Butterfly Clusters

Walking along my road or around the trail at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area I sometimes notice butterfly clusters. There was one yesterday of three different kinds of swallowtails.

Swallowtail butterflies in a butterfly cluster
This patch of ground is wet with a sheen of moisture over it. Several swallowtail butterflies landed to sip this mineral water. There are the regular yellow and black swallowtails. A smaller white and black swallowtail joins them. the black swallowtail may be either a Pipevine or a Spicebush swallowtail.

Butterflies are pretty and people think of them as friendly, pretty, carefree creatures. They are belligerent and constantly on the alert for predators. That doesn’t distract from their lovely wing patterns.

Gray Hairstreak Butterflies form butterfly clusters
The tiny extensions from the lower wings mark this butterfly as a hairstreak. The deep blue indicates this gray hairstreak is a male. These small butterflies often form large clusters with as many fluttering over those that are on the ground.

Butterfly clusters are good reasons to stop and admire these insects. The clusters can be on flowers such as butterfly milkweed. More often they are on manure piles or rain puddles in the road.

Pearl Crescent butterfly
Butterfly wings are delicate and soon start fraying on the edges as on this Pearl Crescent. This is another smaller butterfly. These sometimes join gray hairstreaks in a cluster around puddles.

Nectar is a great energy food and butterflies need plenty to keep flying. Nectar doesn’t supply proteins and minerals. Manure and dust do.

Although butterfly clusters are one way to see lots of these flying wonders, there are other ways. Single butterflies land here and there.

On my recent return to ShawneeMac Lakes the day was cool. I saw several butterflies sitting and sunning themselves. They spread their wings or slowly fanned them soaking up the sun’s heat.

Fritillary Butterfly
Sometimes called dead leaf butterflies, the outside of a fritillary’s wings are mottled dull browns mimicking leaf litter. The jagged edges complete the disguise. These butterflies are more solitary than others.

As long as I don’t cast a shadow on the butterfly, it will sit there ignoring me until I get within a few feet. Different kinds of butterflies have different distance triggers. The gray hairstreaks, pearl crescents and fritillaries are more tolerant. Sulfur butterflies have a trigger of about ten feet making them very difficult to photograph.

Another insect was out and about around the Lakes Clear wing dragonflies are a smaller member of the group. Dragonflies have excellent eyesight and are normally very wary. It was a surprise to get within a few feet of a couple and almost step on a few more before they zipped away.

Once the weather gets more settled and stays warm, these close encounters will become more rare. The butterflies and dragonflies won’t need to bask in the sun to warm up. But the butterfly clusters will still happen.

Find out a lot more about water in “The City Water Project“.