Since the beginning of May, there have been butterflies. The first to emerge were the Spring Azures, a small powdery blue butterfly that could hide with its wings open under a dime.
They flit through the woods and around rocky areas like a piece of tissue paper caught in the
breeze. On those rare occasions when you see one land, you’ll notice they sit with their wings closed. The wing bottoms are dusty brown with darker spots. What gives away that it is a
Spring Azure and not one of the closely related species is the splotches of darker color the wings blending into the spots.
Mourning Cloaks also have been flying around. This distinctive butterfly is much larger; its wingspan is more than 3 inches. Although less common than Spring Azures, the Mourning Cloak catches your attention more easily. This butterfly is dark, almost black, with yellow wing edges. As it flies erratically along you’ll see flashes of black and white.
Maine is home to approximately 130 kinds of butterflies. Many are small, drab creatures you’d walk right by without noticing. For example, there are 33 species of Skipper butterflies in Maine and if you see them you’d likely mistake them for moths.
If it is active during the day, it’s probably a butterfly. The old rule that butterflies rest with their wings open and moths with wings closed isn’t true. Many butterflies rest with their wings closed. This all but makes them disappear on a leaf or twig. Most Maine butterflies have bright wing tops and dull wing bottoms. In some cases, its hard to believe its the same butterfly.
Both Spring Azure and Mourning Cloak butterflies hibernate through the winter as adults, giving them a leg up on other butterflies each spring. Butterfly species that overwinter as eggs or in cocoons need more time before they can emerge. Also, most butterflies time their emergence with their, or their larvaes’, food source. There’s no point in being around if there’s nothing to eat. Most butterflies are only around as adults for a short while each year. From now until frost in the fall, you will see a succession of butterflies. Some, many of the best known and most common butterflies, are around most of the summer. The Cabbage White, an import from Europe, is one of Maine’s most common butterflies. It can be found along roadsides, in yards, even along the rocky coast. One flew across my yard the other day, already looking for something to feed its larvae in the vegetable garden.
It’s not important to be able to identify every butterfly you see to enjoy them. After all, many species are so similar in appearance that experts often resort to peering at them through
strong magnifying lenses or even capturing them to examine in the lab.
The other day I saw a Comma butterfly fly past me in the yard. This is another species that hibernates through the winter as adults. There are six kinds of Comma butterflies in Maine. I have no idea which one it was, but just enjoyed watching this orange butterfly make its way erratically across the yard and back into the woods.
My day was better for seeing it, even if I didn’t get close enough to tell what kind of Comma butterfly it was.