They're Baaackkk

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By Patrick Comins on July 27, 2013, 5:15am Last modified: July 30, 2013, 9:48am

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Last summer there was a notable invasion of southern butterflies into Connecticut and much of New England.  One of the species that showed up in record numbers was the giant swallowtail Papilio cresphontes.  This large and charismatic butterfly is normally rarely seen in Connecticut, except localized and sporadic hot spots where populations either persist or pop up after invasion years.  I first had this species in my Meriden yard in 2009 and just about could not believe my eyes.  I did not see one in Connecticut after that until last year when I counted more than 12 different individuals in our butterfly gardens over the course of the summer.  

Some had hypothesized that last year's invasion could mean a return for them this season, since a hard freeze occurred relatively late in the fall.  This gave caterpillars the chance to get to chrysalis stage where they can survive nearly any weather that Southern New England can throw their way.  Well sure enough, on a walk after work today at the Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury I spotted this gorgeous giant swallowtail; the first ever recorded at the Bent of the River.   Could this be the first of many this summer?  Let's hope so!

Giant swallowtails generally lay their eggs on northern prickly ash Zanthoxylum americanum or hoptree Ptelea trifoliata.  Planting so called host plants can be a great way to help out butterflies and attract them to your yard.  Butterflies can sniff out their particular host plant from miles away!  After the first sighting in my yard I contacted my friend Andy Brand at Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden and he hooked me up with a couple of prickly ash trees, one for work and one for the yard.  If last year was any indication, it seems to have worked.  

To read more about last year's invasion, please see:

http://www.wxedge.com/articles/20120925rare_butterfly_for_connecticut_back_in_june

To find your own at the Bent: http://bentoftheriver.audubon.org/ 

Giant Swallowtail

 Above, another shot of the giant swallowtail. 

Sachem

 

 Giant swallowtails aren't the only southern vagrants showing up in CT.  The above is a sachem, Atalopedes campestris. They were once considered extremely rare in Connecticut and then started showing up regularly along the coast in late summer.  They are now wintering over along the coast and not unusual to see anywhere in the state in the summer.  

Painted lady

 Last summer also featured a spectacular incursion of painted lady butterflies Vanessa cardui.  They are not normally common in the state, but last summer they were about the most abundant species found in many butterfly gardens. 

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Patrick Comins

Town: Meriden, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since September 2012.

Articles: 61

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