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BUTTERFLIES AT A FEEDER?

     For years, I have fruitlessly tried to attract butterflies to a feeder.  During that time, I would occasionally see a red-banded hairstreak, cloudless sulphur, or American snout perched on a hummingbird feeder.  However, I was never convinced any of these butterflies were actually feeding.

      I have even hung specially designed butterflies feeders in my gardens.  Much to my chagrin, the butterflies ignored them too.  Then, for reasons I do not understand, during the past week cloudless sulphurs have been feeding regularly at one of my Perky Pet Four Fountains Feeder. 

       It all started about a week ago.  While working in my office I noticed a single cloudless sulphur obviously nectaring at one of the feeding ports on the feeder.  When I spotted a single cloudless sulphur feeding at the feeder during each of the next two days, I realized that this was not an accident; a butterfly was selecting the artificial flower as a source of food.

       The next day, when I walked to my office, I was greeted to the astounding sight of seven cloudless sulphurs actively feeding at the feeder.  I have seen at least that many cloudless sulfurs feeding there every day since.

       I find it interesting that whenever a hummingbird shows up to feed, the cloudless sulphurs scatter.  However, within minutes of the hummingbird flying off, the cloudless sulphurs return and resume dining.

       I cannot explain why the butterflies are feeding at this feeder.  I have used it for a number of seasons and never saw a single cloudless sulphur visit it.  In addition, cloudless sulphurs have been feeding each day at zinnia, Turk’s cap, scarlet sage, and lantana plants.

       Obviously, I have a lot to learn about the feeding habits of the cloudless Sulphur.

THE MONARCH IS BUT ONE BUTTERFLY THAT MIGRATES

        The plight of the monarch has focused our attention on the annual fall migration of this gorgeous black and orange butterfly. Since the butterfly’s population has plummeted some 90 percent, backyard butterfly watchers are keeping a close eye on the numbers of monarchs that flutter through their backyards each spring and fall.  While this epic event it taking place, the largely unrecognized migration of a broad mix of other butterflies is also taking place.

       Would you believe that well more than a dozen other butterflies that you are apt to see in your Georgia backyard also migrate? 

       Here is a list of some of these amazing insects: American lady, painted lady, common buckeye, red admiral, cloudless sulphur, little yellow, cloudless sulphur, sachem, question mark, fiery skipper, mourning cloak, gulf fritillary, long-tailed skipper, ocola, queen, and American snout.

       By far, the monarch stages the longest migration of all North American butterflies.  This migration can measure some 2,500 miles in length. The migrations of other butterflies that visit our backyards are much shorter.  In addition, all the while monarchs are winging their way south, some butterflies such as the fiery skipper and some cloudless sulphurs are actually flying in the opposite direction.

       The migrations of most of these other butterflies is so subtle you would never notice them until one day you wonder where all of the American snouts, gulf fritillaries and others have gone, while the numbers of individuals of other species such as the painted lady have increased.

       However, migration cannot account for all of the fluctuations in butterfly populations that take in our backyards at this time of the year.  Since most of our butterflies are sedentary, as days get progressively shorter, they simply do not produce any more generations (flights).  Most butterflies overwinter as an egg or pupa. 

       Aside from the monarch, the most obvious migration we are likely to witness in this neck of the woods is that of the cloudless sulphur.  Using the sun as their compass, migrating cloudless sulphurs fly approximately twelve miles a day. 

       During this time of year, cloudless sulphurs are drawn to the red blossoms of Turk’s cap growing in my yard.  They are also fond of scarlet sage, pineapple sage, and zinnias.

       One major difference between bird and butterfly migration is that the same birds that were raised and fed in our yards this year might return next spring.  However, none of the monarchs, cloudless sulphurs, red admirals and other migrating butterflies that graced your property this spring and summer will ever return.

       While we measure the lifespan of birds in years, the average butterfly lives no more than a month or less. Consequently, the butterflies that appear in our backyards the following year are ancestors of those that nectared at our flowers this year.

       During the next few weeks, I hope you will see many monarchs in your yard.  If you do, that might be a sign monarch populations are on the rebound.  However, don’t forget to look for those other backyard butterflies that also migrate.  Although they will never grab the headlines like the monarch, they are truly fascinating members of our backyard wildlife community and very much deserving of our attention.

      

BACKYARD SECRET: Coneflowers Are Great For Wildlife And People Too

        The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized.  It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.

       Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers.  However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance.  It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments.  For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.

       While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife.  This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard.   In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes.   In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard.  Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.  

CONTAINER GARDENS ATTRACT WILDLIFE

        If you would like to attract wildlife to your backyard, but do not have a lot of space, time or equipment, consider planting wildlife friendly plants in containers.

       This year, my wife planted eight containers with a variety of flowers in hopes adding some color to our deck and food for some of our wildlife neighbors.  The results of her efforts have exceeded our expectations.

      Before I get started, I would like to tell you something about our backyard.  We have a fairly large backyard in which over the years we have planted a multitude of ornamental and native plants.  These plants have enhanced the beauty of our yard as well as provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food throughout much to the year.  These plants range from host and plants for butterflies and moths, nectar plants for wild nectar feeders and seed and berries-producing plants for birds and other wildlife.

       As you can see, we did not have to resort to container gardens to attract wildlife, however, we were captivated with thought of being able to observe and photograph wildlife without having to leave our deck.

       This year my wife planted eight containers with scarlet sage, lantana, zinnia, black-eyed susan, and cosmos.  Since she has a green thumb, all of these plants have flourished creating a kaleidoscope of color. As the blossoms produced by these plants increased, so has the  wildlife visiting them.

       On any given day, we can sit on the deck and enjoy the comings and goings of bumblebees, American ladies, eastern tiger swallowtails, pipevine and spicebush swallowtails, nothern and southern cloudywings, gulf fritillaries, Horace’s and zarucco duskywings, pearl crescents, common buckeyes, as well as fiery, long-tailed, silver-spotted, fiery, clouded, checkered, ocola and dun skippers, to name but a few. In addition, ruby-throated hummingbirds make forays to the plants throughout the day.  Just this past week, as I sat beneath the umbrella shading a patio table, a ruby-throated hummingbird fed at Scarlet sage blossoms just four feet away.  Suddenly out of nowhere, another rubythroat flew in and chased the feeding bird away.

       Close encounters with butterflies and hummingbirds are commonplace.  In addition, the flowers have provided terrific opportunities to study wildlife close at hand without the aid of a pair of binoculars. 

       In addition, we have taken untold close up photos of butterflies, bees, and other nectar feeders attracted to our container gardens. 

       Creating these mini gardens has provided our wildlife neighbors with an abundance of food, and allowed us to gain a better appreciation of those critters that live just outside our backdoor.   Believe me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

THE UNCOMMONLY BEAUTIFUL COMMON BUCKEYE

       Like it or not, whenever somebody mentions the common buckeye, unless you are familiar with this backyard butterfly, it is easy it as being drab.  This is unfortunate since it is truly uncommonly beautiful.

       The common buckeye is medium sized with a 1.5-2.7-inch wingspan.  Males and female look alike, however, females are usually larger, and have bigger spots on the hindwings and broader wings than the males.

       From above, each wing on this brownish butterfly displays white patches and two orange bars, and a large eyespot on each of their forewings.  The hindwings are marked with two eyespots.  The underwings are colored with varying shades of brown and a white band. 

       The common buckeye uses its large eyespots to confuse would-be predators.  For example, often birds will strike at a buckeye’s eyespots instead of its body.  This enables the butterfly to fly away with nothing more than a damaged wing.  The common buckeye ranges across the entire state.  Some common buckeyes can be seen flying about during the winter, particularly in South Georgia.  However, from the Piedmont south, they can be seen most often from March into early November.  Buckeyes are most common in north Georgia from spring to fall.

       Although some common buckeyes overwinter in the warmer sections of the Peach State, this butterfly actually migrates.  Often their migrations are more pronounced along river corridors and the coastline.  In the spring, some migrants actually reach Canada.  In the fall, migrants head south with most wintering throughout Florida and the lower portions of the southern states.

       In Georgia, common buckeyes have upwards of four broods a year.

       The list of host plants used by the common buckeye includes snapdragon, figworts, wild petunia, plantains, and false foxglove.

       Since this uncommonly beautiful butterfly readily nectars on backyard nectar plants, it can add a touch of color to large and small yards across the entire state.

SOME BUTTERFLIES JUST CANNOT WAIT

         Like a growing number of other backyard wildlife enthusiasts I am incorporating native plants into my home landscape. To date, I have been pleased with native plants I have introduced that produce seeds, fruits, berries and/or nectar for my wildlife neighbors.  I wish I could say the same for two caterpillar host plants—passionflower and spicebush.  My problem with them is two of the butterflies that lay their eggs on them do so long before the plants can become established. 

       This problem first cropped up several years ago when I tried to grow passionflower in my yard.  After vainly trying to grow the plants from seeds, I planted young plants.  Much to my delight the plants did well and soon slender passionflower vines inched their way up a nearby fence. 

       One day when I went out to look at my rapidly growing vines I spotted a number of spike-covered orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillars munching on the vines’ tender leaves.  At first I was thrilled that gulf fritillaries were using my plants as hosts for their caterpillars.

       My delight soon changed to concern when it became the insatiable caterpillars quickly devoured every single leaf on the vines.  They then proceeded to eat the vines down to the ground.

       Although my crop of passionflower leaves was exhausted for that growing season, I was hoping the plants would come back the following year.

       The next spring I kept looking for the passionflower vines to emerge from the ground.  When this did not happen I realized the caterpillars had destroyed the plants the previous year.

       This problem resurfaced when I transplanted a healthy four-foot tall spicebush in my backyard last year.  Aided by frequent watering, the small shrub grew well. Much to my surprise, in 2017 I did not see a single spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on the plant.

       This spring the tree sprouted a meager crop of fresh green leaves. Eventually, I notice a number of folded-over leaf shelters on the leaves.  This was a sure sign tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars  were hiding beneath their green leaf shelters.  In a matter of days, these voracious caterpillars ate every single leaf on my spicebush.  I was hoping I was not facing a replay of my experience with passionflowers.

       My fear that caterpillars had once again destroyed a host plant in my yard was alleviated when I noticed small green buds had appeared at the shrub’s woody base.  Perhaps I still had a chance to save the plant.

       I decided the best thing I could do to save the shrub was to somehow prevent female spicebush swallowtails from laying their eggs on the few newly-sprouted leaves.  With that in mind, I have wrapped a small piece of bird netting around the base of the plant in hopes spicebush swallowtails will not be able to extend the tips of her abdomens through the netting far enough to lay their eggs on the new leaves; only time will tell whether or not my efforts will prove successful.  

 In the meantime I am checking the shrub daily to see if my efforts prove to be successful.  I also want to make sure a snake doesn’t become entangled in the netting.

If it works, I might just try to plant passionflower again.  In the meantime, I just wish butterflies would be a little more patient.

       If you have discovered a solution to this dilemma, please let me know.

THE EASTERN TAILED-BLUE BUTTERFLY IS A PETITE BEAUTY

Although the eastern tailed-blue is one of our most beautiful butterflies, it is often overlooked simply because it is so small.  This butterfly is about the size of the fingernail on your little finger (0.75-1.0″).

The wings of the male are powdery blue on top. On the other hand, the topsides of the females’ wings are brownish- gray.  The undersides of both the male and female’s wings are silvery gray and speckled with dark spots.  The hindwings of both display one or two orange and black spots near the trailing edge of their hindwings.  In addition, a short thread-like tail extends beyond the border of each hindwing.  Since these tails are so fragile, they often break off.

       Eastern tailed-blues are weak flyers are spend their entire lives within a few feet of the ground.  Consequently, if you are not looking for them, they often go undetected.

       Eastern tailed-tailed blues commonly visit flowers in our backyards.  However, they also inhabit fields and abused landscapes.   

       The list of host plants for this butterfly includes beggarweed, bush clovers, and clovers.

       The eastern tailed-blue can be seen throughout the state. This petite butterfly annually produces several generations (flights).  However, the best time of the year to see this butterfly is from March into October.

       Currently the eastern tailed-blue is the most abundant butterfly flying about my neighborhood.