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Contents tagged with butterfly haven

  • Woo, hoo, hoo: Hooray for Quails!

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    Tags: butterfly haven, button quail, public programs

    Created: 8/6/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

    A few years ago, before I was employed in the Public Programs department, I was a volunteer here at the Nature Museum. I remember my orientation day with a group of five other new volunteers. We were introduced to various staff members and given a tour of the Museum. When the group was led to the Butterfly Haven, someone asked, “Will we see the Button Quails?”, and I thought to myself, “What is a button quail?” We went inside and I soon laid eyes on the adorable little birds. They looked and walked like little chickens and they vocalized with a hearty “Woo, hoo, hoo”. I was smitten! I wanted to know everything about them, especially- why are there Button Quails in Butterfly Haven?

    Female Button Quail (light brown plumage)

    Button Quails are small birds- about 5” in size. The males are usually dark grey with a white bib under their chin; females are usually light brown with black ticking. They are ground dwellers that can fly slightly – they take off and fly in a straight line for a very short distance- so they are not a threat to the butterfly population. They do eat small insects, such as aphids, making them quite the help for our plant life. The last two points would answer my original question in short, but over the years, I have found more value to those little creatures than I ever would have thought.

    Male Button Quail (Blue and brown plumage)

    First, let’s think about the fact that the Button Quails are at the eye level of many of our visitors. Running around the plant beds, the little birds are often the first thing that our young visitors spot in Butterfly Haven. Many interpretive opportunities have arisen as a result. Discussions about eggs, social species of animals and life cycle are all regular parts of public programming days when we are around the quails. We have written a few programs centered around our feathered friends such as “Bird Talk”, “Father of the Year”, and “Who’s Hiding in the Haven” to name a few. The Button Quails are a great resource for public programs.

    Tiny, striped button quail chick

    The next time you are visiting Butterfly Haven, keep an eye out for our covey of Button Quails. I hope they delight you, as much as they have me.

    Laura Saletta
    Public Programs Educator

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  • Integrated Pest Management in the Butterfly Haven

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    Tags: pest management, butterfly haven, horticulture, insects

    Created: 1/15/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    I'll be honest with you, folks. There's just no way I can keep every greenhouse pest out of the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. And you want to know something else? I don't particularly intend to.

    Now I'm not rolling out the red carpet for aphids here. At least not compared to the hero's welcome they get just by us stocking the Haven with all their favorite foods and a perfect breeding climate. If they were easy to keep out, they wouldn’t be called pests. Aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs, and scale insects can lay waste to thousands of dollars' worth of plants in no time, and then all we'd have is hungry butterflies and some sticks covered in bug poo.  

    Mealybug
    Mealybug Destroyers

    I could run around in the off-hours spraying chemicals. I don't because 1. Toddlers (et al) will put anything, including leaves coated in poison, directly into their mouths and 2. Butterflies, being insects, react unfavorably to insecticides. Also, I'd have to get here even earlier in the morning. 

    But more important than my alarm clock is the fact that we, as an institution, have adopted Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as our strategy for all pests. One part of IPM means using the least harmful means of control first. That would be prevention most of the time. I check plants for infestations before I plant them in the Haven. I monitor the plants already there to catch outbreaks at early levels, and then a little soapy water works miracles. But the true secret, the one that has me smugly unconcerned while hordes of mealybugs roam the streets, is that every now and then I release MORE bugs into the Haven.

    We order the workhorses of the Butterfly Haven from Beneficial Insectary in Redding, CA. Ladybugs (Hippodamia convergens) devour most soft-bodied plant pests, and do so as adults and as larvae.  This is also true for the similar-looking Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, which goes by the more pronounceable and colorful common name ‘mealybug destroyer.’ I also release three wasps into the Butterfly Haven--all of them completely harmless to humans. In fact, they are all smaller than the stinger of the wasps commonly associated with fear and pain. Being so small I guess they are not worthy of cool common names, but they answer to Aphidius colemani, Aphytis melinus, and Encarsia formosa and they parasitize aphids, scale, and whiteflies respectively. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside living hosts, sometimes paralyzing them first, and let their newly-hatched young eat their way out. Some people think that's gruesome, some think it's awesome, some think it's both. 

    Ladybug
    Our workhorse, the Ladybug

    Notice how I mention these helpers as adults and as larvae. If I were somehow, magically, able to remove every single 'bad bug' from the Haven, my beneficial buddies would have no food, and therefore couldn't breed and maintain a population. One aphid or scale (both of which can reproduce asexually, which is far creepier to me than the parasitic wasp thing) could turn into millions nearly overnight.  Instead we aim to keep the pests at an ‘acceptable’ level, which is another tenet of IPM. Then our beneficial insects have more likelihood of breeding and remaining in the Haven to greet incoming pests with something a little less like paradise.

    To them, that is. All this goes on at the smallest limits of human perception.  At scales more in line with our everyday experience, the Haven remains the tranquil sanctuary we have come to expect. There might be an aphid or two in there, but don't worry. I'm hardly working on it.

    Andrew Wunschel
    Assistant Horticulturist

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