Category Archives: Butterflies

Butterflies: Common Ringlet

Photo of Common Ringlet

Common Ringlets (Coenonympha tullia) live in open, grassy habitats throughout New England, and are widespread in parts of Europe, Asia, and western and northern North America. Their wings vary in color, with the upper wings typically orange, the lower tan or cream. Each upper wing often, but not always, has a black eye-spot. Larvae feed on various species of grasses and rushes; adults nectar on flowers, including Giant Knotweed (Fallopia sachalinensis), shown above. To learn more about Common Ringlets visit the BugGuide.

Photo of Common Ringlet

Butterflies: White Admiral / Red-spotted Purple

Photo of White Admiral
White Admiral (ventral)

The butterfly known as Limenitis arthemis can be found in New England in two distinct forms. Formerly treated as separate species, some now refer to them collectively as "Red-spotted Admirals".

The White Admiral is the more common form in northern New England and has broad white wing stripes visible from above and below. In southern New England, the Red-spotted Purple is more typical and features blue iridescence on largely black wings above, with prominent red-orange spots below. Intergrades of these two forms occur where their ranges overlap and show a combination of characteristics (see this example on the BugGuide).

To learn more about these butterflies, check out the species account by Brian Cassie on MassAudubon's Butterfly Atlas. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Butterflies: Atlantis Fritillary

Photo of Atlantis Fritillary

When I hiked up East Royce Mountain last month, I reached the summit to find an Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis) nectaring on the white flowers of Labrador-tea. I've found the various species of fritillaries to be tricky to tell apart, but thanks to the BugGuide, I now know that eye color can be a useful field mark.

Photo of Atlantis Fritillary eye

Atlantis Fritillaries have blue-gray eyes, unlike the brown or red eyes of the other New England fritillaries. Had I known at the time, I would have tried for a more artistic eye-shot, like the one by Mark Olivier available here.

Butterflies: Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Photo of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) has a shorter wingspan than the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (P. glaucus) but otherwise looks very similar. Since size can be difficult to judge, subtle visual markers can be used to tell the two apart, but this requires that they sit still for close inspection. The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail's range, which is the more northerly of the two, extends throughout Canada, Alaska, and into parts of the lower 48 states, including northern and western New England. Caterpillars of this species feed on the leaves of various trees, including Quaking and Big-toothed Poplar, Paper Birch, and Black Cherry.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Butterflies: Mourning Cloak

One afternoon in late April, I drove through a section of the White Mountains National Forest in western Maine. Though I'd planned to stop and complete a short hike, my morning birding had taken longer than expected, so I was considering postponing the hike and settling for a scenic drive.

But as I neared the trail-head pull-off, my ears picked up a familiar singing bird. Pulling over and hopping out of the car, I found the Blue-headed Vireo perched high over the road. After this welcome pause, I checked my watch and decided that I had enough time to hike the short trail to and from The Roost.

Photo of Mourning Cloak

Aside from an occasional songbird, I had the trail to myself, that is until I reached the ledge summit, where I was welcomed by a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterfly. Because they overwinter as adults, Mourning Cloaks are among the earliest active butterflies in New England.

My ticking watch stopped long enough for me to enjoy the moment and snap a few photos to share. 'Should I turn back or take the slightly longer way back to the car?' I wondered. The Mourning Cloak flew toward the latter option, and I decided to follow. On the way down I heard a singing Brown Creeper, saw hundreds of unfurling Trillium plants (Trillium sp.), and enjoyed the soothing sound of a cold rushing stream. Sometimes it's best to let nature lead.

To learn more about Mourning Cloaks, see this MassAudubon article. To view the following images in full-size, click here.