Archive for the ‘butterfly’ Category

Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs

June 3, 2011

West Virginia White butterfly

Cabbage White butterfly

Some of the most common and easy to recognize butterflies are the whites and sulphurs. In fact the name butterfly probably comes from “butter colored flies” referring to some of the yellow ones. There are several variations, but most are white, like the Cabbage White butterfly, or yellow, like the Clouded Sulphur. The wings are roundish, some have orange or black tips and dots. They are midsized butterflies with a wingspan of about an inch.

Orange Sulphur butterfly on asters

Whites and sulphurs are found in every garden visiting flowers. They also like to gather in groups at mud puddles. They often can be seen chasing each other in a spiral flight, circling around each other while raising toward the sky, and then one of them dropping down.

There are many native species, but the Cabbage White butterfly was introduced from Europe and, as its name suggests, it is a pest of cabbages and related plants.

Habitat. Gardens, fields, open areas, from beaches to mountains.

Season. From April to October, year round in southern states.

Flowers. Long throated flowers: monarda, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, mints, clover and also flat open flowers: daisies, sunflower, dandelion, thistles, goldenrod, etc. Also, look for them at mud puddles.

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Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors


Hairstreak Butterflies

May 5, 2011

Red banded hairstreak on goldenrod

Hairstreaks are so called for the hair-like tails on the hind wings. They also have eyespots or markings on the hind wings. These two things combined can easily lead a predator to think that this part is the head and to take a bite off the wrong end, allowing the butterfly to escape, losing no more than a piece of wing. They are pretty little butterflies that can be seen flitting about over meadows, old fields, near forests most of the warm part of the year. There are many species, some are represented only in the east or only in the west of the United States.

Banded hairstreak on common milkweed

They are fairly small, gray, going from bluish to tan, with some colored pattern. The red banded hairstreak, a common species in eastern United States, has a jagged red band with a border of a black and a white line on the underside of the wings. The banded hairstreak has variable dark and white markings on the underside of the wings; two orange spots on the hind wings and a metallic blue large spot. It is common in the east but it is also found in some western states.

Coral hairstreak on butterfly weed

This and the coral hairstreak are often found on butterfly weed and other milkweed flowers, Asclepias.
The coral hairstreak has a row of coral dots on the underside of the back wing and rows of smaller dark dots on front and back wings. It is unusual among hairstreaks in that it doesn’t have tails. Seen throughout the United States.

Habitat. Edges of woodlands, sandy areas, old fields.

Season. Early spring to fall. In southern states they can be seen throughout the year.

Flowers. Many species of the aster family. Goldenrod is a favorite of some hairstreaks. Others are fond of milkweeds, butterfly weed.

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Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

Tiger swallowtail

April 22, 2011

Male tiger swallowtail on common milkweed


Tiger swallowtail on zinnia

The tiger swallowtail is a very impressive creature with its large size, bright colors and bold pattern. It belongs to a group of butterflies called swallowtails in reference to the two projections, “tails” of their hind wings. It is thought that these projections may confuse predators making them think that the tails are actually antennae. When a bird goes for the head it may get a piece of wing instead, allowing the butterfly to escape without suffering a lethal injury.

Female tiger swallowtail dark variety

The name refers to its yellow and black stripes, reminiscent of a tiger’s stripes. One peculiarity of this species of butterflies is that some females instead of being yellow with black stripes are bluish black with white spots.

Spicebush swallowtail. Author: Daniel Spurgeon. Creative Commons

These females look very much like another fairly common butterfly, the spicebush swallowtail. The former lacks the orange spots of the latter on the underside of the wings; this makes it possible to tell them apart. Spicebush swallowtails taste bad to predators. It is possible that dark female tiger swallowtails masquerade as members of the other species to lead predators to believe that they are bad tasting too.

Habitat. Around woodland edges, near streams, swamps

Season. It starts flying as early as March and lasts until October, but mostly it flies between June and September

Flowers. Milkweeds, sedum or stone crop, many flowers of the aster family, especially larger ones like zinnias

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Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

Monarch butterfly

April 20, 2011

Monarch on milkweed

The most beloved and best known butterfly in North America is, without doubt, the monarch butterfly. However, people often mistake other orange and black butterflies, such as viceroys and queens, for monarchs.

Queen butterfly. Brown, rather than orange. Author: Russ Ottens, University of Georgia. Creative commons

Viceroy butterfly. Dark line across hindwings. Author: Sander van der Molen Creative Commons

Queens are related to monarchs; their pattern is similar but with fewer lines and a darker color. Viceroys are not related but they look remarkably similar at first sight, probably because they want to fool predators into thinking that they taste just as bad as monarchs. Look for a line that runs across the hind wing of a viceroy, this line is absent in monarchs. Viceroys are a little smaller than monarchs.

Fritillary. No white dots. Black lines don’t go all the way

Fritillaries are also smaller than monarchs and their pattern doesn’t include white dots.
The monarch’s life cycle is remarkable. It migrates in the fall all the way to Mexico, where it spends the winter. It starts migrating back north in early spring, where it reproduces and has several new generations; each keeps migrating farther and farther north through the spring and summer all the way to northern United States and Canada.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

The monarchs that live in the western part of the United States only migrate as far south as California where they spend the winter.
The caterpillars are brightly striped black, yellow and white. They feed on milkweeds (several different species) so that is where you also find the adults often; adults take nectar from a variety of flowers, not just milkweeds, and can be seen visiting them.

Habitat. Fields, meadows, sunny spots

Season. In California they are found year round. In southern states such as Texas and Florida they can be seen from February to as late as November. The farther north you go the shorter the season for monarchs. In northern states they are found from June to October.

Flowers. Seen quite often at milkweeds, common, swamp and several other milkweed species. Also found at many other flowers depending on the season: asters, goldenrods, bee balm.

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Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors