Competition for the flowers

Hickory and I were doing some butterfly watching on a lazy afternoon this week.

We noticed these insects take every opportunity they can to feed, and we assume this Pearl Crescent butterfly was happy to find one Butterfly Weed in bloom when the rest are just buds. But then we noticed another insect coming in on the left.

See him, the green fellow?

That’s a Cuckoo Wasp–a wasp for the love of acorns! We backed away. But did the Pearl Crescent leave?

No.

Hickory flicked his tail from a safe distance. “Guess that milkweed nectar is better than most.”

Advertisements

Swallowtails

We just answered a regular reader’s question about the swallowtails we featured yesterday and thought perhaps we should show a comparison of all the swallowtails we happen to have photos of. We are by no means experts, and admit we have help from another reader–hi, Nancy!

The question was about the ‘dark phase’ being a Tiger Swallowtail. It is that same species, not a different one. The females are dimorphic, a biology term meaning they can have two forms, in this case, two colorations or phases. The scales that are normally yellow are a dark gray to black instead.

This should not be confused with Black Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails and Spicebush Swallowtails, which are normally black. We should also point out that the dark phase here is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From our research, we think it only occurs in the Eastern species. And, er, the the yellow ones we showed mineral sipping are Western Tiger Swallowtails. We were given those photos from our field correspondent in Colorado (remember Coney?) and actually didn’t put it together they were a different species. Sorry for any confusion that may have caused.

We won’t go into identification features here because it’s so complicated (which is why Nancy helps us) and there are better sites for that. We feel that if you know the possible names, you can look them up. So here we go with some comparison swallowtail photos, with names below the image!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail from Colorado. Note it does not have the blue above the ‘tails.’

dark phase Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

female Black Swallowtail

male Black Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail – also a species from Colorado

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Any idea what kind of butterfly this is? And…notice anything unusual about it?

Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back later to check your guesses!

~~~

Well, we have shy readers today, or…? No responses and we thought this was one of our easier mysteries. But hey, we’re all busy in real life today!

This Monarch butterfly has positioned it abdomen to…

lay an egg!

The plant is Common Milkweed, a favorite food of the Monarch caterpillar. Butterflies always lay eggs on the particular plant that its caterpillar eats, so if you really wish to attract butterflies to your yard, you need to have both the nectar flowers they like and the preferred caterpillar foods.

So, we had good question come into the blog today that relates to butterflies. However, it was posted as a comment on an unrelated post from a few years ago–we assume the human reader was going back through our archives and reading more about nature–yay! This question was a bit embarrassing for Nutmeg, but she answered it honestly and we decided the fate of it being posted today meant that we should share it with all our readers, rather than let it get buried in the archives.

Mike asked:

Do squirrels search out and eat butterfly chrysilis’?
I could have sworn one of my bandits went into my pondside blackeyed susan yesterday and emerged with a bright green chrysilis he then proceeded to chow down on!
I am willing to share my tomatoes but NOT my butterflies!

And Nutmeg answered:

Em, yes we–er, they do. We are quite opportunistic in our food choices and insects are a favorite. Especially the juicy ones. Thanks for writing in with your observation, Mike, despite how much it embarrasses us.
Nutmeg

Seeing as we are squirrels and have done our best to promote humans helping wildlife, this was hard to admit. But who better to ask about squirrel habits than a group of squirrels?!

Cabbage Whites

Those little white butterflies that we see flying about don’t attract too much attention. Until they do this…

Pretty cool, huh? They are gathered on this spot of wet mud–not too hard to find around here these days!–because they are sipping fluids, but also minerals, salts and other nutrients from the soil. It’s called mud-puddling.

By the way, these are cabbage white butterflies. They aren’t moths as some humans mistakenly believe.

One of Nature’s Mysteries To Solve

Hey there!

This little guy interrupted my nap…and I remembered it’s mystery day!

What is he?

Check back with you later!

~~~

This little Spring Azure butterfly–about a half inch across–can vary in it’s gray to whitish coloring, but the underwings are usually gray with darker markings. They might have marks along the edges or not. The females are the same coloring on top, but the males are a bright blue. If they are sitting–which is even hard to catch them doing!–the wings are up, so the blue or gray upper wings are mostly seen in flight–and they are quick!

We’ve noticed the Spring Azures flying in our neighborhood for years, but only looked them up this year. The adults like the nectar of Dogbane, which we have nearby, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves of spirea…which we also have! So we squirrels will be checking for eaten leaves this summer and reporting back!

Z is for Zebra Swallowtail

Beautiful, isn’t it? We feature this beautiful member of the swallowtail butterfly group each year because in a week of hard-to-find nature letters, it’s a staple. But it’s also harder to find this butterfly. Its caterpillars eat only one food, the leaves of the Common Paw Paw, Asimina triloba.

This understory tree lives with its roots in wet soil, along streams and rivers.

At least those leaves are huge–10 to 12 inches long and 4-6 inches wide at the middle.

The dark red flowers bloom in the spring and turn into a fruit lumpy with large seeds in the fall. Maybe you can find a tree with caterpillars feeding on it this year.

We’ve had a great time posting this year’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge! Thanks to our many readers for joining us for a look at nature in suburbia. We hope it helps you to enjoy nature around your home!

The Monarch emerged!

This morning we happened by those Passion Flower plants again and look what we saw!

Monarch chrysalis about to emerge

The Monarch was close to emerging. We got a few acorns hunted down and by the time we came back, the butterfly had broken out of her chrysalis.

newly emerged Monarch butterfly female.

She hung there while her wings expanded. Look at the fluid that dripped off of her.

Fluid from newly emerged monarch

Another time we ran by, she had moved into the open and was spreading her wings.

female Monarch butterfly

That’s how we knew this was a girl–no spots on her hind wings.

female-monarch-butterfly_2

It’s a great feeling to see one be able to succeed at making it to the butterfly stage!

Warm fall days in the Passion Flower leaves

variegated-fritilary-caterpillars

With these warm days, we still have active Variegated Fritillary caterpillars around the neighborhood. And they must be getting enough to eat!

variegated-fritelary-chrysalis

This monarch chrysalis is well on its way to maturing, too!

monarch chrysalis