A while back I wrote a couple blog entries about monarchs and eastern tiger swallowtails—two of the most colorful, largest, and flashiest species of butterflies I’ve encountered at Nature Boardwalk. However, I don’t want to overlook all the smaller butterflies sporting relatively subdued color schemes. These little guys are just as lovely, and they’re a lot easier to come across at the pond. Here’s an introduction to some of the most common species I encounter at Nature Boardwalk.
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
True to their name, cabbage white caterpillars eat cabbage, in addition to some similar plants. For this reason, they are sometimes considered to be a pest. Lucky for us, we don’t have any cabbages at Nature Boardwalk that we’re trying to protect for harvest, so we’re happy to host them here! Look for small white butterflies with a dark smudge mark at the upper corner of the wing. You’ll have to look for them in flight, as they seem to land rarely compared to many other butterfly species.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
These caterpillars eat thistle, an undesirable weed, so we look fondly upon painted lady butterflies. Look for medium-sized butterflies with reddish-orange coloration on the wings closer to the body, fading to white towards the wing tips. The entire wing surface is mottled with black spots and patterns.
Clouded Sulfur (Colias philodice)
This butterfly is related to the cabbage whites introduced above. Like the cabbage whites, clouded sulfur caterpillars eat some crop plants and may be considered a pest. However, I’m always happy to see these brightly colored yellow butterflies with a thick band of black trim. In case you were wondering, there is also a type of butterfly called a cloudless sulfur, which has less black coloration.
Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Just today a visitor to Nature Boardwalk asked me, “What are the butterflies with the large spots on the wings that looks like eyes?” Luckily for me, this butterfly has an easy name to remember. “They’re called buckeye butterflies,” I said. The visitor replied, “Well that makes sense!” These butterflies are all over the prairie grasses right now at Nature Boardwalk. With those big iridescent eyespots, you can’t miss them.