August Fliers

Every year, I gush about the rose-gold light that precedes August sunsets. A few years ago, I learned that is the time of day when I might catch glimpse of a sphinx moth in the garden. It’s usually only once per season that my path crosses with a flight, and it’s pretty darn magical.

In 2020, a White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) visited the perennial phlox one evening. The need for a high speed camera shutter is real; they never stop moving. The Internet can show you a much better photo than any of mine.

Last week, while on the phone with a colleague-friend, I gazed out at the yard (as I do about a zillion times a day) and saw a huge butterfly (I was pretty sure) at the phlox. It wasn’t one of the typical but infrequent species that flits about the gardens.

I hung-up with her and kept the phone in my hand, urgently switching to camera mode. I stepped outside hoping with every hope I’d be able to see (and then identify) this flying species.

A Giant Swallowtail! Papilio cresphontes, the largest butterfly in North America, was here! That’s it. I’m done. Shutting the blog down. My garden has obviously ‘arrived’ and what can top that?!

About an hour later, still outside doing I-don’t-recall-what-but-probably-watering and now on the phone with my brother, I look at the phlox and…

…a Hummingbird Clearwing Sphinx Moth (Hemaris thysbe) shows up!!

“Sorry, bro! Gotta hang up and take pics of this!”

That proboscis is meant for some serious nectaring.

Ok, Nature, you blow me away. Again. I put some plants here and boom! Ecology happening. It’s like I put some words on paper only half-knowing what I was doing, and boom! You wrote a dissertation with it. And it’s not just here at my place; you’re doing it in Alaska, too.

Behold the Fireweed Hornworm!

Hyles galii

Thank you to the CE subscriber who shared this photo of what will become a Fireweed Hawkmoth (also called Bedstraw Hawkmoth) in the Anchorage area. That’s some amazing August color.

And then there are the indoor future fliers I am rearing. Nature knows how to effectively edit, but then our species seriously messes with the tools and app’s on Nature’s desktop. Pesticides, herbicides, inorganic pollutants, noise and light pollution, introduction of non-native species are all hacks and glitches humans throw into the hardware. That’s why I rear caterpillars each Summer – to give the butterflies a better chance against what we assail them with outdoors.

In addition to the Monarchs this month, I have the one Eastern Black Swallowtail and one Tiger Swallowtail in the pupation tent (you met them in the past Milk Bottle Monday). Recent ‘selfies’ are below. Tiger has molted out of ‘poop mimic’ and sports a new defense uniform of “I am a tiny snake! Bugger off!” and EB is looking fine as a lovely green and gold chrysalis (if pupating on a dry stick, the chrysalis would have been brown).

Maybe you’re not raising butterflies or hosting huge moths. Or maybe you are, and just haven’t seen them stop by. I hope whatever you planted to create ecology at your place this season is alive, blooming, smiling into the sun, and bathing in golden twilight. And I hope you are too.

Keep growing.

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