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Category Archives: Butterflies

Butterfly In My Garden

Around April 5, I caught a glimpse of a butterfly in my garden and ran out to get a closer look. I really couldn’t miss it since it had a wingspan of over 5 inches. It fluttered about my garden rue and then took off over the fence. I didn’t see any eggs just then but a week later there were tiny specks that might be larvae! By April 19, there were four “orange dog” caterpillars of the Eastern Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes. They look like bird droppings to deter predators.

Caterpillar On Rue

I have grown Ruta graveolens since becoming a Dallas County Master Gardener in 2006 and love its blue-green foliage and tiny yellow flowers. Along with various trees it is a host plant of the beautiful Giant Swallowtail larvae. The adults visit my garden every year but these are the first caterpillars I have seen. Photographing the adults is challenging as they are always in motion, fluttering away as they feed.

Then last fall I noticed this mating pair on my Loropetalum bush right at eye level. These are distinctive from the Eastern Black Swallowtail adult in that the and the row of large yellow spots on the dorsal (top) side meet in the middle of the wing rather than near the bottom and the ventral view is mainly yellow.

Eastern Giant Swallowtail Butterflies Mating

As of May 2, the four caterpillars have grown to over 2 inches and should pupate soon. The chrysalis stage is variable but usually takes 10–12 days. I hope to photograph at least one chrysalis and adult as it emerges. With luck they will return to my garden rue to produce another generation in the fall. Bugguide.net states they overwinter as a chrysalis.

Two Caterpillars!

Caterpillar Hosts: Trees and herbs of the citrus family (Rutaceae) including Citrus species, prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), and Common Rue (Ruta graveolens).

Adult Food: Nectar from lantana, azalea, bougainvilla, bouncing Bet, dame’s rocket, goldenrod, Japanese honeysuckle, and swamp milkweed. Here’s one feeding on clammyweed last summer.

 

Eastern Giant Swallowtail on Clammy Weed

Grow Common Rue and you might have these interesting and beautiful garden visitors!

Susan Swinson

 

Have you ever seen a butterfly laying an egg?

Thanks to our own intrepid photographer, Starla, for capturing a rare picture of a butterfly laying an egg.

Black swallowtail butterfly laying an egg on fennel

And here’s the egg-

Look for the creamy yellow egg located on the lower right of the picture

*Eggs are laid singly on the host plants—usually on new foliage and occasionally on flowers. Development time is variable depending on temperature and host plant species, but generally the egg stage lasts four to nine days, the larval stage 10–30 days, and the pupal stage nine to 18 days.

Fascinating!

Ann Lamb

Picture by Starla Willis

*http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/bfly2/eastern_black_swallowtail.htm

Study up on our butterfly garden by looking at the right hand side of the front page of Dallas Garden Buzz under Raincatcher’s Resources for a list of hummingbird and butterfly plants or type butterfly in our search box for a host of articles on butterflies.

 

Monarchs Tagged in Butterfly Garden at Raincatcher’s

October is peak migration month for millions of Monarchs flying through the “Texas funnel” to overwinter in their ancestral roosts in Michoacan, Mexico. As the Monarchs flutter through the Raincatcher’s Garden, we have also had another visitor— one with a butterfly net.

monarch-tagging-ellen

Master Naturalist Ellen Guiling frequently visits the butterfly garden to capture and tag Monarchs. Ellen hovers by the Greg’s Mistflower, then her butterfly net swooshes and snaps to flip the net sock around the circle of the rim to prevent the butterfly’s escape. She gently folds the Monarch’s wings closed in the net then reaches in to hold the butterfly’s body and remove it.  It takes seconds to press a Monarch Watch tag on the discal cell, a spot on the middle of the lower wing.

monarch-tagging

She quickly checks the sex of the captured Monarch. Two small black dots on the veins of the lower wings signal that this male with his pheromone sacks is probably quite the favorite with the lady Monarchs.  Released into the intense October skies, the Monarch flutters back to the Greg’s Mistflower, ready for his trip south.

Male Monarch-see the spots!

Male Monarch-see the spots!

Ellen has tagged about 40 Monarchs this fall at Raincatcher’s.  After recording the date, location and complete tag numbers with other information, Ellen will send her data sheet to Monarch Watch at monarchwatch.org, the organization that helps create, conserve and protect Monarch habitats.   Tagging data by volunteers has been critical in mapping Monarch migration patterns. Scientists study the tagging results to answer unanswered questions about Monarch migration, such as whether migration is influenced by the weather and if there are differences in migration from year to year.

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla

More about Monarchs:

A Monarch Pit Stop

Butterfly Migration

Butterflies at the Raincatcher’s Garden

Dallas Butterflies

 

Globemallow

Globemallow Sphaeralcea ambigua

We didn’t think it would survive in Dallas. Much less bloom. Well, the Globemallow’s exquisite pink flowers triggered gardeners’ squeals—this is a passionate bunch!—last week at the Raincatcher’s Garden.

Globemallow

We planted Globemallow on a whim last year in the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. Most natives from the Big Bend region fail miserably in our dense clay, but this shrubby perennial will tolerate our soil and treat gardeners to “spectacular displays in wet years” according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The combination of purplish-pink 1” cup-shaped flowers and grayish-green scalloped leaves is a show stopper. The most common bloom color, however, is an apricot-orange suggestive of spring quince. If you prefer a color, you might be wise to purchase the plant in bloom.

Steer clear of stroking the leaves. The little hairs can irritate and sometimes cause an allergic reaction.

Plant Globemallow or Desert Mallow in full sun. It will become straggly in partial shade.  It is lovely with grasses or scattered throughout natural plantings.

Elizabeth

Picture courtesy of http://www.wildflower.org

Butterfly Migration

Exciting things are going on at the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills – It’s now Fall and the irrigation is almost done – thanks to many hours of trenching, laying pipe, setting up the drip beds — the children are coming to the garden and exploring the area we have set aside for wildflowers, learning about vegetables, compost and the flowers that inhabit our butterfly areas — And we have had our first sighting of a tagged butterfly!

While out in the butterfly area, a small round dot was seen on a monarch that was feasting on some lantana. After closer inspection with the help of my trusty zoom lens on my camera, I realized that this butterfly had been tagged for its trip down south this winter.

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

A Butterfly From Kansas Visiting our Garden

Not exactly sure of what to do, I researched information about the Monarch Watch and the efforts to tag them. Turns out the process is relatively simple. Get the information from the tag and email it to the address or the phone number located on the tag, including the Number that is assigned to the monarch, the date and location spotted. I was able to send a picture, but that is not required.

After a couple of days, I received an email back from Kansas University stating that the information was received, but they were unable to tell me where the butterfly was originally tagged because the tagging information has not yet been submitted.   Hopefully we will hear about our little guy making it all the way to his destination — and then back again.

Keep your eyes out and your camera ready for these exciting visitors to our area and our gardens.  You may have a part in documenting their journey.

Starla

Butterflies at The Raincatcher’s Garden

After many months of planning and work, our hopes are being fulfilled.  Butterflies are visiting The Raincatcher’s Garden and more are sure to come!

Pipevine Swallowtail on Lantana 'Miss Huff'

Pipevine Swallowtail on Lantana ‘Miss Huff’

The Pipevine Swallowtail is identifiable by the iridescent blue color on its upper side and the band of bright orange spots on its underside. Like the Monarch, this swallowtail is poisonous to predators, since its  caterpillars feed on native species of pipevine.

Gulf Fritillary on Mexican Sunflower 'Torch'

Gulf Fritillary on Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’

The Gulf Fritillary is easily recognized by its bright orange upper side and flashy silver markings on the underside. The caterpillars that become Gulf Fritillary butterflies feed on the Passion Vine which we have growing over our Arbor.

Purple Coneflower 'Bravado'

Purple Coneflower ‘Bravado’

This variety of coneflower has large and profuse blooms. It is a host plant for several butterflies and a nectar source.

Black Eyed Susan 'Goldstrum' with Little Bluestem in the Background

Black Eyed Susan ‘Goldstrum’ with Little Bluestem in the Background

Little Bluestem grass is a host for a good number of skippers.  Black eyed Susans are also nectar and host plants.

 

To learn more about the planning and planting of our butterfly garden, read:

Butterfly Plants: I Love You But It’s Time to Leave

Dallas Butterflies

Browse the Butterfly/Hummingbird Plant List in our sidebar for excellent reference material.

Ann

Pictures by Starla

 

DALLAS BUTTERFLIES

Move over husband Mike.  I’m in love, but I can’t spell—or pronounce–his name.

To bring you up to date, the old 8,000 square foot garden on Joe Field Road is now moved lock, stock, compost pile, tomato support, and rototiller to a fabulous new location at Midway Hills Christian Church, Royal Lane and Midway Road.  We also have a new name, Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills, an Earth-Kind ® Water/Wise Demonstration Garden, a collaboration of the Dallas County Master Gardener Association, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Midway Hills Christian Church.

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

Midway Hills Christian Church, Site of our New Garden

MHCC has generously offered us a 100’x300’ field for a new garden and plans are hatching.  Just like butterflies will—we hope—this spring.

We brainstormed the components that we wanted to bring (or not) to the new garden: vegetables, an education garden, and a wildlife habitat. And some new things we wanted to feature, like urban trees and turf.  But probably tops on people’s list was a butterfly garden.

Which brings me to my new love: skippers, brushfoots (not “feet), whites, sulphurs, blues, hairstreaks, and swallowtails.  I’d like to learn to be a lepidopterist, but I’ve got to set some time aside to learn to roll out that moniker.

Diving into Butterflies of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi and the Dallas County Lepidopterist’s Society website maintained by Dallas butterfly expert Dale Clark was absolutely fascinating.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

I learned if you want to attract grass skippers, you need an abundance of host grasses like bluestem and side-oats gramma in your garden.

Most gardeners know to plant dill, fennel, parsley, and rue for swallowtail caterpillars, but they also have a hankering for citrus, celery and Queen Anne’s Lace.

We’re familiar with the Pirinae family of sulphur’s and white’s passion for broccoli and cabbage. But the Coliadinae family of whites and sulphurs pine more for senna, marigolds, clover, and false indigo for host plants.

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk's Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies on Turk’s Cap, Photo by Janet D. Smith

Hairstreaks look for oaks, mistletoe, Texas bluebonnets and okra. Blues are thrilled with frostweed, lima and garden beans, and snouts want sugarberry and net-leaf hackberry. Fritillaries swoon for maypop and passionvines, monarchs for milkweed.

Brushfoots remind me of a 17-year-old football player.  They’ll clean out your garden “refrigerator” of almost everything.  Wildflowers to thistles to American elm, to frogfruit are on the host plant menu.

As we’re planning the garden, there’s more to think about than host and nectar plants.  You want your plants in full sun (more nectar), have enough water to prevent wilting (nectar stops with inadequate moisture), use favorite colors of purple, pink, yellow and white, and include a variety of bloom shapes.  Some little guys forego the nectar plants and pull over for old fruit, a fermented sugar mixture, or a damp salt and sand mixture for amino acids.  Rocks and logs in the sun give a spot for basking.  Old logs and brush provide Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks a spot for hibernating.

The monarch has gotten a lot of press lately concerning the declining amount of milkweed necessary for its caterpillars.  We plan on having a Monarch Waystation, based on recommendations from Monarch Watch, filled with native and tropical milkweed for the trip north and favorite nectar plants for the fall migration to Mexico.

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring on Blue Salvia at our Old Location

 

As our plans take place, we are looking forward to late spring and summer, and we hope, a large garden full of fluttering beauties.

Elizabeth

Pictures by Starla and Ann and Janet

More about Monarchs!

 

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