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Butterfly Briefs: Brush-footed Butterflies (family Nymphalidae)
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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The American Snout (Libytheana carinent) is a medium-small, orange & brown butterfly of forests and forest edges. They have unique, elongated mouth parts that give them a pointed ‘snout’ and, with the combination of their mottled brown coloration on their hindwing below, helps them create a convincing leaf camouflage. Above, they have a pretty orange and brown pattern with some white spots.

 

Snouts have a distinctive, fluttery flight and can often be seen puddling on wet soil and gravel and will land on people to get salts from the sweat on their skin and clothes. They also visit flowers for nectar. Their caterpillars feed on hackberry trees.

 

South and southwest states (Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona) periodically have huge population outbreaks and millions of snouts can be seen migrating.  Snouts in the Midwest arrive from the south each year.

 

For more about the American Snout, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-snout

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a large orange butterfly of open areas. Male Monarchs have thinner black wing veins and a black spot on a vein in their hindwing. They resemble Viceroys but the Viceroy is usually a little smaller and typically has a dark band through the middle of its hindwing.

 

Monarchs migrate to Mexico each winter. The grandchildren of that generation arrive back in the Midwest in spring. There are multiple summer broods, with the last brood being the generation that migrates to Mexico. The adults can be found in open areas, getting nectar from flowers. Their caterpillars feed on milkweeds. The caterpillars are not harmed by the milkweed toxins and incorporate those toxins into their tissues, protecting themselves from predators even after becoming adult butterflies.

 

For more about the Monarch, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/monarch

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) is a medium-sized orange butterfly with a complex pattern of brown lines and spots. The adults can be found spring to fall in open areas, flying low to the ground and getting nectar from flowers such as coneflowers and clovers.

 

Their caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including violets, purslane, sedum, and mayapple.  Their chrysalis is gorgeous, almost looking like a jewel.

 

For more about the variegated fritillary, visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Euptoieta-claudia

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

Great Spangled Fritillaries (Speyeria cybele) are gorgeous, large, orange and brown butterflies of open areas. They have a two-toned pattern, with dark brown towards their body and orange towards the outside of the wing. On the underside, they have a series of large silver spots and a distinct tan band on the outer edge of the hind wing.

 

Great Spangled Fritillaries fly from early summer to fall but are most common in early summer at the same time that butterfly weed – a plant that they love to get nectar from – is blooming. The adults get nectar from a variety of flowers and their caterpillars feed on violets.

 

For more about the Great Spangled Fritillary, visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Speyeria-cybele

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

Red-spotted Purples (Limenitis arthemis) are black above with blue scaling on the hindwings. Below they have scattered orange spots (so they should really be called orange-spotted blues!). They mimic Pipevine Swallowtails, but unlike our other three common Pipevine Swallowtail mimics, they are not swallowtails themselves – instead they are closely related to viceroys.  Interestingly, in northern areas where Pipevine Swallowtails do not occur, the Red-spotted Purple has very different coloration and does not mimic the pipevine swallowtail – it’s called the “white admiral” in those areas.

 

The five large dark butterflies can be difficult to tell apart, but it is possible if you know what to look for. Please check out our "Large Dark Butterflies" page or download our free butterfly eGuide for details on how to distinguish each of them based on the type of “blue” they have (iridescence versus blue scales), the type of orange spot pattern they have on the underside of their hindwing, the type of white marks on the upperwings, the presence of marks on their abdomen, and other characteristics.

 

Caterpillars of the Red-spotted Purple resemble bird poop and feed on a wide variety of plants including willows, cottonwoods, wild cherry, and oaks. Adults occasionally feed on flowers but more commonly get energy and nutrients from sap, rotten fruit, and poop. They have two broods during the year, one in late spring and one in mid-summer.

 

For more about the Red-spotted Purple, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/red-spotted-purple

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

Silvery Checkerspots (Chlosyne nycteis) are commonly found in fields and forest edges. They are beautiful, small orange and black butterflies that fly low to the ground and frequently perch on vegetation.

 

Silvery Checkerspots closely resemble the (usually more common) Pearl Crescent, but checkerspots are usually slightly larger and differ in some of the details of the pattern on their wings.  One of the best ways to tell the difference is that silvery checkerspots have light "silvery" spots within the dark spots on the trailing edge of the upperside of their hindwings, making these spots “donuts.”

 

Adult checkerspots nectar on a variety of flowers and seem to especially enjoy butterfly weed and coreopsis. Males are often found puddling on wet mud or gravel to get salts for reproduction. Their caterpillars can feed on many different plants, including asters and black-eyed susans.

 

For more about the Silvery Checkerspot, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/silvery-checkerspot

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) is one of our most common butterflies. They are small butterflies, fly low to the ground, and are orange with variable amount of black markings on the upper side. In the Midwest, they would be most commonly confused with the Silvery Checkerspot, which is usually less common, slightly larger, and has a less variable pattern.

Adult Pearl Crescents get nectar from a wide variety of flowers. Their caterpillars feed on asters. Males frequently ‘puddle’ on wet mud and gravel to get salts for reproduction.

For more about the Pearl Crescent, visit
www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Phyciodes-tharos

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The beauty of the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) makes it anything but ‘common’! The buckeye is a medium-sized, brown butterfly with orange markings and large eyespots above. Below, the forewing is similar to the upper side, but the hind wing is more uniformly brown with small eyespots and faint lines. The Common Buckeye is found primarily in open areas across the eastern U.S.A., flying low to the ground with quick flaps followed by short glides. It can be found throughout the year but is more common in late summer and early fall.

 

Caterpillars of the Common Buckeye can feed on a number of plant species, including some common lawn ‘weeds’ such as narrow leaf (aka English) plantain. The adults get nectar from a wide variety of flowers.

For more about the Common Buckeye, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/common-buckeye

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) is a medium-sized, orange and brown butterfly of forests, woodland edges, and residential areas. They look very similar to the Eastern Commas and Gray Commas in our area. Question Marks can be distinguished by looking for a question mark-shaped silver mark on the underside of their hind wing, an extra dash in line with the 3 dark spots on their upper forewing, and the longer “tails” on their hindwing. They have two forms: the summer form has brown on the upper hindwing and the fall form has orange.

 

Question Marks overwinter as adults and can be found flying on warm days in late fall and early spring. The adults feed on sap, rotten fruit, poop, and carrion but can occasionally be found getting nectar from flowers. The caterpillars feed on elm and hackberry. In the afternoon, male Question Marks can be found in sunny spots in the forest, chasing passing butterflies as they keep males away from their area and try to mate with females.

For more about the Question Mark, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/question-mark

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) is a medium-sized, orange & brown butterfly of forests, woodland edges, and residential areas. Their appearance is very similar to the Question Marks and Gray Commas in our area. Eastern Commas can be distinguished from Question Marks by the comma-shaped silver mark on the underside of their hind wing (instead of a question mark), the lack of an extra dash in line with the 3 dark spots on their upper forewing, and the shorter “tails” on their hindwing. They differ from Gray Commas by having a slightly different pattern below and a thicker ‘comma’ mark. They have two forms: the summer form has brown on the upper hindwing and the fall form has orange.

 

Eastern Commas overwinter as adults and can be found flying on warm days in late fall and early spring. The adults feed on sap, rotten fruit, poop, and carrion but can occasionally be found getting nectar from flowers. The caterpillars feed on elm and hops.

For more about the Eastern Comma, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/eastern-comma

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Gray Comma (Polygonia progne) is a medium-sized, orange & brown butterfly of forests and forest edges. Their appearance is very similar to the Question Marks and Eastern Commas in our area. Gray Commas are a little smaller and tend to be more orange above. They are most easily distinguished if you can see their undersides, which are dark gray with very fine lines and a very thin, comma-shaped silver mark on the hindwing.

 

Gray Commas are much less common than Eastern Commas and Question Marks and so always exciting to see. They overwinter as adults and can be found flying on warm days in late fall and early spring. The adults feed on sap, rotten fruit, poop, and carrion but can occasionally be found getting nectar from flowers. The caterpillars feed on gooseberry.

For more about the Gray Comma, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/gray-comma

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), or Camberwell Beauty if you are in the UK, is a fairly large, brown butterfly with a cream-colored wing edge. When viewed in good light, beautiful purple spots show on the warm brown of the upper side, just inside the cream border. Underneath, their pattern is leaf-like and helps them hide in leaves and bark in their forest habitats.

 

The Mourning Cloak has one of the longest adult lifespans of any butterfly (almost a year!). Caterpillars in spring form their chrysalis and metamorphose into adults in late spring/early summer, then aestivate (similar to hibernation) during most of summer and early fall. In fall they become active again, feeding for a while before hibernating through winter as adult butterflies, emerging to mate and lay eggs in early spring. Because they overwinter as butterflies instead of migrating south or overwintering as eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalises like most other butterflies, the Mourning Cloak is one of the first butterflies seen in the spring.

Mourning Cloak caterpillars feed on hackberry, elm, or willow and their adults get nutrients and energy from sap, rotten fruit, and poop.

 

For more about the Mourning Cloak, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/mourning-cloak

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) is a medium-sized, orange & brown butterfly found in open areas, flower gardens, and woodland edges. They closely resemble the Painted Lady, but on the underside, they have 2 large eyespots instead of 4-5 small ones, and on the upperside, they appear ‘more orange’ because of fewer brown markings. They also sport a small white spot near the edge of their forewing in the middle that the Painted Lady lacks.

 

The American Lady can be found getting nectar from a wide variety of flowers from early spring to fall. In our area, they are much less common than the Painted Lady, but are present every year. They overwinter as an adult but may not survive winters that are very cold. Migrants from the south also arrive each year. Their caterpillars feed primarily on pussytoes (Antennaria sp.) and its relatives.

For more about the American Lady, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-lady

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BUTTERFLY BRIEFS

The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is a medium-sized, orange and brown butterfly found primarily in open areas. They closely resemble the American Lady, but on the underside, they have 4-5 small eyespots instead of 2 large ones, and on the upperside, they appear ‘less orange’ because of more brown markings. They also lack the small white forewing spot of the American Lady.

 

Painted Ladies are found on all continents except Antarctica and South America, which gives them the widest distribution of any butterfly. They are migratory, and in Europe and Africa, they have the longest migration path of any insect, making a round-trip of up to 9000 miles! Like the Monarch, this migration takes them multiple generations, and also like the monarch, they seem to use the sun as a compass. Many of them migrate 400-500m above the ground, which hid the discovery of their amazing journey until recently. Painted Ladies migrate in the USA as well, although their journey is shorter and less well understood.

 

Painted Lady caterpillars can feed on a wide variety of plants but thistles are a favorite. Adults get nectar from flowers and males may puddle for nutrients.

For more about the Painted Lady, visit mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/painted-lady

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