Tag Archives: butterflies

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“.

Butterflies and Moths

Now that the wildflowers are blooming, butterflies and moths seem to be everywhere. The first was the overwintering mourning cloak but numerous others are now vying for color awards with the flowers.

mourning cloak butterfly

The first mourning cloaks can look ragged as they have hidden away for the Ozark winter. They appear before the flowers surviving on tree sap oozing out of breaks in bark.

Dusky skippers will never win any color awards. They are a dusky black and gray. They don’t seem to mind as they cluster around wild plum blossoms and mud puddles.

Those mud puddles don’t make good photographic backgrounds but are one of the easier places to get pictures of the butterflies. These insects need water and find minerals in the mud as well as manure.

Goatweed Butterfly is one of the dead leaf butterflies

One of the dead leaf butterflies this goatweed butterfly enjoying tree sap beside the mourning cloak butterfly has dull brown outsides on its wings but opens them to reveal burnt orange with a few black spots.

A willow was blooming down the road a distance so I hiked down to get some pictures. I haven’t paid a lot attention to willows and other trees over the years. Part of the reason is height.

Trees tend to keep their leaves and flowers high over my head. I’ve never been much of a tree climber and am not about to learn now. I’m considering making a pole with a hook on the end so I can snag and pull down lower branches to within reach.

dusky skipper

Not all butterflies are colorful as this dusky skipper shows.

Willows often grow as shrubs. In my ignorance I thought a willow was a willow. My Conservation tree guide and shrub guide have educated me. There are quite a few different kinds of willows and at least four grow along my creek.

On my way home I found butterflies fluttering around my feet. Most were the dusky skippers. I took a few pictures.

Then a new butterfly appeared. This one was jet black with white and red bars on its wings.

I knew this one was around as one landed on my laundry as I hung it. Of course the camera was still in the house. I was glad to get the chance to take a few pictures of this striking butterfly.

Except it wasn’t a butterfly.

grapevine epimenis moth

Butterflies and Moths may look a lot alike but have one definite difference. Butterflies have unbranched antennae. Moths like this grapevine epimenis have feathered antennae.

Looking over the pictures I noticed something I couldn’t see out along the road. Butterflies have straight antennae many with clubs on the tips. This black, red and white beauty had feathers on its antennae.

Moths have feathery antennae. I like most people think of moths as nocturnal, coming out at night. Some are diurnal, come out during the day and this is one.

According to my butterfly and moth guide this moth is the grapevine epimenis. The grapevine part is fine. Its caterpillars eat grapevines.

It deserves a better common name than epimenis from its scientific name. Perhaps someone will think of one to suit this pretty moth.