Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pussytoes and American Ladies in the Butterfly Garden

You might think it's all about the monarchs here at Our Little Acre, and it is, for the most part, but monarchs aren't the only butterflies that call our yard home. For several years now, we've monitored the reproduction of both Eastern black swallowtails and American ladies.

I raised this Eastern black swallowtail butterfly from a caterpillar in my house.

The Eastern black swallowtails are all over the bronze fennel we grow, for most of the summer, laying eggs, chowing down, and becoming adult butterflies. I've also found them on my carrot tops and when I grow parsley and dill, they make use of those plants, too.

The other butterfly that we see lay eggs here is the American lady (Vanessa cardui). It's often confused with the painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other, especially when they're in flight.

If you can get close enough to see them with their wings open, the easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the presence of a tiny white spot on the upper wings. If it's there, you're looking at an American lady. If it's not, it's probably a painted lady. (I say probably, because apparently, now and then, American ladies are missing the dot, too.)  I've only ever seen American ladies here, although painted ladies are probably are probably present here as well.

In late April, I was doing some weeding in the garden and was witness to an American lady ovipositing (laying eggs) on my Antennaria plantaginifolia, more commonly known as pussytoes. I've grown this plant for years and unlike milkweed, I didn't plant it for the purpose of providing a host plant for butterflies. I just liked the name and the looks of the plant.

Antennaria is a bluish groundcover that throws up six-inch stems with small
clusters of flowers at the top. The flowers can be white or pink.

A female American lady butterfly laid eggs in the centers of two of the
fuzzy Antennaria leaves.

After the female lays an egg, a few days later, the tiny caterpillar will hatch out. It will use its spinneret to wrap itself up in a leaf with silk for protection when it isn't out and about, eating its host plant. This is usually the way you can know if there are caterpillars present, as they tend to only feed on cloudy days or at night.

Soon, you'll see larger caterpillars moving around on the leaves, still eating and preparing to pupate. I've never found a chrysalis in the garden, but they're masters at camouflaging them. Colors can vary from brown to green, according to their surroundings, and like the monarchs, they crawl away from their host plant to find a place to pupate.

Last year, I had Helichrysum petiolare 'Lemon Licorice' in my front flower boxes. American lady butterflies made use of that as a host plant too. Other plants they use include pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and some everlasting plants that are also known as cudweed (Gamochaeta spp.)


Lisa at Greenbow said...

What fun. I love that name, Pussy Toes. It is a pretty plant too.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

P.S. Are the Pussytoes in full sun or part shade?

Kylee Baumle said...

Lisa ~ Mine are planted in mostly shade. They get direct sun for just a few hours in the afternoon. They are listed as a full sun plant, however. Oh, and it grows best in poor soil.

Beth said...

Kylee, it's very cool that you raise butterflies in the house. We have lots of monarch and black swallowtail larvae in our gardens most years. Last year when I was out in the garden, a b.s. caterpillar was crawling very rapidly in the area I was working in. It spent a lot of time looking for a place to pupate (Hours). Finally it attached to a hosta flower stem. I kept a watch on it, and on the chrysalis, and one day had the privilege of seeing the empty chrysalis with the beautiful butterfly right there, having just emerged. Such a wonderful thing to witness. Love God's nature and creatures and Him allowing me to witness this!

Jason said...

OK. I have to get some of these pussytoes.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

So cool! Our pussy toes passed in our drought last year and I need to plant more. Still seeing American Lady butterflies around our garden so there must be host plants nearby.

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