Gulf Fritillary Arriving on Planet Earth

by Donna Lewis

On the morning of September 4, 2021, I got to witness a miracle. 

 On our front porch, a new Gulf Coast Fritillary butterfly hatched. After a few hours it had pumped its wings up and was waiting to dry enough so it could take its place among the other pollinators that are here in Milam County.  What a neat way to start the day.   

New life!

We will need many more of these and other pollinators to help feed the world, and provide beauty for all of us.

Passion flower

The Gulf Fritillary uses the passion vine for its host plant. The female will lay her tiny eggs in the tendrils of the vine. When they hatch, they will eat the leaves and buds until they are ready to go to sleep in a chrysalis and awaken to become the beautiful butterfly we know.

Orange and silver, they are easily recognized. The new butterfly will spend its winters in the most Southern states and in Mexico. It can not survive freezing weather.

While the passion vine is its host plant many of our common summer plants are its nectar choices: butterfly bush, coneflowers, lantana, zinnias, and salvia to name a few.

On a zinnia

So enjoy them while the weather is warm.

Surprise at the Wildscape

by Catherine Johnson

While I was watering and checking milkweed at the Wildscape, I discovered for the first time, Monarch caterpillars. 

Wildscape caterpillar

So many creatures can kill them, and the fowl were roving (it is, after all, a chicken farm). I decided to take them home and raise them in my house. I have done much research on this topic and also took home milkweed stems.

They stayed in a covered container with damp paper towels in a warm bedroom.  I have since received an enclosure and vials.

The enclosure

One baby from my house was added to three from the Wildscape.

Three from the wildscape and the “baby.”

One night the Wildscape Caterpillars formed J’s . Next morning, only one was alive and shaking. My baby was ok. I saw head parts in the paper towels and was relieved to see they had shed their skin for the last time and were now a green chrysalis. I left about 20 minutes and missed seeing the last one turn! 

Shed skin and chrysalis
Chrysalises, through their screen

Baby is still going thru instars. Right before they emerge, I will space them out so they can spread their wings, dry and be released back to the Wildscape. We hope to release hundreds in the future.

Vials and chrysalises

Interesting fact: bigger caterpillars will eat babies emerging from eggs.

Butterflies Are Still Here

by Donna Lewis

Can you believe it is almost what us Texans would consider the end of summer? It is HOT!!! I would like to know when the humidity will go down and the temperatures lighten up just a tad.

Gulf Coast fritillary

For those of you who don’t know me, I hate cold weather. But now that I have matured (a nice way of saying I’m older),  I do like it to be in the middle somewhere, say 70 to 80 degrees with no humidity.

Today as I walked through my garden, there were so many butterflies everywhere trying to find the last flowers of summer that  were still blooming.  I have sulphurs, queens, pipe vines, Gulf Coast fritillaries, black swallowtails, tiger swallowtails and an assortment of small skippers.                             

Swallowtail
Common buckeye (by SA Kendall)

The zinnias are tired and ready to go back  to Mother.  The salvia are looking ragged. The cosmos, mist flowers, sunflowers, daisies , coneflowers and lots more are just pooped out.  Now, the vines are at their best.  Passion flowers, cypress vine, coral honeysuckle, and others like it hot. The milkweed also likes it hot and dry.  I still have some of it, just no monarchs right now. I guess my little beauties will be with me to the end.  I hope they are here a little longer, I love them so.

Drink a little nectar and carry on.

Hot Outside and the Butterflies Love It

by Donna Lewis

I was only able to catch two species because the rest were too fast for me.

The first is a Sulphur ( yellow) butterfly. It’s either a Cloudless Sulphur or a large Orange Sulphur.   Pretty hard to tell.  For sure it like’s my zinnias.

Sulphur butterfly


The next beauty is one of my favorites, it’s a Tiger Swallowtail, the yellow version. Notice it’s on a zinnia also.

Tiger swallowtail on a zinnia blossom


So…I wonder what would be a great nectar plant to put in your gardens? ZINNIAS.  They are so easy to grow and everyone likes them. How easy is that?

Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Roy would have loved this.

Things I Never Saw Before

By Sue Ann Kendall

One of the things I like about being a Master Naturalist is that I have learned to be a more careful observer, wherever I go. I’m happiest that I’ve been entering what I see on our ranch into iNaturalist, because I can see when flowers bloom or go to seed every year, when butterflies arrive, etc. Today’s butterflies included these:

Even though our observations on our own property no longer are approved by the state office, I still observe for my own study and analysis. I have a project where all observations here are stored.

But the public right of way counts!

This year’s been pretty interesting, which shouldn’t be surprising after the weird weather. I’ve been quite surprised to see common plants, like Indian paintbrush, not as prominent, with some new plants popping up.

What’s this white stuff?

One plant we have in super abundance is this annual trampweed (Facelis retusa). It’s really pretty in early spring. Then, when it blossoms, you don’t really see the flowers, just white buds, followed by exuberant star-shaped seed heads.

The little seed fluff sticks out and looks like a flower bud.
Here’s what the plant looks like, with leaves circling up a stem.

I’d never noticed this plant before, and it’s everywhere this year. Now it’s one of my favorites.

They look so cheerful!

Another plant I’d never noticed around here is small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica). It’s another one of those tiny flowers from up high. At first I thought it was that chickweed or something.

Small-flowered catchfly.

Once you touch it, though, you know it’s different. You also know how it got its name. It’s sticky! It could certainly catch a fly. You can see all the hairs in the photos.

Here it is growing with some Carolina bristle marrow, trampweed

The little flowers range from pink to white. I had honestly never seen it before. Did I not notice it or did it come in with floods? Is it something that grows better after a hard freeze or two? I’m sure I just didn’t notice it, even though I’ve been trying so hard to identify everything here!

The third “new” plant I wasn’t even sure of its ID. None of the things that are suggested on iNaturalist really match the way it looks, but since I know plants can differ in color from place to place, labeled it dwarf blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium minus), and hooray, I was right! Linda Jo identified it for me. It’s another tiny little fellow, but it’s really pretty.

Another “new” plant really isn’t new. It’s a pink evening primrose. But I never saw one so white. I thought it was a petunia from a distance.

That’s quite a contrast to the usual ones, though they do come in many shades of pink.

One of the really pink ones. I know we’ve seen them a lot, but still, they’re gorgeous.
Look at all the bugs on this Black-eyed Susans!

There, I hope you’ve enjoyed a small selection of the fun discoveries I make right on the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. I’m so glad I’ve learned so much about nature in this one special place, thanks to joining the Texas Master Naturalist program.

Please join me, Donna, Pamela, Carolyn, and the others who have shared the nature where they live! Send me your pictures and some words, and let’s share the beauty in our part of the state.