Log In

Reset Password

It’s In Your Nature: Spotting butterflies

More than 900,000 insect species have been identified - some sources say well over a million. With such diverse habitats in the world, biologists know that all have yet to be found or identified.

The insects have been further divided into 30 Orders. Those include Diptera (house flies, mosquitoes), Orthoptera (grasshoppers) and Lepidoptera. Order Lepidoptera includes the butterflies and moths. The name Lepidoptera translates to scaly wings. For any of us who have had insect collections for scouts, 4-H, or for school and used your nets to catch butterflies, you’ll remember the powdery substance that remained on your fingers. Those are the scales that were dislodged from the butterfly’s wings.

Butterflies use complete metamorphosis. This metamorphosis type has four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Butterfly larva are called caterpillars and entomologists can identify the adult by knowing what the caterpillars look like. Maybe the most well-known butterfly is the monarch butterfly which lays its eggs on milkweeds and that is where these caterpillars and adult develop their toxicity. The pupa stage is when the larva (caterpillar) makes a case (cocoon or chrysalis) and inside it undergoes big changes from a “worm-like” creature to most often, a beautiful butterfly.

In today’s column I have included a number of photos of butterflies found in the Times News coverage area.

Note, you can’t necessarily find all of these butterflies in your flower beds in July or August. One species, the mourning cloak, actually overwinters as an adult and may be one of the earliest seen in April. However, I bet you’ve seen many of these that I have highlighted for you. They, of course, look most inviting when you see them up close and personal. So, get out there.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Butterflies and moths get needed salts and amino acids from: A. mud puddles; B. dung; C. dead animal flesh; D. all of these; E. none of these.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: House, Carolina, and winter wens can be seen here, not rock wrens though.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

The clouded sulphur butterfly is about 2 to 2½ inches in size and one of our most common butterflies. It generally remains within a few feet of the ground and flies an erratic flight pattern. BARRY REED PHOTOS
The painted lady butterfly, common in our area in mid summer, is the world's most widely distributed butterfly. As an adult it prefers feeding on red clover and thistle flowers.
The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is a large (nearly 5 inches across) and very showy butterfly in our area. In my travels I seem to find many on joe pye weed in damp areas and on our zinnias and joe pye weed in our garden.
The eastern comma butterfly is less seldom seen since it is more of a woodland or forest edge insect. It spans about 2½ inches in size and as an adult prefers rotting fruit and tree sap.
Many folks are familiar with the monarch butterfly. It reaches our region in early August where they mate and lay eggs on milkweed plants. The last generation of the summer makes the long migration to the mountains of Mexico. The caterpillars and adults get their toxicity from the sap of the milkweed.
Dreamy duskywing butterflies are often found gathering needed minerals on the ground. I photographed this group in mid-May and it is an early summer butterfly species.
Not often seen, the red spotted purple butterfly is a beauty. Its larva stage (caterpillar) prefers feeding on wild cherry, willows, aspens, and mulberry tree leaves.
The little wood satyr is an early summer butterfly. The “little bugger” didn't want to alight long enough for me to take a few photos, but my persistence paid off.
A rather common local black swallowtail butterfly feeds on a sweet pea flower.
About the size of a monarch butterfly, an aphrodite fritillary butterfly, can sometimes be seen in the Times News region.
I found a number of silver spotted skipper butterflies, like this one, visiting my zinnia bed this past week.