The hot days of August are slowly giving way to Fall chills - well at least the nights are getting to where you might want to wear a light, long-sleeved, shirt. Soon the butterflies that seem to traverse my yard, back and forth, all day during the warm days of summer will be gone.
|Queen Elizabeth II's personal Barbadian flag|
|The Barbadian coat of arms|
I don't know where they go. Well, actually I do - most of them just die, but I will be looking forward to seeing their offspring next summer. My back and front yards are rather wild places with lots of different flowers for them to suck on and many leafy plants to raise their young on. I even have weeds for the very picky.
I don't use any insecticides or artificial fertilizers, I let most volunteers grow at least till I figure out what they are and I have a policy of "nothing organic leaves the yard". It's paradise for the butterflies and other bugs. It's also a stable environment, natural and balanced. I haven't had any infestations in over 5 years.
Sure I'll have some aphids in the spring and grubs in my grass, and some rose buds will get eaten but never anything that would demand chemicals. It's been 5 years since I had to use insecticidal soap - organic works.
Throughout the summer my Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is like a beacon to all insects with a taste for nectar. It's continuos display of bright orange and pungent flowers teams with all kinds of flutterbies. The flower is used on Queen Elizabeth II's personal Barbadian flag. You get your own flag to use just when you visit the island of Barbados - how stuck up is that? The Barbadian coat of arms also uses the flower - guess they really like it. I've had it for about 5 years now. Gotten big and might need a major pruning next year. I love the flowers but it grows a little gangly and has trouble supporting the longer branches. Maybe I should rethink my pruning technique. The Shamans of the Amazon rain-forest use the flowers, leaves, seeds and roots of ayoowiri, that's what they call it there, as medicine for fever, sores, cough, breathing difficulty, chest pain and to induce abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy - that's some potent plant I got me in the backyard.
The most common large butterfly in my yard is the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). It's a lovely bright orange color and graceful, slow flyer. Their caterpillars feed on the leaves of the Red Grandilla passionflower (Passiflora coccinea ) that grows all along my back wall. That is one aggressive and vigorous plant - I'm glad the caterpillars help a little with keeping it in check.
Almost every time I go out to my backyard midday, if I stand for just a few minutes, one or two Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) will fly by. They don't seem to stop and linger for long, always on the move. I had the hardest time getting a good photo. They would land just for a split second and never even stop flapping their wings - flutter, flutter, flutter - so many flowers, so little time. Finally got one to rest and pose on my Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis ). The honeysuckle is great for attracting hummingbirds and I have it growing over 15 ft tall against a gazebo in the middle of the yard.
In the same "big and conspicuous" butterfly family are the Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) that come by once in a while. Must have been a group tour yesterday stopping to refuel at the Pride of Barbados for the last leg of their trip to the Mariposa Monarca Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.
Some other big butterflies I see passing through my yard from time to time are the Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe) and the Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae). Don't know how the Sleepy Orange got it's name because it sure as hell wouldn't get drowsy and sit still long enough to get it's picture taken. It was almost as fast and fluttery as all the little small butterflies that dart all over the yard. The only one I managed to photograph with any clarity was Reakirt's Blue (Hemiargus isola). When they rest, which is hardly ever, they seem to always keep their wings up - probably for camouflage.
There is reason to be afraid. Apart from birds and lizards my back yard is occasionally patrolled by Flame Skimmers (Libellula saturata) and booby trapped with the huge webs of the Western Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona oaxacensis). I hate walking into these things especially in the morning. Since my yard is well planted they mostly build their webs right across the areas where people walk. I think Rachel and Tasia dislike them the most so I guess, if they didn't just dislike all bugs in general, they would consider the Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) an ally. This solitary wasp patrols the yard to find, capture and paralyze spiders. The still live arachnids are used to provide sustenance for her brood inside the little, tube like, mud huts she builds on the walls of my house - insert evil laugh here.
There seems to be a strange demarcation in my yard - an unseen, at least to me, border for Katydids and Grasshoppers. Towards the end of Summer I see them often on my roses and plants in the front yard but seldom in the back. This time of year, shake a branch in the front of the house and several insects will hop off and fly away. In the back - no hoppers. Wonder what that's all about. At least the honey bees attend to every flower all through the summer - I have considered a hive after a swarm of bees started to build in my composting barrel. They left - I figure it was the accommodations.
Soon all this Insecta and Araneae activity will die down as the nights and days get colder and we move into the fearsome SoCal winter. Ah, for the opportunity to wear a light cotton sweater, give a fake shiver, say brrr and laugh with glee as we consider the winters we used to know. My Polak blood, like the hemolymph of an aging May Beetle, sure is running thin these days.