With the increased moth activity mentioned last week, there also has been a surge in butterfly activity after the recent rains. In my neighborhood here near Phoenix, we have seen representatives of almost every butterfly family.
Because it is missing its hind wing, this one is hard to identify, but I believe it is a pipevine swallowtail.
Whites and Sulphurs
Sulphurs are really easy to spot right now.
We have several fluttering in our yard at any one time, given away by their bright yellow wings.
Orange sulphurs aka alfalfa butterflies are particularly common. Some of the females are quite pale. Right now often seen flitting across six lanes of traffic.
The tiny dainty sulphurs are so cute. This one is visiting a desert marigold.
Hairstreaks, Blues and Coppers
This tiny blue is also adorable. It posed while taking a snack from a milkweed flower.
Hairstreaks grab your attention by wriggling those antennae-like structures on their hind wings. The milkweed flowers are popular places to drink nectar.
We saw a few American snout butterflies, but not as many as in the past (previous post).
The queens are back.
They have laid eggs for the next generation on the rush milkweed.
Last, but not least, the skippers with their uniquely folded wings.
The only family of butterflies not currently represented are the metalmarks.
What butterflies have you found in your neighborhood this month?
This morning when I dropped my son off for class, I noticed this small landscape shrub was flowering.
It is a Dalea sp. (likely Dalea frutescens) that I had noticed previously, so I made a mental note to bring my camera and come back 10 minutes early to take a photo of the flowers.
When I showed up 10 minutes early, this is what I found visiting this small plant:
1. A white checkered skipper butterfly, with lovely hooks at the ends of its antennae
2. A delicate gray hairstreak butterfly
3. Reakirt’s blue butterfly, which appeared to be ovipositing
1. A green sweat bee (Halictidae)
Another shot of the same kind of bee
2. A digger bee with a creamy yellow thorax
3. A small black and white bee
Those were incredibly fast and I have a lot of shots of them flying to another flower.
4. Honey bees were also represented.
I also saw a Polistes paper wasp.
So, let’s recap. In approximately 10 minutes I was able to find three species of butterflies, at least four different kinds of bees, and a wasp visiting this one small plant that barely came up past my knee. Not only was there a great diversity of insects, but also a good quantity of bees. There was a constant stream of insects visiting flowers all over the plant, not just one or two here and there.
Dalea sp. plants are listed as larval food plants for Reakirt’s blues and southern dogface butterflies, making them a fabulous choice for butterfly and pollinator gardens.
Sometimes, just planting the right plant can make all the difference if you want to attract wildlife.
Do Dalea sp. grow where you live? What kind and what do you see visiting them?
Instead of our usual Bug of the Week, today let’s learn a bit about how to identify butterflies.
Quick, do you know what kind of butterfly this is? Does it really matter?
If you want to have an active and successful butterfly garden, then it pays to know your local butterflies. That way you can tailor the plants in your garden to their particular needs.
Butterfly identification may seem intimidating, but there are some tricks to make it manageable. First, arm all your family members with cameras. A photograph can be very handy to help you study the identification details at your leisure. Second, learn the characteristics of the groups of butterflies called families. Once you have mastered those, a trip to the identification guide or website is much more successful. By the way, that butterfly in the photograph is a western pygmy blue, a member of the blue family.
Entomologists group butterflies with similar characteristics into families. You don’t need to memorize the scientific names (unless you want to do so). I added them so you can add them to your search terms when looking for species.
1. Family Hesperiidae – commonly called skippers
Characteristics: Skippers are butterflies that most resemble moths. Two differences are that they tend to hold their wings at a 45° angle (rather that flat out or folded back) and their slender antennae often end in a hook.
You can see the angled wings very well in this photograph.
2. Family Papilionidae – commonly called swallowtails
Characteristics: Swallowtails are known for their bold, contrasting color patterns and the presence of extensions or “tails” on their hind wings.
The giant swallowtail has the characteristic look of the family Papilionidae.
3. Family Pieridae – called whites, sulphurs, and orange-tips
Characteristics: Most are white, light yellow, or orange, and have simple, rounded wings. They are medium-sized and have normal front legs.
A sulphur butterfly’s wings are simply elegant.
4. Family Lycaenidae – Coppers, blues and hairstreaks
Characteristics: The members of this family are delicate, very small butterflies. The blues often have blue upper wings, whereas the coppers are brown. Hairstreaks have tiny tails on their hind wings.
Can you see the tiny tails on the hind wings?
How about on this one?
Some people think the tails resemble antennae, thus confusing predators about which end is the head.
5. Family Libytheidae- snout butterflies
Characteristics: Snout butterflies are named for their long, hairy mouthparts that project forward from their head like a snout.
See how the mouthparts extend way out past the eyes in this snout butterfly? Compare to where the eyes are in the other butterflies in this post.
6. Family Heliconiidae – called the heliconians
Characteristics: Often brightly colored, with wings that are longer than they are wide.
The wings of this zebra butterfly show the distinctive shape characteristic of the family.
7. Family Nymphalidae- the brush-footed butterflies
Characteristics: This family is large and its members vary a lot in color, size and shape. The brush-footed butterflies have reduced (short) forelegs, but it isn’t an easy trait to see.
The buckeye butterfly in the Butterfly Gardening Week button is a brush-footed butterfly.
8. Family Danaidae – milkweed butterflies
Characteristics: These large brown or orange butterflies are sometimes grouped with the brush-footed butterflies. Their larvae feed on milkweeds.
Queen and monarch butterflies belong to this family.
1. Butterfly Identification Activity
Now let’s put your new skills to the test.
What families do these butterflies belong to?
1. What family does this black, white and blue butterfly belong to?
2. This brown, orange and white butterfly has one unique characteristic found in no other families. What is it?
As I’ve mentioned previously, keeping a nature journal or photographic record of your findings is a great idea. Tied with that, drawing or coloring butterfly illustrations helps with recognition and observation skills. Look for free, printable butterfly pages that show realistic butterflies and make some creative art projects. Be sure to take note of the important features of each kind of butterfly.
Butterfly World has downloadable (.pdf or Word) coloring books that feature the exotic butterflies found in their exhibit.
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