Butterflies in our Gardens by Hendrik Meekel

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Butterflies in our Gardens by Hendrik Meekel

Hendrik Meekel has been fascinated by butterflies and moths since being a young boy, and there is no doubt that every club member who attended his presentation left with a new appreciation of the diversity and beauty of insects!  The “ooohs” and “ahhhs” were both loud and frequent!

Hendrik has a huge collection of butterfly and moth specimens, many of them obtained when UBC cleared out its collection to focus on only BC species.  It took a lot of painstaking, careful work to repair these trays and to see that all the specimens were preserved in their best condition.  We were astounded at the number of species he brought along with him… and that was just a fraction of his collection!  It was a delight for the eyes!

Butterflies and moths are both members of the same insect family, the Lepidoptera.  They share some attributes, such as two wings on each side, six legs, compound eyes, exoskeletons, three-part bodies, and a proboscis. Both undergo complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult) although butterflies usually form smooth, hard chrysalises whereas moths usually have cocoons wrapped in silk.  Both feed on vegetation as caterpillars and both drink nectar as adults. Skippers are considered to be a mix of butterflies and moths.  They behave mostly like butterflies but have furry bodies like moths.

Butterflies are typically larger and more colorful, although Hendrik had some beautiful moths in his display.  Butterflies are active in the daytime (diurnal) whereas moths tend to be active at night (nocturnal).  Butterflies usually have slender club shaped antennae whereas moths’ antennae are feathery. Butterflies fold their wings back (vertically) when at rest whereas moths fold the wings down flat over their abdomens.

It was amazing to see how different the coloring of the front (top) was from the back (underside) of the wings.  Bright, shimmering colors on the wings were substituted with soft, muted colors.  When at rest, these muted colors help to camouflage the butterfly.  Eye spots, a defense against predators, were present in many of the examples and they certainly were visually effective.

The colors, patterns, and wing shapes were astounding!  Not surprising was the fact that many of these incredible specimens come from tropical locations. 

The spots really look like owl’s eyes, don’t they!

Here’s the famous Atlas Moth that can have a wingspan of 24 com (9.4 inches).  This other one looks like the famous Monarch butterfly.


Hendrik also brought a few trays of other insects, and they definitely highlighted which audience members were the most squeamish!  


Our timing for the meeting was fortunate, as Hendrik also brought in two live specimen jars.   One contained a swallowtail butterfly larva along with a chrysalis. The other container a VERY small egg and a newly hatched caterpillar.


After dazzling our eyes with all these amazing specimens, Hendrik handed out a colorful pamphlet showing many of our local butterflies and giving a detailed chart of their foodplants.

According to https://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/efauna/butterflies.html, BC has about 2285 species of Lepidoptera recorded! (184 butterflies and 2101 moths). It seems that butterflies actually evolved from moths!  Like so many species around the world, some are at risk due to habitat loss, pollution, and chemical insecticides.  One aspect of habitat loss is the eradication of native plants.  Many of our lovely gardens are populated with flowers that simply do not fulfill the needs of our native insects, including bees.

The key to creating a Butterfly Garden has several important factors.   It needs to be a sunny, sheltered area with an ample supply of appropriate flowers for nectaring adults, and specific food plants for the larvae.  Additionally, there must be no chemical insecticides of course!

Happily, some of the popular nectar flowers will attract hummingbirds and bees as well as butterflies.  The BC Naturescape document lists some favourites:  currant and elderberry, bee balm, wild columbine, phlox, alyssum, aster, aubretia, chrysanthemum, cosmos, daylily, dianthus, globe thistle, lavender, lilac, marigold, shasta daisy, sunflower, yarrow, zinnia, and many culnary herbs such as mint, lemon balm, sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. (page 28 Naturescape-Provincal-Guide.pdf (bcsla.org))  The pamphlet “Butterflies of the Georgia Basin” lists favorite nectar plants as: asters, astilbe, bog laurel, buddleia, burdock, clover, cotoneaster, cow parsnip, daisies, dame’s rocket, dandelion, goldenrod, Labrador tea, lilac, lobelia, mock orange, pearly everlasting, phlox, sow thistle, all stonecrops, thistles, yarrow, zinnia.

Hendrik took us through many of the butterflies in the “Garden Butterflies of the Georgia Basin” pamphlet that he kindly brought for every member!  Skippers, for example, require grassy areas.  The Western Tiger Swallowtail is one of our largest and most common butterflies.  Its main larval foodplants are cottonwood and willow, so no wonder they are prevalent!  The Cabbage Butterfly is our most common butterfly of all.  The larvae eat a variety of plants, including (you guessed it…) cabbage and mustard.   The Red Admiral, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, and Milbert’s Tortoiseshell are numerous some years and rare in others because they all migrate from the US and Mexico.  In BC, the famous Monarch Butterfly is most often spotted in the southern interior.  The larval foodplant is milkweed and showy milkweed is our only native BC species. Some types of milkweeds can be grown here on the coast, but they are dormant in winter. Milkweed is considered a noxious weed in the agricultural industry. BTW, western Monarchs migrate to California.  It is the eastern Monarchs that travel to Mexico.  Mourning Cloaks are our longest-lived adult butterfly, (sometimes 10 months).  It feeds on willows.  The Sara Orange Tip larva feeds on plants in the mustard family.  Hendrik brought in some plant stalks and an information page for us.  It seems that the larvae look very similar to the seed pods (long and thin)!

Thank you SO much, Hendrik, for this delightful presentation!  We will all be on the lookout for our little fluttering visitors this summer and definitely will consider adding more native plants to our gardens.  We will also have to put away those insecticides and consider just how much of our garden we are willing to “share” with those voracious little caterpillars!  You inspired us all!


Hendrik Meekel (Speaker Bio by Melanie G.)

Hendrik has been collecting, rearing and breeding butterflies and moths for as long as he can remember.     He grew up in the Netherlands on an organic farm, where there were always lots of insects around that fascinated him.
For the past 38 years he has been operating a Landscape Gardening service in the Lower mainland.

Hendrik has published a chapter about butterfly gardening in a book called, “A Place in the Rain”, by Mike Lasalle.   Hendrik will be handing out a pamphlet about our local butterfly species for those attending.   He also has an extensive collection of butterflies and other insects in many display cases that he will bring to show us.


Related Links

Naturescape: Caring for Wildlife Habitat at Home
Pages 28 to 31 Butterfly Gardens

South Coast Conservation Program – Plants and Animals at risk in BC

SCCP – Guide to butterflies of South Puget Sound

E-Fauna BC  (Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of BC)

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Butterflies and Moths of North America – links to more information!

Organic Plant Protection – (search) (binghttps://www.bing.com/search?q=Organic+Plant+Protection&aqs=edge..69i57.676696638j0j1&FORM=ANSPA1&PC=U531.com)

The Children’s Butterfly Site

Plant a Butterfly Garden

Create a Butterfly Puddle

Rare Butterflies of SE Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands

Rare Invertebrates of the South Okanagan

Butterflies of British Columbia (Book)

Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening in the Pacific Northwest (Book)

A Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Book)
A Field Guide to Western Butterflies: Opler, Paul A., Peterson, Roger Tory, Wright, Amy Bartlett: 0046442791526: Books – Amazon.ca

Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest (Book)
Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest: Pyle, Robert Michael, LaBar, Caitlin C.: 9781604696936: Books – Amazon.ca

Butterflies of British Columbia (Book)
Butterflies of British Columbia: Including Western Alberta, Southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, Northern Oregon, Northern Idaho, and Northwestern Montana: Shepard, Jon, Guppy, Crispin: 9780774808095: Books – Amazon.ca

Butterflies of British Columbia (Book)
Butterflies of British Columbia: Acorn, John, Sheldon, Ian: 9781551051130: Books – Amazon.ca

A First Guide to Butterflies and Moths
Peterson First Guide To Butterflies And Moths: Opler, Paul A., Wright, Amy Bartlett: 0046442906654: Books – Amazon.ca

Butterflies of North America – an activity and coloring book
Butterflies of North America: An Activity and Coloring Book, Book by Paul Opler (Paperback) | www.chapters.indigo.ca