As summer moves along, more wildflowers are taking to bloom. They are a feast for our eyes and also produce delicious nectar that provides a feast for many of nature’s creatures. Look carefully and you will see hummingbirds, ants, bees, flies and others feeding on the nectar. Butterflies often are seen drinking from these flowers.
What is a butterfly?
According to indepthinfo.com, “butterflies are a member of the insect family and, together with moths, make up the order known as ‘Lepidoptera.’ The dividing line between butterflies and moths is fairly fuzzy, and some creatures could seem to fall into either category. However, the main difference between them is butterflies are generally active in the day and moths are active at night. Also, in a resting position, moths lay their wings down over their bodies, while butterflies stand their wings up so that their undersides may be seen.
“Butterflies have a large proboscis, which is actually a mouthpart, and is used to suck nectar and fluids from flowers. While feeding themselves, butterflies also serve the function of helping to pollinate flowers. Some pollen sticks to them and is transferred from one flower to another as they flit about.”
A butterfly has four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult (butterfly). It is a repetitive cycle, but the butterfly does not turn back into an egg. Like most animals, the male and female adults work together to produce new fertilized eggs.
Mountain butterflies and flowers
There are more than 60 species of butterflies in Colorado. Here are some of the more common ones seen in the summer above 8,500 feet and the flowers on which they feed. They vary greatly in size, color and plant food.
Callippe fritillary (2 1/8 inches): Easier to spot than it is to spell, this butterfly is everywhere from June to August. Favorite flowers: milkweeds, thistles, dogbane, vetch, red clover, cow parsnip.
Checkerspot (1½ inches): Appropriately named, this butterfly is identified by the spots within its checkered pattern. There are at least eight species of checkerspots in Colorado, and pattern varies within each species. Favorite flowers: asters, paintbrushes.
Western tiger swallowtail (3½ inches): One of the largest butterflies you will see, these are some of the most common butterflies during June and July. Favorite flowers: many, including red clover, dandelion and thistles.
Blues (1 1/8 inches): These little beauties are so small, you might miss them ... until you startle them and they flutter away. Look for them in muddy, wet areas. They love moisture. The Arrowhead blue is one of many species of blues in Colorado. It is differentiated by a tiny orange arrowhead on the outside bottom of each hind wing. Favorite flowers: anything in the pea family, especially lupines.
Hoary comma (1¾ inches): Easily mistaken for the larger Tortoiseshell, the comma has a small “comma” in the center underside of its hind wing. This butterfly hibernates in winter. Favorite flowers: varies; includes currants.
Common alpine (2 inches): This butterfly is not as common in this area as the name would imply. Look carefully and you may be fortunate enough to spot one. Favorite flowers: grasses, cow parsnip, bittercress.
Now, go searching for butterflies. They can be found in any backyard or park, near ponds, streams, puddles, out in a meadow or at a flower box downtown. The trick is, it needs to be a sunny day. Butterflies are scarce when it is cloudy. They can’t fly in the rain. Wear bright colors to help attract them.
You can search for butterflies on the Naturalist Hikes at Purgatory, from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays through August 15. Meet at Backcountry Experience at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, or contact Gabi Morey at 385-1256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MK Thompson is education and program assistant for San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public-land stewardship and education.