Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 003


Where have the butterflies gone?  Just in the last few days I’ve noticed their absence.  On Friday I was watching one bigger than a goldfinch feeding on a Zinnia, and suddenly yesterday, I didn’t see any while working in the garden.

And this morning, I read Kim Smith’s beautiful piece on the declining Monarch population.


July 26 butterfly photos 012


Our population of Swallowtails has been strong this season.  We’ve had their constant companionship for months.  We often stop to enjoy them as we’re walking past the windows, arriving home in the car, and working in the garden.  They have been a delight- and now are more than missed.

And now this morning, sipping coffee early this morning on the deck, I spy new caterpillars.


sept. 25, 2013 lanai 005


What a joy to find them. They are still enjoying the Bronze Fennel I sought so early this spring, hoping for a huge, ferny display all summer.  Well, Andrew Patton ordered it for me when I inquired,  and soon I purchased beautiful healthy plants at Homestead Garden Center.  We planted it in  big pots, alongside Borage, with high hopes.  Somehow, I think that watching generation after generation of these beautiful caterpillars has been even more interesting than a huge Fennel plant might have been; disregarding the fact that they were never able to bloom.

So I’m happy that the Swallowtails found a sanctuary here in our little garden.  We have done our small part here to keep their population healthy and happily growing.


Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.


Sadly, the Monarchs are struggling.  The herbicides used by farmers raising GMO crops destroy the host plants Monarchs require to raise their young.  The Milkweed plants are disappearing from the countryside for many reasons- development, spread of the suburbs, and industrial farming.  Each of us can do our small part to assist the Monarchs, along with countless other small wild things, by providing safe habitat and the host plants they require to live.

The stores are full of brightly packaged chemicals to solve every gardening problem, from weeds to mosquitoes.  As more and more of us see past the promise of a quick fix, and understand the implications of using these dangerous chemicals, perhaps we can turn to other,  safer, ways to manage our land and grow our gardens.  The 1960’s promise of “Better Life Through Chemistry” was a hollow promise.  We have poisoned our water, poisoned our land, and now are poisoning ourselves.


Monarch on Zinnias


Please keep in mind that we are all interconnected.  All of us are parts of the web of life, sharing this beautiful home hurtling through space.  And we Homo sapiens sapiens, intended to be the wisest of creatures, are the ones who have killed the oceans, filled the aquifers with fracking fluids, cut the forests which purify our air, and are now in process of even destroying our store of seeds for the foods on which we depend through genetic modification to make them immune to herbicides.  As our farmers spray their fields with glyphosate, killing the host plants needed by birds and butterflies; so it also runs off into creeks and ponds, killing insect larvae, frogs, fish, and turtles.


Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.


We can not, by ourselves, change industrial farming practices or stop fracking for natural gas.

We can do our own small bit to keep our own garden as a sanctuary free of herbicides, and pesticides; to provide sources of clean water; and grow a few life-giving plants to sustain the creatures who find shelter with us.

As we do to the least among us…. we do to ourselves.


There are many butterflies and moths native in Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge, and by protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.


Woodland Gnome 2013

Updated 2021



About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

  1. We still have the hummingbirds and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails!!


    • Great! A blessing of your more southern latitude. My husband told me today we had monarchs on the Lantana. I went out with the camera, and they weren’t monarchs. Strangest butterflies I’ve seen…. half the size of a Monarch, and orange, brown, and black. Sadly, the bottom half of their outer wing had no orange- looked like a coloring book page not yet colored. I’ve got to do some research and figure out what they are- and whether they are natural or mutant 😉 They were very happy on the Lantana, and we’re happy to have them here. Enjoy them while you can, Michael. Will you post photos?

  2. farseems

    Now that you mention it , yes, they’re gone. Are tempratures of the 70’s and below too cool for them or do they not “like” the fall season plants and flowers? Hummingbirds, thankfully are still here, humming away at the Cannas!

    • Yes, so happy to see the hummers still here. I’ve seen a few small butterflies today, but not our Swallowtails. I don’t know why they disappeared so suddenly- unless they are migrating elsewhere because we’ve had such cool nights. They have liked our Lantana and herbs just fine up until now… What do you think is going on?

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