Thursday, September 13, 2012

Monarch Butterflies Galore & Other Recent Butterflies

There have been good numbers of Monarch Butterflies coming through the nature preserve over the past week. The majority are pouring out of Canada and passing through our region on route to Mexico. The timing is no accident, since just about all of our open meadows are at peak bloom for Goldenrod and many asters. These flowers are attracting the Monarchs like magnets.Walking through one of these fields the other day, I had Monarchs flying up in front of me with practically every other step. Some were cooperative enough for me to get some pictures of them.
A male Monarch feeds on Green-headed Coneflower

Monarch on New England Aster
Below one of the beaver dams, there is a large clump Purple-stemmed Aster in full bloom. These asters were covered with over a dozen butterflies –mostly Monarchs.

Several Monarchs on Purple-stemmed Asters
A Pair of Viceroy Butterflies mating
Currently, Viceroy Butterflies are quite common in the Pussy Willow grove above the beaver ponds. The main foodplants for the Viceroy are plants in the willow family, so it makes complete sense that they’d be found there. For the most part the Viceroys are found mingling at the nectar plants with their larger lookalikes –the Monarchs.
A male Eastern-tailed Blue Butterfly perches on a Raspberry leaf
Flying low to the ground and looking more like innocuous tiny moths, are the Eastern-tailed Blue butterflies. If you follow one to its landing perch, you have a good chance of seeing it open its wings. If it’s a male, you’d get to see vivid iridescent blue topwings. Female Eastern-tailed Blue Butterflies have much darker –almost black topwings.

The Least Skipper is our smallest butterfly
The Least Skipper has also been seen around the preserve lately. This is another tiny and easy to miss butterfly that flies very close to the ground. It’s often hard to distinguish from the astoundingly common European Skipper. Both have orange topwings with brown or black on the wing margins. The underwings have no pattern and just appear dull orange. In our area, the Least Skipper is more likely to be seen in this late part of the summer, while the European Skipper is at its most Abundant in late spring and early summer.
The Red Admiral feeds on nectar from a Goldenrod flower
Other butterflies that have been making an appearance at the nature preserve include the Red Admiral. This dark butterfly with bold red “admiral” stripes is the species that became so incredibly common in the spring. That unprecedented migration helped to introduce the Admiral to many who hadn’t seen it before. This time of year, they are not nearly that abundant, but a few, likely descendants from the big spring flight, are around to take advantage of plentiful late summer flowers.
The Questionmark Butterfly - note the silvered question-mark spot in the center of the underwing
Giant Swallowtail
A few Giant Swallowtail Butterflies are still being seen in the area. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the Giant Swallowtail caterpillars that were found eating the leaves of our potted grapefruit tree. The caterpillars grew quite large and then disappeared. We weren’t sure if they left of their own volition or if a Blue Jay decided to turn them into king-sized snacks. Hopefully, they just sauntered off to become chrysalises. If they managed that, we may be seeing them again as adult butterflies sometime before the summer’s end. 

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