A few years ago I decided to learn how to identify butterflies. I didn’t really know how many species were out there, but I knew there were yellow ones, white ones, little orange and black ones. Swallowtails I knew because they always visited our lilacs in the spring. But what else? I bought a field guide. Opening it up, I was soon amazed by the diversity of butterfly species in my province. They had names I had never heard before – fritillaries, metalmarks, coppers, checkerspots, orangetips, hairstreaks. And more amazingly, before I even identified my first butterfly, I was seeing them everywhere. They had always been there, of course, but I had never looked for them before, and so I had never truly seen them. Simply by studying the field guide and making myself aware of what to look for, I became a better observer.
I saw this elegantly patterned butterfly while at the lake where I stacked stones. I’m fairly certain it’s a crescent (genus Phyciodes), but I can’t go further than that, because many species in this genus look very similar. I’m leaning towards the Field Crescent (Phyciodes pulchella) because of the general darkness of the wings, yet it could easily be a different species. John Acorn, author of my field guide to butterflies (Butterflies of British Columbia, published by Lone Pine) remarks that crescents are a difficult group and advises butterfly watchers to, “Take a deep breath, write ‘unidentified crescent’ in your notes, and live in harmony with the complexity of nature.” This is often the state I am in with butterflies, and I am perfectly okay with that.
I discovered this sulphur resting in our lawn a few weeks ago. Usually these butterflies are difficult to photograph because they fly quickly and rarely alight for more than a second. I thought that this one must be dying, so I moved it to another part of our yard so it wouldn’t get stepped on. But then it flew back to its original spot! What was it doing? The caterpillars feed on clover, which we have a lot of in our lawn, so I thought it might have been looking for a place to lay its eggs. To me it looks more like a male than a female, though, so I really don’t know. I did, however, take some photos and observe it much more closely than I’m usually able to do with sulphurs. I’m fairly sure that this butterfly is a Clouded Sulphur, Colias philodice. The diagnostic features are those faint dark spots on the margin of the wing – only one other species in my area (the Orange Sulphur) has those markings. Because the light is shining through the butterfly’s wings in the photo, you can also see the dark borders on the inside of the wings. These butterflies rarely open their wings while they are perched, so it is usually difficult to see these markings.
This last one is not a butterfly at all, but a moth! I discovered this moth on the rails of our fence early one morning. Because moths tend to have thicker and furrier bodies and heads than butterflies do, I actually thought it was a bat when I first glimpsed it. When I returned later, it was resting in the grass with wings and antennae spread out. It’s much larger than either of the butterflies in this post; I would guess that its wingspan is probably at least twice as large. It’s a sphinx moth (family Sphingidae), but I’m not yet familiar enough with moths to attempt to identify it to species. Just when I begin to become more familiar with butterflies, then I am reminded that there are even more moths than butterflies out there, and that my journey has only just begun…