I lent my wildflower book to a guest so this week I'm focusing on another colorful addition to our summer. Butterflies!
Several years ago, when the kids participated in a homeschool science class on butterflies, I began collecting butterfly species of every shape, size, and color. Back then I could identify several species with ease - and others were at least familiar. However, that was in another time and another place. Here, although I see a few familiar 'faces', I have also found many I don't recognize.
A few days ago we were blessed with a lovely rain storm. It just dumped! The next day there were areas around the lodge and up my favorite hiking trail where I felt like I was walking in a cloud of butterflies. That was a wonderful experience! Besides, it gave me another excuse to photograph more colorful summer visitors.
One regular guest was telling me butterflies are an indicator species. Their presence tells us we have a healthy eco-system. My brief Google search showed at least some scientists concur. This knowledge adds to the joy I experience when a colorful visitor flits by.
Below I've listed eight species including photos and brief descriptions. The ninth picture above is a colorful visitor I'm struggling to identify. It doesn't help that this colorful friend is quite shy. Even with my telephoto lens, I've struggled to capture his image. For those of you willing to give me a hand identifying this beautiful specimen, keep in mind although the picture does not show this, this butterfly does not have a swallow tail.
- Edith's Checkerspot
- White-Lined Sphinx Moth
- Lupine Blue
- Milbert's Tortoiseshell
- Pink-edged Sulfur
- Western Black Swallowtail
- Western Tailed Blue
- Western Tiger Swallowtail
Edith's Checkerspot: Can you identify the plant this butterfly is visiting? If not, check out my last blog post. A colorful medium-size butterfly, the Edith's Checkerspot has quite a large range covering most of the western states and the central and northern rocky mountain states.
Even with this wide range, this butterfly is considered uncommon. Some have suggested climate change may have effected them. Apparently this assumption is based on changes in the butterfly's range with large populations dying off in the southern USA while increasing numbers are found in the northern regions.
This butterfly belongs to the Lycaenidae family with over 4,700 species unevenly distributed worldwide. Amazingly enough, since we experience such COLD winters, these butterflies over-winter as young caterpillars or hibernating adults. That makes me wonder how far they travel during their migration.
White-Lined Sphinx Moth: This unusual visitor looks like a cross between a moth and a hummingbird. Sometimes called hummingbird moths, this species flits their wings very quickly. Because this rapid wing movement uses up a lot of energy, these moths are typically only seen in during the cooler dawn and dusk hours.
Due to sprawling developments, they have moved their range further north than in times past. Unlike butterflies, their caterpillars pulpate in shallow burrows in the ground. However, many caterpillars are killed before they reach the moth stage because these 'hornworm' (characterized by a 'horn' on one end of their bodies) caterpillars are a threat to tomato, pepper, and grape crops.
An amazingly large flying insect, White-lined Sphinx Moths vary greatly in size with wing spans averaging between 2 1/2 to 9 inches! In addition to being called "Hummingbird Moths", this unique insect is also called "Hawk Moth" and "Sphinx Moth".
One more interesting piece of 'moth' trivia: The White-Lined Sprinx Moth's European cousin, the "Death's Head Sphinx Moth" (yuk, what a name!), was featured in the movie Silence of the Lambs.
Lupine Blue Do you see the blue butterfly in the upper right segement of this photo? This is a Lupine Blue.
Here's a trivia question which my blog readers should be able to answer. What is the larvae host / nector source plant for this pretty little butterfly?
Did you guess Sulfur Buckwheat? If so, you were right! So, why isn't this fellow called a "Buckwheat Blue"? Who knows? One thing scientists do know is the butterfly has nothing to do with Lupines and everything to do with Sulfur Buckwheat!
In stark comparison to the large moth we just looked at, the Lupine Blue has a wingspan of only 7/8 - 1 1/8 inches. This little butterfly tends to be found around its host plant - often in rocky areas and alpine forests. The males like puddles (this fact is supported by my picture) and both the male and female visit a flower we will look at in a later blog known as Pussy Paws or Pussy Toes.
Milbert's Tortoiseshell Sorry folks, this isn't the best butterfly picture I have ever taken, but it is the best of several tries to catch this fellow with wings spread. In fact, I have observed few butterflies which open and close their wings as quickly as this fellow.
Often seen as a harbinger of spring in North America, the Milbert's Tortoiseshell emerges in some areas as early as March (not here this year, fortunately!) This butterfly has a squared-off forewing which adds distinction to the wing shape and aids in indentification.
I consider this butterfly to be in the medium-size range for our area. It has a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch wingspan. When closed, the wings appear dark and drab. When opened, however, they sport a riot of orange, black, and yellow colors.
Now, for the most interesting tidbit I found (in my opinion). The Milbert's Tortoiseshell's host plant is nettles (another plant we'll look at down the road). It lays up to 900 (yep, 900!) eggs on the nettle plant. When the caterpillars emerge, they feed on the nettles. When they finally take to the wing, the adults feed on thistle, goldenrod, and lilac flowers. (So, much as I hate to admit it, the nettles which leave a nasty sting when you touch them serve an important purpose!)
Pink-edged Sulfur Yellow butterflies seem to abound. Sporting minimal markings, it can be quite difficult to distinguish between the different species. This small to medium butterfly has a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch wingspan.
As in most species seen in the wild, the male has slightly more color on his wingtips. These pretty bright color spots prefer shrubby areas in woods, bogs, and scrub areas.
They enjoy a fairly widespread range covering much of the northerm United States and British Columbia.
Here's an interesting piece of Sulfur Butterfly trivia: In some species the males' wings have a brilliant UV reflection. The females' wings do not.
Western Black Swallowtail This large butterfly sports a slightly different color pattern / mixture than the Tiger or Western Swallowtail which I've delighted in seeing over the years. It is also much more elusive than its yellower cousin.
It seems this pretty fellow has been identified by several names - or possibly is just easily confused with a couple other species. Some call it the "Old World Swallowtail" others "Baird's Swallowtail". Based on the photos and information I could gather, I'd say the Old World, at least, looks almost if not identical.
This colorful butterfly's caterpilar enjoys sagebrush. Although I've only seen them on other plants or flitting across my path as I walk through the hills and meadows around the lodge, maybe I need to look a little closer at the sagebrush! The adults prefer flower nectar and tend to spend their time on open hillsides and in mountain meadows.
Western Tailed Blue Here is another one of those pretty blue butterflies which line my path after a good rainstorm. The Western Tailed Blue's only distinguishing mark is a single orange spot near its tail.
I must admit, as I studied the two blue butterflies shown in this blog, I began to wonder if they had mixed up the butterfly pictures and name plaques at the first butterfly convention. This butterfly seems much more adapted to the name Lupine Blue since its host plants are of the vetch and pea family and include False Lupine.
With a wing span of 7/8 to 1 1/8 inches, the Western Tailed Blue is not a very big fellow. However, since they seem to like hanging together (I've seen blue butterflies group into crowds of twenty or thirty around a damp spot on the ground), they create a pretty blue cloud when disturbed.
Western Tiger Swallowtail
Last but not least we come to one of my favorite butterflies. In fact, back in my butterfly hunting days, I had the rare experience of having one of these beautiful insects land on my pants leg. Since I was hot and sweaty, I must admit it wasn't because I smelled like the lilac which attracts them to my yard. I'm more suspicious it was the bright red shorts I was wearing.
More recently I had the rare opportunity to watch the interaction between two of this beautiful species. As I was walking through the woods, close to the top of a nearby ridge, two Western Tiger Swallowtails flew by. I was intrigued because it almost appeared as though one was chasing the other. So, I watched.
Next thing I knew, one of the Swallowtails headed back the way I'd come while the other kept flitting ahead of me. I puzzled briefly over their antics before pursuing the remaining butterfly with my camera, hoping for a picture. Imagine my surprise when from behind me the other butterfly appeared. Even more amazing, it flew right up to the butterfly I was pursuing, seemed almost to touch it, and then turned and flew away with my butterfly in hot pursuit. So, did I witness a butterfly game of tag? It sure looked like it to me!
A scientist, however, would probably tell me they were two males patroling the ridgetop in search of females. The females lay their eggs on willows, aspens, cottonwoods, wild cherry, and ash. The caterpillars feed on these host plants before entering the cocoon. The emerging adults enjoy flower nectar.
This colorful insect is one of the larger North American butterflies. With a wingspan of 2 3/4 to 4 inches, a large Swallowtail can be as big as a House Wren!
Well, that's the extent of my currently uploaded butterfly pictures. I hope you have enjoyed the pictures, if not the trivia. As with flowers, the more I learn about these beautiful and diverse insects (which, by the way, used to be called 'flutterbys' because of their floating flight pattern), the more I grow to appreciate the diversity of creation.!
If you enjoy butterflies but struggle with identifying the various species - or maybe, you would just like to learn more about our flutterby friends, check out the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. What a wonderful resource!
Lady of the Lake