Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Butterflies Among Us

Today I saw the first Common Ringlet of the season just north of Wallaceburg.

Common Buckeye
Things will not be as good as last year due to the cold wet spring, but it will be interesting to see what happens.  It certainly will be interesting at Point Pelee as I learned yesterday that Parks Canada actually went ahead with destroying some of the Spotted Knapweed along the west side of Point Pelee National Park.  Although a non-native species, it is hugely attractive to butterflies.  Last summer was the best year for butterflies I have ever experienced and I spent much time at Point Pelee.  Most of it was along the West Beach Trail and West Beach where there was lots of knapweed.
Hundreds of butterflies could be seen in one day with many of those on knapweed.  Even though it is non-native butterflies are dependent on it for nectaring.  (Even White Sweet Clover, as bad as it is, attracts many butterflies as well.)

A couple of times last summer, I encountered a nice young lady who was surveying for butterflies on Spotted Knapweed and she mentioned that there was a possibility that the weed would be removed in the future.  I had hoped that it would never occur, and was shocked to know that the knapweed was actually being sprayed or cut yesterday (May 30).
Did she not see the hundreds of butterflies of many species that used the plant?   I am sure she did, but higher authority appears to have ignored the findings or was completely ignorant of how important nectaring sources are for butterflies.  It has been many many years since we had such an influx and diversity of butterflies such as we did last season.  It was really fun to go to Pelee each time to see what one could find.
I am sure there are other things of greater importance to deal with than spraying a few patches of Spotted Knapweed.  It is certainly a costly endeavour as those parks employees are undoubtedly well paid.

Is something else going to be planted in its place?  It would be nice to have a native species in its place.  Without the knapweed, there will be fewer butterflies stopping off.  There are some other nectaring sources, but the absence of knapweed will make a significant difference in the numbers of butterflies we may see.

Here is a series of less common species of butterflies I have photographed on Spotted Knapweed over the last couple of years at Point Pelee.  Of course there were many others!

Wild Indigo Duskywing

Common Checkered-Skipper

Fiery Skipper
Funereal Duskywing
American  Painted Lady !

Dukes' (?) Skipper
Variegated Fritillery
Little Yellow
Common Checkered-Skipper
Gray Hairstreak
Ocola Skipper
Gray Hairstreak


  1. Not to mention all the swallowtail species as well. I don't know enough about the life cycles and diet of butterflies to comment, but I agree that using a herbicide on a naturalized environment does not seem to be such a great idea. I hope a more native species can be introduced to supplement the food source for these butterflies.

  2. Dwayne and Blake,

    They are actually using torches on the knapweed, rather than herbicides as I originally thought.

    As for planting other native flowers, if they were suitable for the beaches they would have colonized on their own a long time ago!

    I fear it is going to be a very, very expensive experiment regardless of the outcome --- but the knapweed will be gone (or nearly so) no matter what.