naturalist's notebook


Naturalist Notebook:  East Texas Lepidoptera

This has been a pretty productive spring so far for butterflies, caterpillars, and other insects in the Houston area. Here are a few of the species I’ve seen at work, or out and about, during hikes…

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), Houston, TX. The caterpillars feed on native spicebush, red bay, and introduced Camphor Tree.

Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexipus) mating on a redbud tree, Houston, TX. The first generation of every season hatches out in Texas and in the Southern U.S.

Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis), resting on the edge of prairie, Houston, TX. Small butterflies, the larvae feed on plants in the mallow family.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), Houston, TX. A common (and toxic) longwing (Heliconian) butterfly, not a “true fritillary”. The larvae feed on the leaves of passion vines.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar on Prairie Parsley. The early stages of this caterpillar mimic bird droppings. The caterpillar will grow to be green with stripes and spots. They feed on plants in the carrot and parsley family, Apiaceae.

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) caterpillar, feeding on a tickseed (family Asteraceae), High Island, TX.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexipus) caterpillar feeding on Mexican Milkweed, near a Monarch egg, Houston, TX.

White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) caterpillar, Brazos Bend State Park, TX. These caterpillars feed on the leaves of a wide variety of trees and bushes. They metamorphose into a fairly nondescript mottled gray moth. 

Forest Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) are known for congregating under silk web sheets or tents that they lay down in vegetation, and for feeding together in groups on the leaves of a wide variety of trees and bushes. These caterpillars metamorphose into a small fairly nondescript brown and white moth.

Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), large for a skipper (butterfly), but a small butterfly, in a forest clearing, Houston, TX. The larvae feed on the leaves of red and white oaks.