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140404-0629brown and silver, orange and black

In the morning after a rain, in a client’s leafy forest garden… this beautiful gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) posed at the edge of a rock. It was still chilly and wet, and this torpid insect was so sleepy that I could touch it. When I did, it opened up its wings for a few seconds…

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A few minutes later the sun finally emerged, and the butterfly opened its wings again, absorbing warmth. After about 30 seconds it flitted up into the air, soon landing on a nearby viola flower. Wake up, it’s time for breakfast!

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Gulf fritillaries are mostly tropical butterflies, whose larvae feed on passion fruit vines. They are not endangered and are surprisingly common in the Bay Area, especially this year for some reason.

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Want to encourage more gulf fritillaries in your garden? The best way is to plant a passion vine, but you can also attract them with hardy, nectar-laden tropical flowers like lantana.

The second butterfly was a real blessing. At a different client’s garden, it was right there on the blooming pieris bush, just long enough that I was able to snap a picture…

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Is it a monarch or a viceroy? This one is a monarch (Danaus plexippus) as indicated by the lack of a dark bar across the hind wing. Actually, viceroys (Limentis archippus, non-poisonous butterflies who benefit from their resemblance to the poisonous monarchs) seldom are seen in the Bay Area, being more common to the east of the Sierras.

If butterflies were cars, skippers might be tiny little sports cars. They are very distinctive, with their unique resting pose and hook-tipped antennae.

Skippers are common, flicking around among the flowers almost too quickly to follow. There are many kinds of them, and they can be hard to identify down to species. This one poses on a Swiss chard leaf.

As larvae, many skippers eat grasses, perhaps explaining why they are so common – their food is everywhere! But because their larvae are usually nocturnal, hiding in the grass root zone during the day, they are seldom noticed.

This first one is an unusual variety, not often seen in this garden. I like its dark brown background with yellow dots in a row on each forewing. Like most skippers it perches with its wings open. Does it do this to catch the sun?

Doesn’t it just look fast and active, like it is crouching to flit away?

The second skipper is a much more common variety, very likely the same kind as this one previously featured. It poses for us on a clump of white flowers, probably Bouvardia.

At left, the dark edges of the hindwings show up clearly. Look how streamlined this critter is!

Maybe they aren’t really sports cars.

Maybe they are actually little jets.

The skippers love them!

They sprang up by surprise along the edge of the garden. Four different daisies, all in a row. They came up from seeds, but where did the seeds come from? Each one is unique – three have purple flowers and one is white. One purple one (above) has those fun curled-in flower-petal tips.

Like dandelions, daisies are composite flowers. Each of the outer petals belongs to its own individual flower, and the purple and yellow center is also made of multiple flowers.

The brown and yellow skipper may look like a butterfly, but it is not technically a “true” butterfly. Skippers are about as different from butterflies as moths are. They are in the family Hesperiidae, (pronounced hes-per-EEH-ih-dae).

The big black and white skippers are in the subfamily Pyrginae, but this little critter is in the Hesperiinae (can you figure out how to say it?) along with about 50 other California species. These little yellow and brown lovelies are notoriously hard to ID, so I won’t even try. Most skippers in the Hesperiinae eat grasses as larvae.

Although they are smack up against the edge of the garden, the daisies look pretty here. They have been pruned back so that their branches will grow out into the garden, instead of across the gravel path.

I love the daisies at least as much as the skippers do!

There’s a nice big version of the skipper picture over at clear display blog, and you can get an even bigger tiff file by email. Just ask!