Flower Hill Farm Families of Butterflies from 2014 —
There were many butterflies in the gardens of Flower Hill Farm in 2014 but there were varied species missing too. I missed each butterfly like a dear friend who moves away and will not be around to share the apple blossoms or champagne lunches. For now, I celebrate the butterflies that made it and were on wing within our gardens last season.
The showy swallowtails always stir the currents with their large wings and are easily noted around the lilac blossoms and other flowers by both birds and other observers. After a few days, their gowns are tattered from the numerous strikes of pointed beaks. Torn garments do not suppress their appetites, however, nor do they deter the birds from trying to reach their abdomens.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are by far the most abundant swallowtail butterfly sighted in our gardens in any year. I often see them flitting about in numbers of three to seven. I saw one or two Black Swallowtails and found some eggs to raise. Though I may have missed others, I counted just one Spicebush Swallowtail in the garden last year. A couple or more Giant Swallowtails survived the birds for a few days and their visit awed this gardener.
At first glance a tiger might look to be a giant but with closer observation there are a few differences including the obvious size of the butterflies (which is not so obvious in these images as I am closer to the tiger.) A giant can have a wingspan of up to 4 – 6 1/4″ above a larger abdomen, while a tiger’s wing span is about 2 1/2 – 4 1/2 inches. A tiger wears stripes on her wings and abdomen not found on a giant. It is easy to see the differences in the wing patterns in these still lifes.
There is plenty of native cherry, birch and ash for the tigers. The giant host plants of the citrus family Rutaceae are harder to find. I am not sure the prickly ash will survive our winters but I will add garden rue which also acts as a host plant. These glorious giants are still a rarity in our New England gardens. I have a number of sleeping giants ( I raised last fall) in a cool room in my house and cannot wait to see them eclose this spring.
Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae)
A new species sighted last year — at least new to this butterfly enthusiast. The West Virginia White is not commonly sighted in our gardens.
Where were all the Sulphur butterflies last year? Normally ubiquitous in our gardens and fields, I only caught sight of three or four all year. There was plenty of clover and vetch for the larva to eat but the most common of butterflies was all but absent here in twenty-fourteen. Nothing compares to their bright lemon yellow when backlit by the sun.
I do favor the gossamer-wings even though they are more challenging to discover due to their tiny sizes. Of this family, I particularly love the coppers, hairstreaks, and the delicate blues.
While scrolling though these featured butterflies, milkweed appears often as a favorite source of nectar. Milkweed is important as a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly and it nourishes countless butterflies and other insects along with hummingbirds. For some, their is a high price to be paid for the rich nectar found in the milkweed florets. The Summer Azure butterfly above is carrying heavy (for a tiny butterfly) saddle bags of milkweed pollen. All plants are clever and devise mechanisms to see that their species continues.
Unfortunately, for butterflies and bees the milkweed plant has pollen saddle bags that often get caught on their feet. If too many become attached, the insects struggle to survive. Obviously these sacs are meant to be dropped off into a different floret thereby pollinating the plant. I have seen many butterflies and honey bees wearing more than one pollen sac that clearly did not fall off and help out the milkweed plant. Another fascinating detail of nature to observe.
Hairstreaks can be found all over milkweed florets. This brings to mind the days of sitting at the drug store soda fountain and sipping a milkshake with a friend. These teeny beauties depend on our oaks and hickories for their larva. This year, for some mysterious reason, we only had Banded Hairstreaks in the fields and gardens and even their count was down. Previous years, I had added to my butterfly list the Stripped and Gray Hairstreaks.
During last season, an exciting moment for me was the day I came inside and noticed when looking through my photos that the butterfly I had assumed to be an American Copper was really, a rarer butterfly for our area, the Bronze Cooper and a first ever sighting for me. I only wished I had stayed with the butterfly longer to get more portraits. Can you see the differences? The american has a 7/8 – 1 1/8 inch wingspan to the bronze’s 1 1/4 wingspan and the color patterns are different. Both copper’s larva eat Curled Dock (Rumex crispus.) The American Copper will also eat a rather invasive Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella.)
Brushfooted Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
The most easily noticed missing butterflies were the Brushfooted Butterflies. Where were the Painted Ladies and Red Admirals, the Buckeyes and Question Marks? I know why the monarchs are missing in larger numbers but the other butterflies are more of a puzzle.
One brushfooted butterfly that was prolific last year was the Mourning Cloak. It is hard for me to imagine that this lovely butterfly is sleeping in full butterfly form out in the winter landscape right now. How these butterflies could survive the bitter cold of this winter is a question that concerns me. Hopefully I will see a few flying around when springs finally comes.
Another overwintering butterfly is the Eastern Comma. Twenty-fourteen brought several sightings of these brushfooted butterflies too. It is rare for commas to feed on nectar but the lure of milkweed draws some away from sap and poop.
Common Wood Nymphs were also on wing in good numbers over last summer. I would often see them skipping along through the flowers while I was walking out in the gardens and lucky to catch a few feeding too. It is a joy to have wood nymphs, satyrs, admirals, viceroys, monarchs, and ladies as companions when in the gardens. I love the whimsical names of butterflies.
Skippers were noticeably less in numbers and species last summer as well. There is no butterfly that frustrates me more when trying to identify than the numerous species of skippers. I am never certain. When clicking on the images in the mosaics a slide show will come up with the names of each butterfly. I hope I am correct most of the time.
The itty-bitty 3/4″ golden winged European Skippers are always a delight to see. It can be hard to capture their image as they move about very quickly. Most of the skippers use a variety of grasses as their host plants.
I will have to do some investigative cultivating of my stewardship to determine, if I can, why certain species are absent some years and not others. I have the fields mowed in late fall to keep invasives from taking over but I try to leave areas untouched too. Most of the butterflies listed here are outside beneath the snow in either egg, larva, or pupa forms. It is important to understand where certain host plants are growing and to be sure to leave layers of leaves, twigs and such as they are, for many creatures may be hiding beneath.
Birds and other predators will find hundreds of tiny morsels of life that had hoped to become butterfly and there in is the drama of fauna feeding fauna. It is remarkable how scores always survive. Here’s to a bountiful butterfly season for 2015.