Butterflies belong to the order “lepidoptera”. Their suborder is rhoplocera and within it are two superfamilies-papilionoidea (true butterflies) and hesperioidea (skippers).
Worldwide there are about 14,500 species of butterflies. In North America, north of the Rio Grande, there are 717 species. In Lambton County, there are 75 to 80 species.
The life cycle of a butterfly is amazing. It consists of four stages of development: egg, caterpillar, and adult. The process of changing from one form to another is called “metamorphosis”.
Butterflies are insects of sometimes stunning beauty and amazing variety. The Morpho butterflies, with iridescent blue wings and a five-inch wingspan, fly through the jungles of the American tropics. The bird-wing butterflies of Indonesia and Malaysia, with seven-inch wingspans, are among the most beautiful in the world, with iridescent wings of blue, yellow, red and green. The smallest butterfly in the world is the half-inch pygmy blue.
Adult butterflies live from a few day in some species to about nine months in others. One long-life butterfly is the monarch.The monarchs that emerge in late summer travel down to Mexico and over-winter there.In the spring, they fly north to the southern United States where they breed. Their offspring continue north and live about nine months.
Another long-life butterfly, the Mourningcloak, hibernates through the winter and can be seen flying in the warm days of late winter and early spring. One seen in Canatara Park was flying in early April (on a warm day).
Another hibernator, the Milbert’s tortoiseshell, can also be seen flying early.
Some butterflies migrate north to our area to breed, then die off in the fall since they cannot over-winter here because of the cold. Some of these are the Painted lady, the American Painted lady, the Buckeye, the Variegated Fritillary and the Snout.
The cabbage butterfly, seen from early spring until fall, has several broods during the season. However, the Olympic Marblewing, which looks like the cabbage from a distance but actually has green marbling on the wings, has only one brood per season. It is found in the Pinery-Ipperwash area in spring.
Other one-brood butterflies of spring at Pinery-Ipperwash include the Brown Elfin, the Hoary Elfin, the Eastern Pine Elfin.
One can hardly watch these insects without becoming interested in botany- the two subjects just go together. As well, seeking out and observing butterflies gives much aesthetic pleasure.
In June, watch for the spectacular Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. July, however, is the month to find the most species, including monarchs and several species of hairstreaks and fritillaries.
For more information on this topic or any other nature-related subject, contact us.
Written by Gerry Clements
* Thanks to the Sarnia Observer who originally published this series and granted LWI permission to use it online.