|A chrysalis to the Pipevine Swallowtail.|
I had another exciting class at the Mt. Cuba Center today. This time the class was on Butterflies in Your Garden, which focused on the most common and showiest Lepidoptera you can see flying in the daylight hours. The lecture was well constructed but had a few omissions like Hummingbird Moths, Mourning Cloak, and Skippers as a whole. They were brought up and talked about as we chanced upon them during the tour though so that's fine. It's hard planning around nature.
The tour started with a bang as we went to the Round Garden. It's a circular pavilion with a rather nice pool in the middle
From there we moved to a little spot next to their Trial Garden. It doesn't actually have a name but it's a nice garden bed. A massive Great Spangled Fritillary, Speyeria cybele, immediately caught my eye. And best of all it was very cooperative for my camera.
These are about the same size as the Monarch butterfly, if not slightly bigger. They use native violets as a host plant, however, females only lay eggs in the autumn and not necessarily anywhere near a violet. The poor caterpillars hatch and over winter with nothing to eat for 5 to 8 months. Barely any of them survive.
So to sustain a population of these it sounds like lots of violets spread around the garden are needed. I read in Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History (Princeton Field Guides) that caterpillars are nocturnal feeders with this species, and are usually found under logs and stones during the day. Be careful, as they're covered in thorns. They're said to be sizable creatures in the last instars and able to eat two whole violets in a day.
Red-Spotted Purple, Limenitis arthemis. Here's one that was mentioned and I've seen them flying around my garden too. It's hard to tell from the photo but the upper corners of the wings have red spots on them, well more like orange blushing. This is a species that you'll find on rotting fruit, dung, and sipping at tree sap.
So that was my visit. :)