Randi V.W. Eckel, PhD

July 16, 2015

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Moths, Butterflies, and other fluttery things...

'Tis the season for Moths and Butterflies!

Next week is National Moth Week, and our closest North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Count (centered at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve) is on July 18th! Keep an eye out in your garden for butterflies, moths, native bees, and other pollinators who play an important role in keeping native plant populations healthy... and vice versa! Native plants are critical hosts to native pollinators; for example, as everyone seems to know by now, Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars can only feed on species of Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), just as native pollinators play an important role in the reproductive cycles of many native plants.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Black Swallowtails' native perennial host plants include Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea).

You may have seen some native species of butterflies and moths in your gardens already, such as territorial Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes), or the rather friendly Tawny and Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa sp.), who use American Hackberries (Celtis occidentalis) as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Tawny Emperors (Asterocampa clyton) are renowned as fearless little butterflies, and will readily pose for pictures.

The Dogbane Tiger Moth (Cycnia tenera), also known as Delicate Cycnia, lays its eggs almost exclusively on Indian Hemp.

The show doesn't stop when the sun goes down!

Keep an eye out for beautiful native moths like the Primrose Moth (Schinia florida), which cross-pollinates Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) flowers as it moves from plant to plant laying eggs in a cycle of mutualism, or Sphinx and Hawk Moths, most species of which prefer to visit flowers at dawn and dusk. Don't forget to look for butterflies and moths outside of the garden as well! Many species of native moths and butterflies can delight and fascinate far from any flower. For example, adult Tawny Emperors usually feed on sap or rotting fruit rather than nectar (although to be honest our local emperors mostly seem to enjoy licking our hands and office windows!). Another enchanting species, the elegant Dogbane Tiger Moth (Cycnia tenera), relies on Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum) as a host plant, and can sometimes be seen near outdoor lights after dark, making soft clicking noises to repel hunting bats as they fly.

Attracting native butterflies and moths helps to create an enjoyable healthy, sustainable ecosystem full of biodiversity... and it all starts with native plants!

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