Saturday, June 3, 2023

Flittering Fluttering


No Monarch butterflies have visited my small stand of common milkweed, as far as I know. I've seen none supping at the flowers, and the leaves have not been chewed by their caterpillars.

But this crowd of Great Spangled Fritillaries have had a grand party at the fragrant flowers for the past several days. It is a joy seeing the fritillaries fritillarying about. While one source discussing the Great Spangleds says their flight pattern is in a near straight line, I usually see them dancing around each other in a small crowd.

It's no wonder that we have these lovely butterflies fluttering around, as their host plant (the plant which feeds their caterpillars) is viola. We have many wild violets growing here and there and everywhere. Their pretty purple, sometimes white, flowers are often scattered on our daily salads. Their eggs are little greenish balls, and their caterpillars are spikey. 

The Great Spangled is the most common of the many fritillary (Speyeria) species. I was quite enamored when I discovered that there is an Aphrodite Fritillary. They are very similar to the Great Spangleds, with only minor differences in appearance, one being the Great Spangleds are a bit larger. Violas also host their caterpillars. But these are probably Great Spangleds, although I can pretend they're Aphrodites.

Butterfly season in general is heating up. I've seen a few specimens of some different species. Earlier, in May I saw one or two tiger swallowtails and zebra swallowtails. Paw paw trees host the larvae of the zebras. I know of at least one wild paw paw tree in the woods, and there are the paw paws I've planted.

The most numerous butterfly at this moment is the Hackberry Emperor. Their markings are lovely, but the colors are rather dull. The impressive thing about the Hackberry Emperor is in its numbers. Hundreds and hundreds of them congregate, once they emerge from their chrysalises. Our driveway is covered in them. They like to gather anywhere they find dampness, which includes the pile of poop some critter recently left in the middle of the driveway. 

We find it humorous that they often hitch rides as we drive. At first it feels like a magical experience to step outside the door, or walk down the driveway and have clouds of butterflies rise up around me -- here I am, the Faerie Queen. After a bit it does become a little annoying. I try to relax and enjoy it, though, as the season lasts only a couple of weeks. 

The Gauntlet

However, hundreds gather outside our front and back doors, fluttering and swirling about whenever we emerge. We must exit and enter quickly, or find ourselves chasing them down indoors. No matter how hard we try, we always let a few in.

Their larvae feed on the leaves of hackberry trees (and a couple of relatives). A hackberry tree grows behind our sauna, and last month a number of the horned hackberry caterpillars attached themselves to the sauna wall in order to create a chrysalis and pupate. The top branches of that particular tree are bare of leaves. While the caterpillars are feeding, a gentle rain of caterpillar poop falls beneath the trees.


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