tom123_gw

Butterfly time here in Central Florida

Tom
August 7, 2019

We are now in the best season for butterflies in most areas of the country. I have come to the conclusion that Florida is probably the best state in the continental USA for butterflies year round. I have traveled to different states and, from my experience, Florida seems to have the most year round.


Right now I will see five or six different species of butterflies in my garden in the late morning hours in a ten minute period. The most numerous are the Zebra Longwings. In the shady parts of my garden there will be ten or more flying around at most hours of the day. This year for some reason I have a lot of Spicebush Swallowtails. I always have Monarchs and Fritillaries and now a bunch of Pipevines. Every day I see Giants and Polydamas and Sulfurs and Skippers. Now I am seeing a Tiger about every other day.


I am seeing at least one or two hummingbirds also. They look like females.


The weather is insufferable most of the day now. The temps are in the high 80s or low 90s, but the real killer is the humidity. If I work in the garden for more than a half hour I am soaked. The only reasonable time to work in the garden is early morning or late afternoon after the rain. For humans the weather is terrible, but for plants and insects it's a jungle and a feast.


How is it going for the rest of you guys?

Comments (32)

  • Iris S (SC, Zone 7b)

    It’s a good year. I have never had so many buckeyes. The Gulf Fritillary showed up earlier this year, so I have dozens of caterpillars. The first of the Black Swallowtail caterpillars disappeared very quickly, but this “batch” of 30 or so in different areas of the garden all look big enough to make a chrysalis. Plus there are a few little ones. Summer Monarch showed up a month early to lay eggs. Still have not seen a zebra Swallowtail or cabbage white though. It’s an average of 94 degrees here. Little rain. So with other things to be done while it is cooler (like walking the dogs), I have to be out when it is hot. The mosquitos are really bad.

  • javiwa

    It's been a really slow year, oddly, as my butterfly/host/nectar garden has never had more going on than this year. Three passion vine varieties (incarnata, foetida, caerulea), two pipe vine (fimbriata & elegans, w/ tomentosa to be planted soon), red and blue porterweed, lantana, butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, curassavica & perennis, hairy ball$, pentas, zinnias, three salvia varieties, two types of fennel, tithonia, mistflower, vitex, two types of gomphrena, two cassia varieties,...on and on. It was busy in early April (Eastern black swallowtails, monarchs and sulphurs laying lots of eggs), then everything went completely silent. June 1 came around, and Monarchs returned (along w/ others...cannot remember them all). I thought, OK, here we go: it begins. But after a few days, nothing. Only this past week did the activity pick up in terms of butterflies passing through, but not a crowd. With the passiflora incarnata being as huge as it is -- flowers all over, fragrance from a mile away -- I would think it would have non-stop Gulf frits on it. Nope. I think one came through in the evening to feed on the red pentas. One Monarch laid eggs for about 5 minutes, then left. A male sulphur has been making the rounds looking for a mate, it seems. I'm just outside of Houston (also zone 9b); and on the local FB forum, people have been posting pics of scads of butterflies all over. Really trying not to throw a pity party and take this personally, but where is everyone/thing? However, really happy to hear about all the activity you're seeing!

    Similarly hot and humid here, with a brutal, triple-digits week ahead. I try to get out every morning by 8 a.m. and spend 1-2 hours getting the watering done -- lots of seedlings in pots still -- and light pruning, weeding, whatever. I can't resist the yard, though, so it's mad dashes in and out all day long.




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  • MissSherry

    I've had a very good butterfly year, considering I just started planting for them last year - I've only lived her a year. I had actually hoped I wouldn't get pipevine swallowtails the first year - 'wanted the vines to have a year to grow without cats on them - but I did, and they've all finally made their chrysalis. I've raised monarchs, black swallowtails, red admirals, giant swallowtails (still am) and gulf frits - I'm finding more GF cats every day.

    My only disappointment is that butterflies don't stay and nectar on my nectar plants for any length of time, except one female monarch. When I lived in the country, they did just that, and I got lots of good pictures when they did. I'll be redoing a bed this winter and spring, planning on planting Ellen's Blue - my favorite Buddleia davidii -butterfly bush in the center of it. I had Ellen's Blue in the country, it bloomed beautifully, and the blue color blended with every other color in the garden.





    I also plan to plant lantana in another bed. Having those two for nectar should keep them here at least a little longer.

    Sherry

  • annabananaflzone9b

    For the last couple of years the only host plants I had were 3 different kinds of milkweed and 3 types of passion vine. So, I've raised a lot of Gulf Frits and Monarchs.


    This year I wanted to add more host plants for different butterflies. In March I planted for Black, Giant, Pipevine, Polydamas and Zebra Swallowtails and Cloudless, Orange and Little Sulphur and White Peacocks.


    My yard is small so this dictates the size of the garden but I am pleased that all of these butterflies and Zebra Longwings have used the new plants (except the Sulphurs). The Sulphurs are primarily here in the fall so I'm hoping they will come, too. I did raise 1 Cloudless Sulphur in April, a holdover from the previous winter I think.


    But if I don't bring in the eggs or cats, I won't have many butterflies in the garden. I don't think there are enough nectar or host plants in my neighborhood or surrounding area to keep lots of butterflies coming here and the predators are numerous.


    I am sad that I haven't seen the usual number of Zebra Swallowtails. In past years they came on a regular basis to the Red Jatropha growing in the back yard. Zebra Longwings really like Jatropha, too. I am concerned that real estate development around our area has destroyed their Pawpaw patches.


    Overall, I could not be more pleased. I really didn't expect to get all these different butterflies the first year but it happened (even raised one Zebra Swallowtail). Now I just want to add more plants for more butterflies. :)


    Oh, and another great thing that happened this summer, bluebirds raised 3 clutches so far in the nest box in the back yard. The bluebird nest box has been up for 11 years with not one bird interested. 2 years ago a couple of red bellied woodpeckers opened the bluebird hole guard and I said fine, maybe the woodpeckers will use it. They didn't, so I left the wallowed out hole there. This year a bluebird pair moved in. 2 babies did get kidnapped through the big opening from the 3rd clutch. Probably a Crow or Grackle took the hatchlings. So after the rest fledged, I replaced the hole guard. I hope they accept the new smaller opening and come back to raise a 4th clutch. Bluebirds can raise 3-5 clutches of 3-6 eggs per year here in Florida.


    Here's to sharing my life with nonhuman beings and raising more butterflies!!


    Anna


  • MissSherry

    You're doing great, Anna! It's wonderful about the bluebirds, and I'm so glad there are some people down there who plant host plants and nectar plants for butterflies! I'm appalled when I visit my daughter and see how developers have destroyed the naturally growing plants, dug ponds in every new neighborhood, planted non-native plants, and built houses around the ponds

    that usually have a pool with a screen covering it. It's pretty, but unnatural. When you leave my daughter's area and go to an "unimproved" area, it's like night a day - I like unimproved!


    Sherry

  • javiwa

    anna: Would you kindly share a pic of your red jatropha? By chance is it the Compact Spicy variety? I purchased a 3.5 gallon at full price (so not me!) from Lowes last month: whatever reading I did this spring, I just had to add it to my wish list. My concern is that in many areas, it's treated as an annual since it generally doesn't come back from a freeze. That said, the garden guy at Lowes told me he has two in his yard ( 2y/o and 10 y/o), and they both came back after our freezes this past winter. They had one left on the clearance rack; it wasn't labelled and it was no longer in their plant database, so they sold it to me for $5...score! I'd also read jatropha cannot take our hot summer sun, so I've planted mine to receive only 2 hours a.m. sun. But the garden guy told me he has both of this in full day sun, and it does fine. TIA.


  • Tom

    Javiwa, what growing zone are you in? I've had a jatropha for many years; I'm in zone 9b in Central Florida.


    Ana, congratulations on your success. I'm envious about your bluebirds. I haven't put out a house for them, because I don't see them around. I know they are in the park about four miles away. I thought they needed some open space before they came around. Do you have open spaces around?


    You are motivating me to think about a blue bird house now.


    Sherry, I agree with your feelings about so much development destroying native land. There is one positive thing that is happening near me, however. Two major developments were built around golf courses. Now the golf courses have closed because they were losing money. According to the zoning I don't think they can build on the land that was once golf courses. That land will go back to something more like it used to be. Not quite, since so much was torn up and destroyed, but it certainly looks more wild now than before.

  • annabananaflzone9b

    Javiwa, I am in Zone 9b about 4 blocks from the Gulf. I've lived here 11 years and I have never had a freeze. Not even 32 for a night. So, I can't answer the question about freezing but Jatrophas do well in full sun and partial shade. I splurged and bought "standard" jatropha "trees". They are 7 years old now. I have 4. I used them as a repeating architectural element in the garden.





    The tree shown above, I cut back in January to about 8" above the top of the standard trunk. So it had grown that much back by July when the photo was taken. They are fast growers. I cut them back hard every year or every other year. That might say something about if they freeze.


    The only problem I have with them is cushiony scale. I don't want to spray a systemic insecticide due to harming the butterflies so I use isopropyl alcohol. I spray regular rubbing alcohol on the cushiony scale when the butterflies aren't around. It only kills what it contacts and evaporates fast. It's a challenge to keep it completely under control.


    But the Zebra Longwings love the Jatropha and when the Zebra Swallowtails come, it's this plant they visit in my yard.


    $5 is a steal!! Great bargain!!


    Anna

  • annabananaflzone9b

    Tom, the main thing to remember when putting up a nest box is make it a safe place for the birds. It needs to protect them from snakes, raccoons, ants and other birds. So don't nail it to a tree. That just makes the bluebirds dinner for snakes and raccoons. If ants are bad where you are then diatomaceous earth needs to be placed around the base on the post. Keep branches away since black racers can hang off a limb and cross open air to get there.


    My nest box is not on some big open area. This is the most open view from the box.



    Here's what my nest box looks like. It gets some shade during the day which I think is important here.



    The guard around the pole actually swings to scare raccoons if they tried to climb up and has a wire mesh in the top that prevents snakes (black racers and rat snakes primarily). It's made from a galvanized flue pipe.





    There are different guard sizes for different birds, 1.5" for bluebirds is common. I think boxes that are 5" square and 10-12" tall are the best for bluebirds. Having wire mesh attached to the inside below the hole helps the babies crawl up to the opening.


    I think if you have seen bluebirds 4 miles away, you should put up a box. Remember they only raise young in a cavity. If there aren't a lot of old dead trees around you, where do they have to nest?


    It's fun and interesting to monitor the box.



    I feed dried mealworms (and dried mealworm sunflower seed block) produced by Audubon and sold at Lowe's. The bluebirds love this and they even feed it to the babies.


    Let me know if I can help further.


    Anna

    Tom thanked annabananaflzone9b
  • javiwa

    Thanks, Anna!


    Tom: I'm about 20 miles SW of downtown Houston, so I think it's 9b also. But we can get some sub-freezing weather here -- fairly unpredictable. I think during winter 2018, we had three straight days where we didn't get above freezing. The gent at Lowest told me he simply mulches very thoroughly, and it's worked for him.

  • annabananaflzone9b

    Sherry, when I first moved to FL in 2002, I was floored by all the housing development. I was appalled at the cost of a house where every house looked exactly the same or just like every 4th house on the block. But when I found out that most of the housing being built was being built it swamp/wet lands, I was dumbfounded. I mean I'm from MS and LA, and even there, people would never think of filling in swamp land to build houses. But here in the land of soon to be 22 million people, they do. And not just for people living here but about 95-100 million people who visit FL every year. The numbers are staggering!!


    But I digress. When we moved into our house in Tampa, the subdivision was still under construction. The recession hit and many lots and half built houses sat for a few years. I had 2 dogs that I walked a couple of times a day in the vacant lot areas. On the walks I started noticing sea shells washing out of the sand on the vacant lots. Not realizing that this sand had been hauled in to fill the swamp, I thought OMG this is an ancient sea bed we are living on and these are fossils!!! :) I collected many of them and showed them to a biologist I knew. He explained that yes they were fossils and did come from an ancient sea just not one in northwest Tampa. They came from a more central part of the state from phosphate mining. The overburden from phosphate mines is used to fill low areas in preparation for construction. Some actually mine sand for this purpose, too.


    The topography of much of Fl is so flat that it is a combination of "uplands" (dryer pine forests with some open grasslands) that drops maybe at the most 2' down to "lowlands" (water drainage, standing water, cyprus, oak hammock, etc..). So you have these little dry slightly higher islands of land surrounded by the areas of their run off. This means even away for the coast there are swamps and wet land areas.


    A good bit of this upland land is large ranch land and farmland. So what was left of the upland got built on first. It was cheaper. Then as the demand for housing and commercial real estate grew, the wet lands started to be used. There are a lot of people in FL living in filled in wet lands and they don't even know it. So all those retention ponds that you see are not really dug out or maybe just partially dug out, because the land has, in a way, been built up around it to create the pond.


    Developers are supposed to purchase wetlands and set that land aside in perpetuity to make up for the wetlands they destroyed. It's referred to as the "mitigation" process. The land purchased is referred to as "mitigation land". It sounds like a good thing and it is better than nothing, but it doesn't work to promote a healthy ecosystem. The mitigation lands are not connected and many are just a bunch of isolated small patches that aren't big enough to support much life on their own.


    I don't think there are any good answers when you have so many people living and visiting one place. It does kind of make a lot of Florida as fake as Disney World.


    Anna


    Tom thanked annabananaflzone9b
  • MissSherry

    Yes, that's the feeling I get when I go to Florida - fake. My daughter's home is in a gated community, very up scale, but if all those ponds are the 'real' part of the area, then her house could be in trouble.

    There are two areas I know of in Louisiana that filled in swamp land and built on it - New Orleans East and Metairie, both just outside N.O. Metairie has had gas explosions, because they filled it in with vegetative materials. When these plants began to decompose significantly, the weight of houses on bare pipes caused them to burst. N.O. East was totally flooded during Katrina, destroyed. It didn't get the publicity that the Lower 9th Ward did, but it was just as bad or worse. It was a swamp, and now I guess it'll go back to swamp.

    As you pointed out, the excessive numbers of people wanting a place to live is the problem. Florida should just tell them "NO!"


    Sherry

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Tom, of the kinds that you listed I get all except Pipevine. Many Polydamas; not you also? And these (photos taken today) :




  • Tom

    Like the pics, Four. Yes, I get Polydamas also. Getting somewhat fewer numbers this year, as compared to some other years. Wasps are very prevalent this year also.

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Today's caterpillar find made me aware that I did not mention the Queens. Always few (usually one at a time), and relatively infrequent (guess once per month averaged over a year). Individuals lay fewer eggs than Monarch individuals lay. Caterpillars eat less than Monarch caterpillars eat. In captivity, lower rate of survival to adulthood than rate for Monarchs.

    Queens at your place?

  • javiwa

    Sigh...not yet. Last year, they came in droves by early August.

  • Iris S (SC, Zone 7b)

    I guess Queens are not in my range. Never seen one. I checked INaturalist. There was one lonely dot at the South/ North Carolina border. Wonder if this was a fluke.

  • Tom

    I see very few. I saw one early this spring and nothing since. Lots of Monarchs, but no Queens. In reality the Monarchs are more colorful, but when a butterfly is so scarce one values them more.

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Spot on, Tom. I was going to include that they are regarded as special around here, but chose not to write that bit.

    Mildly humorous : They were the first butterflies that I enticed into the yard. For quite a whiIe I remained surprised that Florida "Monarchs" were different from those that I knew from other places.


  • MissSherry

    Things are good here, considering I live only a few blocks from down town Hattiesburg. Of course, down town Hburg is pretty much dead, and all the traffic is several miles west of here in the new parts of Hburg.

    I'm raising giant swallowtails, black swallowtails, jillions of gulf frits, which I'm not bringing in any more, letting them raise themselves, and seven red-spotted purples. 'Will be releasing two pipevine swallowtails today, with only one left. I've seen several big female tiger swallowtails (two black, one yellow), but found no eggs, seen cloudless sulphurs and sleepy oranges (no eggs/cats on cassia), silver spotted skippers, and I'm pretty sure I saw a male spicebush swallowtail twice in the back yard, but I was looking at him from the kitchen window, can't be sure. A while back I actually saw a snout butterfly, which I never saw in the country! I'm pretty sure I saw a question mark yesterday, it was even perched sideways on the side of the house like I've only seen them do - will be checking the false nettles for eggs/cats. There's a big elm tree here, but the leaves have gotten so ratty looking, I can't imagine a QM would lay eggs on any of them. I'm trying my hand at rooting rabbit's tobacco, also rue and false nettle, which I've successfully rooted in the past. A lone monarch visited several weeks ago - 'hope I get late summer/fall eggs this year, since I'm working like crazy squishing aphids on the MW.

    Things are MUCH better here than I ever thought they would be!





    Sherry

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Sherry recently wrote that she gets only the black ones, so, that yellow would be a scarce special to her. A few minutes ago I took the following photos of the scarce special in these parts (right Tom?) :

  • Tom

    Nice pics, Four. Yes they are not common around here. She is on a plumeria?

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Pagoda. Clerodendrum paniculatum. Swallowtails of all kinds want it, consistently. (In my yard, all kinds are males and females of Tiger, Giant, Spicebush, Polydamas.)

  • MissSherry

    Great pictures, Four! I love those tiger swallowtails - SO big!!


  • four (9b near 9a)

    That is what caused me to pay attention to that one, with so much Spicebush ST traffic these days..

    Nonetheless, If I were forced to make a statement unjustified by sample size, I would say that the blacks are not as large as the yellows. What do you think?

    Many of the yellows that I see are as large as any Giant (larger than many, because Giants vary).

    Fanciful thought tempered by appreciation of the real : Although it would be a thrill to have a 10-foot wingspan beauty in the yard everyday, I never would exchange the numerous normal sized butterfiles for it.

  • Tom

    The tigers that I see are generally bigger than the giants. I have't noticed any size difference between the black tigers and the mostly-yellow ones.


    I'm having difficulty getting any energy to work in the garden. It's so hot and humid. I have a lot that I should be doing, but I'm only getting the minimal done.

  • four (9b near 9a)

    Today a different one


    and in better lighted area, so, I took photos that

    better show the stripes.






    And the underside colors


  • Iris S (SC, Zone 7b)

    Do you have the feeling there are more of the dark ones this year? Feels like it in my yard. Beautiful pictures!

  • Tom

    Yes. Excellent pics, Four.

  • annabananaflzone9b

    I am seeing very few butterflies now. Over the last 9 days I have only seen 1 Monarch, 2 Gulf Frits, 1 Giant and 1 Polydamas. I'm not sure why. There's plenty of nectar and host plants. Just not any butterflies. 3 weeks ago I would have seen that many in one hour everyday.

  • Tom

    Sorry to hear that, Anna. It's difficult to understand these things. Hopefully they will come back soon.

    My butterflies pretty much disappeared with the wind and rain from Dorian, but they started coming back yesterday. Hummingbirds are still here and active. Saw a male yesterday. Normally I don't see males in September.

  • Monica Chortle

    Can you just post some images of Butterfly which will be coming at your place?

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