Last week, while birding the open edge of a marsh along the Sipayik Trail in Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation, the darting flight of an unfamiliar, striking butterfly caught my eye. A quick check in a field guide labeled my find as a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). This species is a year-round resident in much of the southeastern US, but adults wander north in summer and early fall, venturing as far as southern Canada if conditions are favorable. The individual I found was less than 2 miles away from Canadian soil.
Though more closely related to White Admirals and Red-spotted Purples, Viceroys (Limenitis archippus) are most often confused with similarly colored Monarchs. To separate the two, note the black median stripe across the rear wings of the Viceroy, a field mark not present on Monarchs, or from a distance, watch how they fly. Viceroys tend to glide with wings held flat, unlike Monarchs who usually glide with their wings in a V shape.
Larval plants for Viceroy caterpillars include various Willows (Salix spp.) and Poplars (Populus spp., including Big-toothed and Quaking Poplar). Adults are widespread in New England during the green season.
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Few New England butterflies fly as early and as late in the year as the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). This relative newcomer to North America is now widely established in areas of disturbance and cultivation. With wings closed, the sexes appear similar, with a single black spot on pale yellow to white wings. With wings spread, a black patch can be seen on the forewing tip, and females show two round spots where males (below) show just one.
As their name suggests, Cabbage White larvae feed on cabbage, along with many other wild and cultivated plants of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family. I frequently encounter coastal Cabbage Whites on or near patches of Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum).
Butterflies don't live for very long, and as such they often remind me of how fleeting our lives can be. Despite irreparably worn wings, the creature below continues to enjoy the sweet nectar of life. To learn more about Cabbage Whites, visit the BugGuide.
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.
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).