I’m finally getting around to gathering some of last season’s butterflies and moths together into a blog. It’s almost a year late, but ... fun to look through as we prepare to welcome some beautiful bugs to our gardens once again. Happy Spring!
Over the past few years, we have planted a variety of “butterfly plants”, and have been rewarded with visits from some exquisite guests. The Prairie Red (or Swamp) Milkweed has been a wonderful host plant for many butterflies and caterpillars. Giant Zinnias, Butterfly Bushes, and Phlox have all been excellent sources of nectar throughout the summer.
I always look forward to the arrival of the little Milbert’s Tortoiseshells in the garden. The larvae of these butterflies feed on Stinging Nettles, while the butterflies apparently prefer "sap, rotting fruit and animal dung”. My Tortoiseshells seem to like the nectar of Butterfly Bush....
There was one Red Admiral in the Zinnias this summer, and it only stayed for part of an afternoon. The larvae of this species also eats leaves from plants of the Nettle family, or Hops. These butterflies migrate in the late summer.
Eastern Commas were frequent visitors for a few weeks in August. Their preferred food was rotting Melon from the compost pile, although they tasted the Zinnias and the Grape jelly in the Hummingbird feeders as well. Larvae feed on Nettles and Hops.
When the Eastern Comma closes its wings, it is well camouflaged among the leaves or soil in the garden. The white “comma” on the underside of the hindwing gives this butterfly its name.
This is a tiny Common Ringlet (likely subspecies inornata). It was flitting in the grasses at the edge of a hayfield. The larvae of this butterfly feed on different types of grass, and overwinter in ....grass piles!
The Crescent (likely Northern) is a small butterfly with intricate patterns on the wings. The tips of the antennae are orange. Larvae eat plants in the Aster family.
Once the hayfields were in blossom, many of the little “Yellows and Whites” appeared. Clouded Sulphurs are one of our most common butterflies. Their larvae feed on Clover, Alfalfa, and other Legumes.
Mixed in with the Sulphurs were Cabbage Whites. The butterflies pictured here are males: females have 2 black spots on each forewing. Apparently their larvae enjoy Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli.
There was a brief appearance made by a Viceroy Butterfly one afternoon in August. It looked very similar to the many Monarchs that were around this summer, but was smaller, and, unlike the Monarchs, had a black line on each hindwing that is missing on the Monarchs. Viceroy larvae feed mainly on Willow and Poplar leaves, unlike the Monarch Milkweed-eaters.
Approximately 75 Monarchs managed to hatch, pupate, emerge, and fly south on the farm this year-- with a little help. Many larvae were brought inside, placed in separate Mason jars, and fed Common or Prairie Red Milkweed leaves.
Once they had been in chrysalis form for a few days, they were moved outside to a ladder in the sun.
Upon emerging, the Monarchs hung for about an hour to dry their wings, then set off to find nectar in the Cosmos and Zinnia flowers.
Some of the Monarchs were very late hatching, and as a result, were emerging in early October, when outside temperatures were too cold for them to fly. These late bloomers lived for several days in our cool sunroom, hanging quietly on Zinnias that I brought inside for their dining pleasure.
When the temperature warmed up, their vases of flowers were placed outside, and ... away they went!
Black Swallowtails frequented the gardens, and laid eggs in the Parsley, Carrots, Dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Black Swallowtail larvae were disappearing from the garden (House Sparrows??), and I brought most of them inside to protect them until they were ready to pupate.
As they grew and shed their skins, they changed their “looks”.
Some of them emerged as butterflies in late August, and some are overwintering in chrysalis form in a “Butterfly Box” on our front porch.
A real surprise this year was the frequency of visits from Giant Swallowtails, our largest native butterflies.
There were at least 4 of these striking butterflies showing an interest in a single Gas Plant over the course of a few weeks. Eggs started to appear on the leaves of the Gas Plant, and there were around 30 eggs laid, 23 of which hatched into bizarre-looking “bird-droppings”!
These larvae (which also look a bit like boa constrictors, I think), stripped the leaves from the Gas Plant,
and spent their final caterpillar days in the Butterfly Box.
When the time was right, they made their way along sticks, screens, and boards, and curled up for a few days, stuck to their perches by silken threads,
then prepared themselves for the long winter ahead by splitting their skins to reveal chrysalises that look very much like rolled dead leaves.
There are now 23 Giant Swallowtail chrysalises overwintering along with their 13 Black Swallowtail cousins.
I can hardly wait until Spring.... I have ordered several more Gas Plants for the 2019 season!
When it is time to bring houseplants inside for the Winter, I carefully check for chrysalises, etc. that should be left outside. Somehow I must have missed a Cecropia chrysalis (still haven’t found it), and this lovely Male, with its large, feathery antennae, emerged in late April in the cool sunroom. Cecropias are not equipped to eat at all, and only live for a very short time (about 2 weeks) as moths. Will this one be able to find a mate so early in the season? I sure hope so.
The Cecropia Moth is our largest moth, and one of our most showy.
It was sunny and warm yesterday (April 22), and there were a few tiny butterflies fluttering around the gardens and fields. I wasn’t able to tell from a distance what kind they were....but Spring must be here if butterflies are in the air!
"Butterflies of Canada”, by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine, has been my source of information for this blog.
Special thanks to Ross Dickson for sharing his expertise as well.