The monarch butterflies will soon be returning to the Shenandoah Valley - some may be here already- as they make their migration north from their overwintering forests in Mexico. The viceroy (Limenitis archipus), the look-alike to the monarch, is here already as they can be seen about 15 days after poplar and willow trees (their host plants) leaf out.
The easiest way to tell the two apart is the viceroy has a black band on its hindwings. They tend to be just a little smaller than the monarch and they fly directly to their target in comparison to the monarch flight pattern which tends to be more floating with a typical glide-flap-flap habit.
At first glance, ladybug larva look a little menacing, resembling tiny, spiky alligators with a few bright spots of yellow or orange. However, they do a great service in the garden, consuming hundreds of aphids and other pests in two to three weeks.
Ladybugs are actually beetles in the family Coccinellidae, meaning "little sphere", referring to the bright red bodies of the adults. There are about 5,000 species of ladybug or ladybird beetles worldwide and about 400 in North America.
They are the official insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Tennessee. (Virginia's official insect is the tiger swallowtail butterfly which is, of course, the logo of the Old Rag Master Naturalists).
Ladybird beetle attacking a Colorado potato beetle larvae.
Despite our cool, rainy spring, our little Lepidoptera friends are emerging for the season. They are eagerly eating their host plants in order to move to their next instar and metamorphose into butterflies and moths. One colorful caterpillar seen recently is the variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia). It favors violets, passion flowers, mayapple common purslane and stonecrops. Its range is very widespread, having been reported in almost every US state.
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