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.
The butterflies appeared slowly at first, beginning in April. The peak month was July.
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.
pbmGarden 2021 Butterfly Journals
Jeff’s North Carolina Butterfly Page
An impressive compilation of your data, Susie. It was interesting to see the different peak months even among similar familial species. It would be interesting to note popular host plants in relation to what was attracted to your garden. I’m aiming to provide more caterpillar host plants in my plantings to see if I can boost numbers, particularly species that are in decline. I need to do more research!
Recently planted some parsley for black swallowtails! Haven’t had that in ages. Glad you’re thinking ahead for ways to help and enjoy butterflies. Thanks Eliza.
This is a stellar review, Susie! It’ll be as useful to others as it will be as a historical reference for you.
Thanks Kris! It would be nice if others find it useful. I’ve reported all my observations so they’ll be included in the database for NC for this year.
Oh, well done! You have done so much work to make a comprehensive record of your butterflies Susie. Will you be sharing it with local nature organisations? And I wonder if you will repeat this in 2022? I enjoyed seeing all the data as well as the photos. 😃
Thanks Cathy! I’ve reported my observations to be added to an NC butterfly database for this year. Haven’t committed to next year yet. Whew! It was more work than I’d expected, especially in July when the numbers were highest. I came across some of your butterfly journal entries from several years ago, which were beautiful and interesting.
I love your stats and charts. You really put a lot of work into this. I have been thinking about you as I have had 5 or 6 different species of butterflies in the garden the last couple of weeks. I’m afraid it is because of our record temperatures. Unfortunately, a freeze is coming.
Thank you Judy. We’ve been very warm here too. I haven’t seen butterflies this month but have seen reports of sightings around NC that are causing a bit of worry. Hope your butterflies and plants all do well.
This is AMAZING. Thank you and a hopeful way to end the year. Thank you, Jane
Thank you Jane! Hope this new year brings good things your way!
Awesome blog post! I hope you’ll continue your project as your data is needed. One way to see more butterflies is to plant their respective host plants, if you have the growing space for them.
Thank you. I didn’t make many changes to my garden plantings this year–frustrating rabbits issue. New fencing planned in January and then I do hope to add more host plants as well as nectar plants. Recommendations appreciated.
What a comprehensive and intriguing review, Susie, with lots of interesting statistics – well done for putting it together, something you should be proud of!
Thanks Cathy! I was glad to be able to share my butterfly year with you and other gardeners. Was an interesting project.