During this peak of the growing season I have seen monarch, great spangled fritillary and red-spotted purple, to name just a few of the many butterfly species on the wing.
It’s almost impossible to look anywhere in a flower garden or alfalfa field without seeing at least one butterfly bouncing along on an erratic flight, or, in the chase of a monarch, a steady glide.
We think of butterflies as part of the summer scene, flitting lazily about in the warm sunshine.
In Minnesota we have 172 species of butterflies, only nine of which spend winter in the adult stage. By early to mid-July, the hackberry and viceroy butterflies are out, sulphur butterflies are quite numerous over fields of alfalfa hay in bloom, and monarchs are increasing. These attractive insects are seen as the expression of all things tranquil and ethereal, but butterflies are capable of some pretty eccentric behavior.
In defending their territories, some butterflies can be quite aggressive, even though the adults with their strawlike mouths can’t bite. The pearl crescent and red admiral will establish a territory and will dart out at anything that strays into it, be it a dog, cat, bird or human.
Butterflies may appear even more colorful to each other than they do to us. They are thought to possess the broadest known visual spectrum on Earth. Many species have ultraviolet wing patches that are invisible to humans but obvious to potential mates.
The butterfly’s sense of taste and smell are remarkably acute and vital to its feeding and mating. Some butterflies walk on their food as their taste organs are located on the soles of their feet.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.