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Come See The Butterflies At Cavalier WMA

Monarchs, viceroy, common buckeye, comma, clouded sulphur, black swallowtail, giant swallowtail, Eastern tiger swallowtail, red-spotted purple, and more!

Comma butterfly.

Giant swallowtail butterfly.

Anytime between mid-June and the end of July is a great time to visit the Cavalier Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to see dozens of species of butterflies.

Swallowtail butterflies puddling on a gravel road.

Clouded sulphur butterfly collecting minerals.

In addition to checking flowers along the roadside, there can be larger numbers found in the road, especially where it’s sandy. These butterflies are “puddling” or obtaining mineral nutrients from the soil.

Learn More:

Looking to explore a DGIF Wildlife Management Area or lake? Considering getting a Restore the Wild membership!

DGIF invites you to join us in our mission to ensure wildlife has healthy places to live and thrive.

Learn About Restore the Wild
  • June 19th, 2019

Monarch Spectacle at DGIF Headquarters!

It’s amazing what an impact a few milkweed plants can have. Here at DGIF headquarters in Henrico county, we got rid of a big patch of lawn at our entrance and have started a pollinator garden, and the monarch caterpillars have had a feast on the milkweed.  A few weeks ago I took this picture of our bed of butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and counted 60 caterpillars, some very small and others quite plump and large, munching away. They spend about two weeks as a caterpillar.

Ten days later, the plants were almost completely eaten and barely recognizable:

Photo by Carol Heiser.

But the beauty of this phenomenon is that we’re finding chrysalises hanging underneath the sign next to the garden bed. When a monarch caterpillar is ready to metamorphose into a butterfly, it crawls away from the plants and tries to find a place off the ground to hang upside down, where it begins the next phase of its life cycle.

Here’s a caterpillar looking for a good place under the edge of the sign:

Photo by Carol Heiser.

Then the magic happens!  Each caterpillar transforms into its own lime-green colored chrysalis.  I counted over 25 chrysalises hanging on the stonework or under the edges of the sign on September 19th, all in different stages of development.  As of October 3rd, there were 14 chrysalises on the sign.  Inside the chrysalis, the butterfly takes approximately 10 days to develop before it emerges as an adult:

Photo by Carol Heiser.

Below you can see this butterfly’s body parts forming – how cool is that!

Photo by Carol Heiser.

After the butterfly emerges and flies away, all that’s left behind is the thin transparent “shell” of the chrysalis – it’s the one in the middle of the picture below:

Photo by Carol Heiser.

How about in your neighborhood?  Have you seen a surge of monarch butterflies and caterpillars this season?  Evidence seems to show that monarch numbers are higher than usual this year, possibly the highest in almost five years.

And that’s not all that’s using our garden!  Check out our mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), which is attracting numerous bees, such as these bumblebees-

Photo by Lee Walker.

-and also butterflies, such as this common buckeye:

Photo by Lee Walker.

And our great blue lobelia is still blooming on October 9th – it continues to be an excellent magnet for bees:

Photo by Carol Heiser.

  • October 9th, 2018

The Bobwhite in Virginia: A Conversation with Quail Restoration Leader Marc Puckett

The surprising flush of a covey of quail is a thrilling and welcome sight, but one that is not as common as it used to be.  Unless you are a farmer,  hunter, or a rural landowner, quail are rarely encountered—although just about everyone has heard their distinctive “BOB-White” call from a distance.  What has become of this endearing round bodied, buff and brown colored bird?   Where have Virginia’s quail gone, and what can we do to bring them back?  Read the rest of this article…

  • October 9th, 2017

Holly Flowers Attract Bees and Butterflies

by Carol A. Heiser, VDGIF Habitat Education Coordinator

Thousands of sweet-smelling, miniature white flowers on a holly tree in my yard have become a temporary magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. The tree is humming with honeybees, bumblebees, and flies that buzz from flower to flower, while over a dozen tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails flit about the entire tree, sampling nectar all around.

Virginia is home to several native species of holly (Ilex genus), including American holly (I. opaca), inkberry (I. glabra), yaupon (I. vomitoria), and the deciduous common winterberry (I. verticillata). The holly in my yard was planted by a previous owner and appears to be a cultivar, but each spring it teems with nectar-seeking insects that later disperse to other flowering plants.

Of course, Ilex is only one of dozens of tree species that provide significant forage for bees and other insects this time of year. Between late March to early June, pollinators rely heavily on the flowers of maples (Acer), redbud (Cercis), cherry (Prunus), sassafras (Sassafras) and willow (Salix). Later in June and into early summer, another “wave” of trees will come into flower, such as black locust (Robinia), honeylocust (Gledisia), sumac (Rhus), serviceberry (Amelanchier) and basswood (Tilia).

As the growing season progresses, each pollinated flower will give rise to a fruit, seed or berry, which in turn will provide food for birds and other wildlife. Trees and shrubs are high value plants in the landscape, providing not only nectar, pollen and fruit but also much-needed cover for a diversity of wildlife species.

See a listing of Native Trees and Shrubs for Pollinators (PDF) and be sure to visit the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora to check which of the species on this list are native to your part of Virginia.

  • April 11th, 2016