Butterfly Conclave

With the sun’s penchant for playing hide-n-seek in recent weeks, it’s been a slow-go for butterfly watching.  If it’s not vomiting rain, it’s cloudy, and neither scenario is conducive for butterfly activity.   But during the increasingly common moments of sunshine, the winged jewels are out and about, nectaring, mating and laying eggs–and posing for garden paparazzi.

This Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, enjoyed a treat at the flowers of my Mexican Orchid Tree.


Black Swallowtail,  Papilio polyxenes, like this gorgeous specimen,


…are common visitors.  I’ve invited them by having their host plant, fennel, in my gardens.  They lay their eggs on it for the hatched caterpillars to eat.  This adult  is nectaring on a Henry Duelberg Sage,  Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’. He fluttered still long enough for the wildlife gardener to snap a couple of shots.

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There was one, ONE, Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, who visited my gardens this spring, but she was a late-comer.IMGP7970.new

Given her good condition, I’m sure she was one that hatched from a parent who overwintered in Mexico, migrated north, mated, laid eggs and died here in Austin, or nearby.

IMGP7971_cropped_2170x2783..new I’m certain that she’s on her way north now, ready to continue the generations that will eventually summer in Canada, before the autumn migration south to Mexico.

In this post I’m going for the big, gorgeous, cheap-thrill butterflies that alight on flowers, remain relatively still and that anyone can take photos of.  There have been plenty fast-flying skippers and smaller butterflies/moths that I haven’t captured in digital form for posterity, but there are some nice shots of this little moth.IMGP8177.new

The Small Pink MothPyrausta inornatalis, is another regular in my garden and so pretty in its pink scales.

IMGP8178_cropped_2710x2728..new The generous rainfall and soft spring have encouraged an abundance of life in the garden and after years of moderate to severe drought here in Central Texas, that life is welcome.  I hope the insects in your garden are enjoying spring and playing their important pollinator roles–ensuring the balance that is challenged on so many fronts.

Pressed “Resume”

In December, I took this photo,


…of a newly pupated Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes.  I lamented that this insect hatched, developed through its instar stages as a voraciously eating caterpillar, and then pupated so late in the season. The winters here in Central Texas are mild, certainly compared to some, but would this lovely creature overwinter and emerge in spring?  All I could do was to wait, watch and hope.  Diapause is the mechanism that many in the animal kingdom use to survive changing environmental conditions, like those occurring in winter, including heavy rains and hard freezes.  Diapause includes hibernation and physiological slowing down (the swallowtail actually produces a kind of antifreeze against frigid temperatures) in order to survive until more favorable conditions arise, like warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours and increased food supplies.

Those conditions arrived earlier this week for my swallowtail.

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I kept a close eye on the chrysalis all winter, checking it once a week or so, as I managed to remember, and taking care not to damage it as leaves were raked and perennials pruned. The chrysalis remained a healthy iridescent green all winter.  At some point, I took the twig that the chrysalis attached to and placed it upright in the soil,

IMGP6400.new …so that I could find it easily, but other than that, I did nothing but await changes.  Last week the chrysalis darkened, which is a sign of impending butterfly emergence.  Or, death of the pupa. 

IMGP6396.new Thankfully, it was the former that happened–emergence of the adult butterfly.


Butterflies dry their wings by alternately closing and opening them in those first hours.


Look at that adorable face, looking maybe just a little nervous that it can’t hold onto the leaf of a Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.  I believe this is a female, because she has yellow dots above the blue band on the hind wings;  the males have more yellow topping the blue band.


She rests, wings open, near her former food source and future offspring grazing grounds of Fennel (right top) and also her winter digs, to left side of her left wing.


I’ve seen a Black Swallowtail all this week flying fast through the garden.  Is it the same one?


I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.  The blossoms are opening and pollinators awakening in response. Or is it the other way around?

The obvious ones, because of their beauty, IMGP6395.new

…get the most attention and photo/blog play.  But their oft ignored and unappreciated, but no less important plainer cousins such as flies, skipper butterflies, moths, and other insect species are the foundation for a healthy, abundant garden and overall diverse environment.

Good nectaring, pollinating, and breeding to all of them!

Caterpillar Happenings

This is one of my fennel plants.

These are the cause of why my fennel plant looks like it looks.


And these,


…and these.




Actually, they’re all the same caterpillars. They ate fennel and they grew; caterpillars are like that. There were ten Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, butterfly larvae dining on this fennel over the past week or so.



Eating and eating, until there’s nothing left,



…except defoliated stems and hiding caterpillars,


…ready for metamorphosis in their cozy chrysalides. I guess I should make that singular,


…because from all those caterpillars, this is the only chrysalis that I’ve found.

I’m sure the others are nearby, safe from munching predators. I’ll keep an open eye for the emerging butterflies during this next week.