Category Archives: Butterfly house

Herpetology workshop at the butterfly house July 12

Hi everyone! We’re excited to announce our next workshop this Saturday, July 12, from 10:30-11:30 at the butterfly house, with the topic this time being our native reptiles and amphibians. We’ll have two outstanding UNR researchers on site to talk “herps”- Dr. Sarah Snyder is a recent Ph.D graduate of the UNR Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program and is now a visiting professor for Bard College at Simon’s Rock; and Chava Weitzman is a current Ph.D. student in the Tracy lab working on desert tortoise immune ecology. During the workshop they’ll introduce you to some of our native Nevada reptiles and amphibians and discuss desert reptile biology. They’ll also have live reptiles to show and touch including native frogs, snakes, and lizards, as well as two desert tortoises that have just moved into their new habitat at the butterfly house! This is sure to be a fun, educational, and interactive time, so come check it out!

Leopard lizard eating a grasshopper at the butterfly house

Leopard lizard eating a grasshopper at the butterfly house

Better weather, and a tour of the site by Neil Bertrando

The weather is much better today, which should make for great butterfly activity in and around the house- stop by and see us!

Also, on Saturday, June 28th, starting at 9AM, Neil Bertrando (the owner of our site) will be giving a tour of his entire property, which will include the butterfly hoop house, but will also be much more, as he’ll discuss how his site is integrated into the surrounding landscape, as well as a detailed tour of the permaculture design elements all around the property. A longer description is below; this is sure to be a great time packed full of cool information and ideas. More information details are below. Hope to see you there!

Join us for a tour of Steppe One Farm, the home of Neil and Katie Bertrando, this Saturday, June 28th, from 9-11 am.  Steppe One Farm is a developing agroforestry based homestead ecosystem that was planned using the Permaculture and Keyline Design systems.  It is located 10.5 miles North of the Truckee River in Lemmon Valley, the terminal basin watershed that feeds Swan Lake, at 413 Matterhorn Blvd. Reno, NV 89506.  Directions Here

With Neil as tour guide, the group will explore the food forest, windbreaks, alley crop, animal systems, and more.  We’ll look at the beneficial linkages between these systems, including strategies for water harvesting and conservation, irrigation, soil building and fertility cycling, plant selection and spacing, integrated pest management, accelerating succession, season extension, and phased implementation.

You’ll also get a chance to check out the Butterfly House and interpretive trail developed in collaboration with Nevada Bugs and Butterflies.  The Butterfly House is stocked with all Native Butterflies and lots of flowering and food producing plants.  It embodies the practical application of a main goal of Steppe One Farm: to demonstrate the potential synergy created when agriculture is designed to mimic nature.  The hoophouse itself is mobile and adapted from designs by Eliot Coleman and plans at Johhny’s Seeds (  We’re excited to share our experience with this system and many others around the site.

Because the Butterfly House has open hours starting at 10 am, parking will be a little tricky.  We’re asking you to help us stay organized and to meet both your needs and those of others.  If you show up for the tour and plan to stay for the whole thing, please park in the roundabout driveway or along the road on the South Fenceline.  You can also park on Fir St. on the North boundary of the site if you want to be able to leave at any time.  Please be careful walking on Matterhorn Blvd. because people tend to drive very fast on weekends.

It will likely be hot and sunny, so please be prepared and bring your preference of tools to foster a comfortable and hydrated experience: for example, a sun hat, water bottle, and sunblock.  We do have red harvester ants as on-site residents, so closed toed shoes are recommended.

We’ll also have Loping Coyote Farms’ nursery plants for sale.  Some of the plants we currently have in stock are several varieties of Fruiting Mulberries, Yellow Cornelian Cherry, Purple Cherokee Tomatoes, Culinary Sage, Red Valerian, Comfrey, Creeping and Varico 2 Thyme, Hyssop, Dyer’s Chamomile, Ginko biloba (male and female), Sylvetta, Gold Button Yarrow, and Lemon balm.  Most herbs and vegetables are $5 each and most trees are $20 each.  We are also offering 5 mixed herbs or veggies for $20.
RSVPs are appreciated.  To RSVP, email neilbertrando (at)

We hope you’ll join us to enjoy the abundant colors, aromas, flavors, and sounds that enrich our lives in the high desert at the beginning of Summer.

With Gratitude,
Loping Coyote Farms and RT Permaculture

Weather update for the butterfly house today

Hi everyone! If you’re in the Reno area today, you’ll see it’s cloudy, cooler, and even a bit windy. This means a couple things:

1) visitors to the butterfly house should dress appropriately; we are an outdoor site and are exposed to the elements (which, honestly, is normally just bright sun in Reno), and

2) the butterflies may not be quite as active today. Butterflies like warm, mostly calm, sunny days, and they may not fly as much on days like today. We’ll still be open 10-3 but if you have the flexibility, you might wait till the sun breaks through.

You can check the local weather for Lemmon Valley here. And, as always, you can call and ask us if now is an ideal time to come visit at 775-276-1393. Thanks!

Opening Day at the butterfly house AND community events for National Pollinator Week!

Next week is a huge week for us at Nevada Bugs and Butterflies! Not only will the butterfly house open for 2014 on Thursday, but the whole week is National Pollinator Week, and Nevada Bugs is proud to be partnering with several local organizations, celebrating the bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, bats, and other animals that pollinate most of the world’s flowers as well as 1/3 of human food crops. Here’s the rundown:

  • On Tuesday, June 17th, we’ll be at the Discovery Museum from 10am-2pm, along with UNR professor Dr. Anne Leonard and her lab, showing off some of our local pollinators and a live bumble bee colony! We’ll also have pollinator seedlings for kids to pot and take home (somewhat limited quantity).
  • The butterfly house opens on Thursday, June 19th! We’ll be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10am-3pm. Come see some of Nevada’s beautiful spring and summer butterflies up close, surrounded by blooming flowers and growing vegetables. You can catch butterflies, grasshoppers, and beetles on the one-acre permaculture garden, observe many species of native bees, and check out our new wooden interpretive signs that are stationed around the property to learn about plants, animals, and garden landscape. Directions to our butterfly house can be found on the Come Visit Us page of our site.
  • On Friday, June 20th we’ll be at the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op from 5:30-7:30pm, where we’ll have a honey tasting with honey collected from different crops, short films about bee pollination and conservation, and a group discussion about local pollinators with Dr. Leonard. This is a great opportunity to learn about the biology and natural history of bees from an expert doing research on them right here in Reno!
  • Finally, on Saturday, June 21st, come on out to the butterfly house anytime between 10am-3pm and make your very own native bee house. These reed structures are easy to make and provide crucial nesting habitat for many different species of cavity-nesting bees. As always, this program is free of charge :)

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating your favorite pollinators, be they butterflies or otherwise, all this week and come see us at the butterfly house on the 19th!

Tubular flowers encourage pollinators like this bumble bee to dig deep for nectar, increasing the chance of the flower being pollinated.

Tubular flowers encourage pollinators like this bumble bee to dig deep for nectar, increasing the chance of the flower being pollinated.

Meet the Bugs: Milbert’s tortoiseshell

It’s prime time for raising butterflies here at Nevada Bugs; we’re getting ready for our opening day on June 19, and that means we need caterpillars, and fast! One species we’re raising now that you’ll be able to meet on opening day is the Milbert’s tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti), a beautiful brushfoot butterfly with a 2 – 2 1/2 inch wingspan. They are a fairly common species in riparian areas, marshes, trails, and occasionally roadsides, and range broadly across Canada and the western United States.


Milbert’s tortoiseshell. Picture from Butterflies and Moths of North America


Milberts’ caterpillars on stinging nettle (needles visible in background)

As with many butterflies, Milberts’ caterpillars can eat only a couple plant species, and in this case the most common local host plant is stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. This species is infamous for the painful sensation it leaves if you carelessly brush against it in the woods, and this is likely a good defense against small mammalian predators. We’ve learned to wear gloves when handling these plants!

Despite the drawback of handling nettle, these butterflies are a fun species to rear as caterpillars due to their somewhat unusual feeding behavior. As young larvae, until around the fourth instar, or molt, they feed in large groups, often covered in webbing to protect themselves and completely devouring a plant before moving on. Even as they age, they continue to congregate in groups, though they can form silk nests individually in the wild. They then leave the plant and wander off to find a safe place to hide and pupate, where they stay as a beautiful brown-green chrysalis with a copper sheen.

Caterpillars everywhere!

Caterpillars everywhere!

Milberts' chrysalis.

Milberts’ chrysalis. The Greek word chrysos means “gold.”

Milberts’ have a rapid development time, going from newly hatched to pupa in under 3 weeks. However, after pupation they are a fairly long-lived species, often living over a month. They exhibit two flight generations per year and will be active as adults until perhaps early October, when they’ll overwinter as adults. Be sure to see these beauties on our opening weekend!


Preparing for summer at the butterfly house

Spring is in full swing here in Reno, as evidenced by the rainy weather we’ve had these last couple days. Despite that, we’re preparing for the hot summer days we know are coming. For our butterfly house in Lemmon Valley, this means two things- moving the house to its alternate ‘footprint,’ and putting the shade cloth on.

One of the neatest features of our hoophouse is that it is meant to be two hoophouses in one, which it does by being mobile, on wheels and a track that is double the length of the house. This way, the hoophouse can be on one of two sites, depending on the season. This design allows us to grow cool-weather crops (kale, chard, lettuce, etc.) on one side, then move it to the other side to grow warm-weather crops (tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc.) during the summer and the butterfly house open season. This hoophouse is based on the ‘moveable caterpillar tunnel’ designed by Eliot Coleman and the folks at Johnny’s Seeds.

Rails being laid down before the hoophouse is placed on it. One of our great volunteers Josh Jahner in the foreground.

Rails being laid down before the hoophouse is placed on it. One of our great volunteers Josh Jahner in the foreground.

Newly constructed hoophouse, taking up half of the rails

Newly constructed hoophouse, taking up half of the rails. The pergola is not yet built in this picture.

We move the hoophouse on the first weekend of May this year. Moving the hoophouse consists of detaching it from all its anchor points (not shown above), cleaning the tracks of debris, moving all the delicate plants out of the way, taking the plastic off the sides of the house, and slowly moving the house to the other side, being careful not to rip any of the fabric or plastic in the process. It is slightly delicate work, but it went off without a hitch. After it’s in the new location, new anchors (t-posts) are hammered in and the plastic is covered at the base to seal the house in. The next step is planting pollinator plant seedlings for the butterflies in June and warm weather crops to grow through the summertime.


Plastic removed from the sides of the house


New anchors being staged in place


Hoophouse, this year, in its new location

Hoophouse, this year, in its new location


The following weekend after moving the house, we put the shade cloth on over the plastic. Those of you who visited the butterfly house last year may remember the whole structure being shade cloth, but we put a heavy UV-resistant plastic over the whole thing for the winter to grow those cool-season crops as soon as possible. Now that summer is approaching, it can get in excess of 90 degrees in there, so it’s time to cool things down a bit. For this, we simply unrolled the shadecloth over the plastic and tied the whole thing down with parachute cord. Soon, we’ll take the plastic off the sides entirely and replace them with shadecloth to increase ventilation and further moderate the temperature for the butterflies during the summer.

Cynthia tying the shade cloth down with parachute cord

Cynthia tying the shade cloth down with parachute cord

These are two of the biggest spring transition activities for the hoophouse- after we plant seedlings in the house, all we have to do is wait till early June to start stocking the house with butterflies. One more sign that summer is quickly approaching!

Meet our bugs- velvet ants!

For this week’s installment of the “meet our bugs” series, we’re profiling a fascinating example of Great Basin biodiversity, our velvet ants. Despite their name, these cuties are actually wasps (Hymenoptera) in the family Mutillidae. Velvet ants are all solitary species, unlike many of the un-friendly wasps you might be more familiar with. Species of these wasps are found all over North America, though they are especially diverse in the arid West, and you can sometimes find them if you are hiking in undisturbed habitat. One feature almost all species share is the presence of aposematic coloration, or bright coloring that is meant to convey danger to potential predators. In the case of velvet ants, females are armed with a powerful sting, one of the most painful in North America! However, they are not aggressive and very rarely sting if unprovoked. As shown in the picture, many species in a given area will mimic each other to increase the protective ability of their coloration, a process known as Mullerian mimicry. So, it can be hard to identify individuals as different species; we do know that our wasps are all in the genus Dasymutilla.

Velvet ant in our display

Velvet ant in our display. Cotton ball is soaked in nectar solution.

Figure of Dasymutilla diversity in North America, along with associated mimicry rings (figure from Wilson et al. 2012).

Figure of Dasymutilla diversity in North America, along with associated mimicry rings (figure from Wilson et al. 2012). You can read more at the website of Joe Wilson at Utah State University Tooele.

Velvet ants have a number of interesting biological features. Males and females are extremely sexually dimorphic, meaning the sexes look very different. Sometimes, males and females of the same species don’t even share the same color pattern, making it hard to tell which species is which. In addition, females are all wingless (thus, all of ours are females), and are also the sex with a stinger; males fly and are harmless. One other characteristic of velvet ants is an extremely tough exoskeleton, which comes in handy for their lifestyle. Velvet ants share an unusual reproductive strategy in that they are ectoparasitoids of other solitary hymenoptera. A female velvet ant will locate the burrow of a solitary ground-nesting bee or wasp that contains a developing larva, invade the nest (often to the dismay of the host), and lay an egg next to the larva. The velvet ant egg will hatch into its own larva and proceed to kill the developing host, devouring it and/or any prey items in the burrow. However, once the velvet ant metamorphoses into an adult, the wasp will be a nectar feeder, visiting flowers during the morning and evening, making these species important pollinators of arid regions. Adult velvet ants can live for one to a few years, relatively long lived for wasps. Below are a couple short videos that demonstrate the nectaring behavior of velvet ants (the white ball is a cotton ball soaked in nectar solution).

Velvet ant drinking

Velvet ant drinking

In addition to the mimicry of velvet ant species to each other, other types of insects that may not be as well defended also mimic velvet ants to try and gain protection via association, a process called Batesian mimicry. These species include spiders, beetles, and antlion larvae. In fact, the spider mimic below was found right at the butterfly house, and we have seen velvet ants on the site as well. The unusual biology and ecology of these organisms, along with their diversity in the Great Basin, make them great species to exhibit at our butterfly house and outreach events.

Jumping spider velvet ant mimic

Spider velvet ant mimic


Up close and personal. Big eyes are essential for a hunting lifestyle.

Up close and personal. Big eyes are essential for a hunting lifestyle.

Spider mimic dorsal view

Spider mimic dorsal view

Velvet ant dorsal view

What a great year!

Thanks to all who came and visited!

Thanks to all who came and visited!

Fall’s a’comin: Last weekend for the butterfly house this season!

First off, we’d like to thank the River School Farm for hosting the Urban Farm Fest last Sunday. Put together in partnership with Urban Roots to celebrate the local food/sustainability movement in Reno, we had a great time talking to lots of families, letting kids handle our beetles and caterpillars, and showing off our collection of local moths and butterflies. Special thanks to Nikki Boyce of the River School for organizing; we had a blast!

Hanging out with our darkling beetle Tenny

Hanging out with our darkling beetle Tenny

What a great group of kids at the Urban Farm Fest!

What a great group of kids at the Urban Farm Fest!













Next, if you’ve been in Reno the last week or so, you’ve noticed the changes in the weather: clouds are rolling in, blustery afternoons, and a quick drop in temperatures! We’re officially into fall now, and that signals the end of the season for insects: butterflies either migrate south for the winter, or spend the cold season “overwintering” as eggs, larvae, pupae, or even sometimes as adults. Because of this seasonality, we will close the butterfly house for the winter starting in October. That means this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-28, will be our last open days for the season. If you haven’t had the chance, we hope you’ll make it out to the butterfly house and say goodbye to the bugs for the winter. The weather looks to be best (warmer and sunnier) on Saturday, so if you can make it then we’d love to see you!

Variable fall weather, but it looks good for Saturday!

Variable fall weather, but it looks good for Saturday!


The butterfly house is thriving!

If you haven’t visited the butterfly house yet, we’d love to see you! The harvest season is in full swing in and around the house and the butterflies are loving life! Stop by and see us in the last few weekends of our opening season! We are open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10-4 through September 28th. Feel free to call or email us with any questions.

A fritillary in the sun