That’s the question that’s been going around the web blogasphere within the past week–I’ve received two of them.

This magnificent Black Swallowtail visited my garden yesterday afternoon.

This beautiful creature has been visiting my garden for a few days now, but I can’t ID it.  Is it a butterfly or a moth?  It always lands with its wings outspread (or maybe that’s the only time I notice it).  It hangs around close to the ground, as shown here on top of weeds that I pulled and left on the grass.  I’ve never seen it nectar on anything.  I hope someone out there can tell us what this is.

I’ve also seen a few Red Admirals this summer, but very few Monarchs.

Is it because we in the Chicago region are having a cool, and rainy summer?  In my observance, the populations of all common insects is down.  Vitually no mosquitoes and the Japanes Beetles were here for only a very short time.  There haven’t been any pesky flies in the house and I don’t remember the June Bugs hurling themselves against my screens.   I haven’t seen any aphids or lady bugs.  I haven’t heard the whine of locusts and where are the grasshoppers of late summer?

Or is this the canary in the coal mine?



On the other hand, bees seem to be abundant, especially bumblebees, attracted overwhelmingly to the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in my gardens.



To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

And revery alone will do

If bees are few.

Emily Dickenson

How many butterflies and bees have you seen this year?   This blog is directed to Midwest gardeners, but let us know from what part of the Midwest you live in.


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  1. Carol Rice July 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    We’ve been plagued with mosquitoes, Pat. They have largely kept us out of the woods.

    I’ve not seen very many butterflies, other than the cabbage whites. I’ve seen a few monarchs, but there may have been more that I haven’t seen since I haven’t been out very much.

    There have been a number of dragonflies.

  2. Midge July 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    I have noticed an incredible drop in Japanese beetles. What is the reason for that?

  3. Suzanne Massion July 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    Not very good at butterfly identification, but I’ve either seen two Monarchs, days apart, or Vicroys. However, Pat, you said earlier Monarchs would be more common. I spotted one Black Swallowtail. I got spoiled by the clouds of Red Admirals last year, none that I could see this year.

  4. Aurelia July 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    It’s hard to tell from the picture because I can’t estimate the wing span size. It could be a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos tharos) or a Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis nycteis) or Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii harisii), or one of the fritillaries.

    This link on the Butterflies & Moths of North American web site should take you to a list of butterflies & moths native to Kane County so you can see wh/ ones resemble your friend. http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/checklists?species_type=All&tid=956

    Sadly, this year I’ve only seen 3 butterflies on our land: a Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta), a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae sennae), & a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae rapae) wh/ is native to Europe & relies on Garlilc Mustard as a larval host. The Garlic Mustard has since been eradicated.

    Last year we were awash in Mourning Cloaks, Red Admirals, Commas, Question Marks, Swallowtails, & some Monarchs as well as the Summer Azures & Cloudless Sulphurs.

    But we’ve still got our lightning bugs, a wide variety of bees, & our bats so I’m thankful for that.

  5. PATTY July 30, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I just returned from a walk at the Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary off Boncosky Road. The wild flowers and grasses are so full and colorful that it should not be missed. However in over an hour I saw two small white butterflies (sorry I cannot identify). There were many more bees (I would call them bumble bees, they looked like the one on the purple coneflower above.

    • Pat Hill July 30, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      The small white butterflies are Cabbage Whites, not native–an import from Europe.

      Perhaps the butterflies are not active on cloudy days? Does anyone know?

      • Pat July 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

        Definitely more active on warm, sunny days. I work these days at the butterfly exhibit at The Chicago Botanic Garden. You really do notice a difference.

        • Pat Hill July 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

          Sounds like a wonderful job–long commute for you though.

          • Pat August 1, 2013 at 7:10 am #

            I just work weekends through the summer – a two hour commute! Initially I stayed at the Marriott then I met a volunteer who now hosts me Saturday night.

            Just a great job. Thanks for asking.

  6. John Schultz July 30, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Lots of bees and flies around the flowers. Aphids are all over the Swamp Milkweed. Not so many ladybugs unfortunately. Also more than a few Red Milkweed Borers. More dragonflies than in past years, but this is our first year with a large planting of natives. A few butterflies. Did have a monarch caterpillar, but lost track of it. I’m afraid it might not have made it.

    • Pat Hill July 30, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      I think “Milkweed Bugs” will come and eat the aphids, and then, if your lucky, a big, humungous spider will come and devour the milkweed bugs. That happened in my garden several years ago and I haven’t had a milkweed infestation since.

  7. Jason July 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I’ve seen a single monarch on a few occasions. On Sunday we saw a black swallowtail. Bees are plentiful now, but that is recent. There are some aphids on the Heliopsis, but my garden normally doesn’t see a lot of aphids.

  8. Pat August 1, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Definitely more bee activity out here in Lee County. I have quite a population of Milkweed, both syriaca and tuberosa, but no Monarchs yet. In general I think the insect population is down – flies and mosquitos — however I had to fight the Japanese Beetles for the raspberries!

  9. John in stl August 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Just wanted to confirm the same observations in St Louis, MO. This has been the mildest summer I can recall but the decline in many common insects–yet dramatic increase in honey bees–is remarkable. This has held true in our home garden, and local parks & trails that I walk. This year, I’m lucky to see 3 butterflies a day when I’m use to seeing about a hundred. My milkweed has been blooming wildly since mid June & has had no insect damage at all this year. I’m very curios to know exactly what’s going on.

    • Pat Hill August 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

      Yesterday i saw a Tiger Swallowtail on the Joe Pye Weed savanna border; today I saw the Black Swallowtail again, flitting along the tall Joe Pye and Cup Plant next to the house, and then a Red Admiral in the Joe Pye in the patio. Still lots of bees, but no mosquitos, very few flies. No locusts or grasshoppers.

  10. Kathee Thumm August 6, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    I planted lantana last week (July 30th) and that evening witnessed a Black Swallowtail enjoying the plant for an extended time. Hadn’t seen one of those in my yard in years. Also, have lots of milkweed but saw only one monarch midsummer. Want to go native in all my plantings…were to get the most info? Rockford Il.

  11. Judy Hahn August 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    I live in Minneapolis; I have always planted flowers that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I’ve seen 3 monarchs, no swallowtails, and several cabbage whites. Hummers appear to be regular amt. Ex in Michigan City Ind. has experienced same absence of butterflies.

  12. Stephanie April 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    Just was visiting your blog; pic looks like a Pearl Crescent. Caterpillars eat native asters and overwinter as caterpillars near the host plant. They reawaken and feed again in the spring. I love those little things! Why I am very careful with cleanup in the fall/spring.

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