Winged Guests & Days of Wild Wonder

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Valeriana officinalis with Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' - michaela medina harlow - Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly on Garden Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) with Nishiki Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) Beyond

Early in the morning —in the still before sunrise, when the air is calm and cool— the garden awakens with a fluttering dance. Red-Spotted Purple butterflies —dusty plum-black wings, dotted with aqua and scarlet— flit about the sleepy Valerian, teasing it into motion. Nearby, Swallowtails tickle the tips of Queen Anne’s Lace, Great Spangled Fritillaries sweep through tangerine-hued Butterfly Weed and the dramatic Virginia Ctenucha lights upon Black-Eyed Susans to sample sweet, summer nectar…

Virginia Ctenucha on Rudbeckia - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comVirginia Ctenucha Wasp Moth on Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ with Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ Beyond. Like the Hummingbird Moth, this Creature is a Diurnal Garden Guest 

Impossible to miss with its electric-blue body, yellow-orange head and olive-brown, metallic-powder dusted wings, the Virginia Ctneucha (Ctenutcha virginiana, pictured above and below), made a first-time appearance in my garden this week. What’s that? I had to do a quick ID. In its adult stage, this diurnal wasp moth gathers nectar from flowering plants for sustenance, and in youth, the larvae feed upon native grass, sedges and iris. Read more about this broad-winged wasp-moth here.

An organic garden filled with non-stop, nectar-rich flowers and ample foliage for caterpillars, is the key to creating a successful moth and butterfly habitat. Find more ways to attract and support beautiful butterflies and moths by clicking back to this post, filled with butterfly garden design ideas, tips and techniques. For help identifying moths and butterflies, lately I’ve been enjoying The Butterflies and Moths of North America site here.

Virginia Ctenucha (close up) - michaela medina harlow - Close Up of the Virginia Ctenucha Wasp Moth’s Iridescent Blue Body, Yellow-Orange Head and Metallic-Dusted, Olive-Brown Wings

Photography & Text â“’ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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3 Replies to “Winged Guests & Days of Wild Wonder”

  1. Jenny Patterson

    I have a question concerning Valerian.Something has stripped all my Valerian of leaves. I searched and have not found a culprit but I suspect a caterpillar of some type. Would you have any idea what I should look for? It’s JUST the Valerian!

    I am concerned about butterflies this year, I normally have a large number of them. And this year, I have seen very few.

    A second question, I have a large stand of Milkweed Asclepias syriaca on my property do ANY butterflies or moths like it? I can’t seem to find information on it.

  2. Michaela

    Hi Jenny,

    Interesting that you say “stripped away”. I wonder why you suspect a caterpillar… Are the leaves partially chewed and have you seen droppings on the plants? If not, I would more likely to suspect either a rodent (mouse, chipmunk or squirrel), or a feline, both of which are attracted to Valerian and chew the leaves. Look around the plant and see if you can find any other evidence. Valerian is not normally troubled by pests and/or diseases.

    I can understand your concern about butterfly numbers. Populations of pollinators are on a decline, as a whole. Many suspect indiscriminate use of pesticides and herbicides; including the indiscriminate use of organic caterpillar control, Btk and insecticidal soap/neem. It is also possible that drastic, as well as more subtle changes in climate play a role. However, it is true that butterfly populations and habitats also vary, naturally, from year to year. This year, I have more Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Red-Spotted Purples, but fewer Monarch and Fritillary butterflies. Last year I spotted an incredible number of Hummingbird Moths, but this year, far fewer. However, I did see several Luna Moths late this spring.

    Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, is a very, very important host plant to Monarch butterfly caterpillars; which feed upon the foliage. And yes, the flowers are also a source of nectar to many, late-season butterflies; the nectar is especially attractive to Monarchs. In addition, you may see Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Hummingbird Moths, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Mourning Cloaks and Fritillaries visiting common milkweed. Bees are also attracted to common milkweed. Both Asclepias syriaca and A. tuberosa are excellent plants for both the larval and adult stages of butterfly support.

    Hope this is helpful. Good luck with your Valerian! M

  3. Jenny Patterson

    Hi Michaela, thank you for answering, on the valerian, I suspected an insect mainly because the plants are 4′ to 5′ tall, with blooms at the top. But the leaves are missing, a lot of the leaf spine is there. It’s odd, a mystery I will work on.

    I asked about the Asclepias syriaca mainly because I have lived here for 20 years, there is a large stand of it down by the pond. Every year I go out lookng for butterfly Caterpillers on the milkweed, and have never found any. Never have found any damaged leaves either.

    I am to far north for swallowtails, but regularly see a lot of the others that you named.

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