Written by Colleen Wolpert
Welcome to National Moth Week! We are kicking this week off with Part 2 of our "Love those Leps" blog.
One can’t tell the difference between a butterfly and moth by color or what time they fly. There are colorful moths and drab looking butterflies. There are moths that fly all day long and not just when disturbed. Both can have spots that look like eyes and are used to scare off predators as seen in the photos of Buckeye butterfly photographed by Renee DePrato and Polyphemus moth photographed by John Baumlin. Many caterpillars have false eye spots as well.
Many caterpillars have false eye spots as well as is seen in this Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar photographed by John Baumlin that was featured in our May 31st Macro blog.
Swallowtail species are some of our largest local butterflies. They typically come in variations of black and yellow, although we do get the occasional Pipevine Swallowtail as in this image by John Connors. These butterflies are attracted by the Pipevines that shade the porches of some older homes in Owego.
The newest to our area are the Giant Swallowtails. In this photo submitted by Kelly Frederick Sweet this group is puddling to feed on minerals. Males especially require these minerals for sexual development. The males of most species of leps eclose first in order to develop sexually as well as have the advantage of finding a female quickly.
This is most obvious in Great Spangled Fritillaries. The photo submitted by Diana Meyn appears to be a female GSF, because of her darker coloring. The males of this species are seen flying as much as a couple of weeks in June before the females. They die off and the females wait until later in the summer to start laying eggs among violets. There is only one generation of Great Spangled Fritillaries and the caterpillars hatch but don’t feed until spring. Meadow Fritillaries have multiple broods.
Half-grown Viceroy caterpillars overwinter in a leaf shelter they create that resembles a sleeping bag open at one end. They are related to White Admirals and Red-spotted Purples, but resemble a Monarch. One can tell the Viceroy by the line on its hindwing and its flat glide as opposed to the dihedral (V) glide of a Monarch. You can see the difference in the markings of the Viceroy as in Gina Vaughan's image and the Monarch photographed by Sarah Darling-Jones.
Caterpillars have many ways to protect themselves either with the plants they choose to eat or by how their bodies are designed. Some digest plants that contain toxins. Others hide in plants that sting or have prickers.
Caterpillars can sting as well as make one itch like the Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar seen in Gina Vaughan’ s photo. It is best to identify a caterpillar before you handle it.
Contrarily, this Mourning Cloak caterpillar photographed by Cheryl DiGiacomo may look harmful due to its spiky appearance, however it is perfectly harmless. One can tell if a larvae will turn into a lep or something else like a sawfly by counting their prolegs, the ones that help caterpillars hold on to plants. In Cheryl's Mourning Cloak caterpillar photo one can see the set of 3 (pairs) of true legs that will become butterfly legs and the set of 5 prolegs (4 are obvious and the anal proleg is on the end). If there are more than 5 pairs of prolegs than the larva is something other than a lep, with an occasional exception.
This is the second of our two-part Lepidoptera series written by Colleen Wolpert. Check the link above for more if you missed Part 1.
About the Author
Long-time lepidoptera enthusiast, Colleen Wolpert has introduced butterflies and moths into her practice as a Clinical Social Worker. Her ground-breaking methods of teaching children how to befriend butterflies has helped children and families to connect socially as well as with nature. Colleen has been very active with local natural history organizations, including Waterman Center, in many roles. She leads nature walks, gives talks, writes articles and has taught a number of butterfly and moth workshops. At her home, Colleen works to cultivate her own backyard habitat to provide an environment conducive to butterflies and moths throughout their life cycle.