Each year I eagerly await spotting my first butterfly of the year. Living in Middle Georgia my first butterfly sighting usually occurs in February. This year the big event took place February
The first butterfly I saw was a sleepy orange. This was not surprising as the sleepy orange is one of the most common butterflies seen in my Middle Georgia backyard. Unlike most other species, some adult sleepy oranges overwinter as adults. On warm winter days they will emerge and fly about only to return to a safe, dry place once the temperatures drop.
On the day I saw the butterfly, temperatures were in the 70s and it felt more like spring than winter.
This sleepy orange looked somewhat different from the last one I saw last fall. The undersides of the hindwings of those butterflies were bright yellow with brown markings. In contrast, the butterfly I saw was the winter form of the sleepy orange; its underwings were tan.
With warm temperatures forecast for at least the next week or so, coupled with the fact the sleepy orange can be seen throughout much of the state throughout the year, one might just show up in your backyard in the near future.
If you are like me, in spite of the fact it is late November, butterflies are still flying about your backyard. During the past few days I have seen or have had heard of zebra heliconians, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, fiery skippers, common buckeyes, common checkered skippers, pearly crescents and both American and painted ladies feeding in backyards in Middle Georgia.
Remarkably, I still have a few plants that are still providing these butterflies and other wild pollinators with food. However, one of the plants that has proven to be one of the best sources of late season nectar and pollen is a butterfly bush named sky blue (Buddlea davidii).
This is a miniature butterfly bush that anywhere from three to four feet tall and three feet in diameter. This makes it ideal for large and small gardens as well as large pots.
In my area, the plant has extended blooming season from late spring well into late fall. In fact, right now it has as many blooms on it as it has displayed all year.
The purple flowers are both beautiful and fragrant. In fact, the blossoms’ fragrant honey scent is especially pleasing.
It grows in zones 5-9 and does well in a variety of soil types ranging from loam to the clay-type soils found in my yard. It does best in soils with a pH ranging from 5.5-7.0.
This small butterfly bush has been a pollinator magnet for weeks on end. However, its nectar and pollen are perhaps more important to the wild pollinators right now than at any other time this year.
Try sky blue and let me know how it does in your backyard.
I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades. During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.
I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.
Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.
As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders. I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit. However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.
After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon. One visit lasted over fifteen minutes. During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.
Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time. However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder.
I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.
Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between. With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.
A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder. I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.
In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.
One of the most abundant butterflies in my backyard now is the long-tailed skipper. Although this butterfly can be seen through the state somewhere in the state from April through November, I seem to see more around my Middle Georgia home in the fall.
The long-tailed skipper is to identify. The bases of its wings and body are cloaked in long blue-green scales that give them a shaggy appearance. From above, the butterfly’s wings are brown and marked with light-colored spots. When viewed from beneath the wings are decorated with two dark brown bands. In addition, each hindwing is equipped with long tails.
Sometimes, however, you will find what appear to be long-tailed skippers but they lack the species’ characteristic long tails. These butterflies are not a different species; they are simply individuals that have lost their tails to wear and tear.
On cool mornings this time of year, I often seen long-tailed skippers with their wings outstretched with their backs facing the rising sun. This enables them to warm their bodies so they can begin nectaring.
Unlike most other butterflies, long-tailed skippers often feed upside down.
The long-tailed skipper is one of a handful or our butterflies that emigrate. Each fall many of them escape cold weather by flying into Florida.
The long-tailed skipper uses a number of different legumes as host plants. This list includes bean, beggarweed, wisteria and beans.
The zebra heliconian (also known as the zebra longwing) is the state butterfly of Florida. It flies throughout the year in south Florida.
Each year untold numbers of zebra heliconians find their way into the Peach State. Some years these colonists remain in the Coastal Plain. However, this year they have been routinely seen throughout Middle Georgia and points to the north. This summer I have personally received more reports of zebra heliconians than ever before. Many of these butterflies reproduce here in Georgia.
Today I received a call from a woman that lives in Macon. She called to ask me if I knew where she could find some passionflower vines. It seems that she has been hosting zebra heliconians for about a month. Recently she saw a female zebra laying eggs on a passionflower vines growing in her yard. Realizing that her meager vines will not support very many zebra heliconian caterpillars, she wanted to where to find some. It seems she cannot stand the thought of the caterpillars starving to death.
Not knowing the location of any plants, I suggested she check with nurseries that deal with butterfly nectar and host plants.
If you know where she could find some passionflower vines, please let me know. I will pass the information on to this concerned butterfly enthusiast.
Blazing star, also called liatris (Liatris spp.), is one of our most strikingly beautiful native plants. Its tall lavender spikes annually treat us with spires of eye-pleasing color. More importantly, the plant produces nectar and pollen for hosts of wild pollinators.
The plant serves as a food source for bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and moths. However, undoubtedly its most famous visitor is the monarch. Researchers do not know why monarchs are drawn to this plant. However, researchers suspect blazing star produces chemical cues that draw these large orange and black butterflies to their frilly flowers.
Several species of liatris grow in the Peach State. However, even the experts sometimes find it difficult to identify which species they are looking at.
You are likely to find blazing star blooming from summer into fall. Those species that bloom during the monarch migration can be important sources of nectar for the long-distance migrant.
Liatris grows best in full sun in both dry and moist soils.
Gardeners like the fact that blazing star bloom for several weeks. Interestingly, its spikes bloom from the top down.
If you are looking for a stunning addition to your home flower garden, consider planting this hardy perennial. If you do, you will also providing monarchs and other native pollinators with a valuable source of food.
This dark brown and yellow butterfly can be easily identified without the aid of a pair of binoculars. The topside of its wings are dark and marked with bands of yellow spots. These bands for an X near the tips of the wings. The longest band extends from wing tip to wing tip. In comparison, when seen from below, the wings appear predominantly yellow.
The giant swallowtail’s characteristic pattern of flight can also help in identifying this large, colorful butterfly. The butterfly alternately flaps its wings and then glides. In addition, when the giant swallowtail is feeding at flowers it constantly flutters its wings.
Although it is possible to spot a giant swallowtail anywhere in the state, those folks that live south of the fall line have the best chance of seeing it. However, during the summer giant swallowtails might show up in backyards just about anywhere.
The host plants used by the giant swallowtail include wafer ash, prickly ash, trifoliate orange, and Hercules club.