Tag Archives: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!

Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers largely depend upon an additional variety of conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions all along their route, from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.

Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help species such as the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators)? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.

Monarchs and New England Aster

WHEN A WEED IS NOT A WEED and Why Joe-Pye is So Darn Lovable!

A bodacious beauty possessing the toughest of traits, Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium) is the stalwart star of the eastern native plants garden. Large, airy dome-shaped flowerheads blooming in a range of shades from pink to lavender to purple provide food, by way of nectar, foliage, and seed heads to myriad species of bees, butterflies, and songbirds. Beginning in mid-July and continuing through mid-October, pollinators on the wing can find sustenance in a garden planted with Little Joes and Big Joes.

Joe Pye, the person, is thought to have been a North Carolina Native American medicine man who used these wildflowers to cure many ailments, including typhoid fever. The plants became know as Joe Pye’s weed.

A name changer from weed to wildflower would be a game changer for numerous species of native plants. Why do so many native wildflowers have the suffix weed? Because when the colonists arrived from Europe, they wanted their crops, as well as European cultivated flowers, to grow in their new gardens. Anything native that interfered with their plans was deemed a “weed.” Examples of beautiful and invaluable North American native pollinator plants with the name given weed are milkweed (Asclepias), sneezeweed (Helenium), ironweed (Veronia), and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Three favorite and fabulous species for the New England landscape are Eutrochium purpureum, E. maculatum, and E. dubium. Joe-pye grows beautifully in average to moist soil, in full sun to light shade. Plant Joe-pye in the back of the border. E.purpurem grows five to seven feet tall, while Little Joe grows three to five feet. With their beautiful blossoms, robust habit, winter hardiness, and disease resistance, these long blooming members of the sunflower family are treasured for their ability to attract an array of butterflies, bees, and songbirds to the garden during the mid- to late-summer season.

Just look at this sampling of the different species of Lepidoptera finding noursihment from the blossoms of Joe-pye!

Tiger Swallowtail

Painted Lady

Black Swallowtail

Monarch

Joe-Pye does especially well in a coastal native plants garden.