Distinguishing Queens, Monarchs, and Others

The butterflies this fall have been utterly delightful. The number of species visiting our garden have been hard to count, but it’s been fun trying. Monarchs, Skippers, Sulphurs, Swallowtails, big, little, striking, camouflaged — you name it, we seem to have it. The Monarchs, always a happy presence, keep skipping off when I bring out the camera, usually because the dogs like to visit the garden when I do. But without a doubt this year the Queen butterflies have put on the biggest show, fluttering about, dancing with each other, visiting all the flowers in the garden, taking a rest, then going at it again.


Queens, Monarchs, Viceroys, Soldiers — these butterflies are very often mistaken for one another in the United States, so how does one tell them apart? The fact that they often follow similar regional migration paths certainly doesn’t help.

The Queen butterfly (Danaus eresimus) and its lookalike cousins, the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and the Soldier (Danaus eresimus) butterflies, are all from the same genus. They enjoy the same larval food, the poisonous Milkweed, which in turn makes all the butterflies unpleasant to predators, and their resemblance to one another helps protect all of them. The fourth lookalike is the Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), from a different genus. At a quick glance, to me, Soldiers and Queens look very much alike, and Monarchs and Viceroys are most similar to each other. But fortunately there are easy ways to distinguish them all.

But first, butterfly terms. It’s important to know these when identifying or describing features on a butterfly. The four areas typically described are upperside, seen when the wings are opened; underside, or “side view” when the wings are upright; forewings (upper pair); and hindwings (lower pair).

butterflyterms10-30-09.jpgSo let’s take a closer look at the Queen butterfly. From the underside, the most noticeable marker is the lack of black veins in the forewing; the Queen’s are pale. The Queen also does not have a series of pale spots along the hindwing found in the similar Soldier butterfly (shown in link farther in post). 


The upperside is also distinctive for the Queen, with its chestnut color and noticeable lack of black veins found in the other species.


Note in the above two photos that one is a female butterfly and the other is a male. The male Queen butterfly, as in many butterflies, has two scent patches called androconial scales, which distribute the pheromones it uses to attract the females. Here is an underside view of a male Queen.

queenmalec10-30-09.jpgThe familiar Monarch butterfly is typically larger and more orange than the Queen butterfly.

monarchc10-30-09.jpgThe upperside of a Monarch shows a wide black band along the edge of the forewing. The bold black veins on this Monarch indicate that it is a female; male monarchs have thinner black veins, along with their androconial spots. Monarchs lack a secondary black arc found on the hindwings of Viceroys.


Soldier butterflies
 are fairly similar to Queens at first glance, but they have black veins on the underside of the forewing and pale spots visible on the underside of the hindwing. The veins of the upperside are also more defined on a Soldier butterfly than on a Queen. Their distribution range is more limited than that of the Queen, typically farther south into Mexico. 

And finally, the Viceroy. The Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) is not a member of the same genus as the Monarch, Queen, and Soldier butterflies, but it looks remarkably like them, particular Monarchs. If you click on the link, you’ll see in the picture there that the primary distinguishing mark of a Viceroy is a secondary black line arching through the hindwing on both the upperside and the underside — as mentioned above, Monarchs do not have this.

The Viceroy is an example of Müllerian mimicry because its orange and black markings are like that of whichever Danaus species is local to its area, and all are unpalatable. In this way the four species having similar markings and a bad taste provide them all with added protection from would-be predators. 

Did you know that there are other butterflies with similar markings, including one called the Common Tiger in India? It’s a beauty — in addition to the orange and black coloring of Monarchs, the Common Tiger has beautiful white stripes on the forewings. Others are found in Africa and elsewhere in Asia. The animal kingdom sure is fascinating.  

The New Trend in Pumpkin Carving

Don’t try this at home. Best to do so at your friend’s house, using HIS jigsaw.


The annual party at Stepan and Jennifer’s was a blast, and our three little pumpkins were big in spirit. They were small but mighty!

Sometimes size matters, but apparently not in pumpkins.

Here’s the before.


The small pumpkins had remarkably thick rinds, but scooping out the guts was quick and easy.


And here our little pumpkins are joined by all their pumpkin friends who are all clearly compensating for something.

Here’s where I should point out that Stepan’s pumpkin was the biggest, but that’s just not like me.

The boys like their pumpkins with ham.

I have to show off Stepan’s young garden. Like our family, his family just can’t keep their hands off the sugar snap peas. I noticed there weren’t any available for me to sneakily munch on.

The rampant sugar pumpkin vine attempted to escape to the other side of the fence. See the young pumpkin in the corner? Stepan got to do the hand pollination thing. It’s just so fun.


Thanks for another great party, Stepan and Jen! Oh, to follow up on the pumpkin cheesecake — it was yummy, and we returned home with only a single piece. I took a picture of it, and the next thing I knew it was consumed by one of our naughty dogs.  ><

Headless Horseman Strikes the Garden

With Halloween around the corner, we all know that monsters might appear at any time of day or night, but the mere picking of our first orange sugar pumpkin brought to our garden…duhn Duhn DUHN… the Headless Horseman!


There it is, our first orange sugar baby.

I spent the evening creating this Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust using a fantastic recipe I found at The Hungry Mouse. It’s made with cognac. Enough said. Well, not enough — I want to add kudos to Jessie for her detailed photos and instructions on the making of this yummy and divine dessert.


But alas, I confess that I resorted to canned pumpkin to make it. Here’s what happened: When I cut open that little sugar pumpkin that passed all its tests on ripeness, I found that there was a fair amount of green mixed in with the orange inside. I honestly didn’t know whether a little green was okay, but as the pumpkin was already cut open, I went ahead and scooped out the seeds and pulp and baked it. I figured I’d give it a taste test after baking and decide then what to do, all the while feeling pretty much like a pumpkin murderer knowing that there was a good chance I wouldn’t use it.

Well, the baking went fine, but when I tasted it, my first sugar pumpkin, I couldn’t tell whether it tasted the way it was supposed to, so I erred on the side of safety and decided to open a can of pumpkin. Well, it turns out that the canned pumpkin tasted exactly the same, so I could have used my little sugar pumpkin, but it was too late!

But the good news is that I remembered that pumpkin is good in a variety of ways for dogs, so the little orange-greenish pumpkin will not go to waste. I’ve already given some to the dogs, and tomorrow I hope to try my hand at making pumpkin dog treats, perfect for the holidays. I might also try making some muffins or other yummy human treat.

pumpkins10-26-09.jpgThe cheesecake is for today’s annual pumpkin carving party at our friends Stepan and Jennifer’s house. It’s our first year growing our own jack-o-lanterns, which have been behind schedule due to the hot summer and fall rains. But we chose three of our 10 growing pumpkins for early carving. Two are small, and one is still a bit green, but we grew these for carving, so carve them we will! The other seven pumpkins still on the vine will be for carving later in the week or for fall decorating.

pumpkinsb10-26-09.jpgMy yard is going to look so empty after I have to remove all these pumpkin vines… 

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2009

Yesterday, my boys and I did a whirlwind tour of the beautiful yards of this year’s Inside Austin Gardens Tour. There was something special about each and every home, and we thank the homeowners for opening their yards to the community. Each yard was a certified wildlife habitat, and we even got to see some wildlife at a few of them!


We zoomed through so very fast due to our overbooked afternoon schedule. But even in our few minutes of touring, we found inspiration. From mixed yard/habitat homes to luscious looming tropics to sheer vastness in variety of plant species to pure folly, we saw it all.

As is typical of me, I was drawn to the use of native plants and whimsy in the garden, as you can see in these select photos. But without a doubt, I saw some very unique and beautiful plants at all the homes. I greatly appreciate the lists of plants available at every location! And there was such creativity in layout and design and decor.





These little glimpses don’t give much in the way of overview, I know. I regret that I’m posting so few pictures, but  I encourage
you to visit Pam’s blog at Digging, MSS at Zanthan Gardens, Jenny at Rock Rose , and Linda at Patchwork Garden for exceptional details and photos of the tour (so many of our pictures are of the same plants and garden wows, and I shamelessly admit that I’m taking advantage of the fact that they beat me to the blogging punch). I’ve got so many projects looming over me at the moment, but if I don’t get something out, I’ll get nothing out, if that makes sense. Life just isn’t stopping still and letting me catch up! What’s up with that?

First Official Harvest

Tonight my family enjoyed our first ever salad from our garden. I didn’t pick enough, but I treaded through mud and rain with a flashlight to get what I did. Tonight we enjoyed mixed lettuce, two kinds of baby spinach, and sugar snap peas. Everything was delicious, but by far my favorites are the sugar snap peas. I look forward to more garden variety as the other veggies grow.

harvest10-15-09.jpgAllright, I confess. I’ve already been munching on the snap peas. Perhaps I should have called this the “first official harvest photograph.” But it is true that tonight was the first time the rest of my family tried them. It counts, right?

It’s Texas Native Plants Week! Oct 19-23

I’m still sorting through my photos of my San Miguel trip, but in the meantime, all you Texans start whooping and hollering, because it’s Texas Native Plants Week! Get out there and give special happy attention to your native plants, or go get your garden a new Texas-native flower, tree, shrub, vine, or grass just to celebrate! In my garden, lots of Monarchs and Queen butterflies are loving on my blooming natives right now, so I’m having double the fun visiting the garden this week.

Want to learn more? Read the Statesman’s article, visit the Wildflower Center, or check out Austin’s TX Native Plants Week page for listings of this week’s special events, great native plant sources, or other information.


Yay, native!

Hola and Hi

I’ve been in Mexico enjoying several days of celebration, culminating in my sister’s beautiful wedding outside of San Miguel. And today I begin the process of working my way through all the pictures I took, so hopefully I’ll have a few good ones to share. Aye, las flores y otras plantas de México son muy magníficas.

Thank you for all the comments you’ve sent in my absence. I have a lot of catching up to do!

Reflections on the First Year

Has it really only been a year? So much progress has been made in our first year of gardening that it’s hard to believe it happened in a mere 365-ish days. Hey, I only about destroyed my back and my husband had to have knee surgery, but what does that matter when our yard is such a pleasant place to be now? (Ok, my husband just pointed out that we can’t really blame gardening for our failing bodies, but it sounded good.)

What started it all? The felling of one very dead hackberry that was dangerously leaning over our house.

reflections2009x.jpgWhen that tree fell, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a gardening endeavour of massive proportions. But I looked around my yard and hated what I saw. It was time, after 13 years of doing nothing, to do something. Even if I had no clue whatsoever about what to do. 

But apparently I figured a few things out. The rest will come when I figure those out.

Here are a few tidbits of how our outdoor world has changed. Now be warned, the overgrown state has to do with all the rain we’ve finally been getting — I haven’t been able to clean anything up. At least things look more green…

The backyard, before and after:


The pond, before and after:

The back porch, before and after:

The front garden bed, before and after:

reflections2009zza.jpgThere’s a lot more to our yard than what you see here, and I invite you to see more. We have a long way to go, but it’s fun to take a look at how far we’ve come. You can also hear more about the story that got us on our gardening journey.

A Visit to Mesa Verde

A couple of years ago my boys and I went to Colorado with their grandparents, and we snuck out for a side-trip to beautiful Mesa Verde, a National Park in far southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners. Mesa Verde is one of the most unique archeological sites in the world, for it was once the home of the Ancestral Puebloans who built hundreds of spectacular cliff dwellings along the mesa tops and within sheltered alcoves of the canyons. The Ancestral Puebloans lived there from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300 and then mysteriously abandoned their homes at Mesa Verde.


Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde and in North America, and it is aptly named. Not only is it huge, with about 150 rooms, it was quite a trek down the cliff to reach it. There were many kivas, or ceremonial rooms, along with storage rooms.

mesaverdec2007.jpgThe temperature was very comfortable, and it’s easy to understand why the Ancient Puebloans took shelter in the cliffs, out of the hot summer sun and cold winters.The doorways of the buildings were quite small. At 5’5″, I would have been as tall as the tallest man. 

The Ancestral Puebloans were skilled masons, creating buildings of stone and wood that were sometimes two- or three-stories high. The wood is one of the ways the scientists dated the dwellings to about A.D. 1200.

Spruce Tree House was named for a spruce tree climbed on by explorers when they found the ancient site. The ladders led into reconstructed kivas.

Park visitors are allowed to go in the reconstructed kivas at Spruce Tree House, but I found out later that kivas are very sacred to the Pueblo Indians. I rather wish the park had closed off all the kivas out of respect to the Pueblo people. Our entering it was only because we didn’t know better and it’s part of the park tour. I’m showing this image simply because it’s one of my favorites of my son, poking his head out from darkness into the brightness above.  

mesaverdeh2007.jpgAnd then there is the Balcony House. This remarkable dwelling is only reached by climbing down stairs along a cliffside and then up a 32-foot ladder to get to the actual dwelling. Actually, it was one of three ladders we had to climb at Balcony House. If you think it sounds easy, then take a look at the picture below. 


For those with a tendency toward acrophobia, climbing a tall ladder with what seems like only a small ledge keeping you from falling into the deep, deep canyon below definitely requires some incredible will and an ability to master one’s fears. I should add that we had waited out a thunderstorm with strong winds on the cliff above before the tour finally began, so I was already fairly alarmed that we were about to attempt such a climb with winds such as those blowing (it turns out the Balcony House was actually sheltered from the cliff winds). But because I was wanting my sons to enjoy something unique and spectacular without developing any of my awful fears, I kept my desire to panic very quiet and seriously practiced some breathing techniques to keep my calmness in check. But the ladder you see here will forever be known to me as the White-Knuckle Ladder. I actually don’t have a fear of heights per se — I love being up high — it’s just being at the edge of a cliff that gets me wobbly. And Mesa Verde is ALL cliffs, haha. 

The trip will always be a memorable one for me — from the drive in to the drive out. For those with a strong fear of heights, it might not be the best park for you to visit. Even the 23-mile drive in was along the mountainside, with narrow turns and tight switchbacks, and while the views were incredible, I couldn’t take my eyes off the road to even glance at them. Add to it that I made the mistake of not getting gas in nearby Durango, and I was rather inwardly freaked out that we were going to run out of gas or fall off a cliff to the canyon far below. We did neither. Phew. But despite my racing heart, I’d go back there in a flash to visit again.

This glimpse back at my Mesa Verde trip was inspired by Pam at Digging who is hosting a bloggers’ tribute to national parks. Thanks for sending me on this trip down memory lane, Pam!

Oh Deer

Well, we’d been warned. Deer will rub antlers on young trees.

deerdamage10-09-09.jpgBut they seemed to leave our Lacey Oak alone all year — well, as it turns out that’s because it isn’t until fall that they do the antler rub thing! We noticed the damage while planting our new Anachacho Orchid nearby. Cry. I haven’t had a deer incident this major since they ate my beloved Spotted Squill, a.k.a Alien Tentacle Plant! Well, there’s also the pineapple sage, but I can’t be 100% sure on that one, as it was closer to the house.

I think the tree will be ok. The damage isn’t all the way around, and it’s on only one of the three main trunks. But I’m also very glad we noticed it today and not tomorrow, because tonight more damage might have occurred.

deerfence10-09-09.jpgAnd luckily when we planted the Lacey Oak, I also bought the materials to protect it with. Perhaps actually using said materials might have been the wiser path… But we at least had them in the garage and didn’t have to go shopping.

So now we have one of those yards with the goofy fences around the trees. We decided to put the Anacacho behind bars with the Lacey Oak to protect it, too. It’s the first understory tree to go under the story of the Lacey Oak. This would be more impressive were the trees, say, bigger. But they will grow!

deerfenceb10-09-09.jpgNow for some good news — the disappearing fountain is back and functioning again! We never did solve the mystery of the shifted rock, which led to the unexpected emptying of our new disappearing fountain and potential pump damage. But happily the pump still functions, and our fountain still remains the $40 disappearing fountain! We changed up the rock structure, so hopefully it will be harder for some creature to displace the tube. That little rock is only there for interest, not for directing the water flow.

40fountain10-09-09.jpgWhether it was cat or deer or rain or human or Sasquatch that caused the tube to shift, we’ll never know. But I still think a deer is likely responsible for the removal of the nearby pineapple sage. And the nursery didn’t have any the last time I was there. I was sad. Oh deer.