Counting Butterflies

This weekend was the North American Butterfly Association's (NABA) Memorial Day Count. This count is a super easy citizen science project to participate in because it simply requires recording the number and type of butterflies you see in an area, such as your own garden. We counted three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in our rural garden we call Southern Meadows. We had mixed weather with periods of warm sunshine (perfect butterfly weather), overcast and then periods of rain showers and storms (not so perfect butterfly weather).

It's still pretty early in the butterfly season in North Georgia. The butterfly populations are just beginning to build. So we're seeing singles and occasionally two of the same species. The good news is that we counted a variety of butterflies this weekend.

Let's take a look...

Zabulon skipper (count: 2) on Gaura

Zabulon skippers like to hang out around streams and moist woodlands and brushy areas. They lay their eggs on a variety of grasses including purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis), which we grow in our garden.

Spring Azure (count: 2) on Oak
Spring Azures are commonly seen this time of year in our garden, often puddling in moist soil. Host plants include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americana), viburnum and blueberry, all of which grow here at Southern Meadows.
Silver-spotted skipper (count: 1) on salvia
The silver-spotted skipper is easy to identify with its gold spots and silver band and is seen here from spring to late fall. These skippers prefer to visit flowers that are red, blue, pink and purple, while avoiding yellow blooms. The females lay their eggs near the host plant leaving the caterpillars to find their own way to the woody legumes, like black locust (Robinia pseudacacia), which grow abundantly here. Another option is false indigo (Baptisia australis) which is a lovely spring flowering perennial in our garden.

Gray Hairstreak on verbena
The gray hairstreak is a dainty butterfly that can easily be missed if one doesn't look closely. Like other hairstreak, blues and azure butterflies, they are some of the smallest butterflies found in our garden. Their flight period ranges from early spring to late fall. They lay eggs on a variety of different plants but prefer those in the pea and mallow families. Their larvae are often found eating the flowers and fruit of legumes and mallows. Be sure to identify caterpillars in your vegetable gardens before considering removing those found on these crops.

Cabbage White Butterfly (count: 1) on Viola
The cabbage white is another butterfly often found feeding in vegetable gardens so it is not a favorite butterfly of many gardeners. Its host is all plants in the Brassicaceae family, which means all cruciferous vegetables. The adults prefer to nectar on dandelions, red clover, asters and mints.

Appalachian Brown (count: 1)

This Appalachian Brown was perched on the side of the house early in the morning. As adults these butterflies don't visit flowers but find nourishment in tree sap and rotting fruit. The host plant for larvae are plants in the sedge family (Carex lacustris) where the caterpillars hide at the base of the grasses during the day and feed on leaves at night.

Pearl Crescent (count: 3) on butterfly milkweed
Another petite butterfly, the pearl crescent, was found in several spots in our garden this weekend but especially on the milkweed.  Butterfly milkweed has become abundantly available in garden nurseries and each year we grow more. Collecting seed in the fall is a great way to save money and spread milkweed with love around your garden. These crescents lay their eggs on asters. Plant asters for great fall color and also to attract these beauties to your garden.

Painted Lady(count: 2)
Painted Ladies are the most widespread butterflies on earth, living on 5 continents. But they can't take freezing weather so they are migratory and repopulate North American each spring. This lady was basking in the early morning sunshine before taking flight. Their host plant is mostly non-woody plants in the thistle, mallow and legume families, in our garden we offer black locust and redbud trees, patridge pea, powderpuff, wild indigo, rose mallow, hibiscus, and vetch.

Great Spangled Fritillary (count: 3)
We saw three gorgeous great spangled fritillary butterflies on the milkweed this weekend giving us a stunning compilation of oranges. This is one of three fritillaries that frequent our garden, along with the variegated and gulf fritillary. Great spangled fritillaries lay their eggs in the fall and the females rarely bother to place the eggs on the violet leaves. When the caterpillars hatch they will drink water but not eat for several months and often don't survive the winter. Fortunately fritillaries are fecund butterflies and lay over 2,000 eggs. The caterpillars are ground dwelling and can be found by inspecting brush near patches of violets.

In total we counted 18 butterflies this weekend. Included in our count but not photographed were an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (count: 1) and Common Buckeye (count: 1). It was a great weekend for butterfly spotting.


  1. That's awesome! I didn't know they did butterfly counts like the Christmas bird count! I would totally do this---much more up my alley!

    1. Yes! I think the next one is around July 4th. Go to their website and sign up for email alerts to keep in the know.

  2. The silver spotted skippers host on Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo bush) and some wild pea-family vines in my yard. One of my most abundant ones here. Some great finds (and great photos) at your place.

    1. They are one of my favorite skippers. That and the long-tailed skippers. Maybe because they are easy to spot with their patterns and coloring but also fun to watch.

  3. Wow, that's wonderful! We are even earlier than you in terms of our butterfly season, but the cabbage whites are certainly out (and so is my netting!). Yesterday, however, I saw a large, yellow butterfly fluttering in the garden - I'm not sure what it was but it resembled a yellow Monarch...perhaps a swallowtail?

    1. It could have been. Did it look like the yellow butterfly in my header? That is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and I do believe they are found in your area. Good idea with the netting in the kitchen garden. Definitely needed if you don't want missing leaves on your veg.

  4. It did look like that - since it didn't land it's hard to be sure but even at a distance, it made me stop what I was doing and just watch it's dance.

    1. Yes, it's not always about seeing insects up close. Sometimes observing from a distance can be equally satisfying. Dancing butterflies never get old!

  5. That's a great butterfly count based on our usual experience. This last weekend I saw 2 red admirals and 1 black swallowtail.

    1. That's pretty good Jason as it's still early in the season. Ironically, I think I saw more butterflies the day after the count, but that's how it is sometimes.


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One of my favorite things about blogging is the conversation with readers. Leave a comment and let's get talking. ~Karin

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