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Sea & Sage Audubon
  In Celebration of TEN Years at the SJWS
updated Sept. 2, 2002

part 7: Ten Butterflies of the SJWS
by Trude Hurd

Not everyone with binoculars is bird-watching.  More and more people enjoying nature outdoors are watching butterflies, dragonflies, and other wildlife.  Butterflies have captivated my heart ever since a Mourning Cloak landed on my outstretched hand as a child (Mourning Cloaks and Red Admirals are known for this).  In recent years, I have increased my knowledge by attending North America Butterfly Association (NABA) monthly meetings and walks, and participating in annual scientific censuses to document changes in our butterfly populations.  My life list numbers a (meager) thirty.

How many local butterflies can you recognize?  There are large yellow ones, medium-sized whites, small blues, and small brownish ones!  Field marks include size, wing color, color patterns and habitat.  With 96 species recorded historically in Orange County, you might want to attend our summer Butterfly Walks at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary or the NABA walks to learn the common ones!

Butterflies are easy to find: just go out on a warm, sunny day to a ridge top surrounded by native vegetation and eventually these beautiful insects will flutter by.  Watching butterflies will be more interesting if you look for behaviors such as basking, feeding, finding mates, and egg-laying.  Butterflies are cold-blooded and active only when it is warm.  During the night or in poor weather, they roost (rest) on vegetation or in crevices.  Before butterflies can fly, they warm up by basking; they perch with open wings to absorb heat from the sun.

Adult butterflies feed by nectaring.  They unfurl their proboscis and sip nectar from specific flowers.  Some male butterflies (tiger swallowtail, blues, sulphurs, cabbage white and buckeye) are attracted to the edges of puddles and streams where evaporated water leaves behind sodium and amino acids; this is called puddling.Mates may be hard to find because butterflies are small and in low densities in the environment.  Male butterflies increase their chances by going to "butterfly singles bars":  the tops of mountains, hills and ridges or along streams and paths.  Butterflies such as mourning cloak and red admiral perch on prominent objects while the whites, sulphurs and monarchs patrol by flying along an area.  When an object approaches such as other butterflies, birds, or even hikers, they dart out to investigate.  Rival males are chased for short distances or they may fly vertically together into the air.  If it’s a receptive female, the male flies above or behind her and may release pheromones (special scent) to cause her to land.  After mating, the two may fly off still attached to each other.  Egg-laying females flutter low over vegetation and repeatedly land.  She drums or taps her front feet onto a leaf to determine its suitability.  If deemed appropriate, she will bend the tip of her abdomen down to deposit a single egg onto the surface of a single leaf.  Later, the egg will hatch into a feeding caterpillar.  If you find leaves damaged with holes, look closer; you might find a caterpillar nearby!

As we CELEBRATE OUR TENTH YEAR AT THE SJWS, here are ten butterflies commonly seen at the marsh.

 Western Tiger Swallowtail  is a large yellow butterfly with 4 black stripes on the fore wings and 2 long "tails" on their hind wings. They fly strongly with slow wing beats around Audubon House and along our riparian trails.

 Anise Swallowtail is similar to the tiger but has 8 rectangles of yellow surrounded by black areas.  I recently watched one approach the Mexican sage on the front porch of Audubon House to nectar, but it was chased off by a male Anna’s Hummingbird defending his flowers!

 European Cabbage White is a non-native found around the houses.  Look on the white forewings to distinguish its gender; males have one dark spot while females have two.

 Gray (Common) Hairstreak is small and gray with a hair-like appendage on the hind wing. When perched, it grinds its hind wings together vigorously over its back.

 Monarch is easily recognized by its large size and orange wings with black margins and veins.  Famous for its yearly migrations, monarchs pass through the marsh on their way to winter in eucalyptus trees along our coast.

 Lorquin’s Admiral is large and brown with a large white stripe and orange tips.  During summer, one perches on the Duck Club sign to greet our young campers returning from their daily nature walk.

 Mourning Cloak is large and purplish-black with a yellow border.  The caterpillars are black with long spines and live in communal webs.  Last year, we discovered these caterpillars crossing the trails in large numbers as they sought out feeding and pupating sites.

 Painted Lady is orange, black and white and migratory.  In spring 2001, we watched in wondrous awe as they flew in massive numbers through the marsh.

 Western Pygmy Blue  is one of the smallest butterflies in the world, and can be seen around saltbush.

 Fiery Skipper is another non-native found scurrying over the lawn around the houses.  It is small and yellowish-brown.

On May 11 and August 24, we offer a Butterfly Walk for adults and older children.  We will learn ten common butterflies as we sketch and examine them with the microscope, then take a long walk around the ponds in search of living ones.  Last year, we found nine species!  We hope that you will want to attend, and bring a friend!  Sign up today.

Read more in Insects of Los Angeles Basin by Charles Hogue, The Butterfly Book by the Stokes, and Common Butterflies of California by Bob Stewart (all for sale at the Audubon House).

Sea & Sage Audubon Society
PO Box 5447 • Irvine, CA 92616 • 949-261-7963