Signs of Spring are All Around
Reports of butterfly sightings have been trickling in with species like mourning cloak, eastern comma and Compton tortoiseshell.
CVC staff are busy planning our fourth annual Butterfly Blitz. In preparation for the kick-off on May 14, we’re highlighting some of the butterfly species you can see in spring and summer in the Credit River Watershed. Butterfly observations might be slow right now but they’re going to pick up as the season progresses.
Here’s what you can expect each month if you join the Butterfly Blitz.
One of the best signs that the butterfly season is really taking flight is the appearance of northern azure butterflies. You might mistake this butterfly for a moth from the underside due to their grey and brown wing colours but the top of their wings are a lovely iridescent blue. Try to spot this butterfly feeding on spring flowers in a woodland clearing or drinking from mud puddles along a forest edge.
If you’re out for a walk-in nature, you might notice a slow and bouncy brown butterfly that flies away into the trees quickly if you try to get close. Little wood satyrs are one species in a group of butterflies in Ontario with prominent eyespots on their wings. These eyespots are thought to deter predators by making the butterfly look like a larger animal.
July is peak butterfly season. This is when you’re likely to see the most species. You can often find banded hairstreak butterflies in groups at this time of year. You can find them in a variety of habitats such as woodlands, forest edges, roadsides and in urban areas. One thing you may have noticed about the banded hairstreak is the tail at the end of its hindwing. This tail is also present on other hairstreaks and plays a role in defending these butterflies from predators. When perched, the hairstreak will move its hindwings up and down, tricking predators into seeing a head. However, when predators go in for a bite the hairstreak will fly off in escape – leaving its tail behind!
One of the most commonly seen butterflies in the hot, dry days of August is Peck’s skipper. This small brown butterfly can be found in both disturbed and more natural grassy areas. This is because Peck’s skipper caterpillars feed on grasses – both native species like little bluestem and those that are commonly planted in lawns like Kentucky bluegrass. Adult Peck’s skippers also love drinking nectar from garden plants like coneflowers and roadside flowers like clovers.
Butterfly season starts to wind down in September, as many species are getting ready to overwinter. Others, like the monarch, begin their migration south. The clouded sulphur butterfly is present in our area all summer but becomes particularly plentiful later in the season. In September, it’s common to see dozens of clouded sulphurs flitting around when out for a walk in a meadow or along the side of a road. They love drinking from mud puddles, where they get water and nutrients. Look closely and try to spot a clouded sulphur. These beautiful yellow butterflies also have striking green eyes!
One of the joys of observing butterflies is seeing all the different species that come and go between May and September. There’s always something new to discover!
If you’d like to learn more about butterflies, join our 2022 Butterfly Blitz. You can help build our knowledge of butterflies while learning more. You can participate on your own time or join us for scheduled events and guided hikes. Your observation could be featured as an observation of the week, and you can win prizes at the end of the season.
To learn more and register, visit cvc.ca/butterflyblitz.
By Laura Timms, Senior Specialist, Natural Heritage Management