The Butterflies Are Arriving

I caught this male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on a Pin-cushion plant in my garden this Thursday. Every time I see a butterfly I think that this species is my favorite one.

Of course I say that about everyone I see.  All butterflies are amazing creatures.

If you stop and think about it, how could something so colorful and delicate be a real living thing?  Nature can  produce things that we can not.

This butterfly is very large and has an interesting trait that others do not.

The males are yellow, but the females can be yellow or black!  In fact the female can be black on one side and yellow on the other.  I would like to see that..

This is called dimorphic coloration. A pretty neat trick.

Swallowtails come in many forms and names. All will have the “tail” on the bottom.

They live in every state and a few in Mexico.  The ones that are here in Texas like Coneflowers, Petunias, and Zinnias.  Very easy to grow and  good plants to have in your garden.  The Pin-cushion plant that the fellow in my garden is also a good plant to have even though it is hard for them to land on it because it is spindly.  Flowers with a wider platform like Zinnias are easier to land on to have a little sip of nectar.

So be watching in your garden. If you don’t have a garden, plant some colorful pots. Soon you’ll have flying jewels around your home.

New Butterfly for Donna

by Donna Lewis

It was a great day last week for seeing new things in my garden.  It’s a reminder that to see these beautiful living things, you must always be looking for them.

So after I saw the new Black Swallowtail caterpillar , I walked around in my garden and a fast moving butterfly landed right in front of me. I looked down to find something I had never seen!! It was a Julia male butterfly. They are a brush-footed butterfly (Nymphalidae).

Julia Heliconian (Dryas iulia)

This group of butterflies occur worldwide except at the polar ice caps. They are generally some shade of orange, which is  why they are sometimes mistaken for a Gulf fritillary (my second photo), which was on a zinnia at the same time the Julia was. They were both just a foot apart. Lucky for me I was outside with a camera.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Brushfoot butterflies all have reduced fore legs that are useless for walking, hence their name. Butterflies in this group include: Admirals, Fritillaries, Checkerspots, Crescentspots, Anglewings, Leafwings, Painted Ladies, Tortoisehells, and Longwings.

The Julia caterpillars feed on passion flower leaves.

I will look for their caterpillars, now that I have the adult butterfly here.

Keep your eyes peeled Master Naturalists, it’s all out there.

Caterpillar Surprise

by Donna Lewis

Believe it or not I just found this beautiful caterpillar this week, on October 14, 2020.

Eastern Black Swallowtail  (PAPILIO POLYXENES)

It’s not really the time of year I would expect to find it, but here it is.

Also, if you notice this is not the normal color of this species.  It would most often be more green with white stripes and yellow spots.  

It’s black!

Since it was on a fennel plant in my garden, that gave me a hint of what it might be. When I looked it up, it was noted that once in a while this butterfly’s caterpillar is black. I have never seen this myself in my garden. Interesting!

The Pipe-vine caterpillar is the only other species that has the two colors on a regular basis in my area. So the lesson we have here is that the plant has a lot to do about identifying a species. 

I have to say, it’s pretty neat that this caterpillar has the ability to have two different morphs.

Nature has so many surprises.

Plants for Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds in Summer

by Donna Lewis

The summer heat and dry conditions make us wonder… what the heck can I plant that will help the hummingbirds and the butterflies?  And of course, it has to be something that is easy to take care of.

I have found that the Coral Honeysuckle Vine and the Flame Acanthus bush fit the bill. Both are visited by butterflies and hummers.  A two-for-one deal.

The coral honeysuckle is in the back on the fence. In front is our friend the passion vine.

The Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a climbing vine that can also grow as a ground cover. It is ever blooming in some years. It likes sandy loams, clay, and poor soils.

How much better can it get?  You can grow it in the full sun or part shade. It goes great on an arbor or on a fence like I have it.

By the way, this is not the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle.

The flame acanthus is in the rear, on the fence. In front of it are zinnias and Salvia gregii.

The next plant that loves our summers is the Flame Acanthus bush (Anisacanthus quadrifidus). It’s extremely drought tolerant , gets no diseases, and is easy to grow. Again both hummers and butterflies like it.

This bush will die down in the winter. Cut it back in the spring before it starts to green up.

Both of these are great plants for hot and dry conditions. They need no fertilizers and little water once established.

Be adaptable and watch what your garden and wildlife like.   Then your garden will be successful in an ever changing world.

I hope you will always see the wonder and beauty in nature.

The Passion Vine and the Butterflies and Other Creatures That Love It

by Donna Lewis

Most of us have these beautiful vines that come up on the ground, fences, and trellises. So besides being magnificent, who else appreciates them? Butterflies and birds, that’s who.

Passionflowers

The vines only show up when it’s hot.  Pretty lucky for us, because it’s hot here.

The Latin name for the passion vine is Passiflora incarnata. What you may not know is that many of the vines we have here are actually naturalized, not native. You can tell by the number of leaves on them which one they are.

Another view.

If they have five leaves, they originally came from Asia and naturalized here. If vines have only three leaves, they are true natives. Both work well here and are host plants for the Gulf Coast and Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  The vine also provides cover for other insects.

Fritillaries

The Gulf Coast species is orange and black with silver under parts.

Gulf Coast Frittilary

They use the passion vine as a host plant. They love hot weather, so only appear when the vine emerges.  Pretty smart of them.

Gulf Coast Fritillary caterpillar

The second species of Fritillary is the Variegated variety.

Variegated Frittilary. Photo by Sue Ann Kendall.
Variegated Frittilary caterpillar. Photo by @susanmco on iNaturalist.

They also use the passion vine as a host plant to deposit their eggs on.

The Vairegated Frittilary does not have the silvery underwings of the Gulg Coast. It looks more like a dried leaf when it has its wings up. Both Fritillaries appear in the summertime, and will leave when the weather turns cooler.

The passion vine is a great way to cover a large area in your garden. [Suna points out that the fruit is also edible and makes a lovely jelly.]

This vine has five-leaf clusters, so it’s naturalized.

Beautiful and practical!  Perfect.