The Nature Nerd

Atlantis fritillaries. Submitted photo.

Atlantis fritillaries. Submitted photo.

Butterflies are a charming part of summer here in the Northwoods. In some parts of the world butterflies can be seen the year around. But here butterflies can be seen only five or six months of the year. Enjoy them while you can!

One of our most scenic and entertaining groups of butterflies are the fritillaries. They have orange and black markings and are strong fliers. We have 10 species of fritillaries in our Northwoods. They vary in size and in the details of their markings. The most common is the Atlantis fritillary. Many of our fritillaries are very common and frequently are seen on flowers as adults. Their caterpillars rarely are noticed, most feed on violets. Sometimes fritillaries are mistaken for monarchs. Monarchs have a simple pattern of radiating black lines. Fritillaries have more of a checkering pattern of black and orange.

Quick darting flight is a common feature of most of the fritillaries. Sometimes the seemingly erratic flight of butterflies is taken as a sign of lack of control or lack of intelligence. Do not be fooled. There is a genius to the manner of butterfly flight: try to catch one! Even with a net they are hard to catch. Though you might occasionally see a bird try to chase a butterfly, most do not. They learn early that butterflies are hard to catch. Sometimes a bird will succeed in nipping at the wing of a butterfly, but fragments of a butterfly’s wing break away easily, and the butterfly flies away as if nothing happened! Butterflies still can fly with major parts of their wings missing.

We have about 75 kinds of butterflies in our Northwoods. They vary greatly in color and size. The monarch has a wingspan of about five inches. Other butterflies, called the skippers, only have wingspans of about one inch. The Atlantis fritillary has a wingspan of about three inches.

Learning all 75 species of butterflies is a challenge. However, if you really want a challenge try learning our moths. We have more than 1,000 kinds of moths in our Northwoods! In fact, however, nobody really knows just how many moths we have here. There might even be species in our midst that never have been described by science. That is the way it is with insects; the variety is difficult to comprehend. That is part of what makes insects so interesting.

It is impossible to know them all. There always is, and will be, something new!

So, if there are one or two thousand species of moths here, how many kinds of insects are here in total? One can only guess. Likely, the total number of insect species here in the Northwoods is in the tens of thousands of species. Now, when you consider these thousands and thousands of insect species, learning 75 species of butterflies doesn’t seem so bad!

Jerry McCormick lives in Virginia, MN. He is a retired natural resources professional and is a self-described nature nerd.

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