How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Pollinators are one of Mother Nature’s greatest gardeners, yet many populations continue to decline at an alarming rate. While National Pollinator Week continues to raise awareness, conservation of our precious pollinators is a year-round project. One way you can be a hero for wildlife is by creating a pollinator-friendly habitat in your own yard or community, and invite hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to do what they do best.

Hummingbird | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For starters, you’ll need a nectar source for your hummingbird guests. They get most of their nectar from tubular blossoms, the perfect shape to accommodate their long, slim beak and tongue. Hummers like bright plants that are open during daylight hours, when the birds are awake and hungry. Sage is an excellent option for these tiny pollinators, not to mention the added bonus of providing your herb pantry with some homegrown goodies.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

It’s no secret that honeybee and native bee populations are in trouble. Entertain bees in your outdoor space by planting a diversity of vibrant flowers. It’s extremely important to select plants that do not contain neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder. Nowadays, some stores label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids, but many do not, so it’s best to consult with your local nursery before purchasing.

Bee | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Including suitable nesting habitat in your landscape can help bolster the struggling populations of native bees. Many are solitary (so you don’t need to worry about a hive) and a good number of species are considered stingless, in case that is a concern. You can purchase ready-made nesting houses for mason and orchard bees online, or make your own.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

For butterflies, a simple search on Google will help you discover which species are common in your area. Once you know which butterflies live in your region, it’s important to learn about their habitat needs. Certain species require specific host plants to serve as larval food for caterpillars. Choose a variety of colorful, native plants with upward-facing blossoms as they provide a landing pad for butterflies to stop and sip on sweet nectar.

Butterfly | How to Build a Pollinator Garden

Adding a water source for all of your pollinator guests is another great idea. If you’re going to use a bird bath to accomplish this, just be sure to add stones that peek above the surface so your tiny guests (bees) don’t drown.

Do you have any tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden? Leave them in the comments.


Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 10 Cats You Don’t Want to Cuddle With.


19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

Because Butterfly Jungle is back at the Safari Park…

1. Butterflies taste with their feet.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

2. A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter.

A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter. 19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

3. Their eyes are made of 6,000 lenses and can see ultraviolet light.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

4. There are 165,000 known species of butterflies found on every continent except Antarctica.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

5. Many adult butterflies never excrete waste – they use up all they eat for energy.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

6. Despite popular belief, butterfly wings are clear – the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them.

A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter. 19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

7. Butterfly wings move in a figure “8” motion.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

8. Butterflies vary in size – the largest species may reach 12 inches across, while the smallest may only be half an inch.

A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter. 19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

9. Some butterfly species lay their eggs on only one type of plant.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was no joke – the first meal after a caterpillar hatches is usually the eggshell from which it has just emerged.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

11. In some areas, the number of feeding caterpillars on plants is so great that you can actually hear them munching. Thus, manners are not important in butterfly society.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

12. The process by which a caterpillar magically transforms into a butterfly, aka metamorphosis, is completed in 10 to 15 days, depending on the species.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

13. Butterflies are essentially cold-blooded.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

14. Skipper butterflies fly so fast they could outpace a horse, but most butterflies fly at 5 to 12 miles per hour (8 to 20 kilometers per hour).

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

15. Butterflies have a long, tube-like tongue called a proboscis that allows them to soak up their food rather than sip it.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

16. Males drink from mud puddles to extract minerals that aren’t available in flowers. This behavior is known as “puddling.”

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

17. “Puddle clubs” are groups of butterflies that gather at wet soil to suck up salts and minerals.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

18. Some butterflies have been seen drinking blood from open wounds on animals.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

19. Scientists thought butterflies were deaf until the first butterfly ears were identified in 1912.

19 Fascinating Butterfly Facts

Join the conversation: Do you have any butterfly facts to add to this list? Share them in the comments.


Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 13 Animals Grumpier Than Grumpy Cat.


“Hoo” Is That on My Shoulder: Butterfly Jungle Opens at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

A giant owl butterfly sits on the shoulder of amused Gabrielle Ortiz, age 12, of Carlsbad, this morning during a preview of Butterfly Jungle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

A giant owl butterfly sits on the shoulder of amused Gabrielle Ortiz, age 12, of Carlsbad, this morning during a preview of Butterfly Jungle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Thousands of butterflies floated and fluttered around the Hidden Jungle Aviary at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this morning as children and adults alike marveled at the beautiful winged insects.  The attendees were treated to a sneak peek of the Safari Park’s annual springtime event, Butterfly Jungle, which opens Saturday, March 14 and runs through April 12.

At Butterfly Jungle, the walk-through Hidden Jungle aviary has been transformed into a temporary home for more than 30 species of butterflies. In the aviary, the delicate and colorful creatures surround guests, fluttering lightly through the warm air to find flowers to feed upon. The aviary is also home to lush greenery and exotic birds including finches, colorful turacos and sunbirds, as well as many others.

“Butterfly Jungle heralds the start of spring at the Safari Park,” said Michael Mace, the Safari Park’s curator of birds. “It’s one of the most popular events we hold all year.”

The beautiful butterflies not only enchant guests but make ecological sense. They come to the Safari Park in the pupae stage from Asia, Africa, and Central, South and North America. “If they weren’t harvesting butterflies, many of these farmers would clear cut their land and plant crops or raise cattle,” Mace said. “Instead, when they harvest butterflies, they leave the land in its pristine state.”

The more than 30 species of butterflies highlighted during this year’s Butterfly Jungle include the zebra longwing, orange-barred tiger, Grecian shoemaker, monarch, giant swallowtail and blue morpho. In addition, the butterflies include the threatened birdwing species from Indonesia. The Safari Park was able to offer sanctuary to these rare insects after they were confiscated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials from an illegal shipment sent to the United States earlier this month.

Guests to Butterfly Jungle are encouraged to wear bright colors and move slowly to increase the chances of butterflies landing on their clothes or hats. When the insects do land, guests should enjoy the close encounter, but don’t touch, because it could harm the butterfly. Guests also are encouraged to document their Butterfly Jungle experience this year by posting photos to Instagram using #butterflyjungle. The Safari Park will be looking at guest photos and selecting an Instagram grand-prize winner at the end of the four-week event. Butterfly Jungle runs March 14 to April 12, with extended Park hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The ever-popular event is included with admission to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on March 13, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.



Choose Your Favorite Butterfly GIF

Butterfly Jungle is in full swing at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You have until April 7 to bask in the fluttery glory, but in the meantime, check out these gifs of butterflies in the exhibit and let us know which one is your favorite. You can tell us in the comments below or tweet it to us at www.twitter.com/sdzsafaripark. Enjoy!

1. 1








5. 5


Butterfly Watching

WOO HOO! Butterflies are back! Spring is in the air, plants are blooming, and I saw my first two monarchs in my courtyard last week!

As a zookeeper, I’ve worked with many species during my career. I’ve always been concerned about wildlife and habitats and how vitally important it is to conserve both, as each is dependent on the other for survival. But when I started working in the San Diego Zoo’s Entomology Department, it really hit me. Working with invertebrates up close opened my eyes to how important conservation, and education, is to our survival…and theirs.

The population of one of my favorite animals, the monarch butterfly, has seriously declined in the last few years. While they get food in the form of nectar from flowers, they perform the critical act of pollination and thus are important for the survival of plants and the potential production of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The best effort to help this beautiful butterfly comes by planting native milkweed, their host plant, in our backyards and gardens. While it might seem like a small act, each of us really can make a difference.

Behind our Insect House in the Zoo’s Discovery Outpost is a small flower garden containing several plants for attracting butterflies. I had always wished I could do something similar in my own home, but I live in a very small condo with an even smaller garden space. What space I have is planted with a lot of succulents. But last year, I decided a small spot is better than none and planted six milkweed plants in the hope of attracting monarch butterflies. While I didn’t ask, or expect, help from my neighbors, I did let everyone know what I was doing and how important it was and asked all to help “monitor” the new plants.

Within a few days, we had a number of butterfly sightings. We saw females laying eggs on the plants and later on watched as the caterpillars started eating them. What joy at watching all the butterflies alighting on the plants, going from one plant to another! One of the unexpected perks was how excited my neighbors became when the monarchs started arriving. It was quite surprising! Interest really increased when we spotted the caterpillars. Then we started comparing notes on how many caterpillars we saw, and before we knew it we started having “happy hours” to compare notes on our new neighbors. What a blast! Our complex is small, and we all know each other, but having a new butterfly garden created a good reason to actually stop and visit each other. And that led to several happy hours and lots of laughter during the season. But not to be lost in all this excitement is the fact we started a new way station for our insect friends, and I hope this will help increase their numbers.

Regardless of how much space you have, you can help, too. It’s a great teaching tool for children about how important we all are and how important it is to save habitat for our animal friends. If you don’t have any children, you can always have a happy hour with your neighbors.

If you decide to plant a butterfly garden for monarchs, be sure to use native milkweed rather than tropical milkweed, which is lasting longer and longer in our warmer climate and is encouraging monarchs to “stay out too late.” They need to be on their way to an overwintering site by fall, and using a native species such as Asclepias fasicularis ensures the plant dies back after the first cold snap.

I will leave you with the story of the atala butterfly Eumaeus atala. On Key Biscayne in Florida, this endangered butterfly’s range was restricted to the northern end. There was suitable habitat in the southern region, but it was thought to be inaccessible to the butterfly due to development throughout the central portion. The host plant for this species, however, was a favored plant for backyard gardens; enough people planted it to create a bridge for the butterfly to reach the southern edge and new habitat, where it is now established. Thus, the beauty of citizen science and butterfly gardens!

Barbara Boon is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Note: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides native seed, including native milkweed, to interested parties.


Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner

It’s no secret that the Safari Park’s annual Butterfly Jungle event is a big draw, and the Hidden Jungle exhibit can get a little, um, “cozy,” during peak hours. Most people agree that the bright, fluttery payoff is definitely worth dealing with the crowds, but if you’d rather avoid them entirely for a special VIP preview of Butterfly Jungle the evening before it opens, and be treated to a delicious four-course meal immediately following your exclusive peek, then you can’t miss our Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner. I had the honor of attending this year’s Dinner, and I have to say it’s probably the best way to experience Butterfly Jungle.

Our night began when we were ushered straight into the front door of the Hidden Jungle exhibit after a quick Sharpshooter photo (which you have the option of purchasing after the Dinner). This was my first year ever attending Butterfly Jungle, and as soon as we entered the exhibit, it was immediately apparent why people go so nuts over it. It was like walking into a dream—an alternate reality where bright, airy spirits fill the air in the shape of butterflies. Okay, that description was pretty melodramatic, but trust me, it’s an incredible experience. I think I’m even going to use the word enchanting, if that’s okay with you.

Because the Jungle was only open to Dinner guests, there was plenty of room to move around and position myself for prime picture-taking or tree-impersonation in hopes of coaxing a few butterflies to land on me. We also had the option to take a break from the Jungle to enjoy nearby hors d’oeuvres and libations, but as you can imagine, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the exhibit. After an hour of alone time with the butterflies, we were led to the Hunte Nairobi Pavilion for a brief yet enlightening presentation by the Park’s insect keeper, Sarah Jenkins, on butterflies and their fascinating biological nuances. Then it was time to feed our hungry stomachs!

The dinner began with a subtle, buttery farfalle soup with butterfly pasta, a broth of wild mushroom and petite spring vegetables with an herbed Parmesan crisp. It was appropriately mushroom-forward with a nice foundation of earthy, herbal notes to balance it out and ease our taste buds into the courses to follow.

Fresh-cut chicken breast marinated in lavender-infused honey, pan roasted and served over jasmine rice and grilled asparagus with garlic lavender jus

The second course came in the form of a bright, floral berry salad with baby spinach leaves, fresh blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries in a champagne vinaigrette. It was finished off with candied pecans, to harmonize with the sweet notes, and a fried goat cheese medallion to provide a nice, savory contrast to the fresh, crisp greens and berries.

Next came the entree, which was decidedly the star of the show—fresh-cut chicken breast marinated in lavender-infused honey, pan roasted and served over jasmine rice and grilled asparagus with garlic lavender jus. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. There was nothing unexpected or exotic about this dish, but everything about it was well executed. The chicken and asparagus were cooked to perfection, and the rice was the welcome neutral third party to balance the highs and lows. The dessert, a vanilla sponge cake with a layer of raspberries topped with mascarpone  cream and crushed pistachios, was the perfect fluffy exclamation point to the experience.

Vanilla sponge cake with a layer of raspberries topped with mascarpone cream and crushed pistachios

Many thanks to the excellent Safari Park keepers and culinary staff for an unforgettable night of ethereal insects and delightful food and company. If you like incredible dream-like encounters and decadent meals, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s Butterfly Jungle Preview Dinner. If you don’t, check your pulse. You might be dead 😉

Check out the rest of Matt’s pics from the night.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Roar & Snore Safari at the Safari Park.

Note: Butterfly Jungle runs through May 8, 2011, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.