Sunday, October 12, 2014

Skipping The Butterflies

It’s been a strange year for butterflies. I noticed it in the spring – there were hardly any butterflies around. It was a cold winter and I thought perhaps they were just slow to get started. With all the talk about the monarch butterfly’s decline, I was anxious to see some winged wonders.

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies are usually common, but I went days without seeing one this year. Talk amongst friends and acquaintances didn’t provide any reassurance that my experience was the exception – a lot of people were missing the butterflies.

Long-tailed skipper
Spring turned to summer and the situation wasn’t much better. However, I noticed that there were a lot of skippers around. Were there more skippers than usual, or did they seem more numerous because of the shortage of butterflies? Without a multi-year scientific study, I suppose I’ll never know. 

One visitor was the silver-spotted skipper and summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) was popular with it.

Skippers are generally fairly small and have a quick flight pattern that very much reminds one of skipping. As a result of paying attention to the skippers, I found at least one that I had never noticed before – the long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus). What a beautiful species it is. The fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) was a frequent guest.

Fiery skipper

Of the few butterflies that I saw, two species were the most prevalent: the gulf fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) and the cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae). 

Cloudless sulphur

The cloudless sulphur is always a late season species for me. They come out just in time to partake of several flowers: cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and my pink turk’s cap hibiscus (Malvaviscus). Both flowers require a long proboscis to get to the nectar (both are also a favorite of hummingbirds).

Occasionally I saw an American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) and a red spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis). I found a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on my spicebush (Lindera benzoin) so there had to be one of those.  A pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos) flew through.  

I did identify a couple of new ones: sleepy orange (Abaeis nicippe) and summer azure (Celastrina neglecta).

Sleepy orange

Summer azure

By mid-summer a few more Eastern tiger swallowtails came through, but only one at a time – nothing like the group of seven that I saw last year on the lantana at the front entrance (only fritillaries were there this year). Not seeing a monarch was not unusual, but I was pleased to find evidence of two within walking distance of my neighborhood, the second one only yesterday.

A fellow north Georgia blogger made an interesting observation: “I've noticed over the past few years that each year one species of butterfly seems to have a banner year in my garden.” For her, this is the year of the fritillaries.

I have been enjoying pictures of Georgia butterflies from afar with the Facebook page for Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch in Eatonton. With an emphasis on abundant nectar and native host plants, they have had a lot of success this year. Inspired by them, I plan to amp up my nectar collection next year.

Well this year is almost in the books. We’ll see what happens next year. I’ll be paying close attention, you can be sure of that.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed the absence or rarity of butterflies this year also. Some of the later summer species that you see are immigrants from further south: Gulf Fritillaries, Cloudless Sulphurs, Long-tailed Skippers. Even when they reproduce in our area they cannot survive the winter and their populations are renewed each year by immigrants dispersing out of Florida and/or warmer coastal regions.The absence of species that are resident in the piedmont I can't explain, but find very troubling.