|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.
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.
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!
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pygmy Blue is one of the smallest butterflies in
the world, and can be seen around saltbush.
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).