Topanga Butterfly Whisperer

Bill BuergeBy Bill Buerge      July 10, 2020

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Topanga Butterfly Whisperer
SERGIO JIMENEZ oversees butterfly operations at the Mountain Mermaid Butterfly House and Native Butterfly Nursery. The mission of the Mermaid is, in part, to educate and inspire others about our irreplaceable native butterfly legacy and help to preserve it. Sergio was on the initial crew that rescued and restored the Mermaid nearly 30 years ago, and has been with us ever since.
Left: Sergio re-pots a native narrow-leafed milkweed. Butterfly farming is a very plant-based endeavor. Acquiring, potting, pruning, fertilizing, and watering the plants for the Mermaid butterfly house, gardens, and nursery is job one and a big one, at that. Other tasks include butterfly egg-collection from the wild, feeding the caterpillars their native host plants, and providing nectar-producing flowers for the winged adults.
Right: A spectacular adult giant swallowtail, the largest butterfly in the country, nectars in the butterfly house. Gravid (fertilized) females of this rarer California species have been laying eggs in the Mermaid’s butterfly gardens this Spring on their host plants, citrus and rue.
Left: Sergio observes a painted lady butterfly lay bright blue-green eggs, as small as a pin tip, on a native mallow bush. Painted ladies are well-known by for their spectacular migration last year from the deserts of Southern California to the Pacific Northwest.
Right: Adult monarchs “eclose,” or emerge from their chrysalises on the inside of an inverted Styrofoam cooler that Sergio adapted.
Left: A sprig of rue with a mature black and white giant swallowtail caterpillar standing tall. Sergio recently collected some giant swallowtail eggs and reared a big crop of the specie’s most fascinating caterpillars. Masters of mimicry, the younger caterpillars have evolved to look like bird-droppings to deceive predators. As they get older, the caterpillar’s enlarged thorax looks like the head of a small snake, and they will rear up as if to strike sending out a bright-red two-pronged appendage from the top of their head mimicking a snake’s tongue.

Sadly, butterflies are in sharp decline and big trouble word-wide. In California, the numbers of monarchs are down 99% from 20 years ago.

If you want to keep butterflies in your life and garden, here are some things you can do:
1. Stop using insecticides! Butterflies are insects too, and they will kill them.
2. Plant native butterfly host plants. They will attract in egg-laying females and provide food for the resulting caterpillars.
3. Plant native flowering plants to provide nectar for the winged adults.

To purchase pesticide-free butterfly
plants, email Sergio to make an appointment at
Please do not come by unannounced.
Bill Buerge

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