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Notes from the Naturalist!

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These Painted Lady butterflies are the most widely distributed butterfly. They are not found in Antarctica or Australia.
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These White Admiral butterflies can have varying shades of blue and sometimes white on their wings

By Lauren Veach

June flowers bring July butterflies. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Anyway, this column will contain three common butterflies frequently seen out and about. However, there are many more you will have to come out to Summit Lake State Park and see for yourself. 

First of all, I want to clarify what a butterfly is because many times they get confused for moths and vice versa. Moths are typically nocturnal while butterflies are diurnal. Moths also typically have duller colored wings that rest at their sides while butterflies have brightly-colored wings that rest standing straight up. Butterflies also have straight clubbed antennae, while moths have saw-toothed feathery antennae. Now that we have that cleared up, it’s on to some common butterflies!

First is the painted lady butterfly. This butterfly is orange-brown with many black and white spots on the upperside of the wings. We see them so often in the prairie because their host plants mainly consist of thistles. Even as adults they enjoy the nectar of prairie plants such as asters, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed and joe-pye weed. This butterfly is also called the thistle butterfly because of its food source, or the cosmopolitan, because it is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world. It is found everywhere except Antarctica and Australia.

Second is the white admiral. The name is very misleading. This butterfly is actually black and blue on the upperside and brown with orange dots on the underside. It is also called red spotted purple or red spotted emperor. These butterflies have evolved to mimic the poisonous pipevine swallowtail to avoid getting eaten. However, this has led to a hybridization of the white admiral and the pipevine swallowtail creating many different variations of blue on the white admirals’ wings. Host plants for the white admiral are mainly species of trees and shrubs instead of flowers like the painted lady. As an adult they eat sap flows, rotting fruit, carrion and dung.

Lastly, we have the spring and summer azure. The spring azure is out during the spring and is a light purple color. The summer azure is out during the summer and is almost all white. These can be distinguished by their flight time either being spring or summer. Both butterflies select mainly dogwood and viburnum as their host plants. As an adult they feed on flower nectar from dogbane, blackberry, common milkweed and many more.

Indiana has a project going on to collect information on butterflies and moths. All you have to do is join the Facebook page IN Nature and upload your photos! This helps document their distribution and flight times in Indiana.

Lauren Veach is the interpretative naturalist for Summit Lake State Park. You may contact her with questions or comments at LVeach@dnr.in.gov.