Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Year of the Fritillaries

I've notice over the past few years that each year one species of butterfly seems to have a banner year in my garden. I'm not sure why because all the elements are here for each stage of a number of butterfly species to thrive. Basically it isn't for lack of food. Perhaps it is the change in weather, perhaps an increase in predators, or perhaps they just naturally have boom years in their populations.

In 2012 we had tons of black swallowtail butterflies. I recorded 20 black swallowtail caterpillars on one bronze fennel plant in the spring of that year and we continued to host them on the fennel and parsley plants from spring to fall (you can see photos here). This year the fennel, parsley and golden alexander have been barren. Last year we saw record numbers of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. They were everywhere! They host on the tulip popular trees which grow in abundance on our property as well as black cherry.

This year was slow getting started, I suspect due to our cold, wet winter but once it started the fritillaries dominated the garden. We have masses of orange butterflies fluttering all over the garden and it is a beautiful site!

gulf fritillary on passiflora vine

We have two species of fritillaries here in North Georgia, the gulf fritillary and the variegated fritillary. Both host on passiflora vine (aka maypop) and the variegated will also host on violas. We have masses of passionvine growing around the garden. It has happily self seeded in various locations. It makes a great ground cover but is even more stunning as a climbing vine. Check out the fruit, which thanks to the busy carpenter bees, make this happen.

passiflora fruit

There are hundreds of caterpillars munching away at the leaves. Sometimes the caterpillars even find it necessary to crawl over the blooms when they get in the way.

two instars of gulf fritillary caterpillars
two instars of gulf fritillary caterpillars on passion vine

variegated fritillary caterpillar on passiflora bloom
variegated fritillary caterpillar on passion vine bloom

The vines are a bustle of activity all day long. Bees, butterflies and all varieties of pollinators are visiting the blooms, caterpillars crawl from one leaf to the next, sometimes it is a race to see who gets there first;

two gulf fritillary caterpillars
two gulf fritillary caterpillars crawling tandem

three instars of fritillary caterpillars
three instar stages of fritillary caterpillars

Our house seems to be one of their favorite places to go to form their chrysalis. It looks a bit like Christmas with the caterpillars and chrysalises hanging from the brick, the door and window frames and patio.

gulf fritillary caterpillar in "J" begining to form chrysalis
gulf fritillary caterpillar hanging in "J" 
variegated fritilllary chrysalis
variegated fritillary chrysalis
Can you believe with all these chrysalis I have yet to witness on of these butterflies emerging? But based on the number of butterflies fluttering around they are having a banner year.

gulf fritillary butterflies mating
gulf fritillary butterflies mating
Have you experienced a similar fluctuation in your butterfly populations? We all know about the perils of the Monarch butterflies. We haven't seen any in our garden since fall of 2012 despite all the milkweed we've planted. I like to document the butterfly activity in our garden as it helps me analyze the habitat and be a better observer. I ask myself are there certain times of year where we are lacking nectar sources? Are there enough host plants? Are there enough overwintering sites available (leaf litter, bark, wood, etc.)? Are there new or an increase in predators? Fall is the best time of year to address these issues and I know I will be doing some more plant shopping over the next few weeks. I'm sure the butterflies will be even happier next year!

14 comments:

  1. It would be an interesting exercise to track butterfly populations from year to year. I noticed more Monarchs this year (though not that many) and fewer black Swallowtails. I looked back through a few other posts and I really like the Button Bush. I almost bought one this spring and wish now I had.

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    1. Jennifer, I definitely recommend getting a button bush. They are fabulous attracting all types of insects and they have such cool looking blooms. Definitely a talking point for a garden. I am glad to hear you had more Monarchs...that is encouraging!

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  2. You are lucky having so many butterflies in your garden, I suppose you have the right kind of environment for the right kind of plants they want. In my garden I seem to attract more bees than butterflies, and this summer has been an especially good year for the bees, there’s been absolutely loads.

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    1. I am learning to identify all the different native bees in my garden. There are so many! I think bees are much more efficient pollinators than butterflies but I still love having them flutter around!

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  3. How wonderful, Karin! I recently found out that there is at least one Passionflower species that can survive in zone 5. I must try to grow it next year! There's something special about Fritillaries--I don't know what it is... the way they sparkle in the sun or something. I saw many of them this summer during our hikes. And, yes, I have noticed fluctuations in butterfly populations from year to year here, too. Last summer I lost count with the Tiger Swallowtails. This year I saw very few in my garden, while I lost count of the Monarchs. I had never before seen a Giant Swallowtail before, and saw several in the garden (as well as cats during our hikes) this summer. Red Admirals were prevalent this summer, as well. Great post. :)

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    1. I would love to know the species of passionvine that survives zone 5 so that I can share it with my sister who lives in Michigan. I think she would love to add this to her garden. Glad to hear you also had more Monarchs this year. And, awesome that you got a giant swallowtail. It is so exciting to discover new species in your garden at the butterfly/moth or caterpillar stage!

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  4. Interesting! I haven't been up here in my Northern garden long enough to know the patterns of butterflies yet, but this year we also had tons of Fritillaries (and sadly no Monarchs either.) In fact, Fritillaries probably made up 75% of the butterflies I saw. I wonder if the cool weather had increased the number of violas, which in turn increased the number of Fritillaries. I've been seeing violas popping up everywhere up here. Great post!

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    1. Interesting that you experienced the same thing up North. The violas definitely hung around longer into early summer this year and they are already blooming again. I love violas...they do travel in my garden and show up in the most unlikely spots.

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  5. Karin I still have noticed seasonal changes in populations by species. I'm going to answer all of the above..he he. I've noticed the monarch populations have been larger this year which is great. They still however feed on my noxious honey dew milkvines, so I have to be careful when removing the vines. I have a few new varieties of Fritllaries this year but have not spent the time to ID. Only one buckeye this year and a few Tiger Swallowtails to brag about when my grandkids were here. Thanks for the vine, he he.

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    1. Good to hear that your Monarch population is larger this year! I've been hearing that from others that are in their migration path so maybe there is some glimmer of hope for them! I look forward to seeing your new varieties of fritillaries...they are such an interesting family. I'm on the lookout for buckeye too...usually see them in the fall but so far I haven't spotted one.

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  6. Beautiful pictures! This year we had more monarchs and swallowtails and also a single sighting of a fritillary in our garden for the first time. Maybe I need to grow myself a passionflower vine.

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    1. That is exciting! Beth, mentioned there is a passiflora that grows up in your zone so definitely check it out. The more host plants you have the more butterflies!

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  7. Except for last year with no Monarchs, I think the only time we didn't have many butterflies around was during drought years, when they moved down to the creek. It ould also be that I'm not very observant. We always have a lot of Tiger Swallowtails because we have so many tulip poplars and red maples around.

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  8. Karin I am always amazed at the butterflies that show up in your garden in large numbers...I saw some fritillaries this year for the first time but oh my look at yours...I especially love the variegated fritillary chrysalis...it is like a stained glass work of art.

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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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