Tag Archives: butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly © Christine St. Andre

Take 5: Beloved Butterflies

What creature so embodies the bright, warm, joyous season of summer quite like the butterfly? Although we typically picture butterflies flitting about in colorful fields of wildflowers—and rightly so!—these fascinating insects live in a broad spectrum of habitats including forests, heathlands, bogs, swamps, even salt marshes—anywhere, in fact, where their caterpillar food plants and sources of nectars for adults are found.

June is National Pollinators Month! Habitat loss, pesticide use, and other factors threaten many of the butterfly species we love and cherish, along with many of our other native pollinators. Learn about creating a pollinator garden and other ways you can help pollinators, including butterflies, on our website.

To honor some of nature’s most colorful and celebrated pollinators, here is a collection of gorgeous butterfly photographs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2019 photo contest is now open, so submit your nature photos today!

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly © Christine St. Andre
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly © Christine St. Andre
Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly © Jessie Fries
Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly © Jessie Fries
Eastern Comma Butterfly © Lena Mirisola
Eastern Comma Butterfly © Lena Mirisola
Black Swallowtail Butterfly © Mike Lowery
Black Swallowtail Butterfly © Mike Lowery
Painted Lady Butterfly © Sophia Sobel
Painted Lady Butterfly © Sophia Sobel
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

Take 5: Monarch Caterpillars

As summer draws to a close and the days get shorter, the season’s last generation of Monarch caterpillars are busily munching away at their favorite food: milkweed. This final calorie-binge will sustain them as they “pupate,” ensconcing themselves in a chrysalis to spend 8–14 days metamorphosing into their adult butterfly form. The adult butterflies that hatch this month will fly south to Mexico for the winter where the weather is nice and warm.

Monarch butterflies are a beautiful and easily recognizable member of our ecological community here in Massachusetts, but since the larval caterpillars are working so hard, we thought it would be nice to celebrate them with five photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

You can look for chrysalides in various stages of metamorphosis on the undersides of milkweed leaves over the next few weeks, but be careful! It’s best to leave the pupa to its work without disturbing it. Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in South Dartmouth and Westport leads Monarch Butterfly Tagging programs, so stop by if you’re in the area and want to learn more about these amazing insects.

The 2018 photo contest is closing soon! Submit your nature and wildlife photography by September 30 to be considered for one of several prizes.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Emily Curewitz

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Emily Curewitz

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Ken Conway

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Ken Conway

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © John Linn

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © John Linn

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Keegan Burke

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Keegan Burke

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

The Myth-Busting Mourning Cloak

Mourning cloak copyright Frank ModelEvery year I wait eagerly to see my first butterfly of spring. Most likely, it will be a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), a large butterfly with velvety brown wings and yellowish white wing edges. This beautiful “harbinger of spring” emerges on the first warm days, often before all the snow has melted.

How does the mourning cloak appear so early in the season? Hold onto your hats because this gorgeous insect contradicts everything we tend to believe about butterflies:

Myth 1: Butterflies die or head south for the winter.
Mourning cloak adults hibernate through the New England winter. Relying on “antifreeze” chemicals in their blood, mourning cloaks spend the winter in a sheltered place, such as in rock crevices, under bark, or in a woodpile. They emerge on warm days, sometimes as early as February, and treat us to visions of spring with their graceful flight. Other overwintering butterflies in New England to watch for include eastern commas, question marks, and compton tortoiseshells.

Myth 2: Adult butterflies only live for a few days.
Due to their overwintering strategy, mourning cloaks can have a lifespan of over 10 months. One of our longest-lived butterflies, mourning cloaks have been seen in flight in Massachusetts during every month of the year.

Myth 3: Butterflies nectar on flowers.
There are no blooming flowers in early spring when mourning cloaks emerge, so how do they feed? Mostly on tree sap, particularly from oaks. Mourning cloaks will also feed—brace yourself—on animal droppings and decaying things. Occasionally, if I have been hiking hard, a mourning cloak will land on my hand or head, attracted by the minerals in human sweat.

So, on the first warm day head toward a sun-dappled opening in the woods, preferably with storm-damaged trees and broken branches dripping sap, and wait for this resilient insect to make its appearance. Like you, it has managed to survive another New England winter.

To learn more about the mourning cloak and other butterflies of Massachusetts, check out Mass Audubon’s Butterfly Atlas.

Photo © Frank Model