Thursday, February 5, 2015

Host with the Most

While the ButterflyGarden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge remains dormant, there is a butterfly nursery out there just waiting for spring.  These are plants that will feed, or host butterfly and moth caterpillars once eggs begin to hatch.

According to Gardens with Wings,
If you keep an eye out you’ll see the female as she flits around the plant, gently laying her next brood’s eggs, sometimes on the top of leaves but usually on the bottom, hidden from predators.  Then, in 10 to 14 days, the tiny larvae, less than an eighth inch long, emerge and begin eating the plant. It’s a fascinating process as they munch away, growing larger every day. Equally fascinating is watching the caterpillar leave the plant to form a chrysalis.    
Because tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food, the female butterfly locates and lays her eggs on only the type of plant that the caterpillar can use as food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they can eat. If the egg was not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar hatching from that egg will not survive.

So what is on the menu?  

Click here for a list of common garden plants that host caterpillars in North Texas, from the North American Butterfly Association. (Scroll past Nectar Plants to Host Plants)
Here are just a few of the “caterpillar nurseries” that have been planted or are on order for spring planting in the garden at the Refuge, and the species they will host:
  • Milk Weed - Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias viridis –Monarch and Queen
  • Texas Redbud, Yaupon Holly  – Henry’s Elfin
  • Carolina Buckthorn – American Snout
  • Bigelow Oak – Horace’s Duskywing, Hairstreak
  • Inland Sea Oats – Bell’s Roadside Skipper
  • Downy Forestiera -  Hairstreaks
  • Passionvine – Gulf Fritillary
When you see some raggedy chewed up leaves on these host plants, you will know new butterflies will soon appear!

Monarch Caterpillar, by Brenda Loveless

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