Why is it important to learn how to identify butterflies?
Learning some of the most common butterflies in your area will help you to understand what kinds of butterflies you are attracting to your yard. If your goal is to help endangered species, this is a great place to start!
In the United States and Canada, there are more than 750 species of butterflies! Much of their habitats are being lost on a daily basis due to human activity (agriculture, roads, insecticides, herbicides etc.) However, you can help them by building habitat in your own backyard!
Click here to learn more about endangered species of butterflies.
10 Butterflies That You May Have Seen Before
Monarch- Danaus plexippus
How to Identify:
The monarch butterfly is one of the most iconic species of butterflies although it is sometimes confused with it’s lookalike butterfly, the Viceroy. The upper side of the male is bright orange with wide black borders and black veins. The upper side of the female is more of an orange-brown with wider black borders than the male.
The Viceroy butterfly mimics the Monarch in order to deceive predators. The main physical difference between the monarch and the viceroy is the black line drawn across the viceroy's hind wings, which monarch butterflies do not have. Viceroy butterflies are also significantly smaller than Monarchs. Click here to read a blog about the relationship between viceroy and monarch butterflies.
Where are they found? The monarch is found in a variety of habitats including fields, meadows, weedy areas, marshes, and roadsides. They also complete an annual southward migration from the northern and central United States and southern Canada to Florida and Mexico
What plants do they like?
Host and Nectar plant: Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and they also only lay their eggs on Milkweed. Due to the loss of habitat and the disappearance of milkweed, Monarchs populations are decreasing drastically.
Not sure where to find milkweed? The Xerxes Society has created a handy database where you can search your state and it will list where you can find native milkweed nearest you.
You can also buy milkweed seed here and grow it yourself at home!
How to Identify: The regal fritillary is a large butterfly that is smaller in size to the monarch butterfly. The upper side of the forewing is bright red-orange with black markings. The upper side of the hindwing is black with a row of white spots and on the wing edge is a row of spots that are orange in males and white in females.
Where are they found? The regal fritillary is found on the Great Plains and is associated with tallgrass prairies, meadows and pastures.
What plants do they like? The larvae feed on violets. The adults feed on a variety of flowers such as milkweeds, thistles, clover and purple coneflower.
There is an urgent call to track Regal Fritillary butterflies.
The Wildlife Conservation Fund created a citizen science project to monitor regal fritillaries, as well as monarchs, which are similar in appearance.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails- Papilio glaucus
How to identify: They are quite large with bright yellow and black stripes. Male tiger swallowtails have some orange and blue spots near their tail. Females have both a light and dark form. The light form looks a bit like the male but with more blue on their hind wings. The dark form still has the blue spots, but doesn’t have any yellow.
Where are they found? The eastern tiger swallowtail can be found in a variety of habitats, especially near water, but also in meadows, gardens, parks and roadsides. It is native to the Eastern United States.
What plants do they like?
Host plant: They only lay eggs on plants from the Magnolia and Rose plant families.
Nectar plant: They drink nectar from flowers such as milkweed, thistles, honeysuckle, ironweed and red clover.
Black Swallowtail- Papilio polyxenes
How to identify:
The upper surface of the wings is black with two rows of orange-yellow spots. There is a row of blue spots between the rows of orange/yellow spots on the hind wings. There is a conspicuous red spot on the inner edge of the hind wings.
Where are they found? Throughout much of North America in meadows, urban gardens, and roadsides.
What plants do they like?
Nectar plants: They especially like to feed on Milkweed, Phlox, Red clover and Thistle.
Host plants: They will lay their eggs on plants of the Carrot family such as carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace and rue.
Cabbage White- Pieris rapae
How to identify:
The cabbage white butterfly is white with charcoal gray tips on the wings. Males have a single black spot on the center of each forewing while females have two spots in the same place. The color under the forewings may be yellow or light green.
Where are they found? They are well adapted to urban areas but can also be found in fields, meadows, parks and gardens from early spring to late fall. It has been introducted to the US from Europe and is found North Africa, Asia, South America and Great Britain as well.
What plants do they like? The caterpillar can be found feeding on the leaves of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.
Orange Sulphur or Alfalfa Butterfly -Colias eurytheme
How to identify: The orange sulfur is identified by a small dark mark on the upper forewing, which is rounded into an oblong dot.Both sexes have a dark border; there are pale spots within the border on females.
Where are they found? They occur in fields, along roads and in residential gardens. They are found throughout North America except for central and southeastern United States. They are also seen in Mexico and Canada.
What plants do they like?
Host plants: Larvae feed on legumes, especially alfalfa, white clover and white sweet clover.
Nectar plants: Adults are attracted to many flower species.
Spring Azure- Celastrina ladon
How to identify: They are very small (under 1”) in different shades of a light violet blue. Form "violacea" has scattered dark spots. Form "marginata" has a dark gray-brown border on HW. Form "lucia" has a prominent dark splotch in the middle of the HW as well as dark borders on both wings.
Where are they found? They inhabit woodland edges and openings, and readily visit garden flowers throughout the United States except for coastal regions of Texas and Florida.
What plants do they like?
Host plants: They primarily like buds of Flowering Dogwood, blueberries, and viburnums.
Nectar plants: They like a large variety of nectar-rich flowers.
Mourning Cloak- Nymphalis antiopa
How to identify: The mourning cloak is a large and easy to identify because it doesn’t have any look-a-likes. They are dark brown/maroon with thickly banded cream-colored edges. They also have bright blue spots along the edges and black-brown spotted underwings.
Where are they found? Mourning cloaks can be found in open woods, parks, gardens, and along the edges of streams, lakes and ponds throughout North America.
What plants do they like?
Nectar plants: Adults drink nectar from plants, such as milkweed and red maple, rotting fruit and tree sap.
Host plants: The caterpillars will feed on willow species, American elms, hackberry trees, hawthorne, wild rose, birch and poplar trees.
Painted Lady- Vanessa cardui
How to identify: The Painted Lady butterfly in orange and brown in color with mottled brown spot and 4 large eyespots.
Where is it found? They are the most common butterfly in the world and found throughout the world except in Antarctica, Australia and South America.
What plants do they like?
Host plants: thistle, mallows, hollyhock, legumes, others.
Nectar plants: They can feed on over 300 species of plants although their favorites are from the Aster family.
Red Admiral- Vanessa atalanta
How to identify: The Red Admiral Butterfly is a medium-sized butterfly with black wings, orange bands, and white spots.
Where is it found? The red admiral is widely distributed across temperate regions of North Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. It resides in warmer areas, but migrates north in spring and sometimes again in autumn. Typically found in moist woodlands
What plants do they like?
Host plants: Nettle (Urtica dioica and Urtica urens), sometimes False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica)
Still need help with the identification? Submit your picture here and you will receive an email with the identification!
Spring is a great time to transplant milkweed plants! Milkweed has a deep taproot and it is best to transplant when the plant is small and the tap root is not as deep. If you cut off too much of the taproot then it is not likely to succeed.
1. It is best to transplant milkweed in the spring when the plant is small. Transplant on a day that is cloudy or during the cooler morning/evening hours. This will make it less stressful on the plant.
Gardening has long been considered therapeutic for people experiencing stress or mental health issues. In the late eighteenth century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was considered to be the first psychiatrist, reported beneficial effects of horticulture for people with mental health difficulties. There has been a recent revival of nature-based health solutions as our world becomes more urbanized.
Improving Physical Health
Gardening helps you meet physical activity recommendations that make you healthier and happier!
According to a 2017 study published by the Sustainability academic journal, gardening tasks that use both the upper and lower body meet the physical activity recommendations from the CDC and American College of Sport Medicine for moderate-intensity physical activity for older adults. Furthermore, results from the Short-Form 36 health survey showed that gardening can promote hand strength, pinch force, and overall physical health.
Reducing Stress and Providing Therapy
Did you know that fascination for your garden can actually be a restorative practice?
According to Kaplan (1989), directed attention is a limited resource that can be overloaded (causing stress) and that people need to use the alternative system, fascination, to restore it. Fascination is thought to be dominant in natural environments, such as gardens, where there are captivating stimuli to hold attention.
Nature is intrinsically healing. Simply looking out your window at nature can boost your sense of well-being! So get out there are plant those beautiful flowers so you can view beautiful butterflies fluttering outside your window as well.
According to research by Kaplan (2001), viewing plants and a garden through your window contributes to a feeling of well-being and satisfaction. Another study demonstrated that being able to observe nature – through view of trees from their hospital bed – had physiological and psychological healing benefits for patients recovering from surgery when compared to patients who had a view of a brick building wall (Ulrich, 1984)
Improving Memory and Cognition
Stress can actually decrease one's ability to remember things and problem solve.
According to a recent study, the restorative quality of gardens can improve cognition, memory and problem solving abilities! (Adhemar).
Eating vegetables straight from your garden are known to increase your immune system as your body receives all those nutrients!
Brightly-colored vegetables have been noted to increase interleukin-2, a substance responsible for promoting white cell function in the immune system (Gibson, 2012).
Promoting Mental Health and Reducing Stress
There are numerous scientific studies that have concluded that gardening can have a myriad of psychological benefits such as: reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
An article by Ulrich (1991) concludes that exposure to natural environments is one of the most important factors to stress recovery. Close contact with nature yields numerous psychological and physiological benefits, ranging from increased pain tolerance, recovery from stress and anxiety through to relaxation and enhanced wellbeing (Clatworthy, 2012). Domestic gardens provide regular access to sunshine and fresh air, which regulate circadian rhythms that control sleeping and eating patterns.
Adhemar, A. (2008). Nature as clinical psychological intervention: Evidence, applications and implications. MSc Thesis. University of Arhus, Denmark.
Clatworthy, J. Gardening and wellbeing. Diss. Canterbury Christ Church University, 2012.
Dewi, Nugrahaning Sani, et al. "Community gardens as health promoters: Effects on mental and physical stress levels in adults with and without mental disabilities." Sustainability 9.1 (2017): 63.
Gibson, A., Edgar, J. D., Neville, C. E., Gilchrist, S. E., McKinley, M. C., Patterson, C. C., … Woodside, J. V. (2012). Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(6), 1429–1436. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.039057
Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 4647, 420.
Ulrich, R. S. (1991), Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A. and Zelson, M. Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 11, 3, 201-30.
In honor of Arbor Day coming up on April 24th, we thought we would talk about some of the top butterfly-supporting trees! The trees we have chosen wear multiple hats, so to speak. These trees will support more than one species of caterpillar in its development to becoming a full-fledged butterfly!
Oak (Quercus spp.)
Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana )
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)
Monarchs very rarely pupate on the host plant that they hatched on. In fact, they can pupate up to 10 meters away from their original host milkweed! They look for places to pupate where they will be safe from predators and inclement weather but sometimes they don't always choose the most logical locations. Here is a list of places to look for chrysalises.
Why would I want to move a chrysalis?
1) It has fallen to the ground.
Monarch chrysalises can get dislodged by wind, rain, birds, people and several other factors! In order for a Monarch to eclose safely, the chrysalis needs to be suspended in the air. The Monarchs often cling to their empty chrysalis as they uncrumple their wings and air dry them before being able to take flight. If they do not have sufficient space ( at least 1-2 inches on all sides and 4 inches below), their wings may not develop correctly and they won't be able to fly.
2) It's in harm's way.
Have you ever found a chrysalis in a doorway, on a car tire, on a window or somewhere you know it is unsafe? You may want to relocate the chrysalis to a safer location.
3) You want to watch the metamorphosis occur.
It's okay if you want to move the chrysalis into a protected area such as a butterfly house or mesh enclosure in order to watch the beautiful process occur. Experts say that less than 10% of wild Monarchs survive outdoors due to predation. Monarchs make up for this low rate of survival by laying 300-500 eggs in their lifetimes. Watching this miracle occur is a joy for all ages and can be a wonderful educational tool for children.
How to Move a Monarch Chrysalis
- Dental Floss
- A Pin or Safety Pin
Step 1: Locate the Chrysalis and Make Sure It is Safe to Move
Fresh chrysalises are delicate and need time to harden before you can move them safely. Observe the chrysalis before moving it. Is it an opaque green or is it starting to turn transparent so you can see the Monarch inside?
The Monarch's pupation stage is 10-14 days and the chrysalis will harden after 1-2 days. If the chrysalis is completely transparent, revealing the black and orange butterfly within, it will begin to emerge within 24 hours. If you are unsure when pupation occured, it is best to wait a day before moving the chrysalis.
However, If you know that it is in dire danger, then move immediately with the utmost care. If a chrysalis breaks, it will ooze and the Monarch will not be able to survive this damage.
Step 2: Remove the Silk Pad
Look closely at the chrysalis and use a magnifying glass if necessary. The silk pad will be attached to the surface and the black cremaster is directly below it. Very gently, loosen the silk pad by inserted the pin where the surface and silk meet. Try not to disturb the cremaster. Carefully, wiggle the pin until the silk starts to pull away from the surface. Once there is enough slack, pull the silk off of the surface with your fingers or tweezers if needed. Cup your other hand beneath the chrysalis to protect it from falling to the ground.
Step 3: Adhere Dental Floss to the Silk Pad
Step 4: Hang the Beautiful Chrysalis
Grab the ends of the floss and tie around a branch, rod or other secure fixture that is at least 4 inches off of the ground and 1 inches of clearance on all sides. If you are using a mesh enclosure instead, use the pin to secure the knot to the top of the cage.
Step 5: Let the Butterfly Hang Out!
It takes several hours for the monarch butterfly's wings to dry properly. They may begin to flap them gently to expedite the process. Let them be and do not touch their wings at all while they are drying. This can damage the scales on them and render them unable to fly.
Congratulations!! You just successfully moved a chrysalis and may have just save their lives!
🦋Provide a water source such as a bird bath, shallow dish, fountain or pond. Butterflies prefer shallow water!
Common Butterflies and the Plants Their Caterpillars Eat
(Eastern) Black Swallowtail
Red Spotted Purple
We have compiled our favorite monarch activities to do with kids this Earth Day! These activities can easily be paired with free online lesson plans to give kids an educational experience that they won't forget!
Start Milkweed from Seed
Butterfly Stick Puppet
Butterfly Squish Painting
Start a Fundraiser
Plant a Butterfly Garden
Symbolic Monarch Migration
Every year Journey North sends a flock of Monarch symbolic butterflies in the mail to schools in Mexico and they return in the Spring.
"Join students across the globe to create symbolic monarch butterflies to send to Mexico. Children who live beside the monarchs’ winter sanctuaries in Mexico will protect the paper butterflies and return them in the spring. Through the Symbolic Migration, children are united by the monarch butterfly and celebrate its spectacular migration. They learn authentic lessons of conservation and international cooperation."
Submitted by Jennifer Dawson
Get creative and think up your own activity! Please send any Monarch activity ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will keep adding to the list. Thank you for reading!
Although many of us are spending more time at home due to the health crisis, there are still many ways you can support the monarchs without leaving your backyard. Now is the perfect time to start brainstorming your beautiful butterfly garden, planting milkweed and collecting data to help with citizen science projects!
1. Plant Pollinator Habitat Wherever You Can
2. Teach Children About Monarch Conservation
3. Rear Monarchs from Home
4. Start Your Milkweed Indoors
5. Participate in a Citizen Science Projects
Becoming a citizen scientist is fun and allows you to virtually connect with other nature enthusiasts, naturalists and conservationists. Citizen scientists from around the country log data and observations which is vital to understanding the monarch migration, biological cycles and why they are disappearing.
6. Support Organizations Working to Sustain Monarchs
Make a donation to your favorite monarch or pollinator conservation program. Many programs are donation-based and are fighting to save our monarchs.
7. Conduct Your Own Research
The monarchs have begun to leave their overwintering grounds in Mexico and are heading North! Starting milkweed seeds indoors is a great way to ensure you will have milkweed plants ready for them when they arrive.
The Monarchs are already starting to migrate North, will you be ready for them? Unsure when the Monarchs will be coming through your area or state? Check Journey North's Migrations Map to find out!
I started cold stratifying my Butterfly Milkweed seeds at the beginning of March. 30 days have passed and they are ready to be planted!
It is worth noting that cold stratifying your seeds increases germination rates but is not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is that you get them planted. Most milkweed is a perennial in the lower 48 states so even if you are getting off to a late start, have no fear, they will come back next year and feed the next generations!
Step 1: Gather your materials
You will need:
A clean seed tray (a baking pan works well too)
Sterilized seed starting mix
It is best to use a designated seed starting mix because it is lighter and less dense than regular potting soil, which allows the roots to establish more easily. Milkweed is slender and doesn't need much room to grow so go ahead and plant many seeds!
Step 2: Add soil
I like to pour a heaping amount of soil mix onto the center of my seed insert and then spread it evenly with the edge of my seed packet or anything with a straight edge. I then gently tap the bottom of the seed tray on a flat surface to let the soil mix settle just a bit.
Step 3: Make holes
I like to use the eraser-end of a pencil to get ¼ in holes in my soil. It’s a convenient and consistent way to get uniform sized holes. I have also sprinkled the seeds on top of the soil and then sprinkled a layer of soil over them with success.
Step 4: Plant your seeds
Place 1-3 Milkweed seeds in each hole. Placing multiple seeds in each hole will increase your chances of getting a seedling in each cell. Then, gently push the soil mix back over your seeds.
Step 5: Water
Watering from the bottom up is the recommended method because it won’t disturb the seedlings and will also prevent over-watering. Simply pour about ½ inch of water into the tray then place the seed inserts on top. I like to use a water mister to also spray the top layer of my seed tray and then cover with a plastic lid or plastic wrap to keep the seeds moist. Remove the lid after a few days so that the seeds get air-flow and mold does not develop.
For 3-5 days, your seeds won't need light but a seed heating mat will help them to germinate. Once they sprout, immediately put them in a sunny window or under a grow light. If you wait too long they may get "leggy" from lack of sunlight or become moldy.
If they start to look leggy, you know that they need more light. You can plant your Milkweed outside after the danger of frost has passed. Check here to find out when the last frost date is for your region.
Plant the Milkweed and the Monarchs will come!