|Courtesy flickr SD Dirk|
Butterflies, as well as moths, belong to the insect order, Lepidoptera, coming from Greek words, lepid, meaning “scale” and ptera translating as “wing.” Giving these creatures such brilliant colors, scales are actually modified hairs, best seen under a microscope, but rubbing off like powder when touched. Butterflies are active by day and always have thin antennae with a swelling or club at the end. With some exceptions, moths are nocturnal but always have antennae that are hair-like, saw-toothed or feathery. Members of Lepidoptera overwinter as eggs, larvae, pupae or as adults, emerging at different times throughout the spring and summer.
The first butterfly prize of the spring is the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), named for its maroon wings edged with blue spots and a yellow border, resembling a cloak worn in times past when in mourning. With a wingspan of approximately three inches, this butterfly hibernates through the winter as an adult, coming out of its hiding place under the bark as early as March. To see one, choose a sunny day with temperatures nudging 60 degrees Fahrenheit and explore deciduous woodlands where Mourning Cloaks will be seeking and sipping tree sap from broken branches, particularly maples or birches with high sugar content.
|Courtesy flickr davidhofmann08|
The ballet of fluttering butterflies continues throughout the summer as different butterflies take center stage. Compton Tortoiseshells, orange-brown butterflies with dark and light patches, closely follow Mourning Cloaks. A special highlight is the Spring Azure – males being sky blue above and females having dark edging on the forewing tips, all on a one-inch wingspan.