The Butterfly Meadow was once a field of mowed grass that had no appeal for butterflies. After turning the sod, the area was planted with about 100 species of wildflowers and garden plants known to be used by butterflies and other insects as sources of nectar and larval food.
Now you can regularly see the handsome black and yellow Black Swallowtail as the females lay eggs on Queen Anne’s Lace, a member of the carrot family. You’ll also find the Clouded Sulphur and more rarely the Orange Sulphur, both of which feed on clovers and alfalfa which were planted in the meadow.
The Eastern Tailed Blue, once rare in the Ottawa District, is now a regular at the meadow, feeding as a caterpillar on a variety of legume plants.
Once the grass was allowed to grow throughout the FWG, grass-loving butterflies began to appear. The first were the small orange skippers, including the European and the Long Dash. They dart about among the long grass stems where their caterpillars feed.
In 1993, Common Ringlets began to appear and, within a few years, became quite common. With their plain brownish coloration, it is easy to see why they were known by an earlier name, the Inornate Ringlet.
Where milkweeds have grown up in clumps, you can expect to see the large, bright-orange Monarchs, as the females lay their eggs singly on the undersides of leaves. You may also occasionally see another large orange butterfly, the Great Spangled Fritillary, with its bright silver spots on the underside, nectaring on milkweed flowers, a favourite of many butterflies.
One final grassy-area species that was seen for the first time in 1996 is the Silvery Blue. Since then, it has become one of the commonest butterflies flying in June. Its caterpillars feed on the cow vetch that is common throughout the grassy areas.
In the southeast corner of the FWG, the Old Woodlot is made up of a variety of mature trees, such as ashes and oaks. The leaves of these trees offer food to a number of caterpillars. The striking White Admiral with its blue spots and wide, white bands patrols the edge of the woods. The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark butterflies, with their cryptic underside markings and their ragged-looking wing edges, are most often seen perched on the trunks or limbs of mature trees, disguised as old leaves to avoid the gaze of predators.
Only a very few Striped Hairstreak butterflies have been seen at the FWG, but this small brown and greyish species with its hair-like tails, probably feeds as larvae on the oak or ash trees found in the woodlands. Look for the adults on milkweeds.
Creating this pond by damming a small creek before it drops into the ravine has resulted in the appearance of a butterfly species that depends on wet conditions.
The Least Skipper is the smallest butterfly in the Ottawa district and feeds on marsh grasses. A colony first appeared at the east end of the pond, likely coming as a stray from down by the Rideau Canal where the species has been seen. Sedges may also attract some of the sedge-feeding skippers found in the district.
The wooded ravine running through the centre of the FWG creates an opportunity for butterflies to overwinter in a protected location free from strong northerly winds. Here you are most likely to see three species that overwinter as adult butterflies — the beautiful purple and yellow Mourning Cloak and the orange and brown Milbert’s and Compton Tortoiseshells. These are all members of the anglewing group of butterflies and, as adults, do not feed at flowers but on rotting fruit or tree sap.
Because the Backyard Garden contains elements of all the other habitats, you can expect to see a wider variety of butterflies there, including some that may be passing through. Single specimens of large species, such as the Atlantis Fritillary and Painted Lady have been seen there.
In 1997, the very striking black and yellow Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and the largest local skipper, the Silver-spotted Skipper, were seen around the Backyard Garden. It is the variety of nectaring sources, such as the Butterfly Weed, Joe Pye Weed, coneflower, bergamot, and wild asters, that attract them.
In 2016, Giant Swallowtails have regularly nectared on various flowers in the BYG, in particular, they visit phlox and butterfly bush flowers. Their larvae usually feed on citrus plants (Rutaceae sp.) but one caterpillar was found on a Common Rue plant in 2017.