Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Butterflies or Flutter-bies

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly
Photo courtesy of Megan McCarty,
Butterfly enthusiast Farrar Stockton joined us today to share some fascinating details about many of the butterflies and moths that frequent our area. Here are some fun facts we learned from today's program:
  • Caterpillars usually have some kind of camouflage design on them to keep them safe from predators; for example, the Swallowtail Caterpillar looks like a bird dropping.
  • Butterflies have slender bodies, brilliant colors, fly during the day, and normally rest with their wings folded up.
  • Moths have large furry bodies, furry antennae, fly at night, and normally rest with their wings open flat.
  • The Luna Moth lays up to 150 eggs, but many times only one will survive.
  • The color on a butterfly's wing is made up of tiny scales.
  • When butterflies and moths first emerge from the chrysalis or cocoon, they have large bodies or small wings. Veins pump fluid out of the body into the wings to make them larger.
  • 5% of caterpillars are poisonous.
  • Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to forests in the mountains of Mexico.
Also, the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a great place to check out tropical butterflies--one of the best in the country!

Thanks to Farrar, and also to Raymond Wells for bringing in a collection of butterflies and moths and giving us a chance to see some of these amazing creatures up close!

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Photo courtesy of Michael Hodge,
Luna Moth
Photo courtesy of Geoff Gallice,
For more information, check out the Butterfly Enthusiasts of Southeast Texas: or the North American Butterfly Association:  The library also has some great field guides on butterflies and moths.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Henna's History

The library's very own Usha Dontharaju detailed the history of Henna or Mehandi tattoos and demonstrated this beautiful art on our audience members today. The practice of creating temporary tattoos using dye prepared from the henna plant is believed to have originated in Egypt over 5000 years ago, when it was painted on pharaohs after death so they could be easily identified in the afterlife. Henna has been popular in many cultures since, both for its cooling properties and as body art. Did you know that a paste made from henna powder can also be used to condition and dye hair? Henna is also a very important part of weddings in India--usually a whole day is dedicated to the application of henna to the bride and other ladies in the wedding.

To create a paste for body art, crushed henna powder is mixed with water and a small amount of vegetable oil and then put into a cone (or even a plastic bag with the corner cut off) for application. You can create any number of designs on hands, feet or ankles. The dye dries for 2-4 hours, and once it has come off, you have a beautiful work of art in a reddish-brown color that should stay on the skin for about two weeks. Check out some of the beautiful designs below. Thanks to our wonderful artists, Usha, Krissy, and Linda!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Birding Our Area

Birdwatcher Jeff Mohamed joined us today to describe some of the birds that can be found in our own backyard. Texas has a lot of birds - 680 species, with the United States having about 985. Our Lone Star-CyFair campus alone has spotted 169 species. People come from all over the world to Texas just to see the birds. It's a big industry here in Texas. And we have so many habitats: prairie, piney woods, marshes, beaches, and urban spaces for our feathered friends. We also are so close to Mexico and on migration paths "fly ways" of birds up from South America and down from Canada and Alaska.

Jeff explained that we have some birds we see year round and others are migrants who come and go. He showed us a slide show of local birds that he actually saw and photographed. His favorite haunts to spot birds here in Harris County are as follows: Kleb Woods Park, Katie Prairie, Paul Rushing Chain-of-Lakes Park, Warren Ranch Lake, Bear Creek Park, the Brazos Bend State Park (alligators, too), the Baytown Nature Center, Carpenter's Bayou, Sheldon Lake Environmental Center, Rookery at Smith Oaks and the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The college pylons and buildings are also homes to many local birds.

Did you know the bald eagle is so lazy that he steals his fish if he can? Benjamin Franklin didn't like this character trait and preferred the industrious wild turkey for our national bird. But the mighty bald eagle won out.

Check out Jeff's wonderful birding blog:  
And learn more information about birds in our area at the Audubon Society:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vintage Quilts of the Second World War

Quilter extraordinaire Patricia Plunk joined us today, along with her sisters Anne and Glenda, to share some family quilts and her experience in restoring these incredible heirlooms.

Patricia, Glenda, and Anne shared several beautiful quilts as well as the stories behind them, and even showed us a work in progress where pieces are being salvaged from a deteriorating quilt and will be used to make a new one. Thanks to our presenters and audience for some lovely and funny stories about quilt experiences, and for sharing with us how meaningful and precious these works of art can be.

The first quilt that Patricia shared is one that their grandmother had made during World War II. Patricia spent over a year repairing the pieces and attaching a back, which she hand-quilted in order to maintain the integrity of the vintage quilt.

Anne shared with us how she took her father's military uniform and created three teddy bears out of the material for each of his daughters. With the pieces remaining, she created three quilt squares, each with pieces of the hat, tie, pockets and patches as reminders of their father's service during the war.

Patricia also showed us the top of a quilt that their mother had pieced together before her marriage in 1940. The pieces were made from fabric from her own dresses and those of her mother's, and Patricia's next project will be to finish this quilt and add a back to it.

If you're interested in joining a guild, West Houston Quilter's Guild meets the third Wednesday of the month from 6:30-9:00 pm at Bear Creek Community Center. Learn more at