Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time of the butterflies

As the interminable drought of 2010-11 has dragged on, one of the things that has been most distressing to habitat gardeners has been the paucity of butterflies. Normally, in my area, from spring through autumn, we are treated to a constant but ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors from the bright wings of these most beautiful of insects.  This year, not so much.

It seems evident that the drought and the increasing and unrelenting heat have impacted the insects' ability to successfully reproduce.  I would guess that the eggs are being dried out and the embryos damaged and destroyed before they can hatch.

Whatever the cause, the absence of butterflies, particularly at this time of year when they are usually most plentiful, has been very noticeable.  It's like missing an old friend.  Moreover, unlike birds or other small critters that visit our gardens, there is not a lot that we can do to help butterflies, other than providing their food and host plants and a source of  moisture for them, but if the insects simply aren't present, providing those things cannot increase their numbers.

With all of that as a background, it was with some delight that, during the past week, I noticed a definite increase in the number and variety of butterflies in my garden.  On Wordless Wednesday, I showed you a Pipevine Swallowtail that was visiting the yard.  Here are some others that have been present during the week.

The beauteous Gulf Fritillaries have returned, not in their usual abundance, but in twos, threes, and fours.  Not a day went by last week when I didn't encounter them in the garden.

 Fritillaries, like most butterflies, love tithonia.

Gulf Fritillary with partially open wings.

A Fritillary among the flame acanthus, another butterfly favorite.

If I had an actual favorite butterfly, it might be this one, the Giant Swallowtail.  There have been one or two around the garden in the last few days and they always visit the citrus trees.

Also, I've had several of these Spicebush Swallowtails visiting.  They are especially fond of the flame acanthus.  Notice the double row of orange dots on the hind wing and contrast that with...

...the Pipevine Swallowtail which has only one row of the large orange dots.

Soon, the migrating Monarch butterflies should be passing through here and, often, at this time of year, we also get their cousins, the Queens, so we have much to look forward to and to look out for in coming weeks.  I would expect the Monarchs' migration to have greatly reduced numbers this year, but when they arrive in my yard, they will find lush stands of butterfly weed that have had nothing to nibble on them since the ladybugs destroyed the last of the aphid hordes earlier this summer.  If they need a place to deposit their eggs, the milkweed is waiting! 

And the gardener is waiting and hoping.  Let the time of the butterflies begin.



  1. I have not seen a butterfly in weeks. So sad.

  2. It is quite distressing, Snap, but my hope has been kindled by my observations over the last few days.

  3. What a great post! It was lovely to see butterflies. We've had so few this year...

  4. Thanks, Kathleen. The numbers have picked up here over the last couple of weeks, but with the continuation of our 100-105 degree days and no rain in sight, it does not look particularly promising for fall. Where's a good tropical depression when we need it? The only depression I'm seeing these days is mine when I look in the mirror.