Bienvenue et au revoir: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2019

It’s November and my garden is still in active flowering and life giving mode.  In recent weeks I’ve said a happy howdy y’all to a resurgence of Gulf Fritillary butterfly larvae and a slightly regretful, but ultimately joyful so long ’til next spring to migrating Monarch butterflies.  That’s the wildlife gardening way: seasonal change is more than an onslaught of blooms or a conversion of foliage color.  It’s also about the cyclic lives of those dependent upon plants for their survival, as well as the fostering of a healthy environment in which wildlife will thrive.

I’m pleased to report that there are scads of Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae butterfly larvae currently chowing down on my passion vine foliage.

Welcome to the passion vine buffet!

I’m fine with the dining on the leaves, but I wish the cats would leave the budding blooms alone.

Many Gulf fritillary larvae are busily munching, when earlier in the season there was a dearth of larvae activity, which you can read about in my September Wildlife Wednesday post.

I was perplexed at that time, because adult butterflies were clearly laying eggs and some caterpillars were hatching and working the vine.  But there were few caterpillars surviving to chrysalis stage and at least some were clearly parasitized during their later instars.  That the foliage wasn’t eaten as vigorously as is typical piqued my curiosity, but after some observation and reading, I concluded wasps were the culprits, preying on the caterpillars and reducing their numbers.  As with all natural cycles, the tide has apparently turned: there are significantly fewer wasps around and the Gulf Fritillaries are in ascendance.

They Have Arrived

They’re back.  The Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are now wafting through Central Texas, orange and black wings gracefully flit against the Texas sun before alighting at blooming plants for nourishment, sustaining their long flight, continuing their annual life cycle.

Like so many of us, Monarchs face an uncertain future:  climate change, deforestation in Mexico, overuse of pesticides and herbicides in urban gardening and commercial farming in the United States are just some of the challenges to a viable population of these insects.

I am joyful at the first Monarch sighting in spring and then again, in autumn.  Currently, my garden offers a diversity of flowering plants–native and nonnative–in which the butterflies nectar from before they move southward toward their winter home.  In autumn, it’s all about providing blooming flowers for these hungry, hungry butterflies.

In spring, the availability of milkweed (Monarchs’ host plant) is paramount for the hungry, hungry caterpillars.

Female Monarch on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

This generation of adults are those last born in the northern parts of the United States and Canada and are now headed to Mexico.

Female Monarch on Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

Once these remarkable insects arrive at their destination, they will gather in dramatic clusters by the millions, high up in the Oyamel fir forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The unique situation offers cold temperatures and high humidity during the winter–the evolved perfect environment for Monarchs’ winter rest.

Male Monarch on Frostweed. The two black marks located on the hind wings, plus thinner black webbing indicate a male.

The adults who overwinter in Mexico are those who will return through Texas (the major migration pathway) next March, laying eggs on a variety of native milkweed plants.  That first (or is it the last?) generation begins the life cycle all over again: adults mate, females lay eggs, the adults then die.  Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat the milkweed, morph to the next generation, the flights resume.  The ancient rhythm continues in leap-frog fashion, northward through spring and into summer.

Female Monarch on Skyflower (Datura erecta)

At some point in August, six generations later, because of a change in light and through a magnetic pull that the Monarchs have responded to for eons, the last set of adults turn southward and begin their 2000 mile journey toward the Mexican mountain firs which await winged occupation.

Stopping briefly as they migrate to Mexico, Monarchs are enjoying a respite in my garden; the first of many arrived a couple of days ago.

I am an appreciative witness to this natural event.

I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

 

Monarchs!

They’ve arrived!

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Male Monarch nectaring on a Frostweed (Verbesina virginica), with fellow pollinator on the next bloom cluster below

They’re bulking up on autumn-blooming rich nectar sources for the remainder of their migration and the long winter ahead!

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Sometimes, they rest.

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Resting on a Drummond’s ruellia (Ruellia drummondiana) leaf

Always, they’re beautiful!

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Nectaring on Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

Monarch butterfliesDanaus plexippus  are in the process of one of the longest insect migrations in the world.  Click on this link for information about the Monarch and a “Journey North” map which shows the spring migration northward from Mexico. Currently, the southbound migration from Canada to Mexico is underway.  The major routes of the Monarch converge in Texas and it’s imperative that they have plenty of nectar sources to feed on for migration and preparation for overwintering in Mexico.   Much has been made of the importance of milkweed for Monarch survival because it’s the host plant for this insect. Monarchs having adequate milkweed to lay their eggs on and to nourish the larvae in spring and summer is vital for their survival, but for the fall migration back to Mexico, nectar plants (of all kinds, but native flowers are the best) are required  to sustain the health of the adults who will over-winter in Mexico.

 

Monarchs are in my back garden,

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Nectaring on Ruby red runner, a pond plant

…and front garden too!

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Resting on a Martha Gonzales Rose

Travel well, remarkable ones, and have a safe winter in Mexico.  Come back soon–maybe next March??