By Pat Foster-Turley
October 14, 2022
These days I seem to have decreasing successes with my gardening but I thought my butterfly garden was exempt from my bad luck. It’s always been successful before. And this year, besides the various sages, and lantanas, and various other butterfly-attracting plants, I also was pleased to see that my milkweed plants reseeded all throughout the garden. Between the milkweeds and the various pots of parsley plants I expected a lush crop of monarch and swallowtail caterpillars too. But for whatever reason, this year in my garden butterflies are scarce.
Was this an island-wide problem or just mine? Well, at least I can report that on the Egans Creek Greenway, butterflies were still there—plenty of them. On a recent fine fall day my friend Susan Gallion and I went for a walk on the south part of the Greenway and encountered bugs of all shapes and sizes, including butterflies.
Susan and I had a mission on this particular day. Our mutual friend Betty Duckworth, an administrator for the Amelia Shells Facebook site, loaded us up with painted seashells to distribute and we thought this would be a great place to do it. As “shell fairies” our task is not to paint the shells—others more artistic than us do that part of the fun. Our role was to distribute them where people can find them and hopefully post their finds on the site for all to share in the enjoyment. To see their smiles, join the Amelia Shells Facebook group and become part of the fun!
So, with our pockets laden with painted shells, Susan and I parked at Jasmine Street and walked south, depositing shells on signs and benches along the way. We were thrilled by the diversity of butterflies hovering around the Spanish needle and goldenrod flowers all along the path. Monarchs, Gulf fritillaries, swallowtails and a few species I couldn’t identify were all there. And then there were the bees and flies! I can’t identify any of them, but some were green, some orange, and one variety was large and black and shiny. Whatever they were I was happy to see them. At least on the Greenway, insect biodiversity is still a fact.
But there were other insects we were less than thrilled with. Remember those “crazy ants” I wrote about a few months back? This plague of tiny black invasive ants had been taking over people’s yards in areas near the Greenway. Since Hurricane Ian swept through, my friends have reported less of them. But alas, here in the Greenway they were still an annoying presence. Whenever Susan and I stopped walking to try to photograph the butterflies, the ants crawled all over our feet and started moving up our legs. They don’t bite, but it is disconcerting to have to stamp our feet and rush on to avoid being covered by them. And we didn’t get any good insect photos—at least that’s our excuse.
But we did see a lot of other interesting things along the way. One regular resident, a great white egret, perched on top of a tall tree and watched us pass by before flying down to the ground behind us. Nearby an anhinga stretched its wings to dry out on a sunny log and clanged its metallic call when we unintentionally disturbed it. We looked at the fallen tree that workers had cut in chunks after the storm to clear the path. We searched for a last sign of the “mushroom tree,” a fallen tree that was once covered with mushrooms, but now it has finally been totally consumed and is gone. It was a sunny day and scores of turtles were floating in the aquatic plants, soaking up the rays.
Near the end of our walk back to the car we checked out the area along the path that has been fenced off to protect “Mama Gator” from harassment by people. For years we regulars have watched this gator and the families of young she has raised over the years in this same area. This time we were in for a surprise. It was not Mama Gator resting in the channel behind the fence. The gator this time was enormous! Susan and I watched it for a while, but then moved on.
Our mission was accomplished, our shells had been deposited, and we had a great walk on a beautiful day. Now if someone would just post our shells on the Amelia Shell Facebook site it would be perfect!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]
I love your adventures Pat! Thank you for making your journeys come alive!
As do I. Doesn’t she paint such a vivid picture!!
Ms. Pat, it isn’t just your butterfly garden that was lacking in flying flowers this year. I too experienced far fewer butterflies than in years past. I only saw primarily Gulf Fritillaries and Zebra Longwings in any significant number, but even those weren’t as “excessive” as they typically have been. I had the occasional swallowtail, and ONE MONARCH. It was very disheartening. I only saw ONE caterpillar batch grow to full size, and typically I see many. Not sure what is happening. I’ve had my garden for about 18 years now. Used to have VARIOUS species at one time. Not so anymore. Really sad. I enjoy your adventures! Please continue to share!!