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.

When Do We See the Most Butterflies?

by Sue Ann Kendall

In my personal blog earlier this week, I shared photos of a lot of butterflies I’ve been seeing around Milam County. One of our readers, who is also a follower of this blog, expressed surprise that we see so many butterflies in the autumn. She also wondered where the butterflies came from. Were they here all along or are they migrating through? It got me to wondering if this was an atypical year or if there are usually plentiful butterflies in early November. And I thought for sure some of the butterflies (monarchs and snouts) migrated but I figured the rest were born here and stayed on to become food for the birds.

So, I went and looked up whether the butterflies we see here migrate or stay here, and what times of year they are seen most. I got all the information off iNaturalist and Wikipedia, and I have lots of links in this post that you can explore.

Gulf Fritillary

Dione vanilla have been seen to migrate twice a year (in Florida). But they only go from south Florida to north Florida. Here is the chart of their distribution here in Texas (from iNaturalist). You can see they are here year-round but peak around the beginning of autumn, when all those yellow flowers are out.

Gulf fritillary appearances

There have been lots of observations around where I live, so they are pretty common, but beautiful.

Common Buckeye

This one, Junonia coenia, I see a lot but only at some times of the year. It’s also seen year round here but has a spring peak as well as a fall peak. I’m getting the idea that autumn is a big butterfly time here!

Common buckeye appearances

These do migrate, but seem to be here all year, because it isn’t too cold, I guess. Here’s what research says:

Common buckeyes move to the south along with tailwinds directed to the north or northwest after the cold fronts from September or October. They are sensitive to the cold and cannot spend the winter in northern regions that will experience extreme cold temperatures. However, they will migrate back from the south during the spring. It was spotted in California in late summer, early fall of 2022.

The butterfly gardener’s guide. Dole, Claire Hagen. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 2003. ISBN 978-1889538587OCLC 52223505.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor is not as common this time of year. It’s also more of a forest butterfly than a prairie one, which explains why I saw it at Tarrin’s – lots of wooded areas near her ranch. This one is also more of a warm-season butterfly. I probably saw one of the last adults for this year. I see lots of observations of caterpillars right now on iNaturalist.

They must not migrate, since I didn’t find any information on that. I do want to note that they need the pipevine plant to lay eggs on, and I found a member of that family at my neighbor Sara’s place earlier in the year. Yay!

Observations near me. The top one is our place.

Queen

Danaus gilippus is most definitely a fall flyer. It’s only found in the southern US and is more common in South America. This one, like the monarch, uses milkweed plants as its host. It sure is pretty.

Queen butterfly sightings

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is another one with two peaks. One thing I’m noticing, though, is that even the ones with a spring peak have a larger one in the autumn. So, that explains something that Louise was asking about: many butterflies seem to be autumnal!

Painted Lady sightings

Painted ladies are the most widespread of all butterflies and are found worldwide. I hadn’t known that! They are resident in places like where I live, but also migrate to northern areas in the summer.

Common Checkered-Skipper

Common Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis) is one I can’t get verified, but the ones I see sure look like the ones in the picture. It doesn’t seem to have been studied as much as many of the others, though it’s really pretty with its blue body and lacy pattern on the wings. And yep, it’s another one that is seen mostly in the autumn.

Checkered skimmer sightings

Variegated Fritillary

Euptoieta Claudia is common in this area. They seem to be prevalent all year except in the dead of winter. I think they’re pretty, too.

Variegated fritillary

They use passion vines as their host, which may explain why we see so many here. I have LOTS of passion vines! They also like disturbed areas and open fields, which we have plenty of around here. They produce multiple broods per year, which may explain the prevalence during all the warm months.

This is such a pretty photo

Dainty Sulphur

Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) is a tiny yellow butterfly, the smallest of the bunch, it turns out. We have lots of sulphurs around here, and they are very busy little fellows, so it’s hard to get photos. This one seems to go away in the hotter months. I do recall seeing them all winter, since we always have something blooming, like chickweed, which is one of its favorites.

Dainty sulphur observations

This one is also white and other colors, so now I know that all those teeny ones I see are the same butterfly. I learned something!

Thank you for holding still

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) is another small one. They are incredibly numerous around here and are very busy little things. I enjoy watching them skipping around. Well, when I read the article on them, it became clear why I see so many! They love Bermuda grass. Guess what all the pastures around here were planted in? Bermuda grass. The beloved coastal Bermuda has pretty much made life difficult for the native grasses around here, but I guess that makes the fiery skippers happy. It makes them a pest in Hawaii, though. I say, eat away, skippers!

I also learned why the butterflies I see that are identified as fiery skippers look so different. They are sexually dimorphic, with the males much brighter than the females. I’m suddenly becoming a butterfly expert as I write this.

Fiery Skipper Sightings

Gray Hairstreak

I am trying to figure out what butterflies I see earlier in the year. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) is one I know I see in spring. Even this one peaks in the fall, though. It’s tiny, but holds still enough that I can get photos. Thanks!

Gray hairstreak
It held still

American Snout

These guys, American Snout (Libytheana carinenta), just migrated through here, so I know they are migratory. But they are most often seen in autumn, like all the others so far. Migrations happen after droughts that are followed by heavy rains, which explains the one last week. The Wikipedia article says sometimes there are so many that they darken the sky. Wow. Funny looking, too.

American snouts

Pearl Crescent

Another beauty, Phyciodes tharos is more of a spring and summer butterfly that’s found all over North America. It’s very common in this area.

Pearl crescent

Hackberry Emperor

Asterocampa celtis is one of the summer butterflies around here, probably because of its ties to the hackberry tree (which we have plenty of). I guess it shows up when the trees start blooming.

Hackberry emperor

This is a weird butterfly. It’s rarely seen visiting flowers (I see it on trees, duh). And it doesn’t pollinate the trees:

Species in the genus Asterocampa are regarded as being “cheater” organisms, since these butterflies do not pollinate flowers when they feed from them. This species can more accurately be described as parasitizing their hosts and plant food sources since they extract nutrients without providing any benefits to the host.

Neck, Raymond W. (1983). “SIGNIFICANCE OF VISITS BY HACKBERRY BUTTERFLIES (NYMPHALIDAE: ASTEROCAMPA) TO FLOWERS” (PDF). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society37 (4): 269–274.

How about that?

It’s on a tree

Eastern Giant Swallowtail

I’ll stop with Papilio cresphontes, since I finally found one that isn’t most common in the autumn. This one is more of a summer butterfly. It’s always great to see one of these gracefully flitting around.

Giant swallowtail

This is the largest butterfly in North America, so I’ve shared with you both the largest and the smallest today! The caterpillars are pests to citrus growers, but they are just beautiful sights as far as I’m concerned.

Monarch

I lied about stopping. I forgot to stick the monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in my original post, figuring everyone already knows all about them, but since I have all kinds of delicious milkweed on my property for them to enjoy, I figure I’d better share their data, too.

Monarch sightings

As you can see, these are butterflies of summer, but you’ll still see a few of them at other times of the year. They are famous for migrating, but not all of them do so, thus the sightings at other times of the year. And did you know these were the first butterflies to have their genome sequenced? Yep. Also, did you know how to tell males from females? Males are larger and have a spot on a vein on each hindwing. I guess mine’s a female, or you can’t see the spot when the wings are folded.

I’m very lucky, because the only time I ever went to the interior of Mexico (it was for work), our hosts drove us the long way to Valle de Bravo, where we were meeting, so that we could drive through the mountains where the monarchs stay in winter. If you go around noon, they drop to the ground to feed, and we got to see hundreds and hundreds of monarchs floating down. We had to drive slowly to keep the butterflies safe, and there were men with flags that said “Mariposas – Despacio” (butterflies – go slowly) at the entrance to the forest. This was in the early 2000s, so there were way more monarchs than there are today.

Conclusions

From what I’ve looked at, it turns out that late summer to early autumn is the best time to see butterflies around here. It also appears that most of the butterflies we see in Milam County don’t migrate far, if at all. I enjoyed learning all this, and I hope you get something out of it, too.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

by Catherine Johnson

When? Every Saturday in November from 9-noon.   

Where? Milam Wildscape Project – Bird and Bee Farm – 1369 County Road 334, Milano, Texas. 

What? Nature Days

Come see blooming tall purple asters, red and pink Turk’s cap, white fragrant mist flower, Mexican bush sage, Mexican honeysuckle, forsythia sage, Gulf muhly, and more. 

View this video for a sample of the thousands of pollinators.  We will be giving away free native plants, goody bags for all, bee houses, plus refreshments.

Come tour the garden and share YOUR nature stories with us.

Our garden is never finished, beautiful, and always WILD.

Beautiful Things Still in the Garden

by Donna Lewis

So here we are, summer has gone (except for the warm weather) and fall is trying to make its appearance. After a very dry summer, native plants can still be found in the garden. We do need some rain right now.

I am amazed that there is anything still putting out flowers at all.

The leaves are starting to fall. You will be tempted to rake it all up, so your garden looks neat. Don’t do it! Those leaves and pine needles are the blankets that Mother Nature puts on her children. She is saving plants for next spring and tons of butterfly larvae.

Remember neatness is in the eyes of the beholder.

Here are some things that I took photos of today (10-26-2022) in my garden here in Central Texas.  You might be surprised at what I saw. There were many more, but I was not fast enough to catch them with my camera. I was still very happy that I got to see them.

  • Monarch on Mist Flower
  • Monarch underside view
  • Skipper Butterfly
  • Fiery Skipper Butterfly
  • Queen Butterfly
  • Clouded Skipper Butterfly
  • Common Eastern Bumble Bee
  • Clouded Sulphur Butterfly
  • Gulf Coast Fritillary

So remember next spring when you plant for pollinators, these are the creatures you’re helping.

Remember who you are gardening for.

Searching for Pollinators or How Many Butterflies are on This Bush?

By Carolyn Henderson

The annual Texas Pollinator BioBlitz is on! Participants search for, photograph and post photos of all pollinators and what they pollinate during the month of October. There are a few places to post the photos, but the primary location is iNaturalist – my media of choice. Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist and other studiers of pollinators and their source of food use the data to assess the viability of the insects. 

I started my quest on Sunday. I was headed out to some friends’ place to check the Green Antelopehorn Milkweed which was abundant in May. I stopped at the Triangle Garden in front of Cameron Elementary School because it was full of a variety of blooms. The garden was started and is maintained by the Little River Basin chapter of Texas Master Gardeners. Because it is cultivated, I can’t use the flowers as post of pollinator food, but I can use what lands on them. I felt like I had hit the motherload of butterflies. 

I was surrounded by Monarchs (at least 10), Queens, Gulf Fritillary, Pipevine Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper (or Southern Broken Dash – I’m still not sure), Painted Lady, and even a few Giant Tiger Swallowtail. Add in Eastern Carpenter Bees, plenty of honeybees, a few Bumble Bees, and something I think is a Snowberry Clearwing. I’m also pretty sure a saw a couple of Hummingbirds, but they moved too fast to identify. I took many, many photos. And none of them worked. I was upset. It was my fault. I’d done something wrong with my new fancy camera. They were all washed out. Of course, I didn’t know this until I got home. 

To make it worse, when I arrived at my friends’ place, the Antelope horn Milkweed was gone. The total lack of rain and excessive heat had done them in this summer.  I did get photos of Great White Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs, and thousands of American Bullfrogs. The Bullfrogs are hanging out in mass around the edges of a rapidly shrinking small lake. They look like little balls of mud from a distance but move in mass when startled. One verifier on iNat even gave them a “Wow!” for the sheer number of them. I did get a photo of “Swamp Smartweed” which was covered by honeybees. It’s a source of pollen on my quest.

Not to be deterred, at lunch on Monday, I went back to the Triangle Garden, and all the butterflies had waited for me to come back and take photos of them. I got most of them, but not all. On Tuesday, most of them were still there, and the Pipevine Swallowtails were getting full, I think, because they actually sat still for a few seconds at a time, so I could get clear pictures of them. 

If you want all these butterflies to stop at your place next fall on their southern migration, I advise planting Gregg’s Mist and maybe a little Tropical Sage. The Queens, Gulf Fritillary and Skippers stayed only on the Gregg’s Mist. The Monarchs also stayed there mostly. One was interested in a lantana. The Pipevine Swallowtails like the Tropical Sage and Gregg’s Mist. The bees were less picky. Of course, if you want Monarchs to lay eggs at your place, you’ll need milkweed. That’s the only thing their caterpillars eat (according to current general consensus).