Butterfly numbers increase as plants bloom during spring. Redbud, plum, willow, dewberry, and thistle are early attractions. Later in the season, butterflies nectar on sparkleberry, blueberry, several milkweeds, butterfly pea, and more. Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park, Wakulla Springs State Park, the Bear Creek Educational Forest, and Angus K. Gholson Jr. Nature Park are among the many local sites where butterflies find such flowers.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails
Some butterflies only fly in spring. Banded Hairstreaks are seen from late April through May; Little Wood-Satyrs usually from late March through May. However, most species have a first brood in spring then additional broods later in the year. Pipevine Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails generally are out by March. Some female Tigers have a dark gray background color, rather than yellow. They gain protection from predators by mimicking the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail, as do other dark swallowtails with blue on their hindwings.
First-brood Red Admirals and Southern Dogfaces add more color to the season. The latter’s pale poodle head complete with a black eyespot, silhouetted against a darker background, is visible even through the closed wings. Territorial male Zabulon Skippers wait on leaves in patches of sunlight along forest trails to chase away rivals and to pursue any females that pass by.
Adult butterflies drink nectar from many different plants, but their caterpillars usually can eat the leaves or flowers of just a few kinds, sometimes only one. Other plants don’t provide the right nutrients, or the caterpillar can’t handle their physical and chemical defenses. After mating, female butterflies search for just the right plants on which to lay eggs. The caterpillars will then have a suitable food supply at their feet immediately after hatching.
Text by David Harder and photographs by Brian Lloyd, both members of the Hairstreak Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.