It’s been a slow year for butterflies in the yard. (And in other yards, as noted in the comments section on this recent post.) There were no butterflies at all in May, and in June the only visitors were a few skittish Gray Hairstreaks. They took brief sips from the hydrangea, then flew away in search of better nectar.
As July grew hotter and hotter, I caught glimpses of larger butterflies fluttering high overhead, but they never stopped in the yard. Our new butterfly bush bloomed in vain, and the praying mantis lurking among its branches eventually moved into the nearby irises.
Finally, late in July, I spotted a Painted Lady.
A skipper arrived the same day, the first of an unexpected abundance of skippers. In past years these small butterflies were rare in the yard, but they seem to find the butterfly bush irresistible. Now I see them almost daily.
I haven’t been able to identify any of the skippers in my photos. The closest I can get is to say they all fall into the sub-group of “closed wing skippers.” As always, please comment if you can confirm or correct my identifications!
The only other butterfly I’ve seen in the yard was a faded, torn Common Buckeye. I wondered if its wing damage indicated long, perilous journeys or a single stormy event…
While each new visitor is a hopeful sign, I’m puzzled by the conspicuous absence of Commas and Question Marks, Red Admirals, Viceroys, sulfurs, and swallowtails. Others are puzzled, too. A short internet search found several articles detailing decreased sightings of butterflies in eastern North Carolina and Virginia:
- Where are all the butterflies? by Debbi Roos of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension
- Where have all the butterflies gone? by Adrian Higgins at The Washington Post
- Fewer butterflies spotted this season by Meredith Newman at the Richmond Times-Dispatch
- Butterfly numbers are down this summer by Diane Tennant at The Virginian-Pilot
Most sources blame the long, cold winter and associated rain, and some cite additional factors such as habitat loss and pesticide use. Whatever the cause, I hope it is temporary. In the world’s Field Guide to Small Joys, butterflies fill a uniquely delightful chapter.