This morning my husband took this picture of a tiger swallowtail nectaring on sweet joe pye weed (see the previous post for info about this lovely plant). I expect to see lots of tiger swallowtails in my garden; they especially love the bright-purple ironweed (Vernonia fascilutata), which is in bloom now. This year I’ve seen only very few–perhaps two or three the whole season.
The same goes for great spangled fritillaries, painted skippers, sulphurs, red admirals, hairstreaks–maybe one or two the whole season so far, whereas I usually see them throughout the season. Many years I see abundant red admirals nectaring on the blooming ninebark. Their larval food, nettles, grows in several waste places nearby. Not this year.
In the spring, I expect to see clouds of Peck’s skippers and spring azures. Both breed in my garden, the skippers on the abundant grasses, and the blues on the flowering parts of many native shrubs. This year, again, there were just a few of each. Both these species go through two or three generations per season, however, and I’m now seeing many skippers, almost as many as usual, nectaring on the flowering perennials. Here’s a picture of a Peck’s skipper on a New England aster, taken last September.
Now the populations seem to be recovering, after an almost butterflyless spring. So here’s what I think is happening: The very cold winter killed off many eggs and overwintering adults, and the late spring gave the few that remained an even later start. Now that the plants have bounced back, the butterfly populations are rebounding as well, so we are seeing almost normal numbers in the summer generations (many butterflies go through two or three generations per season). My guess is that this is happening to all our nonmigrating local butterflies.
So a lovely summer with lots of foliage and flowers is great for our resident butterflies. But it will not help the monarchs. Right now eggs should be hatching on the abundant milkweed in my garden. But I haven’t seen a single monarch–egg, larvae, pupae, or adult–this year.