Caterpillars and butterflies

monarch from the right side, with its proboscis in joe-pye weed

Last month everyone was excited to hear that the overwintering monarch population in Mexico more than tripled over the previous year. As we now wait for news about the fate of butterflies who were caught in the winter storm in Mexico, I’ll look at other butterflies because I’ve already extensively noted our monarch activity (inside and outside) from last summer.

Here’s a phenomenon I noticed in previous years: pearly everlasting plants that appear to be damaged by fungus or insects.

pearly everlasting with dozens of caterpillar webs

This year I looked closer and discovered that the white “fungus” was instead nests for caterpillars. Our four large clumps of hundreds of flowers were each covered in webs that protect American lady caterpillars.

two black, spiky caterpillars on opposite sides of a pearly everlasting plant

This went on for several weeks, with the caterpillars getting larger and larger, but one day I noticed that there weren’t any more caterpillars around – and this was the only butterfly I saw:

brown-and-orange butterfly with tattered left wings, viewed from above, on tiny monster geranium

I went back-and-forth about this one: is it a question mark butterfly or a comma butterfly? I said “question mark” when I saw it on July 8:

big orange butterfly with brown spots, wings open, upside-down on common milkweed

And five days later I thought this one was a different butterfly, a comma:

brown butterfly with wings closed, with a white C on the lower wing, viewed from the right side

Now that I’m inspecting the images closely, I think they’re probably the same butterfly, and I think it’s a comma.

I only noticed tiger swallowtails a couple times. This year I will plant dill to attract them:

large yellow butterfly with black marks, sharing a cup plant with two bumblebees

Red admirals:

tattered left wing on a red admiral on white coneflower

butterfly looking into the camera, its wings viewed straight on and nearly invisible, drinking from purple coneflower

viewed from left side, walking down culver's root blossom

Skippers:

medium butterfly with yellow markings on its wings, viewed from the side, on yellow coneflower leaf with its proboscis curled up

brown butterfly from the right side, leaning back with its proboscis extending up and then down into joe pye weed

dark brown butterfly with faint whitish markings, viewed from the top, with its proboscis in tiny monster geranium

The most breathtaking find of last summer – a red-spotted purple:

black butterfly with its wings open, with white, baby blue, and orange spots all along the edges of its wings, in the shade

same butterfly in the sun, its wings turned iridescent blue

same butterfly in shade, viewed from the left side, with the same spots along the wing edges and orange spots over the rest of the wing

More bugs and critters:

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