Monitoring butterflies in my garden this year was enriching and endearing.
When I committed to the idea of recording all my observations it was April. I’d already seen a few butterflies. In 2020 I had seen over 30 individuals and I imagined if I were diligent it would be possible, or at least very cool, to see 100 total during 2021.
My projection was way off. By late November as I recorded my last observation of 2021, an American Lady, the final count had risen to 600 individuals from among 30 species. I assembled some simple charts to help me put my butterfly records into perspective.
PAPILIONIDAE – 8 spp. in NC
Eight species from the Papilionidae butterfly family are found in North Carolina. I saw four of them this year in the garden.
Some of the largest and prettiest are swallowtails—colorful and fast-moving.
The first butterfly of the season was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. They are described as Common/Abundant in the Piedmont region where I live. (Interestingly I did not spot a Spicebush Swallowtail this year though it is listed as common in all parts of the state.)
The other three swallowtails that visited (Black, Pipevine, Zebra) are listed for my county as uncommon and were indeed outnumbered by the Eastern Tiger 70 to 15.
PIERIDAE – 16 spp. in NC
Of sixteen species in the Pieridae family found in North Carolina, three visited my garden in 2021. The abundance of Cabbage White and Cloudless Sulphur are listed as Uncommon/Common for my section of the state. (That designation seems confusing, but the region is geographically large and populations can be local within a region.) Sleepy Orange is listed as Common.
LYCAENIDAE – 30 spp. in NC (Gossamer-winged butterflies)
In the Lycaenidae family only about half the species are seen in my area. I saw 3 species of Hairstreaks and two species of Blues.
The White M Hairstreak is considered Rare/Uncommon here. This year was the first time seeing them. I am told they do not often frequent a garden setting so I was particularly happy to twice see one.
Listed as Common here, Summer Azure is the only butterfly recorded this year for which I did not get a photo. Just as a point of reference I include a picture taken in 2013, the only other year I recorded one in my garden. Eastern Tailed-Blue is listed as Common/Abundant in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, but I saw just four.
NYMPHALIDAE (Brush-footed butterflies) – 50 spp. in NC
The Nymphalidae family is also known as brush-footed butterflies. This year I saw species from two of the sub-families: Milkweed Butterflies and True Brush-foots.
Some were noticeably absent. In my garden two years ago (2019) I saw Painted Lady, Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary, last year (2020) I saw Viceroy, Red-spotted Purple and American Snout; however this year in 2021 none of those Nymphalidae species appeared in the garden. (I finally did spot a Painted Lady at the grocery store one day!)
Milkweed Butterflies (Danainae)
National reports of increased populations of Monarchs were good news this year. In my garden I recorded 24, but it feels like fewer visited than normal.
True Brush-foots (Nymphalinae)
I saw my first Question Mark this year. It sped away before I could get close. The species is listed as Common here, as is American Lady. Common Buckeye, Pearl Crescent are Common/Abundant.
HESPERIIDAE (Skippers) – 73 spp. in NC
Thirteen species from the Hesperiidae family came to the garden this year. Of the 7 lifers I excitedly observed this year, 5 were from this family: Hoary Edge, Southern Broken-Dash, Eufala Skipper, Little Glassywing and Common Checkered-Skipper.
Dicot Skippers (Eudaminae)
Spread-wing Skippers (Pyrginae)
Grass Skippers (Hesperiinae)
This brings to a close my butterfly project for 2021. Thanks for your keen interest throughout the past months. I’ve appreciated your comments, your sharing of your own butterfly sightings, your enthusiasm. Your encouragement kept me motivated.