Butterfly diversity in our 2020 garden

Even though there were fewer butterflies in the garden in 2020 than in 2019, at least there was an interesting mix — and even some new ones. As I grow a greater variety of native plants, I am attracting a greater variety of butterflies.

White Admiral

In June, a White Admiral hung around drinking nectar from Basswood tree blooms. Last year, multiple Red Admirals visited the Basswood flowers, but I didn’t see any this summer. According to The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario (my favourite butterfly book), these butterflies rarely visit flowers, preferring to feed on rotting fruit and animal dung (p. 238). The abundant, fragrant Basswood flowers must be hard to resist.

White Admiral caterpillars eat leaves of willow, poplar and birch trees, as well as a few others. There is a birch tree near our Basswood, but I didn’t see the butterfly visit there. Maybe it visited the Pussy Willow shrubs in our hedgerow.

Possibly a Summer Azure

Azures are so very tiny, measuring between 2 and 3 cm when their wings are spread open (ROM Field Guide, p.208). As they fly, they flash the ethereal, sky blue colour inside their wings. iNaturalist identifies my butterfly as a Lucia Azure, which turns out to be another common name for the Spring Azure. However, The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario indicates that July is likely too late to see the Spring Azure. Instead, my butterfly is probably a similar Summer Azure (ROM Field Guide, p. 212).

The second photo shows a butterfly sitting on the ground on Pinhey Forest Trail. Perhaps it was mudpuddling — drinking moisture and nutrients from sand near the path. We’ve also seen lots of Azures at the Morris Island Conservation Area in the spring.

Interestingly, Spring and Summer Azure caterpillars eat flowers and developing fruit of native cherries, dogwoods, and viburnums, not the leaves. For four years now, I’ve been adding these shrubs to our yard, so maybe this cute butterfly found a place to lay eggs.

Banded Hairstreak

I initially mistook this Banded Hairstreak for an Eastern Tailed Blue butterfly. After comparing my photos with those in The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario (p. 204), I concluded that my butterfly is too brownish, and has yellow tips on its antennae, instead of black. iNaturalist identifies it as a Banded Hairstreak.

Banded Hairstreak caterpillars eat leaves of oak, hickory, walnut, and butternut trees (ROM Field Guide, p. 172). Our neighbour has a mature Red Oak tree that shades part of our front yard.

Silver-spotted Skipper

This was the first time I’d ever seen a Silver-spotted Skipper. I have seen other kinds of skippers in our garden over the past few years though.

Silver Spotted Skipper caterpillars eat plants in the legume family (ROM Field Guide, p. 344). In Ottawa, The Pinhey Sand Dunes hydro corridor is a good place to see Silver-spotted Skippers because invasive Black Locust trees grow in the adjacent forest. Native host plants include Showy Tick Trefoil and American Hog Peanut. Showy Tick Trefoil seeds and plants are easy to find for sale, and I now have a few patches growing in our backyard mini-meadow. I recently bought Hog Peanut vine seeds from Botanically Inclined to try to entice more of these butterflies to our garden.

Sulphur Butterfly and Evening Primrose Moth

The next butterfly and moth weren’t in our garden for long. Coincidentally, they’re both yellow and pink, and were visiting matching flowers.

I’m pretty sure the first winged visitor is a Clouded Sulphur (ROM Field Guide, p. 112). Their caterpillars eat legumes, like introduced clover.

The second is an Evening Primrose moth, whose caterpillars predictably eat Evening Primrose plants. Of course, in the photo it is sleeping on an Evening Primrose leaf. As I always say: “plant it and they will come”. Such a pretty moth!

2 thoughts on “Butterfly diversity in our 2020 garden

  1. Growing up in England I saw an abundance of Red Admiral butterflies. They were attracted to stinging nettles and there was also an abundance of those. I received many stings from nettles and then to reduce the itch, would rub dock leaves on the sting. Dock leaves always grew near the stinging nettles. Childhood memory.


    1. I have been growing stinging nettle for 4 years now, against my better judgement, and I still have not had any Red Admiral caterpillars on them. I have had many painful stings though. I am now trying the stingless False Nettle, a woodland native plant. We’ll see how it goes.


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