Monday, August 13, 2012

Let There Be Caterpillars

Just as I had been lamenting the lack of caterpillars in the garden - namely, the swallowtails and monarchs - my walk through the garden this morning showed me that they're there. I only found one of each, but I'm thankful for small favors.

A female monarch butterfly on mums.
It's true though - there are far fewer monarchs than in years past and fewer swallowtails, too. Even though I grow just as many host plants for the caterpillars, they just aren't here. When you grow plants for a butterfly garden, many people think of brightly colored flowers of all types, because that's where you see the butterflies sipping nectar, right?

But if you truly want the butterflies coming and raising their young in your gardens, you need to grow the right kinds of plants for their babies. That can be very specific and in the case of the monarch, limited to just one genus.

The two caterpillars that I see in my gardens 98% of the time are those of the black swallowtail and the monarch, although I'm sure there are others that have managed to escape my detection. I get excited when I find them, because that tells me I'm doing something to help their populations increase by growing the right host plants.

So far, this is the only swallowtail caterpillar I've found in the garden.

The swallowtails love our dill, fennel and parsley. They seem to prefer the parsley as that's where I find more of them. Last summer, I had eleven at one time on a really small clump of parsley. This year, I've only found one so far.

Saturday, Romie and I took a walk down our road and I felt compelled to check out the milkweed growing in the ditch. The first one I looked at had a teeny tiny monarch caterpillar. I plucked the leaf with it, so that I could relocate the caterpillar in my own garden. By the time we had reached the cemetery a quarter of a mile away, I'd collected six monarch caterpillars in various stages of development. They're now in my garden on the milkweed there.

Four of the six monarch caterpillars I found on milkweed in the ditch.

Monarch caterpillars eat ONLY plants in the Asclepias genus - in other words, milkweed. These are native to Ohio and there are several species here; swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), and common milkweed (A. syriaca) are the ones most commonly found. I've got all of these growing in Max's Garden, as well as an annual type commonly known as tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

Swamp milkweed has beautiful rosy pink blooms and seem to be the milkweed
of choice for the monarchs in our garden.

Tropical milkweed (an annual) has striking red and yellow blooms.

In August, the Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is present in great numbers and it's one of my favorite butterflies, due to its eye markings. Yesterday, they were just thick on the Verbena bonariensis. I counted 15 of them at one time!

The Buckeye butterflies love the Verbena bonariensis.

The Buckeye babies feed on plants in the snapdragon family (Antirrhinum), as well as toadflax (Linaria) and Gerardia, which are both native here.

For a list of butterflies and their caterpillar host plants, visit The Butterfly Site.


Commonweeder said...

I haven't seen any caterpillars either, but this seems a very butterfly-ish year. Lots and lots of butterflies - and other pollinators.

Amy Junod said...

Pretty pics.
I had so many swallowtail babies this year They went through 3 big pots of dill. I grew the dill just for them so I enjoyed watching them nibble. (Plus, dill smells like heaven when it's freshly cut)
I have had a hard time getting my new pots of dill to grow in the heat. I hope the adults don't show up before the dill is ready!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Just found a mess of monarch eggs, maybe a dozen, and saw 10 black swallowtails munching bronze fennel. But that's after a good 2 month long drought (of insects and rain!).

Kylee Baumle said...

Pat ~ We're just now seeing butterflies and caterpillars in larger numbers. I really do think it's the weather that's influenced this.

Amy ~ Thanks, Amy. Normally, I've got oodles of swallowtail cats, but this year, they're sparse. Maybe they'll make up for lost time in the next month or so!

Benjamin ~ Ooooh!! YAY!! I have yet to find one monarch egg, but I'm sure they're there. I found a rather large monarch caterpillar in a different location in the garden this morning. I've only found one swallowtail on the bronze fennel, which is not normal by any means. Yes, this drought has not been good for any living thing, I don't think. :-(

Unknown said...

Kylee, I always grow lots of parsley, dill and fennel for the caterpillars--but not milkweed. What have I been thinking?! I'm about to order milkweed seeds right now! Thank you for the reminder! Your gorgeous photos inspired me to head out to the garden to look for butterflies and caterpillars! (A little funny story: we had a tour of the edible gardens in June, and a visitor saw our snacked-on fennel. She recommended that we spray ASAP. My 11-year-old girlie was appalled and let the visitor know it: "Don't you know that we're ORGANIC?" :-) )

sheds garages said...

That miracle of live indeed. I just can't help but smile.

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