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More than 2,300 images of butterflies in accurate, lifelike poses highlight this complete guide to North American butterflies, which includes handy indexes, range maps, and helpful identification tips.
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Jim P. Brock, an active lepidopterist for more than thirty years, has studied butterflies throughout North America as well as in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Brazil. The coauthor of Butterflies of Southeastern Arizona (1991), he has also written many magazine articles and has led butterfly-watching tours in the United States and Mexico.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
ENJOYING BUTTERFLIES A Note from Kenn Kaufman
Most people seem to be aware of butter?ies more as symbols than as real living creatures. Although there are hundreds of species of butterflies in North America, they somehow escape public notice most of the time. Out in plain sight, they lead secret lives.
I still recall how surprised I was when I began to notice them myself. At the age of fourteen, having learned a lot of my local birds, I decided to see if there were any butterflies in the neighborhood. Amazingly, as soon as I began looking for them, they appeared: Little Wood-Satyrs flopping through the woods, tiny Reakirt’s Blues on weed flowers in vacant lots, and dozens more. Although I had been outside looking for birds, up to that time I had utterly missed these other winged creatures. Butterflies are not birds, of course. They are very different in their habits, yearly cycles, and population dynamics. And they’re a lot smaller. The biggest ones, like Monarchs and Giant Swallowtails, may grab our attention, but most of the diversity is among the smaller butterflies. We have far more species of little hairstreaks, blues, skippers, and the like than we do of the big guys. Small can be beautiful: even the tiniest butterflies have intricate patterns that are well worth appreciating. But until recently, it has been extremely difficult to identify many of these butterflies in the field. Even separating some larger species has been problematic, because their identification often depends on small details. Until the recent development of good close-focusing binoculars and cameras, many butterflies could be recognized only by expert lepidopterists with vast experience. I have been lucky enough to have one such lepidopterist as a good friend for years, and luckier still that he is the kind of expert who is always ready to share his knowledge. Jim Brock has studied butterflies from Alaska to Brazil, and in the field he dazzles everyone with his ability to find and identify even the rare and little-known species; but he will also patiently point out the most common butterflies to anyone who wants to know them. Jim agreed to coauthor this book as a way of helping new- comers to the field. In doing so, he graciously accepted the challenge of our Focus Guide format: boiling his vast knowledge down to just the essentials that would be most useful in a pocket-sized book. If any serious lepidopterists are displeased by the treatments here, they should blame me, not Jim Brock. But of course serious lepidopterists (who already have their technical reference works) are not the primary audience for this book. The Focus Guides are shortcuts, intended to be the best and fastest way to get started in a subject, to send you outside quickly, putting names on what you find. Slip this book into your pocket the next time you go exploring, and start discovering the secret world of butterflies for yourself.
IDENTIFYING BUTTERFLIES In naming a butterfly, the first step is to make sure that it really is one. The order Lepidoptera includes the moths as well as the butterflies, and some moths are active by day and are quite colorful. Usually they sit or behave in an obviously different way from butterflies. If in doubt, look at the antennae. On butterflies, the tip of each antenna has a thickened area, or club.” North American moths lack this feature; their antennae are either threadlike to the tip, feathery, or fringed along the edges.
Butterflies have four wings: two on each side, the forewing and the hindwing. The upperside and underside of each wing usually has a different pattern. To describe a color pattern on a butterfly, therefore, we have to say where it is for example, on the upperside of the forewing. Lepidopterists can describe butterfly patterns in great detail using a system of numbering the wing veins and the spaces between them. It’s hard to apply that system to an active butterfly in the wild, so we don’t use it in this guide, except to point out the cell, an area outlined by veins near the base of each wing. However, a few terms are necessary for communicating about the intricate patterns of some species; see the diagrams below for the simplified terminology used in this guide.
What to look for: Wing patterns are obviously important in identifying butterflies, but they are not the only clues. Here are some other points to consider.
Size: Some swallowtails are six inches or more from one wingtip to the other, while some blues are much less than an inch across. Since these wingspan measurements are hard for most people to visualize, we have treated sizes in this guide by showing one individual on each color plate at actual lifee size in gray outline. The illustrations are in correct scale relative to the others on that page, but not necessarily to those on other pages; be sure to check the actual size” figure each time you turn the page, to get an idea whether the butterflies shown are actually big, medium-sized, or small. Little butterflies do not grow up to be big ones: once they complete the transformation to winged adult, their size does not change. However, there are variations within a species. Early spring individuals are often smaller than those of summer; females are often larger than males. And occasionally we see a runt” individual that is oddly small. But with experience, you will find that size is usually a good quick clue to identification.
Shape: At a glance, most butterflies may seem to be roughly the same shape. With closer study, you will begin to see differences in wing shapes that help to create the distinctive look of each species. Some have extended tails” on the hindwings, or jagged or scalloped outer wing margins. Other differences are much more subtle, such as the wingtips being slightly more rounded or pointed. But with practice you will find that a butterfly’s shape is an important identifying mark.
Posture: The way a butterfly sits is always worth noticing. Sulphurs almost always perch with their wings folded tightly above their backs; metalmarks usually have their wings spread out flat; cloudywings usually hold their wings half open in a shallow V; and grass skippers often hold their hindwings spread farther than their forewings. Any butterfly may sit in an odd position at times, but the typical posture can be a good clue to identification. We have tried to illustrate and describe this for all species.
Flight style: Experts often can recognize a butterfly as it flits past not because they can actually see detailed field marks on its fast-moving wings, but because the way it flies is a field mark in itself. Some species fly erratically, others more directly; some flutter along with regular steady flaps, while others flap a few times quickly and then glide. These flight styles are hard to describe in words, but with practice you will learn to recognize many of them.
Fine details: Some field marks involve very small details, such as the colors of the eyes, the color or pattern on the antennae, or the color of the face” (the palps, on the front of the head). These things really can be seen in the field, but for wary species you may need to use binoculars. Good binoculars are now available that can focus as close as just a few feet away, allowing incredible views of butterflies and other small creatures. One good source of information on binoculars for butterfly-watching can be found online at www.eagleoptics.com.
Variation in butterflies: As with humans and other living things, no two individual butterflies look exactly alike. Most of the variation within a species is so minor that you won’t notice it in the field, but sometimes it’s enough to cause confusion. Occasionally you’ll see an individual that looks totally unlike the normal color pattern for its species; these aberrant butterflies may be identifiable only by shape or other clues. Many species vary from place to place, and if these variations are well marked, a local or regional population may be designated as a subspecies; see p. 14 for more information. There are also seasonal variations. For example, Zebra Swallowtails flying in spring are smaller and paler than those flying in summer, even though they all belong to the same species; Goatweed Leafwings flying in fall have more sharply pointed forewings than those flying in early summer. Males and females often differ in pattern or even in shape sometimes subtly, sometimes so strikingly that they appear to be unrelated. And finally, every individual butterfly gradually changes in appearance as its condition becomes more worn and faded. The two Painted Ladies shown here, for example, were sitting on flowers in the same meadow. The ragged one on the right can still be identified, because Painted Ladies have lots of field marks, but some butterflies in this condition would be unrecognizeable.
Habitat and season: Many butterflies are restricted to particular habitats, and this is a key not only to finding them but to identifying them. We give habitat descriptions for most species in this guide, and these should always be considered. Seasons are important as well. Even in warm climates, only a few species are on the wing year-round; in most species, adults are present only in certain seasons. We usually describe these flight seasons in general terms, such as early summer,” and these designations relate to local conditions, not arbitrary calendar dates. The Sara Orangetip, for example, is an early spring butterfly. It may appear by late January in Arizona and not until the end of May in the Yukon Territory, but those dates qualify as early spring” in both locations.
About the illustrations: Naturalists have debated for years whether field guides should be illustrated with paintings or photographs. This book uses a third method, introduced in 2000 with the first Kaufman Focus Guide, Birds of North America: we begin with photos and edit them digitally to make them all directly comparable, as paintings would be. Some butterflies, such as sulphurs, never bask with their wings open; but it is still useful to know the colors of their uppersides, because even at a glimpse in flight, a pale yellow one will look different from an orange one with black borders. For most species like this, we provide illustrations at reduced size showing their uppersides as an aid to identification. Understanding the range maps: One of the most important clues to identification involves knowing where you are. Most butterflies have very specific ranges and are unlikely to be seen anywhere else. This is a good thing, because some groups include similar species that are much easier to tell apart by range than by field marks. For example, Eastern and Western Tailed-Blues look very much alike, but in most places you will find only one or the other, not both. In identifying any butterfly, always check the range maps to see which ones are likely in your region. Most of the range maps in this guide have the distributions of the butterflies indicated in green. This color means that the species is flying in summer (the peak butterfly season in most areas) or in more than one season (for example, spring and summer, or even most of the year). We use a darker shade of green for areas where the species is most common, and a paler shade for areas where it is less likely to be seen. These designations are quite arbitrary, but we hope they will be helpful in giving a general idea of which species are most expected. A few species fly mainly in spring or mainly in fall; these are mapped in blue for spring, orange for fall, again with a darker shade for the areas where they are more common.
Some butterflies, especially from southern regions, sometimes stray far from their normal haunts. If there is a regular pattern of such straying, we indicate it on the map with a dashed line beyond the typical range.
FINDING BUTTERFLIES Some butterflies are adaptable and may show up almost anywhere, but most prefer a particular habitat. You will not see Salt Marsh Skippers in a forest or Desert Elfins in a marsh. To see a wide variety of butterflies, therefore, it’s necessary to visit many habitats. You should go at various seasons, because many species have rather short flight periods: Falcate Orangetips fly only in spring, Apache Skippers only in fall. This adds to the enjoyment of butterfly watching, because you can hope to see different species on repeat visits to the same place during the year.
Flowers: Not all butterflies fit the classic image of visiting flowers to sip nectar some species are rarely or never seen at flowers. Still, to get started, the easiest way to find butterflies is to find a good patch of blooms in a garden or meadow, or by a roadside. Some flowers seem to be more attractive than others, and some butterflies prefer certain types of flowers, so it pays to look in a variety of places.
Mud: Males of some butterflies, including blues, swallowtails, and sulphurs, are strongly attracted to damp soil. They are apparently taking in salts and other chemicals from the mud. Sometimes these puddle parties” involve several species and hundreds of individuals, while at other times only a few individuals will be present, but you should always check puddles and pond edges for the presence of butterflies.
Other baits: Many butterflies are attracted to odd things such as flowing sap, rotting fruit, or animal dung. (This is especially true of some species that tend to ignore flowers, such as the Goatweed Leafwing and the Question Mark.)
Aside from these feeding behaviors, adult butterflies put most of their energy into activities related to reproduction. Males spend a lot of time looking for females; females spend much time looking for the right places to lay their eggs. Knowing their behaviors can help you find them.
Hilltopping: Male butterflies of some species look for mates by flying to the top of a hill and patrolling or waiting there for the females to show up. If we check the tops of low hills, especially from late morning to afternoon, we may see butterflies that are hard to find in the surrounding country.
Patrolling: Males of other species fly back and forth along linear pathways, such as trails or gullies, looking for females. They may come back time after time to the same perches, allowing for repeated views.
Foodplants: Many butterflies are closely tied to the plants on which their larvae feed. Hessel’s Hairstreaks are seldom seen away from Atlantic white cedars; Square-spotted Blues are usually seen sitting on buckwheats. A skilled lepidopterist is often able to find particular butterflies by learning to recognize their larval foodplants.
THE BUTTERFLY’S LIFE CYCLE The amazing process of metamorphosis the butterfly’s transition from egg to caterpillar to pupa to winged adult is well known and fairly well understood, but it is still rightly regarded as a miracle.
The process begins with the egg laid by the adult female on or near the plants that will serve as food for the caterpillars. Most butterfly caterpillars cannot survive on the wrong plants, so the adult’s choice of where to lay her eggs is critically important. But given the right plant, the caterpillar or larva (plural: larvae) is a little eating machine, and as it grows it passes through about five stages, or instars, each one larger than the last. Because the larva’s skin can stretch only so far, it sheds its skin each time it passes to the next instar. The last time it sheds its skin, it reveals not a larger larva but the next phase in its life, the pupa (plural: pupae). The pupa, also called the chrysalis, is the stage in which the larva is transformed into the adult butterfly. Unlike many moths, most butterflies do not spin a protective cocoon; their pupa is smoot...
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