We like observing butterflies because they capture our attention with the fluttering of color as they pass by us. The blues, greens, and bright yellows advertise their presence and call attention to their beauty. On these pages we will learn about observing their life cycle, their families and how to attract them to our gardens and backyards. Once we learn what they need to live, we will know where to find them. And butterflying or butterfly watching can begin.
This page connects to pages on this blog and the internet for studying and observing butterflies.
The Six Butterfly Families in North America
There are six butterflies families that occur over much of North America. These families are grouped by wing vein patterns, color, and how the adult sits or perches. Each family has a general impression, size and shape. Deciding the family is the first step in identification.
Learning the most common butterflies will allow you to know species in most of North America.
- The Six Butterfly Families and Identifying Butterflies – An Overview
- The Swallowtail Family
- The Whites and Sulphur Family
- The Gossamer Wing or Hairstreaks and Blues Family
- The Metalmarks Family
- The Brushfoots Family
- The Skippers Family
A Butterfly’s Life Cycle
The butterfly goes through four stages in its life cycle. It is an insect that goes through a complete metamorphosis.
It completely changes from an egg to a larva, to a chrysalis, to an adult.
The colorful flier is the adult and final form of the insect. It starts life as a tiny egg, which hatches into an equally tiny larva (caterpillar). The caterpillar eats until it grows many times larger. Then the caterpillar goes thorough, a miraculous transformation. This brightly colored worm-like creature, shields itself in a chrysalis, then liquefies its body parts and transforms its tissues into the amazing fluttering adult we love to see. But the life cycle is short. Some adults live a few days to a few weeks. Their primary activities comprise sipping moisture, mating and laying eggs. Not bad work if you can get it. The brief life is a drawback, though.
- Butterfly Egg and Where to Find It
- The Caterpillar
- Chrysalis Into Butterfly (The butterfly life cycle)
- The Adult Butterfly
Where to Find Butterflies
To find them, you need to go where the butterflies are. And to do that, you need to know what they are searching for. Spring is the time when adult butterflies first make their appearance. Spring butterflies are often those that hibernate over the winter. They need nectar or moisture to sip and a place to hide from harsh weather or predators. Females need places to lay eggs. Adults like open areas full of nectar and host plants, not densely forested areas.
Look for butterfly eggs on larval host plants and adult butterflies on nectar-rich plants. We can often find adult butterflies on the ground (on sand or gravel) sipping water and minerals.
Observing Butterflies in Your Garden
You can trek far-afield to find and watch these captivating fliers or you can draw them to you. Attracting butterflies by gardening is a delightful and rewarding pastime. Simply plant the top nectar plants, host plants, and create the elements they need to thrive. You may want to grow host plants for the most common species in North America. Provide it and they will come.
Studying and Observing
There is a certain knack to sitting quietly and observing. The colors you where can attract these insects in a good way or a bad way. Move slowly. Sudden movements often scare off nervously fluttering adults. And remember to look down and think small. Butterflies live on a smaller, lower level than humans.
A Lifetime of Fascination
Butterflies are fascinating. And with so many species, studying can easily become a lifelong pursuit. We have gone over some areas we need to know to learn about them. We have touched on learning families, life cycles and what they need to live. And studying, observing, attracting and gardening can all go hand in hand. You don’t have to travel to distant places to study butterflies. Nature study can take place in your own backyard.
More Butterfly Information on the Internet
Entomological Society of America (for amateur and professionals)
Entomological Foundation (for grammar school children)