By Eric Duran
Last month we took a look at the Monarch butterflies, their biology and the problems they face. But Monarchs aren’t the only
butterflies that visit our yards in West University and Bellaire. This month, we’re going to take a look at some common fall butterflies found in area gardens. And for those of you who would like more of these colorful visitors, we’ll also mention some good host plants and popular nectaring plants for these species.
This is a great time for watching fall emerging species, as well as those that are migrating down here from the north.
The Monarch is not the only milkweed butterfly that flies into our gardens. We also get the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus. Just like the Monarch, the queen lays its eggs on different species of milkweed. Like Monarchs, they are also poisonous from eating toxic milkweed at the caterpillar stage. They are similar in appearance, but are a darker burnt orange and have less black markings.
I would suggest planting Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) as a host plant for these caterpillars. They love nectar from a wide variety of native plants. I recommend Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides / L. horrida).
One of the more noticeable butterflies that appears in big numbers here in the fall is the large and bright yellow Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). Like most sulphurs and yellows, these butterflies lay their eggs on plants in the legume family (peas and beans), such as Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and plants in the genus Senna. I know that Candlestick plant is readily available, but it’s worth your time to try and find a native Texas Senna species, like Coffeeweed, Lindheimer’s Senna, and Septic weed, because you will benefit a wider variety of native Texas insects. Cloudless Sulphurs also feed hungrily on Turks Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea).
Another rather distinctive looking fall butterfly is the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). It’s what I would call a medium sized butterfly, with a wingspan about 2 ½ inches across, and fall-colored with a dark brown background, orange stripes, and colorful eyespots. They are not as picky as some butterflies about their caterpillar host plants, laying their eggs on Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), Wild Plantain (Plantago spp.), False Foxgloves (Agilinis spp.), native toadflaxes, and Wild Petunia (Ruellia carolinensis). Like the queens, they love feeding on Blue Mistflower and native Texas Lantana.
There are of course a number of other butterfly species that make themselves known in our parks and gardens in the fall. This is a great time to head outside and look for them, and you may get some extra sightings for your efforts: Along with fall butterflies, you’ll be able to see late emerging and fall migrating moths and dragonflies.
Remember to plant native Texas plants to help out the widest variety of native wildlife, and stop the spread of non-native invasive species.
If you have questions about butterflies, native plants, or fall migrating wildlife, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duran is the head naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire, NatureDiscoveryCenter.org, 713-667-6550.