Larry Weber: Late-season butterflies
Early October is a time of change and we see plenty of it. Most obvious are the large numbers of trees that now are dropping their leaves after such a colorful show. Usually most of the deciduous trees are bare by mid- month and we'll not see the...
Early October is a time of change and we see plenty of it. Most obvious are the large numbers of trees that now are dropping their leaves after such a colorful show. Usually most of the deciduous trees are bare by mid- month and we'll not see their foliage again until mid-May. But many other changes are happening too.
It is not uncommon to experience chilly frosty mornings, some ice and even snow flurries-or the opposite. October frequently gives us clear pleasant days with temperatures that reach to the mid 60s or above. Such mild weather calls us out for a pleasing autumn stroll and also brings out plenty of other critters.
Best seen now are the migrating diverse sparrow species, robin and blackbird flocks, along with the loud geese.
Also squirrels, chipmunks and bears prepare for the coming cold. Snakes and frogs move towards hibernation sites. And many kinds of insects appear in our yards, fields and meadows as well. So many and so active, we might wonder where they all went during the cold times. But they are here.
On a recent walk through an unmowed hillside out in the afternoon sun, I saw two kinds of dragonflies: large darners and small
meadowhawks, along with grasshoppers and their cousins, the locusts. Crickets were chirping and I heard one katydid. Ladybugs were in flight to hibernacula of their own. And I saw a
couple of kinds of butterflies.
By the time we get to mid-October, the butterfly season is long gone. A few are still active. As a bit of a surprise, I recently found a monarch still on wing. Its thousand-mile journey was hardly begun by this late date. Others out now include those that overwinter as adults. This group includes many angle-wings that have such interesting names as comma, question mark, tortoise shell and mourning cloak.
Mourning cloaks, with their dark wings (nearly black) with light bands on the edges, are fairly common this year. Also flying around in the October sunlight are the yellow sulphur butterflies. Unlike the angle-wings, these yellow ones do not hibernate and what we are seeing now is the last generation that matured and emerged late in the season. Depending on the year, sulphurs may have as many as five generations. This becomes more impressive when we see that typically in our region, butterflies have only one or two broods.
Flitting around in fall, the sulphurs are able to find nectar on the late blooming flowers of alfalfa, red clover, sweetclover, asters and goldenrods.
But now even these few blossoms are fading and the yellow butterflies that we see now are not going to last long. They'll find the proper plants, lay eggs and die. We may see a few more, but these well-loved insects are nearly all gone and not to be seen again until next April.
Larry Weber is auhor of "The Backyard Almanac." He lives in Carlon County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.