The air is heavy with humidity and the sun beats down on the earth. Occasionally, a warm breeze brings some relief to the people who venture outside during this Illinois summer as the thermometer climbs to 90 and above. Most feel this weather is not fit for man or beast. But wait.. What do I see flying by? Is it a bird? Or is it a plane? No. It is several different butterflies. Winged visitors that I have been inviting to our yard for many years now. Did you know Summer is the peak season for butterflies in our area? I spy a group of Black Swallowtails. The irridescent blue of their lower wings is a beautiful sight contrasting with the golden markings when the wings are folded up. I have been watching their larvae as they eat their way through my bronze fennel and dill. Just yesterday, I spied 7 larvae (worms) on one fennel plant! This particular species must like the offerings on Turkey Farm Road 🙂
I also spy a gorgeous black and yellow swallowtail. This butterfly is huge. It probably has a 6-inch wing span. The primary yellow stripe is horizontal and near the top of the body. It had me puzzled for a bit. The horizontal markings are not common for a Tiger Swallowtail–either Western or Eastern. A quick look through my reference book revealed it just may be a Giant Swallowtail. It is labeled as a common butterfly but it looks anything but common to me. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to capture another butterfly from this magnificent variety with wings spread out while it ate some nectar on a rose milkweed. Spread out, the wingspan looked even larger.
As I walk around the backyard, I am pleasantly surprised to spot a Monarch feasting on the blossoms of the apple mint. Monarchs are decreasing in numbers and I have not seen very many this summer. This orange, black and yellow marvel seems oblivious to my presence and allows me to capture several photos. Monarchs are perhaps the most famous butterfly in North America. They can be seen in any open habitat from southern Canada southward. Great efforts have been underway to educate the general public about their decline and what can be done to help. The female Monarch will only lay her eggs on the milkweed plant. As a result, this plant is the only food source for the larvae. The problem is the amount of milkweed that is available along the Monarch’s migratory route has greatly been reduced. This fact along with other environmental and habitat changes, has endangered this iconic species of butterfly.
Want to to help the Monarch? Join the conservation efforts in your area and plant milkweed. Several varieties are available that are non-invasive. These varieties are shorter in height than the common milkweed and look beautiful in city and country gardens. Free seeds are available from our herb shop, The Simple Heart of Life, for the asking. Just send a self-addressed envelope to 1482 or 1486 Turkey Farm Road, Bluffs, Ill. 62621, or post a request below.
Looking around our Wildlife Habitat Gardens, I spy several large bunches of fuzzy caterpillars on the common milkweed plants. These caterpillars are brilliantly colored with yellow, black and white stripes. Longs tufts are in place on both ends. They seem to have voracious appetites and the milkweed leaves are being destroyed. But what are they? A quick review on-line revealed they are called Milkweed Tussock caterpillars. Eventually they will turn into Milkweed Tussock Moths. The larvae often feed on older shoots of milkweed and dogbane. I have the choice to move them to another milkweed plant or leave them where they are. The information on-line indicates they will quickly destroy milkweed leaves and Monarch butterflies seldom share the same plant with them. I think I will leave them alone as our yard (and farm) has an abundance of milkweed plants available and moths are just as welcome in our yard as butterflies.
Watching butterflies and moths in the gardens is just one of the simple pleasures of life that I, personally, enjoy. Why not join me and see what has been living in your own yard and garden? You might be pleasantly surprised by the variety of butterflies that call your neighborhood home. Share your discoveries on-line with your friends and family. Post the photos on Facebook and inspire others to do the same. Discover for yourself just how magnificent Mother Nature can be!