The third annual National Moth Week is winding down. This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014. The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.
The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars. One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.
I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh. So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.
I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes. Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.
So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container. While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.
I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio. I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp. The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.
I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!
After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source. After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators. Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
I spotted a skipper butterfly flitting from leaf to leaf on the ticktrefoil (Desmodium spp.). This woody somewhat vine-y genus of plants has many different species. I’m still not confident in my identification to species, and I tend to think that this one is D. incanum which is introduced rather than the native although there is some debate by experts that it may well be native and IRC in South Florida treats it as such.
Since I saw the butterfly on this particular plant, at least I could be sure of the butterfly identification.
Meet the Long-tailed Skipper butterfly (Urbanus proteus). The photos of the adults are from prior encounters. I wasn’t quick enough to snap a photo of my early spring arrival. I did however get a photograph of the eggs shown in the top photo.
These dicot skippers (Subfamily Eudaminae) are larger than some of the more typical grass skippers seen. They are prolific at my place. The caterpillars are commonly called “bean leafrollers” and are looked down upon because they may be a pest of commercial bean growing operations. They have plenty of Desmodium in my yard so I won’t worry about snap beans or peas…I would just relocate the cats to an ornamental plant and save my “cash crops”.
They are nocturnal feeders so you can find the caterpillars hidden away in “tents” made of rolled up leaves…thus the common name for the wiggly stage.
They are quite beautiful butterflies. The turquoise blue iridescent coloring of the back and body is elegant and looks like rich fur.
They are interesting to watch as they nectar at a variety of flowers. If you are in their range, it is worth looking out for the Long-tailed Skipper in your beautiful wildlife garden.
*This is an update of a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
When I see the bright yellow flowers of the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista* fasciculata) I tend to think of Sulphur butterflies because it is a larval host for several members of the Sulphur butterfly family.
The other day I was out enjoying the diversity of insect activity on the Partridge Pea plants back in my pond area, when I saw a Ceraunus Blue butterfly (Hemiargus ceraunus). This lovely lady was laying eggs on the partridge pea.
The Ceraunus Blue butterfly is tiny and would be easily overlooked except for the mad fluttering of a hint of blue close to the ground. It is sure to attract your attention. The males’ wings (dorsal side) are the most vivid blue whereas the ladies’ wings are a darker brownish grey.
Most of the time the Blue will alight only showing its ventral sides. But, every now and again it will open up to reveal the very pretty dorsal display.
In April 2012, the Ceraunus Blue butterfly was listed on the Federal Register as Threatened Due to Similarity of Appearance to the endangered Miami Blue Butterfly in Coastal South and Central Florida. I’m pleased to report that in my Central Florida beautiful wildlife garden, the numbers of Ceraunus Blue butterflies are secure.
Although I wasn’t able to find any eggs (where ARE my reading glasses??), they are described as blue-green, flattened, laid singly on host flower buds. Larva is variable; green to red with pink markings and the Chrysalis is green. I’m keeping my eyes open and hope to find the various stages to photograph.
Larvae feed on the new growth, buds and flowers of the host plant and there is PLENTY to eat at my place.
So plant Partridge Pea for a sea of yellow beauty which will attract a hint of blue to your beautiful wildlife garden.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 11, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
A little over a week ago I mowed the dogs’ area of the yard. I don’t like them looking at me with eyes that seem to say “MOM, this stuff is tickling our butts, crank up the mower and get with it.” We had a few days of rain since that time, so, naturally, as is a given when living in Florida, the grass needs to be mowed frequently when the rains come. It grows at the rate of 4 inches an hour…ok that’s an exaggeration…it just seems that way in my beautiful wildlife garden.
Mind you, I use the term “grass” loosely. The majority of my property sports the “no-lawn” look…a meadow-lawn of sorts, rich with Florida native wildflowers, bunch grasses and sedges. A responsible way to landscape to provide habitat and food for our rapidly decreasing fauna.
I noticed that with my semi-procrastination this week, some of the sedges were getting a chance to rear their pretty little flowering heads. Particularly noticeable was the Fragrant Spikesedge(Kyllinga odorata) with it’s minty green coloring that contrasts against the dark greens of the low growing ground covers. Fragrant Sedge is appropriately named; it does have a wonderful scent.
As I was trying to come up with an idea for this week’s article, as luck would have it, a new visitor stopped by my yard. And a beauty (s)he was. Flying low to the ground, I saw what I assumed was a Carolina Satyr Butterfly(Hermeuptychia sosybius), a regular visitor to my place. It struck me as odd that it was puttering around in the bright sun. Carolina Satyrs are a species that tend to like it made in the shade.
That’s when I noticed a bobbing action in the flight. The butterfly never landed for any length of time. While the Carolina Satyr doesn’t last long in one spot, it does have a greater attention span than this A.D.D.-type that was fluttering from grass blade to sedge to grass blade and round and round again. It was dizzying.
Of course, I had to get a closer look and absent was my zoom camera…I only had the pocket point and shoot with me. I crept slowly and got a glimpse of a brown butterfly, similar to the Carolina Satyr, but with orange-red markings and long, narrow ovals for eyespots.
I leaned in to snap a few photos, many without success as the butterfly moved from spot to spot, barely stopping. Every time I got close enough and it seemed to settle briefly, the angle of the sun wasn’t in my favor, so the shots wound up somewhat dark.
After about 15 minutes of “the chase” and figuring I MUST have gotten at least a couple of good shots, off to the computer I went to research my newfound friend.
Well, I’ll be, it’s a visitor from just over the state border, a Georgia Satyr(Neonympha areolata). Sadly, the majority of the photos were a bust, but I did get two acceptable enough for this article. There are outstanding photos on a few butterfly documentation Websites.
N. areolata is a member of the Brushfoots (Nymphalidae) family of butterflies and for this guy, it couldn’t be more appropriate. Look closely at the top photo, this baby looks like it is wearing fuzzy slippers.**
The range for the Georgia Satyr is North Carolina, south through Florida and west to Texas.
Well, well, well, larval hosts are listed as “Probably” sedges (Cyperaceae). Some Websites seem a tad more confident including information that eggs are laid singly on host plants and that caterpillars eat leaves.
Imagine that, it looks like my Fragrant Spikesedge is drawing in the tourists. There is also a healthy supply of Starrush Whitetop (Rhynchospora spp.) out next to the culvert. Despite the common name Starrush is a Florida native sedge also in the Cyperaceae family.Research reveals that the adults seem to lean towards puddling that is, getting their nutrients and moisture from carrion, sap, fruits and other things we don’t like to think about. They rarely nectar.
So, it was a lucky week. The sedges grew (although there are always some in the back, dog-free 1/2-acre of the yard) and the Georgia Satyrs arrived to be added to my buggy life-list. Most importantly, I got my idea for this article without racking my brain.
Proof positive that if you have larval host plants, they will come. The lesson here is that not all butterflies are looking for nectar producing flowers. Be sure to have a healthy supply of larval hosts to bring in the more unusual species of Lepidoptera.
*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 9, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
I got a treat this past week when I saw the wide, lazy flapping of long black and yellow wings. A Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly was making the rounds near my passionvine. I’ve only been graced with this beauty of a butterfly on one prior occasion and it was only a fly-through. Hard freezes in recent years have relegated our state butterfly back further south, but I was assured by butterfly expert Jaret C. Daniels of the Florida Museum of Natural History that it was just a matter of time before this beauty made a comeback in our area. He came and spoke to our chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society several months back.
It has been worth the wait!
There is a trick to attracting this butterfly. While having passionvine available as the host plant, it needs a further step. This butterfly will not lay eggs on passionvine that is in the sun. It needs shade. After a couple of years of meandering around my property with a mind of its own, my Passiflora incarnata has snaked it’s way behind the shed and now is creeping up the tiedown on the west side of the shed. It is sheltered enough from the sun to FINALLY get one of these beautiful butterflies to lay some eggs.
The Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida. Not every state has a designated butterfly, but many do. There are a few interesting things about this particular species. They are the only butterflies that eat pollen. The butterflies themselves will gather in groups to rest much like the monarchs do when they return to Mexico . I patiently await the emergence of many so I can witness this phenomenon.
They lay clusters of eggs on fresh new leaf growth. Early instars of the caterpillars resemble the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) larvae, which also use passionvine as a larval host. However, rather than the brash orange of the frits, the orange of the Longwings cats is just a slightly milkier white in color. Later instars will be the recognizable black and white.
Sometimes it just takes patience to attract wildlife to your garden. Research what is required to attract the particular species you are interested in. Keep in mind that you need to determine if they are compatible with your conditions. Do they belong in your area? Do you have the correct plants? Are those plants situated in proper conditions such as sun or shade?
The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) practices mimicry. One theory is that the Müllerian relationship with the milkweed butterflies helps keep the numbers of both species up by fooling birds into thinking they are all rather toxic, so less are eaten as appetizers.
And, it may just be that all these species are unpleasant to eat. Mind you, I’m not tasting any of them soon, especially since the Viceroy adults are fond of feeding on rotten fruit, feces and carrion.
In Florida, they take on the coloring of the Monarch and Queen butterflies depending upon location within the state. These two milkweed butterflies build up toxins from their host, making them distasteful to predators. Viceroys are said to have a bitter taste from the salicylic acid consumed on its own larval host, the Willow (Salix spp.), Poplar and Cottonwood (Populus spp.), so they have their own off-taste, though it may not be as toxic as the Danaus genus of milkweed eaters.
The Viceroy has several subspecies giving it a wide and varied range across the United States and Canada. Another interesting aspect of the Viceroy butterfly is the fact that it forms occasional natural hybrids with the red spotted purple (Limenitis astyanax), who’s range covers the eastern half of the US. Although the same genus of butterfly, they are a mimic and a non-mimic. Gives new meaning to embrace all your brothers and sisters.
A while ago when I spotted my first viceroy butterfly, I read up on what was needed in the way of a larval host. I then specifically purchased a native willow tree to put next to my pond, which encourages them to reproduce in my garden, not just stop by for a spot of nectar. The same goes for other species of butterflies. Read up on what larval hosts will attract those butterflies that you’d like to see more of and plant it. I have been rewarded many times over, proving that if you plant it they will come.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 12, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
Call a plant “Everlasting” and to me it conjures up visions of fluffy clouds and love in the air. Why then is the same plant commonly called “Cudweed”, which to me conjures up…well…VOMIT or SPIT! Ok, I’m sure that some farmers had livestock who didn’t necessarily have the best table manners. Then again, perhaps Everlasting was someone’s way of saying, “Heck, you can’t get rid of this stuff”.
This whole family of plants has me quite confuse since both Gnaphalium and Gamochaeta seem to be used interchangeably as the genus names. Here in Florida Pseudognaphalium also is thrown into the mix, although to me that appears to be COMPLETELY different, with the exception of those common names again. Since I am not a botanist, I won’t even attempt to clear things up.** For purposes of this article I will use Gamochaeta (although the first one seems easier to pronounce and spell).
The reason I am writing this article, which many of you may have already dosed off while reading, is in an effort to highlight the importance of not limiting your garden to only gorgeous cultivars or natives considered acceptable by the general public. Sometimes native Plain Jane’s (or even worse) hold wildlife species in the grip of their foliage. Everlasting (or Cudweed if you prefer) is not a particularly attractive plant, but I have given it an area at my place to grow freely.
You see, here in Florida (and I suppose elsewhere), Gamochaeta spp. is a larval host plant for the American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) which also seems to have some common name issues. Florida Museum of Natural History calls it American (Painted) Lady while bugguide.net and butterfliesandmoths.org use Painted Lady as the tag for V. cardui. This is why common names can be so frustrating…often based on what area of the country you hail from. At any rate, they are all members of Nymphalidae/Brush-Footed Butterfly family…everyone seems to agree on that. Adult food is almost exclusively flower nectar including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch. I’ll leave you to fill in your favorite Scientific Names for that long list.
Getting back to the larval host issue. Pennsylvania Everlasting (or Cudweed) (G. pensylvanica) is considered a native to my state according to the USDA Plant Database. I use the University of South Florida Institute of Systematic Botany (ISB) Atlas of Florida Plants, as my source to determine nativity here in Florida. They don’t recognize G. pensylvanica as being native to our state. Delicate Everlasting (G. falcata) IS considered native by both authorities although ISB states that G. falcata is an excluded name “Misapplied to G. antillana“. OY! Can’t we all get along and on the same page?**
These two Everlastings I have in my garden have pretty silvery foliage and somewhat ugly flowers (sorry, plants), but prior to last year when I allowed them to grow, I had never seen an American Lady Butterfly. These butterflies fly low to the ground and seem to like to perch on my mulch pile. I can now fondly recall chasing after said butterfly in September 2010 to find out what that pretty little fluttering thing, with a hint of pink, was. Needless to say, my research led me to find out the larval host plant is…gasp…Cudweed. At the time that plant was in relatively short supply since I pulled it out to keep the yard looking “tidy” but not being too dedicated to weed pulling, probably some slipped through (actually, a LOT). Last year I allowed a whole area to grow where it naturally couples with plantain (Plantago spp.), another unwanted Plain Jane that is a larval host for the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). Bet those popular plants are snootily looking down their stigmas.
I am better than half century old and haven’t seen an American Lady Butterfly in several dog’s ages since I was a little girl. That was right around the time when subdivisions evolved and green plots of lawns became the acceptable garden. Thank goodness we have realized the error of our ways (or at least some of us have) before we drive these beautiful butterflies to threatened status or even extinction. Although some “weeds” (and I use that term with only the utmost respect and love) may rapidly spread due to their ability to produce copious amounts of seeds, they are easily hand pulled (or use a ”Weed Hound” tool). Besides, they don’t really survive all that long, at least not in Florida. They provide for the butterflies as well as birds, rabbits and others and eventually die back and disappear to return nutrients to the soil.
It’s time to think about the wildlife and less about aesthetics in a garden. Make a little room not only for the good, but, yes, the ugly. You might be surprised what beauty it brings.
*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
Central Florida. I’m a big believer in “let it grow, let it grow, let it grow” (hey, we have no white stuff down here, and I love that tune). I’ve learned to be the great observer in the garden and often by happenstance I get my best wildlife encounter rewards from a passing flash in the yard. This is when I generally learn something new about nature. This week, while walking the garden I got a few more rewards from “weeds”.
Technically, a weed is “a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing it is not wanted.” For some reason our society (present company excluded) has taken to planting things which are technically out of place and calling it beautiful. The plants that should be actual residents of the given habitat are scalped, pulled or, worse yet, sprayed to keep them at bay. Fact is they are doing nature and our environment an injustice by replacing what Mother Nature is trying to provide naturally for her creatures. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I appreciate the less than lovely more so than what is touted as proper landscape materials in many garden magazines.
I have a meadow of rich diversity. Many would call it a weed patch. The plants occur naturally, so they are far from weeds in my eyes.
The other day I was watching a white butterfly flit from plant to plant. It was spending a lot of time around the Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum). I tried to photograph the butterfly but it moved too fast, or perhaps I am just to slow. I’d seen similar before and knew I had a photo somewhere but I really wasn’t positive of the identity. Searching, I discovered it is a Great Southern White(Ascia monuste). I’d say it is a positive I.D. since the larval hosts include members of Mustard family (Brassicaceae) and Pepperweed qualifies. Further reading stated eggs are laid groups of about 20 and on close inspection of one of the plants, I saw tiny yellowish-orange dots dangling from a leaf of the plant. My old photo also shows blue antenna clubs.
Being a little selfish and not wanting the lizards to eat the eggs I potted up the plant and placed it within a butterfly net. Since then the eggs have disappeared but I haven’t seen any caterpillars. Of course caterpillars are cagey. Read on.
Yesterday I saw an American Lady(Vanessa virginiensis) busy by the Cudweed(Gamochaeta spp.). Again I tried to photograph, but it was not to be. I did head over to the plant it was near to inspect for eggs, but old eyes couldn’t find any. Then I noticed a web-type tent at the top of the plant and took a small stick to knead it apart. AHA! A caterpillar! I grabbed the plant and headed over to a display case with a screened top. Again, I am being selfish, but my curiosity and educational thirst has gotten the better of me. I’ll feed it daily and wait for it to go through metamorphosis.
I felt so rewarded by my new encounters. So, if you want to learn close-up about your native fauna, stop fighting Mother Nature and consider that the beauty of your garden could be coming from the visitors that will grace it. If you leave the flora for those that belong in your beautiful wildlife garden you’ll see beauty beyond belief. Reward from “weeds”…Food for thought.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.
I have been enjoying quite a show of avian wildlife visitors to my bird-planted Oak tree that is in full view of my dining area windows as well as the small outdoor patio. It is providing endless entertainment especially between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. That seems to be a favorite time for the gang to show up.
Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) is a fast growing tree that can achieve a height of 60 to 70 feet with a spread of 35 to 45 feet. Also known as Darlington or Diamond Oak, it has a dense, symmetrical crown and is semi-evergreen. Mine loses it leaves slowly in January as the new leaves appear so the tree is never completely bare.
One drawback is its relatively short life span of 50 to 70 years. Easily propagated by seed as is evident at my place where I find saplings growing here and there, planted by birds and mammals that enjoy the bounty of acorns and insect delectables that this tree produces.
Wunderlin, R. P., B. F. Hansen, A. R. Franck, and F. B. Essig. 2017. Atlas of Florida Plants (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/).[S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), USF Water Institute.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa.
Carey, Jennifer H. 1992. Quercus hemisphaerica, Q. laurifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2017, February 10].
It’s that time of year in Florida when things are starting pop up in the yard. Too often people grab the weed and feed or randomly pull plants without thought to how it could adversely impact our butterfly populations.
Many of the very plants that the chemical companies target as “weeds” are important larval hosts for our beautiful butterflies. A lawn is a pretty much a biological desert. Don’t fall for their misguided propaganda that you need to have a perfect carpet of green in front of your home. Leave that to the putting greens on the golf course.
Let these wildflower beauties grow and you just may find a marked uptick in the number of butterflies that choose to call your place home.
And don’t forget to leave an area of Bidens alba as a great nectar source that the butterflies simply can’t resist.
Come on over to the wild side. The pollinators will flock to show their appreciation.