This is a continuation of yesterday's article.
Now, where was I?
It was the eighth day of June and it happened: The Gulf Frit Butterflies arrived. I couldn't believe my eyes but there they were floating around my passionflower vines. Their ceremonious dance was enthralling and I just sat back and enjoyed every movement. When one would fly away I would inspect the leaves of the plants. Eggs! My plan was working. I would have a garden full of butterflies this summer!
Interlude: I am absolutely intrigued and fascinated by a butterfly's ability to find host plants. Prior to my quest I had the occasional butterfly pass through my garden, but even the passers-by were few and far between. Once the passionflower vines were in place and growing quickly the Gulf Frits arrived en masse. To me it is one of those miracles of nature. I did a bit of research on how a butterfly can find a host plant and I found this bit of information from the learner.org website:
"Monarchs use a combination of visual and chemical cues to find milkweed," says monarch scientist Dr. Karen Oberhauser. "Once they land on a plant, they use sensory organs on their feet and heads to tell them if it is a milkweed, and probably the quality of the milkweed."
Although this information applies specifically to the monarch, I am thinking the same might hold true for all species of butterfly and their particular host plant.
I knew the eggs had been deposited and now I waited patiently for the caterpillars. My morning routine consisted of a thorough inspection of the plants in the hopes of seeing a caterpillar or two. It was June 21 when I discovered four caterpillars and I could hardly contain my excitement. They were munching away and I struggled to maneuver my camera to an angle to obtain a decent shot. As you can see below I did manage to get a few quality images of my welcome guests.
My new visitors were growing and thriving and I was pleased with the overall success of my plan. I became convinced that this was going to be the only hatching for the season so I was very protective of them. It turns out I wasn't protective enough. One morning when visiting my friends, none were there. I looked for some hanging chrysalises but I couldn't find any. It appears one of the other garden residents enjoyed the feast of big, healthy caterpillars. Well, such is nature, I thought, and left it at that.
I became encouraged when I noticed some more butterflies dancing around the vines again. It was as if they knew the previous batch of caterpillars was gone and more were needed quickly to replace them.
There was a point when I had maybe one caterpillar on the passionflower vines and as a result the plants became lush. That initial fondness for the plant had grown and my passion for the vine had surpassed that of the caterpillar habitat. Nature certainly does have a sense of humour. At the very moment you don't want something to happen, it inevitably does. That one caterpillar became over a dozen seemingly overnight!
How did this happen? Though I ask the question, I already knew. The rains came, the butterflies arrived, and my wish had come true. I had a garden full of butterflies. I had Gulf Frits everywhere and that simple ceremonious dance became a full-on rave and the entire neighborhood was invited. I swear I had Gulf Frits coming from all over town to be a part of this massive celebration. The dozen caterpillars became two dozen and then there were too many to count.
My morning inspection had changed. I was now concerned with how large the population of caterpillars had become. As I looked at the branches full of caterpillars I could hear a chorus of crunching and the lush foliage became a memory. In time the passionflower vines were gone. Not a leaf remained. As a result the caterpillars had gone too. There were some chrysalises about but not enough to account for the multitude that once was. Where had they gone? That will always be a mystery to me.
Today, I am blessed because through it all one of my passionflower vines is indeed going to bloom. It should happen any day now. The passionflower vines are putting on new growth and perhaps they will support yet another wave of caterpillars before the temperatures become too cold. For us here in the desert southwest, we still have until December before that happens.
Speaking honestly, my mind is conflicted about my little summer project. The vines provided a wonderful habitat for the Gulf Frits and through my efforts the population was sustained and flourished. As a trade-off, I have to have "ugly" bare plants taking up valuable real estate in my garden. So, what will it be? Habitat or decoration.
I was visiting that same local nursery the other day and I was rewarded with a new stock of Arizona passionflower vines. I purchased three and imagine my excitement when one of the vines came complete with its own Gulf Frit caterpillar.