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.

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.