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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Overwintering Illlinois Butterflies

Posted by Kelly Allsup - Bugs

While some butterflies like the monarch migrate south for the winter, most common butterlies overwinter right here in Illinois says University of Illinois educator, Kelly Allsup.

They could be under a tree rolled in a leaf, or perhaps in a seed pod among the stands of native asters, goldenrods and milkweeds. Whether they are long caterpillars, in rigid chrysalis containers made for one or representing the last adult generation of the season depends on the species of butterfly.

Greater spangled fritillary butterflies larvae become orange caterpillars with white dots and black spikes that overwinter as newly hatched caterpillars in violet stands. Little wood satyr hibernates as a caterpillar on mostly grasses like orchard grass or centipede grass. Tawny emperor caterpillars group together in a leaf concoction made from silks, tying it tight in a hackberry leaf. The monarch look-alike viceroys find shelter in a willow or poplar leaf.

The iridescent red-spotted purple hibernates as a caterpillar under larval hosts like apple, hawthorn, hop hornbeam, birch, service berry, wild cherry, willow and oaks; and pearl crescents park in asters and eastern tailed blues in legumes or clover.

The most detested butterfly, cabbage white, hibernates as a chrysalis in plants of the brassica family. This is why tillage of garden space is encouraged directly after harvest and before planting, to rid the soil of them.

The prairie butterfly, orange sulphur, overwinters as chrysalis in plants of the pea, legume or clover. Black swallowtail overwinters as chrysalis among garden herbs like dill, fennel and parsley. Eastern swallowtail remains as a chrysalis until spring in the leaf litter under trees like apple, maple, black cherry, ash, tulip tree, magnolia, pawpaw and cottonwood. Spicebush swallowtail chrysalis can be found under spicebush, sassafras, tulip tree and magnolia.

Some butterflies winter as adult butterflies, stashing themselves in the cracks and crevices of tree bark or rocks. Their bodies, like those of many other insects, produce glycogens that act as an antifreeze. These may be your first visitors this spring.

Thus, if you want to attract butterflies, don't clean up your perennial landscape of dead leaves or your butterfly garden of seed pods and do not rake up the leftover leaf litter under trees after the snows melt. To learn more about butterfly gardening, please join the Livingston County Master Gardeners for a day in the garden patch on April 5th where they will be welcoming Chris Hartley from Missouri Botanical Garden to learn more about attracting butterflies to the garden. For more information visit for online registration or call the local extension office at 815-842-6547.



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