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Fluttering beauties

March 24th, 2014 9:30 am by Tony Casey

Fluttering beauties

An Ismenius Longwing (orange and yellow) and a Pink Cattleheart.Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press

If you love butterflies, the best way to ensure a healthy existence for them is to consider their entire life cycle.
Johnson City Parks Naturalist Connie Deegan said many people love the colorful warm-weather creatures, but only focus on the stage when they’re in flight. Caterpillars often get stepped on, but need to be treated with as much care as butterflies. To take care of the species that come around this area, which include Monarchs, Viceroys, a variety of Swallowtails and many others, Deegan recommends giving each the best possible shot at flourishing by stocking plenty of food.
“When I came to be a park naturalist about 20 years ago, butterfly gardens were very popular, but weren’t my thing,” Deegan said. “Now I realize they were right.”
Personally, she’s had success in providing herbs for the creatures just outside her back door. Dill, fennel and parsley have all brought in caterpillars, Deegan said. After moving from the caterpillar stage into their flight portion of their lives, she said providing their favorite milkweed is always an effective way to make sure they’re fed and happy.
The milky substance in the weed is extremely bitter, Deegan said, and ingesting it makes the butterflies bitter to the point that larger predators, like birds, do not want to eat them. This is an ideal situation for the Monarchs, which remain safe. But its even better for the Viceroys, which look a lot like the Monarchs, avoided by the birds because of their close appearance.
“The Viceroys are like a flying Big Mac for birds, but they don’t know it,” Deegan said.
If not milkweed, supplemental foods like semi-rotten fruits will suffice to provide a nectar-like substance for butterflies looking for nourishment. As much as they have a taste for the sweets, Deegan said you’ll often see them “puddling,” or trying to get salt and other nutrients out of puddles.
Not flying in a straight line also increases the butterflies’ chances of surviving attacks from birds.
Many Johnson City parks, like Willow Springs and Winged Deer, offer a prime location for these flying creatures when blooming season is upon the region in the upcoming months.
Another spot where butterflies can be seen in the area is the Ardinna Woods Arboretum and Butterfly Garden in Jonesborough. Virginia Kennedy, a lifelong butterfly enthusiast, said the Arboretum is a great place to see butterflies, as well as on her property and in her butterfly garden. She seconded Deegan’s call for milkweed in trying to provide for butterflies, having done so for many years, often raising Monarchs in her garden.
As much as she loves being a part of the raising and yearly return of these creatures, she said they’ve had a rough few years due to problems plaguing different parts of the country.
“I saw very few flying this year,” Kennedy said, very different than 40 years ago when milkweed and butterflies were everywhere she’d look.
The cause of the lack of successful butterfly migration to and from Canada and Mexico, Kennedy says, includes everything from genetically modified corn, the variety of crops whose pesticides kill off milkweed, logging forests that house butterflies, droughts that kill off nectar-producing plants and cold and wet weather patterns in general, which affect the travel patterns of the butterflies.
Kennedy said is a great resource for people who want to learn about Monarch butterfly conservation.
Aside from the varieties of butterflies that can be found around the Johnson City area, Ranger Bob Culler at Bays Mountain in Kingsport says even though the lack of open field space at Bays Mountain doesn’t bring in as many species of butterflies as other places, the Button Bush at the park brings in Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Monarchs, too. Culler said Steele Creek Park has a good deal of butterflies, too.
For a year-round look at different butterflies from around the world, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has the Aquarium’s Butterfly Garden. It features species from different countries and continents, including the Blue Morpho from Columbia and Venezuela to Mexico; Doris, from the Amazon Basin to Central America; Grecian Shoemaker, found from South America to Mexico; and many more.
Find out more online at

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