Buckeye Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Buckeyes belong to a large group of strong fliers whose front legs are noticeably hairy and are reduced in size. Buckeyes are sun-lovers, butterflies of the open fields, where they sip nectar from those confusing fall composites. Males are feisty, chasing other flying objects, both butterfly and non-butterfly alike, out of their territories.

Red Admiral (Family Nymphalidae)

Red Admirals are widely distributed across the U.S. (and temperate regions in Europe, northern Africa and Asia) and occasionally have large population irruptions and wander. Red admiral adults and pupae are found in the south during the winter, and migrating admirals repopulate the north each spring. The males set up territories in clearings and semi-sunny edges in the late afternoon.

Moth Madness

Three moths are featured in this story. The Virginia Ctenucha Moth, Sweetheart Underwing, and the White Underwing.

Giant Silk Moths (Family Saturnidae)

The Cecropia, Promethea, Polyphemus and the Luna are members of the Giant Silk Moth family or Saturnids, and some are giants indeed, measuring in the 4” to 6”. Saturnids are distantly related to the moth that is used in silk production, and some Asian and South American Saturnids are semi-domesticated and the silk spun by their larvae is harvested.

Monarch Butterfly (Family Nymphalidae)

Monarchs, famously, migrate, but they are not the only insect that travels—snout, buckeye, painted lady and red admiral butterflies and a variety of large dragonflies like darners and saddlebags also migrate (watching dragonflies drift down the west shore of Lake Michigan on a soft, fall day can be mind-boggling). But, monarchs are the long-distance champs.

Laurel Moth (Family Sphingidae)

Sphinx moths are also known as hawk moths because they are strong and fast fliers. They sometimes hover over flowers when sipping nectar; many fly in the late afternoon and are mistaken for small hummingbirds, and some night-flowering plants are pollinated by sphinx moths. The hornworms (as in the notorious Tomato hornworm) are Sphinx caterpillars.

Tent Caterpillar (Family Lasiocampidae)

Larvae of the Eastern Tent caterpillar emerge by the hundreds from egg cases that encircle the twigs of their food trees—members of the Rose family like apple, cherry and hawthorn. They spin communal, webby enclosures in the forks of branches in late spring and summer. The unspectacular brown moths they metamorphose into produce more egg mass in late summer. The adults do not feed.

Black and Tiger Swallowtails (Family Papilionidae)

Black Swallowtail males (which, like many butterfly species are smaller than the females) often appear in late April and early May. The female is larger, lacks the yellow on the wings and has a blue wash above the tails. Black Swallowtails have yellow spots on the body; tigers have a yellow streak along each side of the thorax and abdomen in both morphs. Tiger Swallowtails are among the largest butterflies around, reaching 5” in wingspan.

Milkweed Critters

Milkweeds and goldenrods are famous for being hosts to a tremendous variety of insects and other arthropods that come to eat or be eaten. Both adult and immature insects that eat milkweed at some part of their life cycle are poisonous to their predators because of the toxic cardiac glycosides contained in milkweed sap.

Butterflies that Overwinter (Family Nymphalidae)

Most adult insects die by late fall, leaving the next generation behind in the form of eggs or pupa. Most insects are in their adult stage for only a few months, and many have a predictable flight period—a portion of the spring/summer/fall when we expect to see them. Mourning Cloaks and the Angle-wings are butterflies that overwinter in their adult stages; these are the first butterflies we see when things start to warm up in spring, and their caterpillars get first crack at the spring veggies.