Autumn is Butterfly Time

People often think of spring as prime time for butterflies. The truth is, in Texas, autumn is the best time for butterflies. This past Friday is a case in point. I made it out to one of my favorite spots in southwest Houston, Seabourne Creek Nature Park, and saw more butterflies than I have ever seen there. The butterfly garden was in full fall bloom and the Blue Mist was crawling with all sorts of butterflies.

In a couple of hours I saw Monarchs, Queens, Painted Ladies, Gulf Fritillaries, Pearl Crescents, Cloudless Sulphurs, Long-tailed Skippers, American Snouts, Common Buckeyes, Little Yellows, Dainty Sulphurs, Common Checkered Skippers, Clouded Skippers, Fiery Skippers, and Sachems.

My best sighting of the day: A Great Purple Hairstreak. No they’re not rare, but you don’t see them everyday, either.

The weather should hold for a while longer meaning the butterflies should be plentiful for a while longer.

Pro-tip: Go looking in late afternoon on bright sunny days. Butterflies don’t like the cool mornings.

Quick Visit to Mercer Botanic Gardens

My work took me near the Mercer Botanic Gardens last Friday (9/25/2020). I couldn’t stay super long, but I did get a few nice pics. The gardens are as lush as I’ve ever seen them. Props to their team for all their hard work. If you are anywhere near Houston, it’s worth the stop!

Common Mestra

Common Mestra

Mestra amymone

The Common Mestra is found primarily in South Texas but is an occasional stray throughout the state. I saw it with semi-regularity when I lived in San Angelo, Texas. It is a weak flier and tends to glide flat-winged.

It is white above with a pale orange border on the hind wing. Underneath, it is mostly pail orange with white bands.

Sleepy Orange

Sleepy Orange

Eurema nicippe

The Sleepy Orange is more yellow than orange and isn’t lazy from what I can tell. Some think it got its name from the small black marks on the upperside of its forewing. Apparently, some folks think it looks like a closed eye.

You’ll find this active flyer all over Texas. It’s markings can change a bit, especially from winter to summer. It tends to always have that brown mark at the top edge of its hind wing.

While most of the pics below show it sitting with much of the forewing showing, it will often sit with much of forewing concealed beneath the hindwing.

It doesn’t seem to be overly picky when it comes to nectaring on flowers. I’ve had it feed on any number of plants in my garden.

Soapberry Hairstreak

Soapberry Hairstreak

Phaeostrymon alcestis

The guidebooks show the Soapberry Hairstreak’s range to extend almost everywhere in Texas with the exception of the far eastern and southern parts of the state. Still, I have only encountered this butterfly once in all my years of looking for butterflies. For one week in May of 2016, I saw several across the various parks of San Angelo, Texas.

Apparently, they stay close to their food plant, the soapberry tree (sapindus saponaria) which may explain why I have seen so few of them. Its season is also a short one, with a single brood flying April to June.

The Soapberry stands out from other hairstreaks because of the strong white cell-end bars on both the fore and hindwing. The VW mark on the hindwing is also unique to this species.

It’s a handsome butterfly. I hope to see it again someday.

Acton Nature Center

Wherever I travel, I’m on the lookout for well cared for butterfly gardens. My wife’s family has historical ties to the Granbury area. Fortunately for me, one of the best butterfly gardens in the state can be found in nearby Acton, TX.

The Acton Nature Center of Hood County has several miles of trails that include prairie, woods, and pond habitats. The Elizabeth Crockett Memorial Butterfly Garden is a true gem, as is the bird blind. Yes, the butterfly garden is named after Davey Crockett’s wife! You can’t get much more than that!

This park is well cared for and worth the trip if you are in the area. I’ve seen numerous butterflies, birds, and rattlesnakes! If you’re anywhere near Granbury, you should stop by.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Agraulis vanillae

Don’t let the name fool you. You can see this beautiful butterfly all across Texas, not simply along the Gulf coast. While the females can be almost burnt orange at times, usually both males and females are a bright orange.

The patterns on the underside of the wings are what makes this butterfly stand out from the rest. Elongated silver cell spots dazzle when they catch the sun just right.

I’ve found Gulf Fritillaries feeding on lantana, zenia, butterfly bush, and more. Its larva feed on passion vines.

Phaon Crescent

Phaon Crescent

Phyciodes phaon

The Phaon Crescent can be found everywhere in Texas except the panhandle.

Its distinguishing feature is a cream band on the upper forewing which helps set it apart from the similar sized Pearl Crescent. In West Texas, the cream bands make it difficult to distinguish from the Painted Crescent, though the undersides of the wings are quite different for the two species.

In the Houston area, I find the Phaon Crescent in fields, near marshes, and in prairie reclamation areas. It feeds upon small flowers like frogruit blossoms.

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes

This swallowtail calls the entire state home. The males have two bands of yellow on the upper wing. The upper yellow band is absent on the females making them look more like a Pipevine Swallowtail.

On the underside, two bands of orange cell spots help distinguish it from the Pipevine Swallowtail, which only has one.

In West Texas, Black Swallowtails frequented my plumbago. I have had less luck attracting them to my backyard in Houston, although I’ve had recently had some visit my parsley. In the hill country, I’ve often found black swallowtails feeding on thistles.

Similar species: Pipevine Swallowtail; Spicebush Swalowtail

Long-tailed Skipper

Long-tailed Skipper

Urbanus proteus

This long-tailed skipper is found east of the I-35 corridor up to about Dallas. It is a common visitor to my Houston area gardens.

As it skips around your garden, you will notice the iridescent green running along the topside of its body and spilling over into the base of the wings.

As you can see below, it feeds on a variety of flowers. I find it frequently on my Blue Salvia and Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis).

It’s larva feed on legumes and can be considered a pest by those trying to grow beans.

It is similar to the less common Dorantes Longtail.