Thanks to The Transmutational Gardener for hosting the Butterfly Bucket List, a new wildlife blogging event all about butterflies I am looking forward to learning a lot. A lot — because I am starting pretty much from zero here.
In fact, I was feeling a little hesitant about contributing because not only do I know so little about butterflies but I really struggle with photographing them. (Therefore: turn away now if you are looking for reliable information or great photos!)
Bordered Patch Butterfly aka Sunflower Patch Butterfly
The Bordered Patch Butterfly is a really common butterfly around here. Since the caterpillars eat the leaves of daisies, sunflowers and ragweed which are all plants that literally grow everywhere like weeds, they rarely go hungry. The imagos have multiple flights throughout the year meaning one can even see them in the winter if the temperatures have been mild.
But you know: it is an orange butterfly. There are more than 200 species of orange butterflies just in Texas alone. Learning to identify butterflies feels a bit daunting. How can I tell this is a bordered patch butterfly and not something else?
I suspect there is a special circle of hell where nature lovers who have been naughty go when they die. In that place they are surrounded by orange butterflies, little brown birds and yellow composite daisies. Every day there is a high stakes exam testing them on their identification skills.
Scenario: Subject is tied to uncomfortable plastic lawn chair.
Demon: Look closely at the photo. Identify the butterfly. You have 5 seconds to respond.
Poor Unfortunate Soul (bead of sweat forming at the brow): Is it a Checkerspot Butterfly?
Demon: Bah. Idiot! Your punishment is to listen to Rush Limbaugh for one hour. You will wear the high definition headphones to better appreciate the spittle.
So colour will be an inadequate clue. It gets worse. Some species, like this one, are known to be wildly variable. So here’s what I learned:
Step one: Skip over the blob around the thorax that looks vaguely like a Rorschach test item. Step two: Look for white spots. The white spots running along the wing edge and along the orange bits could possibly be used as a kind of field mark or start point. The only other butterflies I know of that have white spots like that (and yeah, I realize that isn’t saying much) are the checkerspots I’ve seen. Checkerspots and the bordered patch butterfly belong to the same genus — Chlosyne — for my purposes that is close enough and an ok place to begin.
So note to self: look for a border of white spots. Ah. Maybe that is how it got the name ‘bordered’ patch. The spots border the orange patches.
As I learned all this lovely nerd lore and contemplated my eventual fate I also found out that the bordered patch butterfly is a member of the True Brush-foot (Nymphalinae) group of butterflies. A large group — it includes pretty much all of the butterflies I can name.
If you look at these butterflies sideways it kind of looks like they only have four legs because their forelegs are tiny. Picture T-Rex arms and you’ll get the idea. Those front legs are used as sense organs — probably for smelling and tasting things. That lovely characteristic makes them easier than some other butterflies to see and photograph. After they land on a flower they have a tendency to rotate in a circle as they do whatever it is they are doing. Eating, laying eggs, independently inventing the calculus, plotting world domination …. I do not actually know.
I do know that I am grateful for those moments — otherwise I’d never get any pictures at all.