Summer Connect #4 – Butterfly!

These creatures add grace to our hot summer days as they flit here and there, lifting on a breeze, then resting, wings open and flat, as they sip nectar from a blooming flower.

Here’s some great information about one particular summer butterfly, the Regal Fritillary, taken from “Floating in the Summer Haze”, A Journey for All Seasons, The Nature Conservancy, 2000.

“Every year, as the regal fritillaries (Speyeria idalia) slowly emerge from their chrysalides, they instinctively search for the nectar found in the colorful blooms of thistles, bee balm, milkweek, mountain mint, and butterfly weed. The flower smells of summer are the scent of life for the butterflies. In the mornings, they float lazily among the grasses after the sun burns off the early mists. The males appear first each summer, and when the females emerge two weeks later, the mating searches begin.

“Since the males live for only about a month, they search quickly for mates. They patrol for females with slow, steady flight, their wide, bright wings tipped gently against the breezes. The summer air is filled with the silent flights of dipping, gliding butterflies. Their wings are rounded, delicate laceworks of orange and black and white, and their thin bodies seem touched with velvet.

“When July melts into August, the males begin to disappear and the females rest in the tall grasses to prepare to lay eggs. They walk delicately among the plants, moving carefully across the leaves and stems, and lay single eggs on various plants. By the time they are finished, cooling breezes in the night air are already beginning to hint of winter. The eggs hatch before winter comes, and the tiny caterpillars nest among the drying grasses and falling leaves until spring, when they emerge to feed exclusively on violet leaves. Thus begins the short, bright life of a regal fritillary among the flowers and the grasses and the warm touch of summer.”

(Butterflies and moths both belong to the order of insects known as Lepidoptera, meaning “winged with scales.” When any of the four broad wings of these creatures are touched, a powdery substance rubs off on the fingers. Under a microscope, the apparent powder is revealed to be masses of overlapping, shingle-like scales that have a characteristic color, shape, and pattern for each species.

All lepidopterans hatch from eggs and become worm-like larvae called caterpillars. But butterflies and moths have certain general distrinctions. Butterflies have long thread-like antennae with a swollen club at each tip. Moths do not have clubs; the tips of their antennae may be pointed, feathery, or spur-like. Butterflies typically have brightly colored wings that do not fold over the body when at rest. Moths are usually dully colored, with wings that do fold against the body.)

This summer, take a minute to watch these creatures as they float and soar on the gentle breezes, looking for nectar, and a sip of cool water.
Encourage butterflies to make your yard their home by planting bushes and flowers that provide their habitat needs for food and shelter at all stages of their growth. Some plants provide flowers with nectar for the adults, while others provide caterpillar habitat and food (that means they will eat the leaves – so be prepared and don’t use insecticides to kill them!). In addition to adding beauty to warm days, butterflies transport pollen on their feet, helping to pollinate some plants. They also serve as food to other insects, bats and many species of birds.

They have many important roles in the web on life on Planet Earth, as well as providing inspiration and hope to humans!

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