By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
With the weather warmer than our averages for the first time since October, it seems fitting to look forward to spring. We don’t have any butterflies out and about yet, but today, March 14, is Learn about Butterflies Day.
I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to say there are no butterflies out yet, since the Eastern Comma overwinters here, and has been seen in Wisconsin as early as March 9 on sunny days. You could even see them when there is still snow on the ground. And one was seen earlier than that a few years ago when our youngest sister Peggy brought some wood into her house to burn in the fireplace. The warmth of the house woke the butterfly, and for the next several weeks, she had a Comma flying about her house.
You will see butterflies on most sunny days and if you want to photograph them, it is usually easier to do in the morning hours. Later in the day, they flit and fly a lot more, and it is usually hard to capture them in photos unless they find a particularly good wildflower or garden flower to visit.
Speaking of flowers, if you would like to encourage butterflies to visit your garden, you can plant some flowers specifically for them. Native butterfly weed, a bright orange flower is a good attractor as well as the cultivated butterfly bush. If you are interested in planting a butterfly attracting garden, an Internet search will easily bring you a list of plants and the butterflies attracted to them for your region. Rather than chase the butterflies, you can bring them to you.
Joann and I have had some interesting experiences with butterflies. She had her close-up butterfly encounter photographing on the backroads one day in late September. We’ve also had an ongoing interaction with butterflies on our spring vacations beginning with our first vacation to Kentucky in 2006.
On that vacation, we noticed that at every stop, beginning in Illinois, and every stop thereafter, we were visited by an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. At first we thought it was a coincidence, but through Indiana, into Kentucky, and even into Tennessee, at every stop, we would notice one of those yellow butterflies, often before we even stopped the car.
We didn’t think too much of it that year, but every year since, we’ve had the same experience. We’ve come to expect it and to look around at every stop.
On a trip to the Ozarks in 2008, we stopped to photograph an old springhouse at a trailhead in the Buffalo National River Park, and when we got out of the car, we noticed several groups of butterflies feeding on a wet area of the parking lot.
Butterflies are also a good way to get your kids interested in nature. For a birthday one year, we gave one of our nephews a butterfly raising kit. The kit came with the netted enclosure and a certificate to send away for the caterpillars and food. When they arrived, he and his family just followed the instructions and waited for butterflies to appear. They had Red Admiral butterflies, and they got to observe their whole life cycle. Once they were ready to fly, they released them outside.
In Madison, Wisconsin, you can visit Olbrich Botanical Gardens over the summer and see their Blooming Butterflies exhibit in the Bolz Conservatory. The exhibit includes local butterfly species as well as tropical butterflies. There are other butterfly exhibits around the country, so search for one near you.
You can also chase butterflies with a butterfly net as Joann did with one of our nephews one summer. Sometimes people capture the butterflies for a collection, but they were just trying to get a close-up look.
Finding and identifying butterflies is a good way to interest children in nature. Young children have a natural interest, so it’s easy to take them outside and look for butterflies on a hike or around your yard. You can identify the butterflies you find using a butterfly field guide or an online guide at one of the nature sites, such as enature.com.
As I close this post, we are busy planning for this year’s spring vacation, and we are anticipating visits from butterflies again.
Happy Learn about Butterflies Day and Happy Shunpiking!