Fluttering into September

Keeping a monthly summary of what kind of butterflies are flying in and out of the garden is a good idea, and Cathy over at Words and Herbs already does just that.  Each month she documents a summary of the regulars, the newcomers, and the rare surprises.  This month I tried, and although neither my patience nor my camera skills match hers it’s still nice to give it a try!

monarch on buddleia

I would bet the Monarch butterfly is North America’s favorite. Here it is catching the last of the white buddleia.

The one butterfly which swarmed this year were the skippers.  There were dozens flitting around the front garden, and although they may not be the flashiest they do seem to have a character all their own.

skipper butterfly on verbena

Skipper butterfly (I have no idea which kind) sipping nectar in the verbena patch.

I like to think my garden is relatively butterfly friendly with plenty of nectar plants and plenty of host plants to raise caterpillars on, but the whole idea of gardening with butterflies in mind always struck me as going against every other plant growing principle.  Butterflies are one of the freeloaders of the insect world.  If they weren’t so pretty and entertaining I’m sure most gardeners would focus on getting rid of them rather than putting out the welcome mat.  As youngsters they chew up your plants, and then as adults steal nectar away from the more industrious bees.  Bees at least spread pollen around, but most butterflies (less so moths) have delicate legs and strawlike mouths that just don’t pick up or transfer pollen well.  They fill their bellies up with nectar but the flower still has to sit and wait for a better pollinator to come along.

pair of butterflies

A table for two. I watched this skipper cozying up to quite a few single butterflies. No luck though, as each bloom went dry he left the nectar bar alone.

Freeloaders or not, butterflies are welcome here.  Actually with all the bees and wasps and birds in my garden it’s amazing any make it to adulthood to begin with.  Birds and wasps are always looking for a tasty caterpillar morsel to bring home… although I believe these blue dauber wasps are spider hunters.

giant swallowtail on buddleia

Blue dauber wasps, I think these are one of those creepy predators which immobilize their spider prey, pack them away in a tube with a little wasp egg, and then when the egg hatches the paralyzed spiders are nibbled up alive… yikes.

Butterfly cannot live by nectar alone, and while walking in a local state park I came across these cabbage whites “puddling”.  The damp spot where the butterflies were drinking was suspiciously downhill from the restrooms and their aging plumbing, and I suspect this seepage was rich in the salts and minerals that are otherwise missing from a nectar diet.  Not to paint the butterflies in too gross a light, but rotting fruit and urine are two yummies for a nice puddling party.  To each his own I say.

butterflies puddling

Cabbage White butterflies “puddling” at a damp spot, drinking in salts and minerals.

Also seen at the state park was this one.

butterfly on joe pye weed

Maybe an Aphrodite Fritillary(?) on joe pye weed? This one was also at the park although I’ve seen them in my garden too.

Everyone knows the Monarch, but the swallowtails are my favorites.  In the spring there were a few black swallowtails on the fennel, but the real fancy pants is the yellow Tiger Swallowtail.  This one seems to have run into one too many bird beaks.

tiger swallowtail

I don’t know how long they live, but this tiger swallowtail looks a little worn and ragged. Hopefully he found some energy in the verbena blossoms.

A not-quite-as-yellow as a normal Tiger Swallowtail turned out to actually be a Giant Swallowtail and I was quite pleased.  On the first visit I didn’t get the camera, but when he was back the next day I gave it a go.

giant swallowtail

A Giant Swallowtail, not much different than the Tiger when the wings are up.

If only the breeze would have calmed, maybe I could have had a clear shot, but as it was he kept on fluttering to keep his balance.  I wanted to get a shot of the darker backside to the wings.

giant swallowtail butterfly

This Giant Swallowtail wasn’t much larger than the Tiger, but in much better shape. Too bad he wouldn’t sit still for his closeup.

So there it is, an August summary of some of the fluttering butter which has been passing through.  Wish the shots could have been clearer but I’m just grateful I was able to get the ones I did!  Hope you enjoyed.

19 comments on “Fluttering into September

  1. Christina says:

    You underestimate your abilities with the camera Frank; anyone would have been pleased with the shots you got. I wish I’d been more organised and decided to join in with Cathy too. I always love seeing the different butterflies you have but am always surprised too, that many are the same as the ones here in Europe or at least close family relatives.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina! I’m always my worst critic…
      I had been thinking the same thing about the similarities between these and European butterflies. Birds are usually quite different, but the butterflies share a lot of similarities. There are exceptions and some very local butterflies, but I recognize many of the fritillaries, skippers, and swallowtails. I guess butterflies are much easier to blow around a couple thousand miles than birds are!?

  2. Cathy says:

    Oh yes, certainly did enjoy seeing your butterflies Frank! 🙂 (Thanks for the mention by the way!)
    The fritillaries are so pretty, but very difficult to identify. We get a few different ones here too. And the skippers really do have character with their fat and hairy little bodies. Interesting to see you got so many too this summer. Too bad yours didn’t get the date he was hoping for! 😉 Shame we don’t have Monarchs here. Love your shots of swallowtails. I am still living in hope that I may see one! The sedums are opening now and I hope they will attract a few peacocks and more tortoiseshells.

    • bittster says:

      I bet my frittilary ID is wrong 🙂 I was proud enough to narrow it down to a frit in the first place!
      There’s still plenty of time and I have my fingers crossed some swallowtails will come your way.
      … and who knows, maybe someday you’ll have a Monarch too. On one of my late night internet wanders I was looking into how Monarchs were spreading across the Pacific and showing up in new areas other than North America. Apparently as different sorts of milkweed are introduced to new areas the Monarchs eventually find their way to their host. There’s even a decades old population in southern Spain, which isn’t too far!

  3. Annette says:

    You’ve done a marvellous job, Frank, bravo! I especially love the table for two 🙂 . It’s interesting to see what others come across in their gardens. I didn’t know tha dauber wasps – magnificent creatures.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Annette. The mud daubers are something, so large and iridescent and they twitch their wings in a way that looks halfway irritable and impatient. I’m not anxious to bother them!
      The one character on the table for two was quite the entertaining Casanova 🙂

  4. Chloris says:

    Gorgeous photos of some amazing butterflies. I have never seen anything like that Fritillary, it’ s stunning. A great post, I really enjoyed it.

    • bittster says:

      Thank you Chloris, that’s my best compliment for the day!
      The fritillary is a beautiful butterfly isn’t it? The patterns on many of these butterflies are truly amazing.

  5. I’ve had a lot of cabbage whites in my yard, and a few yellow swallowtails. I’ve seen only one Monarch this year so far, but now that the zinnias are blooming, maybe I’ll see some more. I feel like this has been a better year for the butterflies than last year was.

    • bittster says:

      I think this is a better year too. Last season seemed to never take off until really late, and by that time it was too late…. and mostly it was just cabbage whites.
      I’ve been getting a few monarchs now, but I’m not sure if they’re headed north still or going south already.

  6. Amy Olmsted says:

    Great photos! Butterflies are so hard to get a clear shot of! I’ve been seeing so many frittilaries (I think)…and on my last two bike rides there were crowds of them feeding on piles of dog poo!! Yech! so your theory of the minerals sounds about right.

    • bittster says:

      Yummy. We sure do paint the world with our own imaginary impressions. Sometimes the real world is a lot different than we’d like to think!
      Reminds me of a commercial where the dog is running wild outside, comes in, drinks out of the toilet, and then promptly greets ‘mommy’ at the door with a big wet, toilet water kiss!

  7. Love your photos, Frank. I am glad you encourage butterflies even though you don’t rate them very high as pollinators. I seem to have many more bees than butterflies this year — except for the cabbage whites. I grow lots of milkweed, but don’t have one monarch caterpillar. Very disappointing. P. x

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Pam. How could I not encourage butterflies? They’re such an entertaining part of the garden, but the bees and wasps do seem to dominate this year. I had the pleasure of finding a yellowjacket nest yesterday while mowing some tall grass next door. My bites are still throbbing this morning :/

  8. Great selection of butterflies. This has actually been the best butterfly year I’ve had in a while – though mostly from mid-summer on.

  9. Paula says:

    This is my second year with no Monarch caterpillars in my garden – to bring inside and raise to butterflies. I grow a feast of milkweed and no one comes to the party 😦 I’m glad you found they’re going to other areas of the globe…better than going extinct. 🙂 I had lots of swallowtails last year but not many this year.

    • bittster says:

      I thought it was just me that couldn’t get a single caterpillar… but then again my annual milkweed plantings were a failure (again), and that’s where I usually found the eggs.
      I hope the Monarchs are safe but I’m afraid it will be the massive migration which is lost. This might be the new future where there is just a few dribs and drabs here and there but no huge flood.
      I was reading somewhere that there were no real records of massive migrations until after Europeans colonized and disrupted so many acres of land. Maybe it was never a stable phenomena to begin with? I miss them though, and the flop is definitely not a natural phenomena.

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