Silver-spotted skipper butterfly

Have you wondered if there are as many butterflies this year as last, or perhaps more than usual? Many people are fascinated by these delicate creatures that go through so many life changes.

In late July, the Frederick County Nature Council conducted its annual butterfly count with the help of other volunteers from the 4-H Bug Patrol. They observed 24 species and a total of 75 butterflies in a two-hour span.

The three most counted were the cabbage white, the pearl crescent and the silver-spotted skipper. Among other familiar butterflies sighted were two monarchs, two common buckeyes, two Eastern commas, two red admirals and two Eastern tiger swallowtails. The count was up from the 57 seen last year but down from the 136 counted in 2010.

Numbers from any one count are not meant as a broad indication of the butterfly populations. The observers at Hawk Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania counted a one-day record 2,806 migrating monarchs Sept. 10. This year, the monarchs seem to have migrated through our area earlier than usual.

The cabbage white is the butterfly form of the larvae that is a pest to vegetable growers. It was brought here from Europe about 1860. It overwinters in the pupa stage and emerges as a spring butterfly. The pearl crescent overwinters as a caterpillar with a "diapause," a pause in growth.

The silver-spotted skipper has two broods each year from May to September. These are examples of the great variation in life cycles of different species.

Butterflies are very particular about their host plants. The skipper prefers locusts and aspen, while the pearl crescent uses asters as its host. Monarchs use only the milkweed as its host.

Butterflies and moths are great examples of the need for native plants. An Internet search for butterfly host plants will get you to many sites that list the hosts for the caterpillars to munch on as well as lists of nectar sources for the adults. Common plants such as violets and hackberry trees are hosts to several species. Herbs such as dill and fennel are also host plants. Species such as the spicebush swallowtail get their names from their host plants.

To attract butterflies to your yard, you need both host plants for the larvae and nectar plants for the adults. Not only are many of the butterfly-friendly plants beautiful, but you will have the added pleasure of enjoying these amazing creatures.

Fall color alert

Many signs of the autumn season are now upon us, including cooler mornings, fewer hours of daylight, acorns and hickory nuts lying beneath trees and some fall color beginning to appear. Like most of the growing season, the fall colors are showing up almost two weeks ahead of schedule. Depending on your location in the county, you may be experiencing anywhere between 10 percent and 40 percent peak color. In the mountains, the maple, ash, birch and hickory are joining the dogwood, gum, Virginia creeper and sumac with color change. You will now see more yellows and purple along with the reds. These colors mixed together with the colorful goldenrods and ironweed are creating very colorful landscapes.

Don't delay. Get outside and take in the scenery before it's too late.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 10/7/2012