Lure Butterfly Larvae

first_imgOne thing that works is to keep a patch of truly wild weeds and grasses.Georgia has more than 150 kinds of butterflies. There are more kinds of larval foodplants than there are butterflies. A hundred or so native grasses and other plantsgathered from old fields will put you off to a good start.If you prepare such a wild place, the butterflies will come. They will most likely besmall, obscure butterflies, including some skippers, satyrs and wood nymphs.But unless you get down into the weeds and crawl along looking for them, you won’t seetheir larvae.You could also plant trees that will serve as caterpillar food. The tiger swallowtailwould be nice to have. Its larvae feed on trees including tulip poplar, wild cherry, ashand sweet bay.But the tiger swallowtail has so many common trees to choose from, why should it chooseyours?That’s why I like the sugarberry. It tends to be scarce. But I have a few in my yard.Sugarberry is the host for hackberry, tawny emperor and snout butterflies, which come tomy yard each summer.But tree-feeding caterpillars are likely to be up too high to see.How about flowers?Certain flowers are advertised as larval food plants. But before you buy, askspecifically which butterflies use them.Milkweeds are a common recommendation for monarchs. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen amonarch caterpillar on milkweed in the Southeast. It does happen, but northbound springmonarchs are scarce in these parts.Up north, monarchs are common all summer. There a butterfly enthusiast can search amilkweed patch in July and have a good shot at finding monarch caterpillars.So what will work here?Forget flowers — think vegetables.Plant parsley, carrots and dill for black swallowtails. Dill is their favorite. Ifblack swallowtails pass through your garden, this will work.Maypop or passion flower is a good choice. It’s not a vegetable, but it thrives in thedisturbed soil of a vegetable garden better than in the wild.In late summer, search maypop for the spiny caterpillars of two beautiful butterflies,the gulf fritillary and the variegated fritillary.Plant beans for long-tailed skippers. This butterfly is a gem. It’s brown with dustyblue hindwings bearing long tails. Its hairless, big-headed green larva is fat in themiddle and tapers to both ends.Longtailed skipper larvae can defoliate your beans. So plant a few extra for them — orthin out the caterpillars if they’re eating too much.If you don’t mind a few pests and like moths, too, watch the tomatoes for tomato sphynxlarvae. They come by night like jumbo hummingbirds to lay their eggs.The caterpillar is green with white diagonal stripes. It has a conspicuous, butharmless, horn on the tail. It may grow to be four inches long. But it doesn’t make acocoon. It burrows into the soft soil and transforms into a chrysalis.If you want to see your caterpillars transform, gently capture a few when they arenearly full grown. Put them in a cage and feed them the source plant from which you tookthem. Then watch for the miracle. Butterflies don’t live on flowers alone.If you’re a butterfly gardener, you’ve no doubt heard the advice to plant “larvalfood plants” so your butterflies can lay eggs on them. Then watch the spectacle ofinsect metamorphosis unfold before your eyes.This advice sounds sincere and simple. But has it ever worked for you?Chances are you’ve rarely seen a sure-enough butterfly caterpillar in your garden –except maybe cabbage butterfly larvae, and who cares about them?last_img

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