By Lisa LK. Although our lives have changed a lot these past few months, the cycle of Nature continues much as we know it. Butterflies, those delicate, often colorful creatures we see mostly in the daytime, are back, fluttering around our yards.
With six legs, all butterflies are insects. They rest with their wings closed, making them look very flat, as if they have only one wing. Actually, they have four wings! If you get close enough, look at their antennae: they’re shaped like upside-down golf clubs, smooth with a bump furthest from their heads.
Take a look around your yard and neighborhood. Have you noticed any white butterflies with a black spot or two on their wings? These are cabbage butterflies (see below), now common over most of the US and Canada. It’s thought the caterpillars (or larvae) “hitchhiked” on heads of cabbage shipped from Europe to Quebec around 1860!
Cabbage Butterfly larva Cabbage Butterfly Adult
If you have a garden, beware: the caterpillars look like green worms with long yellow stripes the length of their bodies (see above). At first, they hide on the underside of leaves, then they wriggle to the top. A caterpillar’s job is to eat! And they’ll eat holes in your broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and radishes, to name a few. The easiest way to get rid of them is to simply pick them off the leaf and squish them in your fingers. If that’s too gross, find a container, plunk them inside, and let them stay overnight in your freezer.
Many other butterflies we see in Michigan are helpful. To attract them, I grow plants such as salvia, bee balm, milkweed, petunias and nasturtium. There are many to choose from! Check the web for a variety of plants you can get for our southeast Michigan climate.
Each type of butterfly or species is attracted to a certain plant(s). One, the monarch (See below), colored in narrow bricks of orange and black, lays its eggs on milkweed. The caterpillars (larvae) are black-, yellow- and white-striped. When a caterpillar hatches, it eats the leaves on the plant where it hatched–the grocery store at home! Consider yourself lucky if you find even one in your garden.
Monarch Caterpillar (larva) Adult Monarch butterfly
Monarchs are unusual in the butterfly world because each migrates about 2500 miles (about 4,000 kilometers) to Mexico in the fall, and the same distance back to Michigan in spring.
Swallowtails are another large, colorful butterfly. The Tiger Swallowtail, below, fed on the many-colored zinnias I planted. The black swallowtail (below) prefers wild parsley. A number of them visited my gardens last summer. The black swallowtail caterpillar, pictured below, eats the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace, parsley, dill and carrots.
Adult Tiger Swallowtail Adult Black Swallowtail
Last year, I was delighted to find this plump black swallowtail larva on some wild parsley growing in my backyard (See photo, below). But the next day, when I checked on it, the caterpillar was nowhere to be found. Guess it provided dinner to a hungry bird. The ball beside the caterpillar in the picture is called “frass,” also known as insect poop. If you do not first see a caterpillar, the frass will let you know one is there somewhere!
Black Swallowtail larva
Seeing swallowtails and monarchs in your garden tells you that you have a healthy yard. Unlike the cabbage butterfly, swallowtails are considered helpful. The adults pollinate a variety of flowers. Their caterpillars provide food for songbirds. There will be far fewer of them than cabbage butterflies, which are considered pests.