Category Archives: Butterflies

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.

Butterflies: Orange Sulphur

Photo of Orange Sulphur

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) butterflies live in fields and pastures throughout New England and have a flight period (mid-May through October) that more or less coincides with the green season. Late in the year, they can be found nectaring on many types of flowers, including New York American-aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, pictured here). Males and females can be told apart by examining the upper wing pattern (see photos below): males have a solid black border; females have yellow spots within a wider black border. Some Orange Sulphurs lack obvious orange coloration and may be impossible to tell apart from the similar Cloudless Sulphur (C. philodice). (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)