Q: Recently I saw a video of a Hecker farmer harvesting his alfalfa crop while thousands of butterflies fluttered around the field. An entomologist from the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in St. Louis suggested that perhaps the butterflies were blown here by Hurricane Harvey. Recently my lantana and sedum plantings have become home to many butterflies. What will happen to them? Will they stay here and die during the winter or migrate back to Texas? Now that they have been here, will they return? I would love to “host” them again.
E.L., of Belleville
A: Without visiting your yard, Laura Chisholm can only speculate, but odds are your beautiful winged creatures are no different than what you’ve seen in the past. Only this year, you may be seeing far more of them.
“Probably most of what she’s seeing are all native butterflies,” said Chisholm, the senior manager of collections, education and facilities at the Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Mo. “It’s just been a really good year for butterflies in general. I don’t have any research behind it to say it’s more than in previous years, but I think it just feels that way. We’ve seen a large number of butterflies in our own native habitat.”
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In fact, those butterflies you saw on the video may not have been whipped up here by the winds at all. Although warmer weather and rain may have lured more north, they could very well be Colias eurytheme, more commonly known as the orange sulphur — or alfalfa butterfly. And not every butterfly that looks like a monarch is the real McCoy.
“If she’s seeing a lot of butterflies in general right now, we have a huge population of painted ladies around,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people calling who are, like, ‘Oh, I have baby monarchs!’ No, they’re painted ladies. Of course, I think with all the discussions about monarchs in the past couple years, people are becoming more aware that even a small butterfly garden helps. We’re seeing more and more people plant butterfly gardens and because of that we’re seeing an increase in butterflies.”
As to what will happen this winter, I don’t have a lot of good news. The average lifespan of an adult butterfly is a month at best, according to the North American Butterfly Association (www.naba.org). But that would be a ripe old age for many, who may be wiped out by predators, disease or even automobiles long before. Smaller butterflies may survive only a week or so, although there are some hardy specimens — including monarchs and mourning cloaks — which may live up to nine months.
As a result, most species that want to survive winter here will have to do it as caterpillars or pupas. Only a few species such as tortoiseshells and anglewings can spend the winter as adults, finding shelter in trees, building crevices or similar shelters.
Nevertheless, Chisholm hopes optimum conditions will continue so you can enjoy another bumper crop next year. You can help by planting a wide variety of nectar sources — such as your lantana and sedum — as well as host plants such as the milkweed for the monarchs. If you do, you should see a variety of swallowtails, painted ladies and skippers as well as monarchs. You might want to do some research to find the best plants for your yard, taking into account soil type and the amount of light among other factors. (Try the University of Illinois Extension Service, NABA.org or the Sachs Butterfly House through www.missouribotanicalgarden.org.) Help things along by encouraging your neighbors to join you.
“Years ago a (Department of Natural Resources) guy described it really well,” Chisholm said. “He said, ‘If you have one garden, it doesn’t do a whole lot. But if you have a lot of people who put together gardens in an area, it works like a patchwork quilt. You wind up having this beautiful blanket of all these different colors, but it’s all still one big blanket.’”
▪ Before you ask: Yes, after nearly 40 years, Guy Phillips will be leaving KSLQ/KYKY-FM in November to join KTRS (550-AM).
Arguably the dean of St. Louis morning radio, Phillips stressed in a four-minute video posted late last week that he was not fired nor is there any ill will with the station. Instead, he says, he has reached the age where he’d like to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and play more golf instead of crawling out of the sack at 3 every morning. So he is scheduled to take over the afternoon slot at KTRS, which was vacated when John Craddock (aka Frank O. Pinion) left to join KFNS (590-AM) on Oct. 2. However, because of the usual non-compete clause, Phillips likely will not start his new gig until early next year. See the video at http://y98.cbslocal.com/2017/09/20/guy-phillips-is-leaving-y98/
▪ Prescription change: Anyone needing an appointment with “The Doctors” may have to set their recorders. If you haven’t been able to find it, KPLR (Channel 11) has moved the medical show to 3 a.m. weekdays.
▪ Greetings from the Ebsens: After mentioning that “The Beverly Hillbillies” was the first TV theme song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, I received a nice thank-you from star (and Belleville native) Buddy Ebsen’s youngest daughter, Kiki. A singer-songwriter, she currently is honoring her famous father with a show called “To Dad With Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” You can find a link at to it and her other three shows at www.kikiebsen.com.
Why do we call them “butter”flies?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: The most powerful earthquake ever recorded hit May 22, 1960, when a magnitude 9.5 temblor rocked southern Chile, leaving 4,485 dead there and another 170 killed in the tsunami that swept over Japan and the Philippines. The runner-up was a 9.2 quake that devastated the Gulf of Alaska on March 28, 1964.