Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sometimes you take what you can get

Late fall the weather can be a bit tumultuous. It can be sunny and warm or downright frigid. We've had both in the last week. Arctic like temperatures blew in and several nights of below freezing temperatures put an end to all the fall blooming flowers. It seems early in the season for it to be this cold but nothing surprises me anymore. All this chill was followed by a several days of gloom and rain. Blah!

But why am I going into all this dreary detail about the weather? Because, after all the freeze and rain, we had butterflies. Yes indeed, BUTTERFLIES fluttering around the garden searching for nectar sources and warming their bodies in the leaf litter and on rocks. At first I had to blink twice, thinking I mistook a falling leaf for a butterfly (does anyone else do this?) but you can't mistake the bright yellow of a cloudless sulphur or the intense orange of a gulf fritillary.


These are truly amazing creatures! During rainy weather butterflies will perch on the underside of a leaf or crawl deep between blades of grass and wait. When temperatures drop below freezing they will find crevices in structures such as holes in trees, or hunker down deep in leaf litter. When the weather warms again and they bask in the sunshine they will flutter.


But after the freeze there are very few nectar sources. Poor butterflies take what they can get from the spent blooms. Just look at the skipper above searching for nectar in an azalea bloom after the freeze.


Violas are one of the few plants still blooming in my garden right now.


I decided to put out some supplemental food for these butterflies by placing an all natural sponge in some sugar water (4 parts water to 1 part sugar). It is a good idea when setting out a nectar sponge for the butterflies to be sure to place it high enough so the garden helpers (a.k.a. the dogs) don't think it is a delicious treat for them! Yes, Sasha made off with the sponge and Biscuit thought the sugar water was a delicious change of pace from his usual water.


While many butterfly species migrate to warmer climates for the winter some butterflies can live in cold climates where they spend the winter as caterpillars or a chrysalis. This past January we found an American Snout butterfly out and about on a sunny day. You can see my posts here.


To help these butterflies survive the cold, wet of winter in their various life cycle stages be sure not to clean up your garden too much. Leaves, wood, and rocks are places for many insects to find shelter during the winter months. Take care not to remove these sanctuaries especially after all the work of providing host and nectar plants for them during the warmer months. You will certainly see an increase in butterfly populations next year. 

11 comments:

  1. It's amazing how these fragile looking creatures make it through weather that I sure would not want to be outside in! I find it fascinating how they make it through the winter. I'm glad these late butterflies were able to find a few last blooms and a kind gardener to provide some supplements for them!

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  2. I too was out this week with the sugar water for the insects. I saw a Cloudless Sulphur two days ago and we had light snow. It was in the meadow and I had no idea what it was going to eat since all is dry and brown. I still have flowers blooming, but have not seen butterflies here. My garden is like yours, it provides a lot of leaf litter. I leave it until Spring.

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  3. Good advice about the clean up. That's why I wait until spring to do mine.

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  4. It has been strange here. I couldn't believe the amount of birds carrying on yesterday. Most should be gone by now so it seemed strange to me to hear so many.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  5. I'm not surprised you had butterflies--I'd rather be in Georgia right now, too. ;-) But I still can't believe I saw one in Wisconsin last week. I raked all our leaves a few days ago and most of them went into the woods behind our house--perfect warm carpet of habitat for the overwintering chrysalises (sp?). I still can't believe they survive our winters, but some do. Great post!

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  7. Your posts are always full of interesting information. I saw a Sulfur a day after a deep freeze and was pleasantly surprised to see it.


    The two latest bloomers here are willowleaf asters and groundsel trees. The bees and butterflies appreciate them for sure!

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  8. Lucky you with butterflies in November! I like the picture of the cloudless sulphur. In summer I spend a fair amount of time trying to convince myself that the cabbage whites are really pale cloudless sulphurs.

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  9. It is so amazing to have butterflies this late in the season, they are gorgeous though.

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  10. I have a hummingbird feeder out looking for any Rufous hummers, maybe the any butterflies in the area will stop by as well.

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  11. Great reminders as to why we need to be careful in fall and provide for the critters...so wonderful to see you have butterflies.

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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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