The Butterfly Nursery

By Sue Ann Kendall

Today on my lunchtime walk, I was looking for butterflies. I walked along County Road 140 keeping my eyes open. Here are some that I found.

I also saw lots of uncooperative tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails, along with buzzy little fiery skippers, tiny dainty sulphurs, and two gorgeous question marks. They were too busy to photograph. It’s a great time of year for butterflies.

A question mark I saw recently at another part of our ranch.

Hmm, why do I have so many butterflies?

I’ll tell you why we have so many! We let the wildflowers grow! You won’t see so many on fields that have been sprayed to remove broadleaf plants. Luckily, I let the milkweed and it’s buddies grow away. I also encourage the Texas prairie parsley.

It’s yellow.

Today I was looking for butterflies on this plant, Polytaenia texana. I didn’t see any at first. But that’s when I realized there were at least a dozen caterpillars in this one plant.

Nom nom

Well, apparently the black swallowtails that were everywhere in March and April have reproduced.

The earlier instars look like this.

It is so much fun watching the caterpillars munching away. And I’m looking forward to seeing them as beautiful adults later!

The Windy Day and Butterflies in the Garden

by Donna Lewis

Well, we all have felt the strong winds that have been here in Central Texas lately.

Strong doesn’t even begin to describe them. Limbs and trees down, flowers bent over and lots of pollen blowing right into your nose!  That’s the things that bother humans.

So, we think we have problems with it, try being a beautiful butterfly that doesn’t even weigh an ounce.   I watched them all day on Saturday (April 29) trying to land on any flower that wasn’t being blown in every direction. It looked like a tiny helicopter trying to land on a small pad. The poor things. I tried to get photos, but 9 out of 10 pictures were too blurry to use.

Other friends of mine were having trouble also. The Purple Martins were flying in place trying to land on their gourds. No doubt it’s a good way to lose weight and get in shape, if you can do it.

So, when the weather is harsh, we need to remember that we are not the only ones feeling it. 

I also wanted to show you where my garden is right now. I am still waiting for all the seeds I planted weeks ago. Seeds are a great way to save money and get a nice variety of native plants. The last photo I took showed something I have never seen in my garden before.

See if you can identify it?

Remember who you are gardening for…

Cucumbers, Dill, and Surprise Butterflies

by Dorothy Mayer

Last year I had quite a few Eastern Black Swallowtails eating most of my dill. I was okay with that, as almost all of my cucumbers were too bitter to can. The weather got too hot too fast for my cucumbers. So, I was disappointed not to be able to can any pickles last year.

The dill was fine, though, and the beautiful butterflies loved it and laid lots of eggs underneath the leaves. When the caterpillars got big enough, I put them in my butterfly house along with a bunch of dill and watched until they all got into a chrysalis. A few did come out & looked healthy. They flew good so I assumed they were healthy.

However, I had three chrysalis that didn’t look right but, I just left them alone. I figured after numerous freezes that they were all dead in there. (I had my butterfly incubator on the back porch where it’s not heated nor cooled.)

Nope. One by one those butterflies managed to come out, and we got to watch them fly away, which was just super fun and amazing. I plan to plant a ton of extra dill this year and try that again. I think it’s a great activity for a learning experience for children and adults alike.

So please, don’t put chemicals on your plants, because you will kill “good bugs” with the “bad bugs.” Poison doesn’t discriminate. It kills ALL bugs and possibly birds, too, as birds eat the insects and feed them to their babies.

Happy Spring Everyone.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

by Donna Lewis

This little beauty was traveling fast across our back pasture. It took me about 45 minutes to catch up with him to get a photo.  I am not fast anymore.

This is a male Tiger Swallowtail. All the males in this species are yellow.  The females can be yellow or black.  his second color form is called dimorphic  coloration.

These guys are fast. If you sneak up behind them while they are on a flower you can get a photo.

Right now, there is nothing flowering in my garden. He was on a Hen-bit in the pasture. Not much nectar anywhere right now. One of the flowers they like that is easy to grow are Coneflowers. I think the ones in my garden are still underground. I hope this guy can survive until more flowers are up.

The Swallowtail is known to gather at mud puddles sipping the salts and minerals they need for reproduction. When the caterpillar first appears, it looks like bird droppings. Icky, but helpful in evading predators. We will probably not see their chrysalis because they lay their eggs in treetops. I am just not tall enough… 

This butterfly is so beautiful as it flows across the pasture.

Right now, the butterflies of all kinds are waking up, so keep an eye out for them.

Just when the caterpillar thought its world was over…it became a butterfly.

Happy Winter Weather

by Donna Lewis

Is it December?  Maybe I missed something somewhere.  This warm weather is not only messing up my trying to figure out whether I wear sweatpants or shorts, but it has a real effect on the wildlife and plants.

I have hundreds of Gulf Coast Fritillaries coming awake when they should be over wintering snug in their chrysalis forms.

So… Why is this not good for them? Look outside, there are very few, if any, nectar plants for them.  Hardly any wildflowers are in bloom and our own gardens have gone to sleep as they should.  All we can do is watch, learn, and wait for Mother Nature to do her thing.

The birds that are here in Central Texas are also wondering, hello, what is going on?

While warm weather helps them have more insects to eat for this time of the year it also causes them to think about mating and producing a new family.

Bad idea.  If they do that, the cold weather will finally arrive and kill the eggs.

Confusing for sure.

Now, let’s also not forget as we prepare for the winter to come, that we can do a few things to help our friends out.

Extra seeds, mealworms, water, and shelter like old limbs and falling leaves are some things that we can provide.

And of course, leaving some land natural, as it was originally, is what they need.

I have included some photos I just took this week showing some of the chrysalis on our front porch.  I see them daily emerging into beautiful butterflies.

Remember the wildlife every day.  Nature gives us her best every day.

You become what you believe.

And remember who you are gardening for.