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Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Posted by okiedawn Z7 OK (My Page) on
Tue, Aug 7, 12 at 0:44

Today was a great butterfly day.

It wasn't that we saw a lot of butterflies---mostly just the usual sulphurs and buckeyes we've been seeing everyday. They were out and about in the yard nectaring on flowers not too long after sunrise this morning.

The treat was seeing a swallowtail nectaring on flowers around 3 or 3:30 p.m. when we returned home from a fire.

It was the first two-tailed swallowtail I've seen in several weeks, and it was visiting the flowers of a desert willow. Hurray, hurray, hurray! Now that we've seen the one, maybe we'll have more.

Normally we have swallowtails all over the place for months, but they have been mostly AWOL this whole year. It is easy to take them for granted when you have a lot of them around. I sure have missed them this year, so even seeing one is a huge treat.

Dawn


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Hi Dawn,

I've been seeing the occasional eastern black swallowtail and a female of the eastern tiger, but have never seen the two-tailed. My book has them farther west, but they don't always read the same book I do! My poor parsley was covered with cats, and I'm surprised we haven't seen more adults. Lots of Gulf Frits, though; they do love the passionvine!
Carol


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Hey Carol,

I get all kinds of butterflies that the books do not specifically say exist here. It makes me think the books are incomplete. My favorite swallowtail is the zebra longwing, which I don't see real often. I mostly just see the Eastern Black and Pipevine Swallowtails in great profusion, and then have an occasional visit from one of the more rare ones. There have not been very many here this year and I suppose that last year's and this year's drought is to blame for that. There's normally so many here that they are almost a pest because they eat the larval food to the ground so often that it quits coming back after a while. I have perfect parsley this year, and no cats so far. We have Gulf Frits and I don't know who around me has passionflower because I don't. The native passionflower apparently doesn't thrive in our dense red clay as I've never seen it anywhere in the county and I am out on fire calls in every remote area you can imagine. So, someone must have planted passionvine here somewhere. I bet y'all have the native ones growing wild there, and I wish we did here.

The regular butterfly population was down in the spring, but at least we had a bunch of red admirals and others that we generally don't see as often, though the swallowtails just weren't here. The sulphurs weren't here much in spring either, but their population is larger every week. I've seen one swallowtail here and one there in the last few weeks, but if you add up all the sightings, it wouldn't be as many as I normally would see on one sunny February or March afternoon. I've been having withdrawal.

I wish our swallowtail and monarch populations had been half as big this year as our population of checkered whites, which I could live without.

I hope next year the butterfly population will have made a better recovery following the 2012 drought than they have made this year after the 2011 drought.

Dawn


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Yes, the Black Swallowtail population has been way down for me. I have seen a couple, and today I found one pupating on one of the Fennel stalks. I have lots of predators, too, this year, and I think that many of the eggs layed and/or larvae have been consumed by them. I didn't bring any in to raise, but I may if I get more.

Dawn, you may also get Spicebush if you have any native Spicebush, or Sassafras trees around. They may also use Tulip trees, but the first two mentioned are their faves. I doubt Spicebush would be available right now since it takes more water - water we don't have available right now.

It's rare to see Zebras in their range even. Their food plant is Pawpaw.

Another one with low numbers this year is the Giant Swallowtail. I have not seen any of these guys and gals. Their food plants are Prickly Ash, Wafer Ash (Prelea trifoliata), Citrus, and the non-native herb, Rue.

Gulf Frits are making up for last year, though. I hope you get swallowtail eggs!

Susan


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Susan, Sometimes I see Spicebush, but not terribly often. I think I get a lot of butterflies here, too, that are more common in Texas than in OK because I'm surrounded on three sides by Texas.

I know that Zebra prefer Pawpaw and I don't have any pawpaws, but there must be some of them somewhere because I see Zebras every now and then. After we moved here, it took me a long time to figure out what they were because I wasn't used to seeing them in Fort Worth.

Gulf Frits have been great this year, but I'd still like to have my favorites, the Swallowtails, rebuild their population. I know that they will rebuild, sooner or later, but hope for the former instead of the latter.

I don't think I am seeing as many cat predators this year, so maybe they all are up there in central OK with you. Really, the whole predator population is down compared to previous years.\

I am hoping for a more typical year in 2013 and not one of these hot, dry years when the wild life populations falls through the floor.

I am hoping the dragonfly population rebounds. Of course, water is necessary for that. We usually have many different kinds of dragonflies and damsel flies, and this year we keep seeing the same 2 or 3 varieties over and over again. It is the worst dragonfly year ever here.

Dawn


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

I have lots of Dragonflies and bees, wasps, Robber Flies, Ichneumon, flies. I tried your trick yesterday with the sugar water spritz, and then it rained. Oops! Another time. I have many, many wasps now that I didn't have for spring. I see them patrolling my plants, working them inside and out to find butterfly larvae. I also have a lot of birds. So, it is the classic survival of the fittest theme here. My big orb weavers are missing this year. As are many lacewings. Not many lady beetles either. I killed 3 Wheel Bugs the other day. Hope that was all of them. They hang out on the passion vine looking for cat food! I found two Black Swallowtail cats the other day, moved them to the better Fennel (Bronze) and one wandered off to pupate and the other pupated on the Fennel stem.

I usually have BSTs every year, even tho the population is down. Populations of butterflies ebb and flow. At least they are not a threatened species so we should see more next year. A couple of years ago it was the Red Admiral and we had tons this spring. I hadn't seen a Variegated Frit for many years and we also have a glut of them as well this spring. Many of them migrate to Northern areas, as far North as Canada, and spend the summer there where it is not as hot and dry in the southern states and food is always plentiful up there. Some butterflies are here, but aestivating (a state of sort of "suspended animation") until the temps cool off. They even stay here thru winter, hiding out in trees, crevices, wood piles, to come out of hiding on warmer, sunnier days during winter, e.g, Mourning Cloak, Goatweed Leafwing. These butterflies feed on tree sap, scat, rotting fruit, etc., so they don't require nectar plants for food. I have seen Goatweed Leafwings in my yard during the winter, on warm, sunny days.

The Spicebush, IMHO, is found more in the Eastern part of the State. You're probably right on the line where a few travel. I have never seen one in my yard. I have seen a couple of Viceroys and Red-Spotted Purples, but not many, because they stick to the rural areas where lots of vegetation, trees, lakes, rivers, are found, rather than suburbia and heavily populated cities. So, I rarely see them, but you might, being close to the Red River, and more rural.

I expect the Monarch population will be low this year again, with heat and drought impeding their Southerly migration - many will die from lack of food available on the prairies.

While some of us with cultivated gardens will play an important role in providing nectar plants for the Monarchs, that won't make up for the loss of nectar on the prairies and in the forests, etc.

Susan


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Well, if spraying sugar water to attract beneficials will make it rain, I'll go out and spray sugar water every day.

We always have southern robber flies and others, but not as many this year and none last year. I think last year's drought killed off almost everything. We still don't have been bees or wasps, though I did see one bumble bee at a sunflower yesterday, and one wasp on my pinkeye purplehull pea plants. I've noticed wasps love all the southern pea blooms. Ditto on not having many lady bugs either.

I should make it clear that we have tons of dragonflies. It is just that I'd say we have dozens of them here, and most year we have hundreds. So, to me, it seems like we don't have many but the more accurate way to say it is that we don't have a lot compared to how many we normally have.

I've only seen two big orb weavers, but plenty of other types of spiders have taken over the spaces they usually occupy. It is my understanding many people here in southern OK have huge issues with brown recluse and black widow spiders this year, although at our house, their population seems about the same as always.

We usually have Goatwings and a few other butterflies in winter. It always surprises me to see them out on an occasional warm winter day after we've had very cold weather. I usually put out something for them to eat on the compost pile because they visit it often in winter looking for fruity scraps or peels or whatever. We normally do see viceroys, queens and red-spotted purples as well as all kinds of blues and sulphurs, but this year they all are pretty scarce. We don't even have as many houseflies around as usual, and I am not complaining about that!

What we still have lots and lots of is locusts, crickers, katydids and grasshoppers. However, I do think that their populations have peaked for this summer and now are falling.

I agree with you that the Monarch population is so low that the migration likely will be pitiful. I look at the browned, drying pastures here and cannot imagine what will be in bloom for them in October. Even the greenthread daisies that normally handle drought well are withering and dying. We have almost no natives in bloom right now, not even the frogfruit that bloomed most of last summer. The snow-on-the-prairie started growing and attaining a good size, and then the temps started hitting 108-110 and they just burnt up out there in the pastures. There's just nothing, nothing, nothing. The liatris are withering and drying and turning brown before they could bloom, and the goldenrod made a big effort to bloom early a couple of weeks ago and now are brown and going dormant. If anything, it looks worse than last year. We need for 2-4" of rain to fall in the next couple of weeks, or non of the natives in the fields will have time to rebound, bloom and provide anything for the fall migration. I cannot believe this is happening two summers in a row.

Dawn


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Well, at least the temps have calmed down for the next week. For that, I am truly grateful. You are SO lucky, Dawn, to have all those wildflowers. Both the Greenthread and Frogfruit are larval host plants for Dainty Sulphur and Phaon Crescent butterflies, respectively. Any of those butterflies that rely on native species of larval host plants will likely experience diminished populations next year.

You are welcome to all of the wasps I have in the yard right now - I will put a "bug" in their ear that you're looking for a few good wasps. I have plenty of bees if the darned Robber Flies will quit eating them. I have never had Robber Flies before, or at least that I've seen, in these numbers.
I have plenty of Carpenter and Bumblebees. In fact, I have more Bumblebees than I normally see, with the decline in their population.

It is so sad to hear about the natives on the prairies, Dawn. So sad,

Susan


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Susan, It is sad to see it.

As a bit of good news, I found two liatris blooming today. They only have an area about 1.5" long in bloom at the top of the stalk, but it is better than nothing. I assume the sudden bloom is because we had 0.4" of rain between Tuesday afternoon and Wed morning.

If the frogfruit are the larval host plant for those butterflies, that explains why I routinely see them so often. We have three good-sized patches of frogfruit scattered around near the house. One of them stayed green most of last year, but hasn't done well this year. It is too far from the house for me to water. The second patch is near the Peter Rabbit Garden, so I give it water about twice a month and it is green and in bloom. The third is out back behind the barn and it is not as dry and sad-looking as the one in the front pasture, but doesn't look quite as good as the one near the Peter Rabbit garden. Luckily, frogfruit revives quickly with a little moisture so the rain we just got may help the two patches that aren't looking two great at the moment. Greenthread daisies normally are one of our most drought-tolerant wildflowers and are about the last thing to give up before the prickley pear cacti start dehydrating and wrinkling up. It seems like the greenthreads are giving up earlier this year than they did last year, and likely it is because this is the second summer of a two-year drought.

We normally have lots of flies, but not as many this year and I am glad. When Chris was in high school he and his classmates could spend 1 or 2 afternoons in our garden and catch enough insects for their whole insect collection for their biology class. Then they got online and spent hours figuring out what they had. At one point, they asked me if I knew that we had some endangered species of southern robber fly. They said "it is really rare". I laughed and said "not here". I think rareness must be in the eye of the beholder because we have tons of them here most year. Even Tim's coworkers' children often got bugs from our place for their insect collections because they lived in nice suburbs in the D-FW metroplex where pesticides were used often, making it hard for a kid to find enough insects to meet the teacher's requirements for an "A". At our house, they could easily find enough bugs for an "A+" without even trying.

Some cities in the D-FW area are starting to do lots of spraying, including possibly aerial spraying, because of the West Nile Virus outbreak there. That is going to be devastating for all the insect life and I hate to hear it, especially because of how much it will hurt the bees.

Dawn


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Oh, no! Dallas has a very active Lepidopterist group, so maybe they will get involved. Altho I certainly understand that it will be people over butterflies they are worried about. I heard on the news about the proliferation of WNV in Texas. I best start being more careful myself.

Susan


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

So far, Dallas has declined to do aerial spraying. Many areas are doing the spraying from trucks that drive down the streets sending out a pesticide fog behind them. Of course, it is killing much more than the mosquitoes.

I'm linking yesterday's story that describes bees as collateral damage. You'd think people would care more about the bees than about nuking the skeeters. It is sad.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bees As Collateral Damage


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

Yes, I believe in this case it ought to be "personal" responsibility by individuals rather than radical, presumptive, citywide spraying to deal with this issue. I mean, there are those out there claiming they don't want the government to interfere any more than they already do. Disclaimer: I am not a skinhead.

Susan


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RE: Finally! A Swallowtail Visits The Flowers

lol I never would have figured you were a skinhead.

I saw on the news today that Dallas has approved aerial spraying in three sections of the city. I just hate this.

I know that West Nile Virus is a serious public threat and is at epidemic levels in the Dallas area (and is rapidly developing here in OK now), but I wish they would let people take care of their own standing water, and then let people make the decision whether they wish to go outside unprotected and risk the mosquito bites. All adults are pretty much capable of weighing the risks and deciding to stay in at dawn and dusk, spray with DEET repellents, wear long sleeves and pants, etc. Then the city could focus on putting mosquito dunks in their own bodies of water that do not contain fish that eat the mosquito larvae, and everything likely would be fine.

I just hate that so much of the wild critters (including fish in people's lily ponds) often end up being collateral damage from all the spraying. Last time I checked, the bees in American are already struggling enough with CCD, and now we are going to hurt some of the ones that have managed to survive. If I was a pond owner in the areas where spraying will be occurring, I'd be putting a wading pool in the guest room for the Koi, gold fish, and other fish in the hopes I could save their lives. The last time they did aerial spraying a lot of people's fish died. If the fish are that affected, then how much more affected are the beneficial insects and even the birds that will feed on the insects that have been sprayed? How can we do this to our bees and other desirable insects.

I agree with you on the issue of personal resonsibility, and I am not a skinhead either.

Dawn


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