Basking with the Butterflies
Only recently have I noticed that different species of butterflies have different travel patterns and favorite locations.
Goatweed Butterflies fly like birds – quick, direct, like they have somewhere to get in a hurry. And when they land, they stay put for a while. (If you click on the pictures, you can see a larger image.)
Red Admirals seem to like the shady parts of the woods. There are a few spots where they turn up every day for a week or so. They like to land on the sheep, and also flutter in big circles to check me out, sometimes landing on my forehead for just a second.
White-striped Longtails move in what I think of as a typical butterfly pattern — fluttering a few feet and settling down on a likely plant for a few minutes. I usually see them on zinnias — I’m not sure what this one was looking for on this dead plant, but I loved the way its wings echoed the curlicues of those leaves.
Carolina Satyrs and Little Wood Satyrs stay down low in the shade. There are usually a dozen or more together, and they seem to lift and swirl like tiny dead leaves blowing in a dust devil. The minute I choose one to focus on, it sweeps away, and lands just out of range.
Sulphurs drive me crazy, because they flutter all around like overwhelmed kids at a county fair midway — “Oh, a clover, maybe I’ll land there, no, that wild onion flower looks much better, no, on second thought there’s definitely something off about that flower, how about that piece of grass just like every other piece of grass, but way way over there, no, I think that human is following me, I guess I’ll fly way up high where she can’t get me, oh, she turned away, it’s probably safe to land on that clover….” No other butterfly has been as hard for me to capture in a picture. And with sulphurs, I really need a picture, to be able to detect the small marks that help me identify it accurately.
But then I read some facts that gave me a greater appreciation for them:
A strong flier, the cloudless sulphur migrates far beyond its normal year-round range. A native from Argentina through tropical America to the southern states, it moves northward in the spring and summer. Breeding as it goes, it may even reach the Canadian border. Most of these migrants perish with the cold, but as autumn approaches, some of the last brood begin a return migration, arriving back in the South to survive the winter. Brown and Heineman also report large flights of cloudless sulphurs hundreds of miles out over the Caribbean Sea, perhaps moving from island to island or striking out for South America. (John and Gloria Tveten, Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas.)
Well, no wonder they can’t decide where to settle down in my pasture. They have bigger travels on their minds!