Butterflies

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Butterflies, Pacific Northwest

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies
Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Photo By Bud Logan

Butterflies undergo a series of physical transformations known as the metamorphosis from the time it is an egg right up to adulthood and mating. After mating, the female will lay her eggs on a host plant. The eggs may hatch within a few days or sometimes will not hatch until conditions are just right.

Right after hating into a caterpillar, it begins to eat the host plant.  The caterpillar molts several times during this stage. It then seeks a safe spot, suspends itself by silken threads and molts one last time and turns into a chrysalis or pupa. Within days, months or even longer, depending on the kind of Butterfly, a fully developed winged adult emerges from the chrysalis and the cycle begins again.

Angel wing Butterflies
Angel wing Butterfly, Photo By Bud Logan

Most prefer flowers that are pink, red, purple, or yellow and that are open all day, so plant these colors in your garden to attract them. Butterflies fly during the day and at night they sleep in the on the underside of a leaf or some other safe spot. Butterflies can’t hear but they can feel vibrations of the slightest kinds.

They do make the world a prettier place, l love, just everyone else, seeing them fly by, you always stop and look with wonder in your eyes when one is spotted. Female butterflies are bigger and live longer than males.

Butterflies are cold-blooded and they cannot regulate their own body temperature. This means their body temperature changes with the temperature of their surroundings. If they get too cold, they are unable to fly and must warm up to enable their mussels to work right. Butterflies prefer to fly in temperatures between 18 to 30 c. If the temperature drops too low, they may seek a warm, sunny spot and bask. Butterflies bask with their wings spread out in order to soak up the sun’s heat. It’s easiest to photograph them early in the day as they sit still for longer periods of time, basking in a warm spot. There are many kinds of butterflies in the pacific northwest.

Cabbage White Butterfly
Cabbage White Butterfly, photo by Robert Logan
The cabbage white butterfly can be seen all over the Pacific Northwest, flirting around your yard early in the spring, it brings life to the land.

It was introduced in North America in the 1860s from Europe and has become a favorite butterfly among children. You must have seen how they chase them all day long, laughing away. You must remember doing this yourself when you were a child.

The cabbage white butterfly overwinters as a pupa and emerges in early spring, it is one of the first butterflies of the season. When I see them, I know winter is truly over. They are a harbinger of spring just as much as the singing robin is.

Cabbage White Butterfly
Cabbage White Butterfly, photo by Robert Logan
They have a type of mating dance called a spiral dance, this dance is used when a female has no interest in a male. She will fly in a spiral up into the air and the male will follow until he tires and loses interest in the pursuit and flies back to the ground. The female then heads on her way, looking for the right mate. These butterflies are quite beautiful and are fascinating to watch.

Cabbage whites are very strong flyers, and though they rarely range farther than 5 km or so, it is estimated that they can fly over 200 km over their lifespan.

The small cabbage white caterpillars are a very light pale green, which affords them very good camouflage. Unlike their bigger cousin the large cabbage white, Small cabbage white caterpillars are tasty to predators, so they keep to the undersides of the leaves in order to avoid being spotted. These caterpillars eat food crops, and they can be a problem in the home garden.

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, photo by Bud Logan
Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, photo by Bud Logan

The western tiger swallowtail is a butterfly that roams the Pacific Northwest. The western tiger swallowtail is a member of the family papilionidae, which consists of other subspecies of swallowtail butterflies.

The western tiger swallowtail has a wingspan that is up to 10 cm. The butterfly is bright yellow with four distinct black striped markings mainly on its upper wings. The wings are edged in black and the longest black stripes on the butterfly are on the inner parts of the wings nearest to the insect’s body. Western tiger swallowtails have long tails on their hind wings that resemble the tails of swallow birds. The hind wings also have small patches of blue and a spot or two of orange on them.

Western Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar
Western Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar, photo by Bud Logan
A western tiger swallowtail begins its life in a green egg. When the egg hatches, a caterpillar emerges that has a body covered in rows of blue dots with four yellow dots near its head. The caterpillar’s neck has stripes of black and yellow on it. The caterpillar is green in color but later turns brown before the pupal or chrysalis stage, which is an intermediary stage between the caterpillar and adult butterfly stages. In the pupal stage, the caterpillar, now called a pupa or chrysalis, forms a cocoon and abstains from food or drink. In the cocoon, the pupa or chrysalis undergoes a physical metamorphosis to become a butterfly. In the last stage of development, an adult western tiger swallowtail emerges from the cocoon with wings. It takes about a month for the butterfly to move from the egg stage to the adult stage.

When the western tiger swallowtail is a caterpillar it eats leaves from trees and shrubs, such as willow, alder, bitter cherry, cottonwood, poplar and trembling aspen. As an adult butterfly, the western tiger drinks nectar from a variety of flowers. The western tiger swallowtail has a wide range of distribution on the west coast of North America.

Silvery Blue Butterfly
Silvery Blue Butterfly, photo by Robert Logan
Silvery blue Butterflies are small, iridescent blue butterflies found in North America and Canada including all of the Pacific Northwest.

Their wingspan is only up to 3 cm wide and they are found in a wide range of habitats, from coastal dunes to prairies. The upper wings of male silvery blue butterflies are shiny light blue with a dark gray border; those of females are darker blue or grayer in color with a wider border. The undersides of the wings in both sexes are gray with black-rimmed white spots.

The silvery blue is widespread in North America, found everywhere from Alaska to Florida and all of Canada. You can see them on all of Vancouver Island.

Silvery Blue Butterfly
Silvery Blue Butterfly, photo by Robert Logan
Male silvery blues search for females as soon as they fly, after mating, the female will lay a single egg on buds of flowers or on new leaves.
The caterpillars can be a variety of colors but all with white hairs. Silvery blues only emerge once a year, and the time of year depends on elevation, June/July at lower elevations and August/September at higher elevations.

Silvery blue butterfly caterpillars feed on the host plants where the female butterflies lay their eggs. These plants can include the American vetch and lupines. The adult butterflies feed on the nectar of various flowers.

Silvery blue butterfly caterpillars have a special structure known as a honey gland, which secretes a sweet substance that attracts ants to feed on it. In what is known as a symbiotic relationship, the ants tend to the caterpillars by keeping them clean and protecting them from predators. These are beautiful little butterflies, quite awesome to observe.

Painted Lady Butterfly
Painted Lady Butterfly, Photo by Bud Logan
Painted lady butterflies are medium-sized, with a wingspan of about 5 cm. The top sides of their wings are orange with black blotches and white spots. Underneath, wing color is a beautiful combination of brown, pink, dark green, black and white.

Painted Lady butterflies can be seen at all locations in the Pacific Northwest,  look for them in meadows, city parks, gardens and at the forest edge.

These butterflies migrate north every spring. They lay their eggs on host plants which include, thistles, oak trees, English plantain, and daisies.

When cold weather arrives, painted lady butterflies head back south. The migration of these butterflies is still a great mystery.

Painted lady eggs are pale green and barrel-shaped. They are laid on the leaves of host plants. When the caterpillar’s hatch they begin to feed right away. The caterpillars are black with yellow markings and they can grow to over 2.5 cm long before they turn to pupae. The pupa of the butterfly is called a chrysalis. A painted lady chrysalis is brown and bumpy. After a couple of weeks, adult butterflies will emerge from the cocoons.

Adult butterflies feed on the nectar from many different flowers, including goldenrod, milkweeds, asters, and blazing stars.

Male painted ladies are very territorial. They will claim a territory and guard it with fierceness. When other males come near, he will chase them away while he waits patiently for a female to arrive.

Sometimes the caterpillars will form silk nests, much the same as tent caterpillars do. Walking along any trail on the coast, you are quite likely going to see more than a few of these beauties, they will move ahead of you, landing after each flight and will let you approach close each time, so have your camera ready.

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