Thursday, May 13, 2004

Butterfly Rescue


I've been intensely focused on attracting butterflies to my garden this year. Many larval plants--the plants where adult butterflies lay eggs--are impractical for my small space. For instance, this Western Tiger Swallowtail likes willows and sycamores, both of which are much too large. I have put in some milkweed, the preferred food of Monarch caterpillars, but I almost never see a Monarch in my garden.

It's much easier to plant nectar sources for adult butterflies--butterfly bush, pincushion flower, tall verbena, etc. Anything with small flowers and a flat landing space is likely to attract a butterfly. Still, the swallowtails drift through my garden but rarely stop to eat, in spite of the buffet I've put out for them.

This swallowtail landed on a hydrangea bush yesterday. It seemed to hang from a flower, suspended by its proboscis--the long, narrow tube butterflies use to drink. Its wings were wide open, and they did not flutter--the creature was utterly still except when a breeze moved it. I inched close and realized that it was not drinking--the proboscis seemed to be stuck to an outer petal and not even inserted into the center of the flower, where I was not sure it would find much nectar anyway. Was the butterfly stuck, trapped, tired, resting? I didn't know. I thought about rescuing it, urging it off the flower so it would fly away. But I'd spent so much time wishing more butterflies would visit my garden that it seemed silly to shoo this one off.
It sure did look pretty against that light blue hydrangea, though, so I ran inside and got my camera, and also summonded Scott. Fortunately, Scott does not find it at all unusual that I would be so concerned about the fate of one individual butterfly, so he followed me downstairs without hesitation.

When we got there, the butterfly was gone. After a few minutes we noticed it on the ground, which is where I took this picture. Something was wrong. We knew not to touch its wings, which are covered with fine, feathery scales that brush off easily. Instead, we tried to use a stick to get it off the ground in hopes that it would still be able to fly. It fluttered around a little but didn't move much. Finally Scott came outside with a magazine, which I scooted underneath the creature. That seemed to give it enough purchase to get it back into the air. It flew to the top of the hydrangea, waited a minute, and then flew away.

This is, I think, my fourth weekend of Soil Soup brewing. More on that soon.

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