Crow’s Nest: Build it, and they will come

September 1, 2021

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Caterpillar of the mourning cloak butterfly

Photo: Daniel Barringer

I quote this phrase from the movie “Field of Dreams” often because it applies so well to how we manage land. Plant the species of trees and flowers which the insects are adapted to feed upon, and they will find their way to your yard. Plants and the insects which feed on them are the basis of the food web, and they in turn will attract other wildlife that prey upon them, and so on.

I planted a hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis) in our yard when we first moved up the road to this end of the preserve just a few years ago. I like hackberry trees but I’m also excited to see what it’s hosting. Last week it was covered with these caterpillars of the mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). The mourning cloak caterpillar also feeds on the leaves of elm, willow, hawthorn, and others. After a week they have moved on without excessive damage to the tree; we’ll look forward to the beautiful butterflies in our future. Even though it is late in the season I think that they will pupate and become adults this year and overwinter as butterflies which will hibernate in the ground or under bark and lay eggs on young twigs next year.