Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Butterfly Weed, Butterflies, and Scary Caterpillars

The past two weeks have been hot and sticky with the exception of the last couple of days. A cool front today should really make a nice day. Rain has been intermittent but very light--we could use more.

Every year, I look forward to seeing the Butterfly Weed bloom. The ones in my yard bloom first followed by those along the road side and in my old pasture.

Photo: June 15, 2008

This photograph shows why it is named Butterfly Weed! In the same family as Common Milkweed, this plant blooms for almost a month attracting many butterflies (as well as caterpillars). Right now, there seems to be an abundance of Great Spangled Fritillary. This butterfly caterpillar feeds on violets which were also in abundance this year.

Photo: June 15, 2008

Later during the day, I counted 9 butterflies on the plant when it was in the shade. Several flew away before I could take this shot.

Photo: May 29, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed another group of butterflies--Black and Tiger Swallowtails feasting on donkey manure after a rain. Of course, most flew off before I could get this picture. I didn't post it then thinking donkey manure and butterflies aren't that much for a post.

Recently, a group of caterpillars caught my attention because of their fierce appearance. I haven't been able to identify the tree they are on. The tree was part of a group of seedlings (10 of which only 3 survived) received from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Photo: June 11, 2008

They were feeding together for awhile. A few minutes later (I confess I touched a couple with a twig), they moved in single file down the tree to another leaf where they fed. They didn't eat very many leaves so I left them alone.

Photo: June 15, 2008

Four days later, I noticed only one caterpillar on the tree--a little bigger and the branched spines a little longer. My best guess is that these are Buck Moth (Hermileuca maia) caterpillars. The government publication Caterpillars of Eastern Forests states that they are "gregarious in early instars" so that might explain why I saw them in a group first. Good thing I didn't touch them with my fingers because the guide warns that "Spines inflict painful sting followed by swelling." The guide also states they prefer oaks but will feed on a variety of shrubs and trees.

If anyone has a better idea of what these caterpillars are, let me know.


  1. Wow! That butterfly weed is Fabulous! I need to plant some of that!!

    I posted a Butterfly on my post Monday....and I think it is a type of Fritillary, but not sure which one.

    That caterpillar is awesome...but a bit scary too!

    These are lovely shots!!

  2. Butterflies are amazing and you captured them perfectly! BRAVO!

  3. Really enjoyed your butterfly photos!

  4. mon@rch--I love butterflies too. They are really in abundance right now.

  5. Kerri--I planted the butterfly weed years ago. The best way to plant is to collect a seed pod and plant the seeds in the ground. Butterfly weed is pretty tolerant of most soils except perhaps too wet areas. It needs sun.

  6. shellmo--thanks for your note. The butterflies are some of my favorite creatures to shoot but they often don't sit still long enough.

  7. That's a mean-looking caterpillar! Your butterflies are amazing - I've never seen to many fritillaries at once!


  8. Mary--thanks for the visit and note. I don't know if I just hadn't noticed but there does seem to be many fritillaries this year.