Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

At last...butterflies

I have been asking myself for weeks now, where are all the butterflies? Typically by early summer, small, medium and large sized butterflies are fluttering all over the garden. This year, our cool spring followed by one of the wettest summers on record has not been a kind habitat for butterflies. In fact, the adverse weather is damaging to butterfly populations. Studies are concluding that the life cycle of the butterfly may be sensitive to small changes in the weather.

Eastern tailed-blue

Our gardens and adjacent woodlands are filled with host plants and nectar plants for most species of butterfly found in Northeast Georgia. We provide puddling sites, overwintering refuge and are a pesticide free garden. So the habitat is here and, in a normal year we usually have lots of butterflies.

Silvery checkerspot sipping minerals & salts at puddling site
Although we are in the midst of summer we are only now beginning to see the butterflies. All the photos I am posting have been taken this month (July) and most of them in the last week. Earlier in the month there were only single sightings of these species of butterflies and without a mate in sight the prospects of a next generation looked bleak.

Silver-spotted skipper on Buttonbush

Many of the butterflies were looking pretty ragged. They were beat up by the heavy rains and/or predator attacks. Notice their tattered wings. The good news is that butterflies are tougher than they look. Wings break and scales come off. If they didn't they wouldn't be able to escape their predators and would be eaten for lunch more often than not.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on beebalm
Butterflies have been seen flying with 75% of their wings missing. But this does make it more pertinent for them to find a mate. They may not be as dainty as they look but broken wings can make their fleeting life even shorter.

Black Swallowtail on purple coneflower
The monsoon like rains and overcast skies have given us lots of lush foliage but fewer flowers. I am surprised that we actually have as many blooms as we do. And, many of them are very tattered.

silvery checkerspot sharing purple coneflower with friendly bee
The humidity on some days is very high and when the sun does come out there is no need to pay to go to the spa, just take a walk outside. An ideal butterfly climate. The butterflies we saw earlier this month seem to have been successful despite the challenges they faced. We are finally seeing signs of the next generation.

Variegated Fritillary
We found our first caterpillars of the summer this weekend. Three Variegated Fritillaries on some passionvine that seeded itself amongst the roses. 

Variegated Fritillary caterpillar on passiflora
I also saw two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails fluttering around together. Another good sign!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on buttonbush
Sadly, we didn't see any Monarchs this season but some of the other butterflies are enjoying the milkweed.

two silvery checkerspot on butterflyweed
A few Red-spotted purples have also been hanging around in the garden. Despite the fact that we offer the rotten fruit, which they prefer over nectar, they find the dog dung that hasn't been picked up yet irresistible. 

Red-spotted purple
One of the most common butterflies in our garden is the black swallowtail. We usually see lots of caterpillars on the parsley and fennel from this species. Unfortunately, this year we only had one in early spring. Fingers crossed that we see more very soon.

pipevine swallowtail
Have you been keeping track of your butterfly sightings? What are your results....banner year or lacking?

In my next post we'll talk about trees with some fun facts provided by my son.


18 comments:

  1. They're coming in twos and threes and fours where I was expecting dozens by now, but they'll be here. I haven't seen a Black Swallowtail yet and I believe if you check, your last pic is of a Pipevine Swallowtail.

    It's hard to tell them all apart. One year I thought I had Giant Swallowtails -- turned out to be Palamedes which I had never even heard of when someone corrected me. Giants showed up later.

    Gulf Fritillaries are slow to show up this year but their favorites, orange Tithonia and yellow Lantana were slow to put out the feast as well. It's been a strange year.

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    1. Thanks Nell Jean...I believe you are correct. I often get those two mixed up. We had a Giant Swallowtail one year and haven't seen another once since. They are so big they get blown about by the wind a lot and it is hard for them to stay on blooms.

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  2. Definitely a slow year for butterflies, although we haven't been as cool and moist as you have been. I've only seen 2 or 3 monarchs, no black swallowtails, a couple tiger swallowtails, and only a couple painted ladies. Even the hackberry emporers are scarce this year. I suspect the "systemic insecticides" are taking their toll. (The "treat it once a year and forget about it" pesticides now commonly used for trees, among other plants.)

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    1. Lucky you to have a few monarchs! We usually see more come through in the fall but at least one or two show up in the spring. Every year I plant more milkweed for them. I tell all the insects in our area to come to our garden because everyone else in the neighborhood is using pesticides. :)

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  3. I was wondering what happened to all the butterflies! Since I moved up north this year, I thought that maybe it was a latitude thing, as I just saw the first butterflies this past week. I hope the populations recover okay from all the bad weather - I know monarchs have been on quite the decline the past few years.

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  4. It seems like it's been a quiet summer for butterflies around here. There were a lot of swallowtails earlier in the season. It is interesting how tough they can be, flying along with much of their wing missing. Glad you're seeing an uptick in the population. We've finally gotten some rain lately ... nearly 5" since Monday! The lake is still horribly low though so am praying for more. Send some of yours our way :)

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  5. What a beautifull collection of butterflies! In my area I have only seen few white butterflies, I am not an expert so I cannot say what kind and cannot say what is normal here, but when I see one I am really happy.

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  6. Fantastic photos. The variety you get is great and your patience with getting the photos shows in them.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  7. I too noticed fewer butterflies this season. Like you experienced, we too have only just recently started to see them in numbers rather than a few here and there.I have seen Black Swallowtail and Tiger, a Comma, Red Admiral and numerous Skippers. Only one Monarch. In the fields I saw many more but never have the camera at work. Did you use a zoom for your photos? In my current post I mostly did for the butterflies, but I did use the 105mm on at least one. They are too skittish for that lens. Your photos are beautiful as always. It does take time to become steady with a Macro lens. It took me a long time when I first got my 60mm and it is too hard to shoot insects with a tripod.

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  8. This was interesting and educational (and your photos were gorgeous). Try as I might, I can still only identify a few kinds of butterflies by name. I'm much better at plants. Now I need to find room for that buttonbush!

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  9. So far I have so far seen one yellow Swallowtail butterfly, and then yesterday, I saw a black swallowtail. I find butterflies tend to appear in late July and August. It is a little early to make comment on numbers, but I am hoping numbers won't be down this year.

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  10. It seems butterflies were more prevalent in my neck of the woods about three weeks ago. However I am starting to see more in the last few days, probably a new generation. The hummers have been non-existent, maybe the black and blue salvia will entertain. I also had a few buckeyes after planting a toad flax as a host. Today I spied a female black swallowtail visiting the fennel plants. Happy hosting.

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  11. I hope that we soon start seeing butterflies more frequently as you have. Although it is hot and humid here now, we also had the cold spring and butterfly sightings are still infrequent. I have lots of host and nectar plant, sad to see them going unutilized.

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  12. None...we have none here...with the daily storms of summer and cool spring we have seen none and like you we have the perfect habitat...so sad really. I was hoping when the heat, humidity and lack of rain was finally here we would see a few but sadly no.

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  13. Great collection of photos and so many different kinds of butterflies. I'm really impressed with how many sightings you have here, despite it being a bad year. My gardens are still very new so we don't often see butterflies but I'm happy to say I saw my very first ever monarch this year. an exciting moment.

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  14. I`m missing the butterflies in my garden this year. It can`t just be that I`m outside at the wrong times.

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  15. I haven't seen many butterflies here in my garden because it's very shady (although I have seen a few--including a monarch on the Bugbane the other day). But I've seen lots of them during various hikes out in the wild. And they were thick up at our cottage about three weeks ago. They were moving way too fast for my to capture a photo! Yours are incredible.

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  16. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my blog. Looking through yours now and finding a lot of great things. The pictures are wonderful! Looking forward to reading more in the future.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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