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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae) are so small and plain that many people mistakenly believe they are moths. I find real elegance in their simplicity, especially when I am able to see their striking speckled green eyes. I spotted this little beauty during a brief visit yesterday to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

Cabbage Whites are always hyperactive, in constant motion as they flit about from flower to flower, stopping only momentarily for a short sip. Consequently they are hard to track and you have to be quick on the trigger to have a chance of getting a shot. In the first photo I was lucky enough to capture a “bonus bug,” a hoverfly that was in action below the much larger butterfly. Cindy coined the term “bonus bug” to refer to insects that are in the frame that you never even noticed when you were taking the shot.

Be sure to double-click on each image to get a more detailed view of this beautiful butterfly, including its mesmerizing eyes.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Out of the more than 3500 species of skipper butterflies worldwide, there is only one that I can reliably identify, the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus). I spotted this little beauty on Monday during a brief visit to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer.

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Skipper butterflies are common and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are common too, but what a lovely combination they made when I spotted them together on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

skipper and susan

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have a number of different dark swallowtail butterflies in the area in which I live, which can make identification a little tricky. I spotted this beautiful butterfly last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and believe that it is a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). The perfect condition of its wings suggest to me that it has emerged quite recently—as we move deeper into summer, I often spot butterflies with tattered wings.

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled on Monday to see lots of butterflies as I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park. Many of them were small skippers that skittishly flew away whenever I approached them. Only a few were large and colorful, like the Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) in the first photo. When it first landed on the plant, its wings were closed, but I waited and eventually the butterfly opened its wings. The damage to one of those wings this early in the season really emphasizes the fragility of these beautiful little creatures.

I also saw some brown woodland butterflies and I chased after several of them. I was out of breath but finally managed to catch up to one. Identification of this type of butterfly is always problematic, because there are quite a few similarly-colored species that vary only in the number and placement of the the eyespots. I think that the butterfly in the second shot is a Little Wood Satyr butterfly (Megisto cymela). I contemplated cropping closer, but decided I liked the little plant on the right side of the image and kept it. With this framing, I am able to create the illusion that the butterfly is staring at the plant.

Red-spotted Purple

Little Wood Satyr

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I was excited to spot several tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies (Everes comyntas) during a brief visit to Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. What was particularly striking was that these delicate butterflies were perched with their wings partially open, revealing a spectacular blue color. I maneuver to position myself almost directly above one perched close to the ground, waited for it to open its wings fully, and captured this shot.

If you click on this image, you can get a better look at the marvelous details of this male Eastern-Tailed Blue, including the tiny “tails” and the little orange chevrons at the bottom of the hind wings. I was struck by the apparent asymmetry of the butterfly’s wings—the right wings look bigger than those on the left—but wonder if that is simply a consequence of the angle at which I took the shot or perhaps the wings were not fully open and were at slightly different angles.

Eastern Tailed-Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Does the pressure of confinement/isolation/social distancing weigh you down? I know that I definitely feel that way at times. What I found on Friday morning, though, was that I felt totally free and uninhibited when I was chasing after this Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus). From a distance I must have looked like a madman as I ran back and forth and in circles trying to stay close to this butterfly.

It was more than just hoping and passively waiting—I put all of my energy into my childlike desire to to get a closer look at this beautiful butterfly. Maybe one of the secrets to handling the stresses inherent in today’s crises is to seek pleasure in simple joyful activities, like chasing a butterfly.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you call a group of butterflies? I have always been fascinated by the collective nouns that we use in English for groups of creatures. I was delighted to learn that one of the collective nouns used for butterflies is a kaleidoscope.

“A kaleidoscope of butterflies” seems to be the perfect descriptor for this group of beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted yesterday. They appeared to be engaged in a behavior known as “puddling,” during which the butterflies, most often the males, gather minerals and other nutrients from the soil or other organic material.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Nature photographers need to know their punctuation marks well. Last week I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and this week on Monday I spotted its “cousin,” a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have always wondered what was going through the mind of the person that chose the official name of a given species. What caused them to focus on a particular characteristic in choosing the name? Was the person who named these butterflies a grammarian?

In the case of the Question Mark butterfly, the best identifying mark is visible only when the wings are closed. The Question Mark has white markings which more or less resemble a question mark (?) on the underside of its hindwings. (Check out the natureblog.org posting “A Question Mark, a Comma, and a Question of Origin,” to see examples of these markings.)

The good news is that there is also a way to identify a Question Mark when its wings are open—the Question Mark has four black spots in a line on each of its upper wings with the outermost spot somewhat elongated, as you can see in the first photo below.

For the sake of comparison, I am reprising a photo from last week of an Eastern Comma butterfly. I flipped it 180 degrees so it is easier to spot the differences. If you look at the butterfly in the second photo, you can see that there are only three spots on each of the upper wings, which makes it a Comma, rather than a Question Mark. (One sharp viewer last week suggested that they should have more appropriately named the butterfly with the three spots the “Ellipsis Butterfly” rather than the Eastern Comma Butterfly.) In case you are curious about the reasons for the “comma,” the butterfly has markings that look sort of like a comma (,) on the underside of its hindwings that are visible when the wings are closed.

 

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

 

Eastern Comma butterflyy

Eastern Comma butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Today I was thrilled to spot another species of butterfly, the aptly named Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon), while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This tiny butterfly is only about an inch (25 mm) in size and I was therefore a little surprised to be able to capture some of its details with my 150-600mm lens cranked all the way out to 600mm.

It shouldn’t be long before I see my first damselfly or dragonfly, given the spring-like weather and temperatures today forecast to reach over 70 degrees (21 degrees C).


Spring Azure butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring-like day and I went on a long hike at Prince William Forest Park, the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres. It felt like the perfect weather for finding dragonflies, but it is still a bit too early for them.

I was, however, quite excited to get my first shots this year of a butterfly, an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). I saw my first butterfly, which was probably of the same species, a couple of weeks ago, but was unable to react quickly enough to take its photo, so it did not “count.” During yesterday’s hike, I spotted six or seven of these little butterflies, but only the first one was cooperative enough to stay still for a portrait.

Eastern Comma butterflies are members a small group of butterflies in our area that emerge in the autumn and overwinter as adults. Other species in that group including the similar-looking Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). When its wings are open, like the one in the photo, it is easy to tell that a butterfly is an Eastern Comma if it has three dark spots in a row on each of its front wings, rather than the four spots found on a Question Mark. (For more information about the two similar species, I recommend a wonderful article at trekohio.com entitled “Butterflies That Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.”)

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At the end of each year I am faced with a decision about whether to do a review of the year and/or select my favorite photos. Some years I have done a selection based on the number of views received; some years I have chosen my personal favorites; and some years I have opted to do no yearly retrospective whatsoever.

This year I went through my postings month by month and selected two photos for each month. Rather than give an explanation for each selection, I have provided links to the postings themselves to make it easier for interested readers to see the images in the context of the original postings that often include additional photos and explanatory information.

This has been a rewarding year for me in so many ways and I have had a lot of wonderful experiences capturing images. Thanks so much to all of you for your support and encouragement. Stay tuned for part two, which should appear in the next few days.

 

Northern Cardinal

January 16, 2019 Cardinal in the snow (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/01/16/cardinal-in-the-snow-3/

 

winter sunrise

February 4, 2019 Reflected sunrise colors (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/04/reflected-sunrise-colors/)

 

mountains in Germany

February 22, 2019 Mountain views in Germany (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/02/22/mountain-views-in-germany/)

 

 

Northern Mockingbird

March 30, 2019 Mockingbird seeking seeds (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/03/30/mockingbird-seeking-seeds/)

 

 

Uhler's Sundragon

April 12, 2019 Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/04/12/uhlers-sundragon-dragonfly/)

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

June 24, 2019 Hummingbird Moth (the posting was on 2 July, but the photo was taken on June 24) (https://michaelqpowell.com/2019/07/02/hummingbird-moth/)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I was wandering about Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week, I was struck by the large number of Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) that I observed. Not only were there a lot of them, many of them appeared to be in almost pristine condition, unlike the tattered survivors of other butterfly species that are hanging on this late in the season.

I decided to do a little research and learned from bugguide.net that Common Buckeyes have two to three broods throughout the year from May to October. I had suspected that was the case and that helps to explain the “fresh” condition of the butterflies that I observed. What was a little more surprising to learn was that, “Adults from the south’s first brood migrate north in late spring and summer to temporarily colonize most of the United States and parts of southern Canada.”

I don’t know if the Common Buckeye butterflies in my area will migrate south to avoid the freezing temperatures that will soon be upon us or if they will remain with us. In either case, I love to see these little butterflies and marvel at the way that their colors fit in with nature’s autumn color palette.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When they keep their wings closed, some butterflies match their surroundings so well that they are almost invisible. Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) look like dead leaves and at this time of the year there are plenty of fallen leaves littering the landscape.

It was impossible for me to me the distinctive autumn colors of this Question Mark when I spotted it earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to back up a bit in order to focus on the butterfly with my telephoto zoom lens and I actually had trouble seeing it when it decided to close its wings. Fortunately it spread its wings a little bit and I was able to capture the second image below.

A month or so ago it seemed like there were more dragonflies than butterflies, but now the ratio seems to have shifted. Butterflies, especially Common Buckeyes, are still flying in good numbers, while the quantity of dragonflies continues to drop.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Butterflies in October? October has been a crazy month weather-wise in Northern Virginia where I live. Yesterday we had a record high temperature of 98 degrees (37 degrees C) and it feels a lot more like summer than autumn. Therefore it did not seem at all strange that I saw lots of butterflies on Tuesday when I visited Huntley Meadows Park.

I spent quite a while chasing after this beautiful little butterfly, which I think is an Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme). Most of the time the butterfly would perch sidewards and then fly away when I tried to circle around to get a better angle for a shot. I was thrilled when I finallly managed to capture this image with the butterfly’s wings partially open. I also like the way that the light helped to illuminate some of the details in the wings.

I look forward to the cooler autumn weather that will eventually come, but for now I am continuing to enjoy some of the delights of this endless summer.

Orange Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of autumn. In my area, today’s high temperature is forecast to reach 90 degrees (32 degrees C), so it does not really feel like autumn yet. However, it is beginning to look like autumn, with browns and orange tones starting to appear in the landscape.

Fortunately there are still lots of butterflies around, like this Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) that I spotted last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The color palette of this shot really speaks to me of this new season.

Given that seasons are determined differently in different places by using meteorological or astrological calendars, I probably should try to be scrupulously inclusive and wish everyone a Happy September Equinox Day rather than Happy Autumn.

UPDATE: I took this shot while photowalking with fellow photographer and blogger, Walter Sanford. We did not talk about when we/if we might post an image of this butterfly, but it turns out he also posted one today. Checking out his posting if you like to read another take on our adventure and see a slightly different approach to photographing this butterfly. Walter and I have different backgrounds that affect the way we express ourselves in our words and in our images. Our complementary posts help to remind me that “reality” is as much subjective as it is objective.

Viceroy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was looking into the bright sun when I spotted this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feeding on a nearby flower. Normally that is not an ideal situation for photography and often renders the subject as a silhouette. However, I adjusted my camera settings and was able to capture the translucency of the butterfly’s wings and the shape and color of the vegetation showing through from behind the wings.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are beautiful in any situation, but when you surround them with red, orange, and yellow flowers, they absolutely explode with color. I was thrilled when I spotted this Monarch during a short visit to Green Spring Gardens this past Saturday morning. The butterfly was initially quite skittish and flew all around before finally settling on what I believe to be some kind of lantana flower. I had to maneuver around to try to get a good shooting position, but the butterfly stayed put for a minute and accommodated me. I was super happy when I managed to include some of the colorful flowers in the background and I just love the way that the colors work so well together.

monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this beautiful American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) during a quick visit this past Saturday morning to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden not far from where I live. A lot of butterflies were active that day, but my eyes were immediately drawn to this American Lady, a species that I do not see very often. I had to chase it a bit before it stopped to feed on this flower, which was so popular that the American Lady had to share it with a much smaller skipper butterfly. The flower was growing near a fenced in area of public plots where people grow vegetables and the fence caused the striped effect in the background.

Although I spend most of my time photographing subjects in the wild, it was nice to visit a more cultivated place that was still ablaze with summer colors. I am quite conscious of the fact that the summer is slowly slipping away.

American Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The only other time that I can remember a butterfly perching on me was when I was in an indoor enclosed butterfly garden. This time, though, it was out in the wild and I was a bit shocked when Walter told me that there was a butterfly on my head. Thanks to Walter Sanford, my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast, for capturing this encounter. Be sure to check out his blog for lots of wonderful images of dragonflies and other cool creatures.

walter sanford's photoblog

There’s a butterfly on your hat. A Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax).

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

This comical butterfly-man union was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Painted Turtle PondOccoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

16 AUG 2019 | Occoquan Bay NWR | Red-spotted Purple butterfly

The weather was extremely hot and humid. (Notice the Cumulus congestus clouds building in the background.) Both Mike and I were soaked with sweat as soon as we started our photowalk earlier the same day at another site. The butterfly was feeding upon mineral salts on Mike’s “Duck Dynasty” hat.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted this amazing looking caterpillar alongside a pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I have not yet been able to identify it, but I was really struck by the stunning blue dots and the prickly spikes that run the length of the caterpillar’s body. Often these types of spikes are an indication of a venomous stinging caterpillar, so I kept my distance as I was taking this shot. Click on the image if you want to get a closer look at the wonderful details of the caterpillar.

UPDATE: Several helpful folks have weighed in and have identified this as a Common Buckeye caterpillar (Junonia coenia). Thanks for the help.

caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Cabbage White butterflies (Pieris rapae) are small, plain, and common, yet I find a real beauty in their elegant simplicity, especially when I get a view of their speckled green eyes. I spotted this Cabbage White last weekend when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As always, my biggest challenge was getting into a shooting position in which the butterfly’s body was on a single plane in order to get most of it in focus—in this case I more or less succeeded in doing so.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really thrilled to spot this spectacular Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) last week as it fed on some kind of thistle plant at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are several dark swallowtail species in our area and I often have trouble telling them apart. In this case, though, I could see the distinctive back dot inside the orange dot which is telltale sign that this is Black Swallowtail. I highly recommend a helpful posting by Louisiana Naturalist that points out way to distinguish among four dark swallowtails—it is a reference that I repeatedly return to when I have a question about a dark swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I spotted this beautiful Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Protographium marcellus) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Normally Zebra Swallowtails are very skittish and are in almost constant motion. This one, however, was so involved with the flower that it did not immediately fly away and allowed me to capture this image.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Wednesday I spotted this colorful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) perched on some goldenrod at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The fact that the butterfly was facing downward gives this image an abstract feel that I really like. My mind does not immediately register that this is a butterfly and instead focuses on the wonderful shapes and colors.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t seen many Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this season, so I was thrilled when I spotted this one on some goldenrod on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The habitat of Monarch butterfly has been threatened in recent years both in the United States and in the areas to which Monarchs migrate. According to an article yesterday at oregonlive.com, the Monarch butterfly is currently under government consideration for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have seen birds and bees stick their heads inside tubular flowers, but I had never before seen a small butterfly do so. I watched this Cloudless Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis Sennae) yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge almost bury itself inside this flower as it searched for nectar. I love the way that the light was shining though its wings, illuminating some of the fine details of its tiny body.

I think that this is a Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, but I am easily confused because there is a similar-looking Clouded Sulphur butterfly. To borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”

Cloudless Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) were definitely enjoying this patch of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) when I spotted them last Saturday at Riverbend Park. The butterfly in the foreground is a dark morph female and I believe the one in the background is a male. One of the cool things about Eastern Tiger Swallowtails is that females come in two varieties, one with coloration close to that of the male and one with the dark colors that you see in the image below.

This image is a a pretty straightforward presentation of a fairly common subject, but there is something about the composition that I really like. Maybe it’s the contrasting colors or the overlapping shapes. Who knows? So often I like what I like without being able to articulate the precise reasons why.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this pretty Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) last Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Viceroy has the same coloration as the Monarch, but has a line across its hind wings that is not present on the Monarchs. As I have learned more  about insects, I have been amazed to find how often insects have adapted to mimic other species that predators may find bad-tasting or even toxic.

Viceroy

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This seems to be the prime season for butterflies and I have been seeing lots of them this past week. I spotted this spectacular Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) as I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last Thursday. It was attracted to a pink flowering plant that I think is some kind of milkweed—I am a whole lot more confident in identifying butterflies than plants.

I am happy with both shots, but must that I particularly like the background in the first image.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of us associate butterflies with flowers, but they sometimes can be found on the sandy banks of creeks, like this cluster of male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted earlier this month in Prince William County, Virginia.

I went looking for information about this behavior and learned the following on the thoughtco.com website:

“Butterflies get most of their nutrition from flower nectar. Though rich in sugar, nectar lacks some important nutrients the butterflies need for reproduction. For those, butterflies visit puddles. By sipping moisture from mud puddles, butterflies take in salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling, and is mostly seen in male butterflies. That’s because males incorporate those extra salts and minerals into their sperm. When butterflies mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female through the spermatophore. These extra salts and minerals improve the viability of the female’s eggs, increasing the couple’s chances of passing on their genes to another generation.”

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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