Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Science & NatureWhat is That?What is That … Flutter of Butterflies? (part 2)

What is That … Flutter of Butterflies? (part 2)


In our August 4th butterflies article, we promised to get back to you with another piece about the butterflies of the second half of summer.  Previously, we spoke about the Compton tortoiseshell, the mourning cloak, two skippers, the pearl crescent, the red and the white admirals, and last but certainly not least the Canadian swallowtail.

During the back half of the summer we were blessed with the presence of another large swallowtail butterfly … the giant swallowtail, a beautiful butterfly that is predominantly black with yellow markings.  Incidentally, we participated on the September 18th nature walk sponsored by the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust at their High Lonesome Nature Reserve near Pakenham. On that walk, Michael Runtz pointed out some giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, caterpillars whose skin-colouring mimics bird droppings.  Apparently, this ‘bird poop camouflage’ deters the birds which might otherwise eye it as supper.  We were especially thrilled because, although we had a decent picture of the adult giant swallowtail butterfly taken at the cottage, we had never noticed the caterpillar when we were out on our own.  The giant swallowtail is a relative newcomer to White Lake, first appearing here about 10 years ago.  Consistent with Michael’s information, Peterson’s 1992 Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies does not show our region within the giant swallowtail’s range. According to Michael, it is now well-established here.

butterfly1a butterfly1b

Another beautiful butterfly which flies through August and sometimes September at the cottage is the great spangled fritillary.  It is one of our favourites.  Although we do not have a picture of its caterpillar, Peterson tells us it feeds on the leaves of wild violets at night.  The adult butterfly is a strong flier and prefers damp meadows.  The great spangled fritillary flies through most of eastern North America and certainly at White Lake.


We also appreciate the beauty of the monarch butterfly resplendent in its orange and black wings, and remember that as early as grade 3 we learned about its life cycle from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis and finally butterfly.  Famous for their dramatic migrations to Mexico, Acorn tells us that the generation that returns to Ontario in the spring is actually the grandchildren of those that left here the previous autumn. Sadly, we have not seen many monarchs at the lake in recent years.  This photograph is from 2014.


Another of our favourite, smaller butterflies is the painted lady which flies July through September at Three Mile Bay.  Some years we see them in great numbers if their populations have built up in the southern states where they winter.  On such occasions we truly see a flutter of painted ladies.


During the late summer at White Lake we also see a variety of white and sulphur butterflies.  They may not be as well-loved as the swallowtails, fritillaries and monarchs, but we think they are pretty and, at least, a sign that summer is still here.  The cabbage butterfly, pictured on the left lays its eggs on cruciferous plants as a food source for the caterpillars.  This would not be much of an issue but many of us also want to eat these plants which are members of the cabbage family.  The caterpillar of the clouded sulphur butterfly in the centre picture eats clover and alfalfa.  Some say it is the butter-yellow of the clouded sulphur that first led to the name … butter … fly.  The third one we see regularly at the cottage is the mustard white butterfly, which gets its name from the mustard family plants which its caterpillar eats rather than from its brilliant white colour.


Last but not least, we are delighted to report the capture (by camera of course) of an eastern tailed blue butterfly, a life first for us.  Blues are a subfamily of tiny butterflies.  The eastern tailed blue sports a tail on the outer margin of each of its hindwings. This photograph was taken on September 22, 2016.  The caterpillars of blues secret a sugary substance that attracts ants upon which the caterpillars feed.  How cool is that?


For information about these and other butterflies we depend greatly on John Acorn’s Bugs of Ontario, Rick Cavasin’s Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Southern & Eastern Ontario, Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies, and Peterson’s First Guide to Caterpillars, … as well as the knowledge shared by Michael Runtz during the nature hike of September 18, 2016, and his many books.




From the Archives