Friday, September 6, 2013

Fall Butterflies Fill the Air

Leonard's Skipper (photo by Colleen Wolpert)
Soon the Monarch butterflies will be migrating south, filling the air with fluttery wings of orange and black. But they aren't the only fall fliers.

Right now is a great time to head outside and see what butterflies are flitting through the neighborhood. Lep-lover and naturalist Colleen Wolpert, who takes people on butterfly walks,has seen lots of skippers this past week. The Leonard's Skipper has only one brood each year, and the caterpillars overwinter. They munch on their host plants: Little Bluestem, Bent grass, Switchgrass, Poverty Oat grass and other grasses. The caterpillars build tube-like structures out of rolled leaves, and line them with silk. When they're not eating, they hide in their tubes. That's where they overwinter as well - and emerge in the spring.

While the caterpillars make do with grass, the adults feast on nectar. You'll see them flying amongst goldenrod, asters, and bee balm.

Sulphur butterfly (photo by Rick Bunting)
 Another group of yellow butterflies fluttering about are the sulphurs. Lep-lover and photographer Rick Bunting, shared some photos from this past week. The sulphurs are busy on thistles, and any other purple flower blooming this time of year.

(photo by Rick Bunting)
If you're patient, you can get to know these butterflies up-close-and-personal.

Turns out there are a whole bunch of butterflies that migrate in the fall. Fiery skippers spend their summers in the southern US and migrate to Argentina for winter. Long-tailed skippers summer as far north as New York state and then make the long flight to Central America and Argentina to avoid the icy cold and snow. Red Admirals summer in Canada and winter in Guatamala and Painted Ladies get as far as Texas or northwestern Mexico.While the Monarchs go to Mexico for the winter, Queen butterflies fly all the way to Brazil.

So this fall, grab your nature journal, pencils, camera... and head out to see what butterflies are flying around your region. Check out more science resources at STEM Friday.

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