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Northland Nature: Have fun spotting the four kinds of brown butterflies

July is a month of maturing. The growth that was so prevalent last month now reaches the next step. Bird nests that held eggs (and then nestlings) are now abandoned as the young, wearing coats of feathers and known as "fledglings," are out on nea...

Flying Flowers
Not as colorful as we expect from these "flying flowers," brown butterflies silently add their glow to these summer days as well. Submitted photo

July is a month of maturing. The growth that was so prevalent last month now reaches the next step. Bird nests that held eggs (and then nestlings) are now abandoned as the young, wearing coats of feathers and known as "fledglings," are out on nearby sites.

Songs of these same birds during June are lessened at this time and we hear the chips and squeaks from hungry youth that still are not able to fend for themselves.

But this growing up is seen elsewhere too. I see it now with butterflies. July is the month of these colorful insects in the Northland.

Not only do we see more kinds during these summer days, but the population peak is also now. Those that developed as caterpillars or emerged from the chrysalis in recent weeks now take flight and visit many of the roadside and field wild flowers that abound at this time. A serious searcher can find 15 to 20 kinds on a clear day in July.

The well-known monarchs flit among flowers, pausing at milkweeds to deposit eggs. Other orange-black butterflies about now are crescents, checkerspots, fritillaries and a couple of anglewings.

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A few of the large black-yellow tiger swallowtails are still active too. White and yellow is noted with the cabbage and sulfur butterflies.

There are also a few butterflies seen now that lack these bold patterns. When first seeing brown butterflies, many observers think they are moths.

Drab-colored moths are very common, but, in our region during this month, we have four kinds of brown butterflies flitting about as well.

Though none of this summer quartet carry bright colors on their wings, all do hold other patterns. Each kind has circular spots on the wings; commonly referred to as "eyespots."

Most likely such adornment tends to confuse the would-be predators. And unlike most butterflies, this brown group is less likely to go for nectar in flowers -- taking nutrition from rotten fruit, berries and dung instead. We may just as likely see them in the woods as in open flowering sites.

First to arrive in mid to late June is the smallest: the wood satyr. Even with wings spread, they stretch only about 1.5 inches. Six black spots, circled with yellow, can be seen above; about 10 show up when these small butterflies close their wings.

As we reach July, two others appear. Darker and larger than the little wood satyr is the northern pearly eye. The 2-inch brown wings hold nearly 20 black spots above and below. Those on the underside are circled with yellow and have a white center: a "pearly eye." Frequently in the woods, I have seen them come to wet clothes hung outdoors.

Common ringlets, also here in July, have more of an orange pattern on their forewings. Wings carry one eyespot, readily seen as they sit in their usual pose with wings closed.

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Late this month, the largest and darkest of the four is seen. Common wood nymphs may appear to be black, but, when we get a closer view of their 3-inch wings, we see they are dark brown with many eyespots. Often spots on the forewings are in a large white zone.

Not as colorful as we expect from these "flying flowers," brown butterflies silently add their glow to these summer days as well.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now: "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods." Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com .

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