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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is That … Flutter of Butterflies?

What is That … Flutter of Butterflies?


One of our most enjoyable times throughout the cottage season on White Lake is viewing the lazy flight of butterflies as they approach the petunias on the deck or the gaillardia in the garden to settle for a moment of rest or to sip nectar.  Their frequent opening and closing of wings while resting on a flower or flitting from bloom to bloom presents challenges for the amateur photographer.  Our initial goal is a picture of the dorsal view of the open wings because this shows the butterfly at its loveliest, and field guides often focus on the dorsal view.  Many butterfly species, however, sit with closed wings when at rest.  Since the under wings may be critical to the identification of a species, we also try to photograph this view.  A further challenge is finding and photographing the caterpillar stage of these fascinating insects.

Butterflies are with us almost the entire cottage season, starting with the spring azure butterfly in late April, a small butterfly easy to miss and difficult to photograph.  One day we will capture one on ‘film’.  At the same time, we have been fortunate to snap photographs in April or May of the Compton tortoiseshell butterfly and the mourning cloak butterfly, both of which are large and over winter as adults under tree bark or in cottage crevices.  When they emerge in spring they may appear rather the worse for wear.

butterfly1 butterfly2

Next in May, we see the skippers.  Many think skipper butterflies look like moths, but they are more closely related to true butterflies than they are to moths.  We think the easiest to identify and most common on Three Mile Bay are the silver-spotted skipper and the European skipper.

butterfly3 butterfly4

We love to see and photograph the Canadian swallowtail butterfly, starting early in June.  If we see from a distance a large, yellow butterfly, one of us calls out “Canadian!” and the other comes running, camera in hand.  Photographs capture the beautiful black venation which separates the yellow wing cells.


Close on the heels of the Canadian are the red admiral, the pearl crescent, and the white admiral.  Like other migrants to Ontario, the red admiral varies in abundance from year to year.  According to Rick Cavasin, 2012 was a spectacular year for red admirals throughout Ontario; we saw them at the cottage.


Small pearl crescent butterflies often swarm in open fields, visiting flowers and sipping at the edge of puddles.


The white admiral is not as closely related to the red admiral as the name implies.  What we think is coolest about the white admiral is its larva which is white with greyish-brown areas and resembles a bird dropping.


It is mid-summer, and we are looking forward to the beauty of the butterflies of the second half of cottage season.  We will talk about these later in the year.  In the meantime, and as we mentioned in an earlier column about moths and butterflies, our ‘go to’ butterfly field guide is Rick Cavasin’s A Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Southern & Eastern Ontario.  The federal government’s Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility website is also informative, although more technical.


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