“Although there are hundreds of species of butterflies in North America, they somehow escape public notice most of the time. Out in plain sight, they lead secret lives.”
This is one of the first lines I read as I opened the “Butterflies of North America” identification guide to look up a butterfly. It is very true that butterflies can so easily hide in plain sight even though they are sometimes brightly colored and flying from flower to flower. We may see the larger swallowtails and monarchs, but most species are of a much smaller variety.
Let’s start with some butterfly basics. Butterflies are insects. They have thin antennae with a thickened end (club). They also have four wings. Most butterflies have different patterns on the upper and undersides of their wings. It should also be noted that small butterflies do not grow into big butterflies. When they complete metamorphosis and emerge from their chrysalis or cocoon, they do not change size.
Now we will move on to a few of the lesser known species of butterfly found in our area. Do not let the fact that they are lesser known fool you into thinking they are uncommon. Quite the opposite is true.
The silver-spotted skipper is a small butterfly with a wingspan of up to 1 5/8 inches. As you can see, they are brownish-black in color with some gold spots and a silver band or spot. Their small size and camouflage color help them dodge detection. Plus they often perch upside down under leaves on hot or cloudy days. The adults tend to favor nectar from blue, red, pink and purple flowers such as common milkweed, red clover, blazing star and thistles.
Another small butterfly is the little yellow. It only has a wingspan up to 1 ¾ inches. Both males and females are yellow with black borders and a black spot on the forewing. This butterfly likes open areas such as fields, open woodlands, and along railroad tracks and roads. One local host plant for the caterpillar is partridge pea.
The eastern tailed blue is even smaller than the little yellow with a wingspan of up to 1 1/8 inches. The undersides of their wings are a pale grayish-blue with a black bar and black spots. They also have three large, orange spots near the tail margin. Like the little yellow, they like open, sunny places, but these prefer to be near the ground. Eastern tailed blue caterpillars eat clovers, vetches and alfalfa.
And the last in the discussion today is the common buckeye (pictured). The most striking things about this mostly brown butterfly are the eye spots on the upper side of the wing. It is the biggest of the four we have talked about today with a wingspan up to 2 ¾ inches. The males often perch on low plants or bare ground during the day to watch for females. They will sometimes fly to patrol or chase other flying insects. They like open, sunny areas with low plants and some bare ground.
All of these species seem to be fairly common and populations are doing well. We must just train ourselves to look a little closer while we are outdoors. Slow down and take in all the beauty nature is offering – no matter how small or elusive it may be. If you want to see more butterflies in your yard, consider planting some native prairie plants. Our native plant flats will be ready in the near future. Keep an eye here and on our facebook page so you can get your hands on some beautiful native plants.
~Photo by Larry Reis~