Sunday, March 2, 2014

Coming soon to a land near you...

Spring is just around the corner, the daffodils are starting to bloom around town, and the crocuses on my porch are about to bloom.  Yes, I'm in southwest Washington and I know the other side of the Cascades is still blanketed in frost and snow, but even in those colder places some butterflies, such as the Moss' Elfin (Callophrys mossii), are known to emerge in late February or March when patches of snow are still on the ground.  The first butterfly of the year in Washington was reported on Friday in Seattle, a Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) taking advantage of the sunny day to stretch her wings.  Several butterfly species, such as Milbert's Tortoiseshell, overwinter as adults and are often the first butterflies observed on warm days in late winter and early spring.  Other species, such as Echo Blue and Moss' Elfin, overwinter as pupae and are some of the first butterflies to emerge as fresh adults.  On sunny days when the temperatures start to climb, keep an eye out for some of the butterflies pictured here.

Many nymphalids, such as tortoiseshells and anglewings, overwinter as adults.  The following species are often the first butterflies seen each year in Washington.
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) at Reecer Canyon, Kittitas County, WA
Compton's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis l-album) sipping water at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.
It is larger and has a distinct white mark on the leading edge of each wing, compared to California Tortoiseshell (see below).
California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), dorsal view
California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), ventral view
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus) at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.  It is generally brighter orange dorsally and very brown ventrally, compared to the Green Anglewing (see below).
Green Anglewing (Polygonia faunus) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Green Anglewing (Polygonia faunus) at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.  It has two rows of sea green spots along the ventral wing margins and is darker than the Satyr Anglewing (see above).
Some butterfly species overwinter as pupae, allowing adults to emerge very early in the spring.  Examples of species you might see in Washington are shown here.
The Two-banded Checkered Skipper is very small and easy to miss, often appearing as a large fly or bee quickly buzzing about close to the ground, searching for low-growing flowers and mates.
Two-banded Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis), dorsal view
Two-banded Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis), ventral view
Margined Whites (Pieris marginalis, not pictured), Spring Whites and Sara's Orangetips are usually the first pierids (whites and sulphurs) to emerge in spring, sometimes in early March.  Margined Whites are common in forested areas of Western Washington, with smaller populations in the northeast and southeast corners of the state, while Spring Whites are found in drier, shrub-steppe habitats from the east slopes of the Cascades through eastern Washington and Oregon.  Sara's Orangetips are found throughout Washington and Oregon but are absent from most of the coast.
Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii), dorsal view
Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii), dorsal view
Sara's Orangetip (Anthocharis sara) basking in the sun at Deschutes River Canyon near Maupin, OR
Sheridan's Green Hairstreak is often the first butterfly to emerge in shrub-steppe habitats, sometimes competing for the early record with Spring Whites and Sara's Orangetips.  This and other green hairstreak species are generally called "greenies" by lepidopterists, and are mostly gray but have a beautiful dusting of sea green scales on the undersides of their wings, flashing emerald in the sunlight.
Sheridan's Green Hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii) nectaring on desert parsley (Lomatium sp.) in Deschutes River Canyon near Maupin, OR
Echo Blues are usually the first butterfly I see each year near my home in Cowlitz County, only occasionally beaten by the Margined White that emerges around the same time.
Echo Blues (Celastrina echo) gathering minerals from mud near the Lewis River, Clark County, WA
Echo Blues (Celastrina echo) gathering minerals from mud near the Lewis River, Clark County, WA
If you have seen any butterflies this year, please comment on this post and let me know where and when!


  1. We're in Bellingham, WA. We found two Mourning Cloak butterflies in our garage about a week ago. There was just one and we didn't look close, just thought it was a moth, then today there were two and we realized they were acting more like butterflies (Identified them with your blog). Caught them and took them outside. One flew away immediately, the other seemed a little weak and tired so we put it in a sheltered place with a very shallow dish of water and a chunk of apple (it was all we had in the way of less than fresh fruit). They are a very beautiful butterfly!

    1. That's neat! I'm glad you were able to ID it from my blog, shows I'm doing my job! Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults, and they often seek shelter in garages and sheds. The one that appeared weak was probably still in the hibernation state. Sometimes they appear to be dead. The weather is getting warm enough now that I'm sure it will be fine, but next time would probably be better off to leave it be and just keep an eye on it. As long as it's in a protected place where a mouse can't get it, once it wakes up it would either find its way out of the garage, or you'd see it fluttering in a window and could let it go. Often they will venture out and fly in warm weather for a day or two, even in winter, then go back into hibernation.