Butterflies in the garden
"Yuck! There’s a caterpillar on my parsley! Squish!"
That’s the usual response to creepy crawlies on plants, but when we learn that the green caterpillar sharing our parsley or carrot tops is a beautiful swallowtail butterfly, it is easier to resist the urge to bring down the hand of God on these hapless creatures.
Or take the larvae of the red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta). While the parsley worm is pretty, being a vivid green and black, the red admiral caterpillar is blackish and spiny with maybe just a touch of orange or yellow, and it is not at all attractive.
Moreover, it hides out on stinging nettles in a tent it makes from the leaves of its intended food. But as a butterfly it is a gorgeous visitor to the garden, with its red to orange bands on a black field with white markings at the wing tips. This is an aggressive butterfly that will defend its territory vigorously once it sets up house.
Another outstanding visitor is the mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). This is a fairly large butterfly with purple-black or brown-black wings featuring a bright yellow border and a row of iridescent blue spots at the border’s inner edge.
Its common name comes from its resemblance to the kind of coats worn by people in mourning at one time, but in England it is more aptly called Camberwell Beauty.
The larvae are spiny and unattractive, and they feed on willows, American elm, cottonwoods and paper birch, laying their eggs in a band around the twigs of these trees. The butterflies like to feed on the sweet sap of the oak tree or on decaying fruit, but occasionally they will come to a flower for nectar.
An even more common butterfly is the pretty little orange and brown fritillary. It’s larvae feed on pansies and violets. The caterpillar is attractive with orange and black stripes interrupted with spots of white and black spines. It will voraciously devour pansy blossoms and foliage in your garden.