milkweed in our garden. 

Buckeye collage

And one of my favorite kaleidoscopes, which I made by blending copies of my photograph of a buckeye. Have you seen buckeyes in your yard?  This is the wikipedia entry, if you want to learn more.

Anise swallowtail butterfly from 2006!

I think I’ve mentioned here before that anise swallowtail butterflies don’t emerge from their chrysalises on a set timetable, like monarch butterflies do. George thinks that it’s probably to ensure better survival, so some of the adult butterflies will emerge pretty quickly – in a couple of weeks, but others hang out for much longer.  You can tell that they’re still alive by touching them gently – they move.

This photo collage I did for the butterfly exhibit in the El Cerrito Library shows the caterpillar getting ready to become a chrysalis (pupate) – that’s the top left. The bottom left and top right show how different the chrysalises can look, some bright green, and some drab brown. The bottom right one shows what the empty chrysalis looks like after the adult butterfly emerges. Anyway, we were so excited to see that the beautiful female that emerged today became a chrysalis way back in 2006!

She must have come out sometime during the night, because she was ready to go this morning. Since the weather is so nice, we put her outside on a yampah plant, that’s the native larval food source for anise swallowtails. While she was resting happily in the sun, I got this photo of her from the side, showing her head, including her eyes, proboscis (that’s what they sip liquid food through), and antennae.

We always hope that the females we raise and release will remember the plant and come back to lay eggs, so we can continue the cycle.