Change your scenery, change your fauna

Posted August 19th, 2011 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

Habitat and its importance have been trumpeted in this space for years now. We’ve shown how intertwined plant and animal species are with their place in the world, with an emphasis on bird life. Last weekend I was reminded that it works for butterflies too.

Most people don’t see butterflies beyond what shows up to feed on the nectar of the flowers they might have in their yards. Yet whole suites of butterflies exist out there beyond our concrete and dandelion jungles. Walk through a grassland sometime and you’ll see skippers and fritillaries and wood nymphs, species you won’t get in your normal backyard. And enter the trees; again entire families of unfamiliar butterflies emerge from the dappled shadows to the delight of seekers.

I happen to spot this eastern comma (Polygonia comma) last weekend and realized I hadn’t seen one yet this year. This species is one from the family Nymphalidae, otherwise known as the brushfoots. It includes lots of familiar ones like monarch, red admiral, and pearl crescent. Why brushfoot? So called because of the reduced foreleg pairs, which gives them an almost 4-legged appearance.

Here’s a hint for attracting unusual butterflies to your place: think food, but think outside the box. Most folks are unaware that many butterfly species feed not on nectar, but on rotting fruit, tree sap, and dung. Yes, dung. With little effort I usually put out some used watermelon or cantalope rinds. Inevitably commas, red admirals, mourning cloaks and other non-nectar feeders find them. Kinda cool. The other popular spot which might be hard to replicate is a rather large cut branch from a certain tree of mine suffering from fire blight. The cut oozes sap and the brushfoots congregate daily. Amazing stuff.

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