September 1st. I woke up this morning to the sound of geese flying over the house, honking away as they crossed just above the treetops. It is a bright blue day here in Colorado where I live, and the garden and the lawn are recovering after the extreme heat of the last two months. The robins are now gone, and there is just one bunny left in my yard. The fall plants are getting ready to bloom, the first golden leaves are appearing on the locust trees, and the end of summer is upon me.
The stonecrop is starting to bloom, the viburnum berries are turning red, and the last columbine blooms of the season are appearing in the cooler weather.
Monday was an exciting day for the cats as I had the ash tree out front pruned. The tree was damaged in an early heavy snowfall, and I wanted to make sure it was given every opportunity to flourish in the aftermath of losing several limbs.
I love that ash tree! I have it treated for ash borers every year (the emerald ash borer just arrived in my area of Colorado… not good news for ash trees!), and last year I even had it deep watered during the winter to protect it from drought damage. It puts shade onto my house, is an essential component of squirrel route one over the house, and serves as food for one of my favorite butterflies…
Swallowtails are big butterflies! They are so big (they don’t hold still long enough for me to measure, but they are like 3-4 inches…) you can sometimes hear them flapping as they head across the yard, darting to and fro as they check out the various blooms in the area. They are much faster and more robust than your usual butterfly, so they are hard to grab a shot of if they don’t settle down onto a flower to snack on some nectar. They love my butterfly bushes, so I planted more last year hoping to lure them to the yard. I also left the stump of an ash tree that I lost a few years ago in the back yard, too.
Okay, I am a geek for sure. I didn’t cut back the suckers from the stump so it would grow into a shrub with enticing ash leaves for swallowtails to lay eggs on. The shrub is also important shade for baby bunnies, but that is another issue. All that lawn damage around the shrub is from the bunnies eating the grass down to the dirt, and then rolling around in the dirt, and then doing a little digging on the side, but… this is a post about butterflies so I will move on.
Several times this summer I saw swallowtails in the ash shrub. Yay! The ash tree isn’t food for the butterflies, but rather food for the developing larvae from the eggs that the butterfly lays on the leaves. It is my hope that there were some eggs laid in there that will lead to new swallowtails in the spring next year. I haven’t seen any of the caterpillars, but something has been munching on the leaves…
The caterpillars become pupae eventually and then hide themselves away in a sheltered location for the winter, emerging as butterflies in the spring. It is my hope that there are some pupae tucked away in a bunny-proof location near the ground and along the cut-off trunk of the old tree where they will gradually transform into the fabulous flyers of the summer.
The guys who pruned the ash tree out front also removed a struggling maple tree from my back yard. They gave the ash shrub some side eye and offered to take it away too, but I was like… NOOOOOO… I need that for my backyard wildlife…
Did they not notice my butterfly bushes? This backyard is a whole butterfly ecosystem that I have going…
Summer is on the wane, and the swallowtails are gone along with the robins and almost all of my bunnies. Soon the leaves will fall. Asleep, hidden in the debris of summer, the butterflies are secretly transforming and biding their time until May. Sleep well, little guys. I can’t wait to see you next year.
10 thoughts on “The BioGeek Memoirs: Swallowtail and Ash”
Lovely post, as ever, Marilyn ! It’s such a joy to read the notes of an all-creatures-lover. 🙂
I can’t imagine hearing a butterfly’s wings flapping. You have done well to keep you ash shrub, and I wish you well the the one that hasn’t yet succumbed
That’s a lovely post! I do enjoy butterflies, but I have never spent much time studying them. I just appreciate watching them flit by.
A wonderful late summer post. Love the photos.
I love reading about the ecosystem of your yard 🙂 Glad everything is thriving and doing so well – thanks in part to your caretaking!
I saw a swallowtail today!! Yay, yard.