Saturday, October 12, 2013

Summer Insect Notes

This has been a strange one.  This past summer, I mean.  Oh, the weather is strange all the time, it seems; I don't even know what normal is anymore.  But this summer was unusual in another way that may or may not have had anything to do with weather.

One of the biggest news items in the world of entomology was the lack of monarch butterflies.  I only saw six or seven all summer and I saw fewer monarch caterpillars than that. We sort of knew that one was coming.  Last year's drought decimated the milkweed population in the southern US, where monarchs first stop for nourishment and breeding on their journey north.

An adult monarch nectars on many flowers such as this native coneflower,
but the juvenile monarch caterpillars require milkweed for food.

Mowing and the use of herbicides to kill milkweed isn't helping matters either. Their habitat disappears more every year and if they can't feed their babies, well, there won't be babies. So plant more milkweed.  Please.  It's the only thing they eat. There are several very attractive kinds of milkweed varieties available, so don't think you need to plant only the one we've all been conditioned to think of as a weed.  Every little bit helps.

And here's something else:  I didn't see one single buckeye butterfly the entire summer.  Usually, the August garden is full of them, and I look forward to seeing them, but they were nowhere to be found.  At least not in my garden anyway.

I just love those attention-getting eye spots on the buckeye butterfly!
Like I said, they're usually plentiful around here, in August mostly, as they migrate southward.  I don't remember any previous years being completely devoid of the buckeyes, but they were nowhere to be found.  Boo.

Now here's another strange thing - we didn't have a single hornworm on the tomato plants this year.  Not ONE.  That never happens.  Proof again that you should never say never.  I can't really say that I wanted the things, but I did miss them.  If chickens had good long-term memories, they would have missed them too.  Those were snacks worth fighting over.

The Japanese beetle season is over and the annual population here continues to decline.  Each year, I keep track of the number of beetles I hand pick from (mainly) the 'Morning Magic' climbing rose at the back of the property.  And each year, there are fewer of them.

This summer they were especially scant, so much so that I stopped keeping track, because frankly, I got bored with it.  Counting them was a lot more fun when they were plentiful.  I felt like I was accomplishing something.  This year, I think I could have just let them go.  But there's another yummy chicken snack.

We had oodles of hummingbird moths (sphinx and hawk moths).

White-lined sphinx moth

Clearwing hummingbird moth

And praying mantises.  Not a single day went by that I didn't see at least one.  Many days I ran into two or three.  I'm still seeing them. We've always had a lot of them here. 

As far as the other summer butterflies go, we noticed an increase in mourning cloaks, especially over by the blackberries.  The cabbage white butterflies were ever present, as usual.  The garden could do without quite so many of those, especially when we grow lots of cruciferous veggies.  They like to raise their young on those plants and sometimes it's as if we're in a contest with them to see who can eat what first.

We've seen an abundance of Eastern commas, too.  Or are they question marks?  It can be hard to tell the difference, I think.

Eastern comma (I think)

There were a lot of Eastern black swallowtails and a fair amount of zebra swallowtails, as well.

Eastern black swallowtail (female)

How were the butterflies and other insects in your garden this summer?


Lisa at Greenbow said...

I could almost say ditto except that we haven't had any black swallowtails on our fennel. I missed them. It is fun to watch the instars develop.

the blonde gardener said...

I hate to hear that about the monarchs in your area. On a happier note, I had more monarchs than ever this year. So, far I have reared and tagged about 30 with 10 or so more to emerge. I also had tons of swallowtails and right now I have 94 chrysalis in an old aquarium overwintering. I garden in nw Arkansas zone 7a.

Unknown said...

Hi Kylee - Lucky you with your herd of Praying Mantises! I didn't have any this year but I did have dragon flies, another helpful carnivore. I only saw one Monarch but I did finally grow a milkweed from seed that formed pods and went to seed. They have to freeze to be viable so I'm leaving them in the garden for the winter. With luck I'll have many more in the future!

Anonymous said...

I hate to see the trucks come into our neighborhood to spray the lawns. This is one of the reasons we are not seeing as many butterflies, bees, etc. People may have their well groomed, weed-free lawns, but at what cost?

Barb said...

It has been a sad year for butterflies here in the FL panhandle also. We saw our first Monarch of the year yesterday and he stayed for a good long while on the Butterfly Weed. Didn't see any Buckeyes at all this summer. :( The Gulf Fritillary and Cloudless Sulfur have been present in large numbers, as is the norm. We've had very few Black and Tiger Swallowtails.
I believe next year we will plant a lot more B'fly Weed and Lantana to see if we can lure more into the gardens.

Jackie Hagan said...

In the Dayton, Ohio area I noticed pretty much the same thing as you noticed. This year I had a CROP of prairie milkweed and was so disappointed to not see any monarchs in the area. We also lacked the hummingbirds this year but we had so many bees on the feeders that they may have not tried to feed here. Even with bee guards the bees triumphed.

Jan said...

Love all these butterflies and insects...clearwings, praying mantis, etc...Especially the Comma!! Now that we had the great Facebook ID session I can tell the difference between that and Questionmark :)

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