Posts Tagged ‘butterfly’

Beginners Guide to Pollinators

January 13, 2014


Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and

Available at no cost during Pollinator Week, June 20-26, 2016


An Easy Guide to the Most Frequent Flower Visitors

April 3, 2013


Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon Barnes & Noble, iTunes and,

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

Pollinators and other flower visitors. A field guide for young people

March 26, 2011

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments and carries three pairs of legs and generally either two pairs or only one pair of wings. The abdomen is made of a series of segments.

What kind of pollinating insect is that?

Different groups of insects vary on the shape of the head, thorax and abdomen. Of special importance are the variations on the kinds of wings. Future blog entries will cover four main types of flower visitors: 1. bees and wasps, 2. flies, 3. butterflies and moths and 4. beetles.

Bee, hairy, pollen combs

Wasp, hairless, “wasp waist”

Bees and wasps have two pairs of membranous wings, they look like saran wrap. The main differences between bees and wasps are that wasps usually have a narrow waist (the separation between the thorax and abdomen) and are less hairy than bees. Female bees usually have a means to carry pollen, the so called pollen baskets or pollen combs, either on their back legs or on the underside of their abdomens. Sometimes these baskets are loaded with pollen.

Ants are related to wasps and resemble them in their appearance, but they have no wings. Only queens and males have wings, but they are seldom seen. Ants are also frequent flower visitors. They rarely can pollinate flowers because they don’t fly and are not likely to carry pollen a significant distance.

Fly, two wings, big eyes, very small antennae

Flies  are important pollinators too. Their wings are also membranous, like those of bees and wasps but they have only one pair instead of two. The flies that visit flowers often look like bees or wasps. They lack stingers so they are good mimics that try to fool hungry birds into thinking that they can sting. Some of the ways to tell them apart is by the eyes which are very large and by the short antennae, made of two separate parts. They are usually hairless and the legs are very thin when compared to those of bees.

Butterfly, wings with scales, knobs at end of antennae

Butterflies and moths  have wings covered by very tiny scales. If you touch them some of those scales come off and they look like dust. They have a very long tongue which they use as a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers. When not in use they keep it rolled up under their chins.

Moth, wings with scales, antennae without knobs

Butterfly’s antennae end in little knobs, while the antennae of moths can either be feathery or like a string, but never with a knob at the end. Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night, although a number of them fly during the day. Night flying moths tend to be rather colorless, but those that fly during the day can be as brightly colored as many butterflies.

Beetle, hardened wings

Beetles have two pairs of wings but the first set is modified and hardened into a wing case that covers and protects the second pair of wings.
You only see this second pair when the beetle is flying or getting ready to fly. This second pair is also membranous like those of bees, wasps and flies and they remain folded under the first pair.

Where can you find pollinators?

Field of goldenrods in the fall

Look for pollinators at flowers. The best flowers are native ones. Garden flowers, especially the double ones don’t attract many pollinators, so tulips or fancy roses are not very good for pollinators. Most pollinators are active when it is warm enough, when it isn’t windy and when the sun is shining. There are a few that fly when it is dark and visit night blooming flowers.

Common milkweed, flowers

Some flowers attract many visitors. Two of the best ones are: common milkweed and all the goldenrods.

Common milkweed blooms in June and early July. The plants can grow 6 feet tall. They have large oval leaves and bunch of flowers arranged like a ball. The flowers are pink and emit a very strong sweet scent.


Goldenrodsbloom in the fall, from September to November, depending on where you live. There are several types of goldenrods; they all have yellow flowers arranged in rods that give the name to the plant. Their scent is not particularly strong but many insects are attracted to it or to the colorful display.

Asters and related flowers attract large numbers of pollinators.

Asters, blooming in the fall

Sunflowers and skipper

These include many daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, ragworts, cornflowers, as well as some plants which are not native, dandelions and thistles. The above mentioned goldenrods belong to this family, too.

Mountain mint and Queen Anne’s lace are also good attractants of a variety of flower visitors.

Honey Bee
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Halictid Bee or Sweat Bee
Mason Bees and Leaf-cutter Bees
Andrenid Bees

Potter Wasps and Mason Wasps
Grass-carrying Wasps
Great Golden Digger Wasp
Hornets and Yellowjackets
Paper Wasps

Flower Flies or Syrphid Flies
Bee Flies
Blowflies. Lucilia

Tiger Swallowtail
Hair Streaks
Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs
Silver Spotted Skipper

Hummingbird Moth
Hawk Moths
Ailanthus Web-worm Moth
Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Tumbling Flower Beetles
Flower Long Horn Beetles
Soldier Beetles
Japanese Beetle
Ladybugs or Lady Beetles

Other frequent flower visitors
Ambush Bug
Crab Spider

Further readings
Overview of Orders of Insects
Native bees of North America
Bumble bees


You may purchase the electronic version:

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors