Usually, butterflies are hard to photograph. They are wary creatures, and when you turn the big eye of your camera at them, they take off, flying erratically away.

But this week, I’ve been lucky to get some photos of butterflies I’ve never shot before — in some cases, I’ve never heard of before.

This Weidemeyer’s Admiral has seen better days.

Case in point is the Weidemeyer’s Admirial. I’ve probably seen it before, but never actually identified it. Turns out that Admirals are an entire group of butterflies.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral on rock next to a stream.

Weidemeyer’s Admirals like stream habitats, which is exactly where I found this one. It fits, then, that they eat stream side plants like willows, aspen, serviceberry, chokecherry, and cottonwoods.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtails also like streams, but also venture into open grasslands. Their caterpillars eat the leaves of trees and shrubs like cottonwood, birch alder, chokecherry, willows and wild plum. The adults, like many butterflies, drink nectar. https://amylaw.blog/2018/07/18/swallowtail-butterflies/

Common wood-nymph

Common wood-nymphs are butterflies of the open country, where their caterpillars eat grasses. I didn’t know any caterpillars ate grasses! https://amylaw.blog/2018/08/08/butterflies-galore/

I would dearly love to meet an uncommon wood-nymph.

Monarch on milkweed.
Monarch with bee on milkweed.

I posted about Monarch caterpillars a few weeks ago. https://amylaw.blog/2020/06/15/monarch-caterpillers/ We never actually found the chrysalis for the caterpillars, but we may have seen the butterflies themselves. We’ve had a couple of them hanging around our milkweed patch, eating nectar and otherwise getting ready to migrate north.https://amylaw.blog/2018/07/04/monarch-butterfly-migration/

Waved Sphinx moth

Finally, this is a waved sphinx moth that landed on our porch. You know it’s a moth and not a butterfly because the wings are held horizontal, not vertical as butterflies do most of the time. The white dot on it’s wing helps identify it as a waved sphinx. It’s caterpillar eats the leaves of tress, but the adult doesn’t eat at all. It lives to mate, and lay eggs.

Websites I used to gather information about these butterflies and moths include: https://coloradofrontrangebutterflies.com/butterfly-families and https://www.insectidentification.org/insects-by-type-and-region.asp?thisState=Colorado&thisType=Butterfly%20or%20Moth

Butterflies Galore

I’m not really an expert on butterflies. But while hiking recently in the Front Range foothills , I saw so many of such varied species that I had to check into them a bit more. All these different butterflies are from just one hike.

Aphrodite fritillaries mating

Aphrodite fritillaries. Yellow-green eyes clinch that these are aphrodites. (Colorado Front Range Butterflies).

Females lay single eggs near violets. Caterpillars do not feed, but overwinter until spring, when they eat young leaves of violets.

Northwestern fritillary

Northwestern fritillary. The eyes of this butterfly are blue-grey and the wings are darker towards the body. Colorado Front Range Butterflies.

These two photos show two species of fritillary butterflies. They tend to be orange with black squiggles.

female Common Wood Nymph-1

Female Common Wood Nymph. The double eye spots are the key to identifying this butterfly. Females are larger and paler than males.

I haven’t found anything talking about this, but every time I saw this female Common Wood Nymph land, she seemed to lay her wings onto the landing surface. In late summer, females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves. Caterpillars hatch but do not feed, instead hibernating until spring. (Butterflies and Moths of North America)

Native bees on Asclepias-13

Dusted skipper butterfly and native bees on milkweed. Although here all the skipper butterfly wings are compressed, they often hold their upper and lower wings a little apart, creating an “X” effect. I am trying to find out more about these very unusual bees.

Skippers are a type of butterfly I had never noticed before I started taking pictures of everything of interest on my hikes.

Taxiles skipper

Taxiles skipper on thistle. You can see his “X” wing configuration here.

Males may defend their territory. (Butterflies and Moths of North America)

I used two websites to learn about butterflies: Butterflies and Moths of North America and Colorado Front Range Butterflies. Both are very cool, but the first has an interactive map where people can post their sightings and photographs of the moths and butterflies they see.


Swallowtail Butterflies

Several weeks ago, we had orange and black Monarch butterflies migrating through the Front Range. They seem to have moved on.

But we’ve still got big butterflies in the area — yellow and black swallowtails. I’ve seen two different types of swallowtails. The western tiger swallowtail is lives along waterways and in woodlands, as well as suburban areas. It’s caterpillers eat aspen, cottenwoods and green ash. The eastern version of this butterfly …. hmmm…. lives in the east? That’s all I’ve found to separate the two.

Western tiger swallowtail on Canada thistle.

The other species of swallowtail that I commonly see in the west Denver area is the two-tailed swallowtail. Predictably, it has two tails.  These butterflies lay their eggs on green ash and chokecherry, although the adults evidently like the nectar from our milkweed plants.

Two-tailed swallowtail
Two-tailed swallowtail on milkweed.

It’s a hard life being a butterfly. This poor guy has survived a lot.

Damaged two-tailed swallowtail butterfly on milkweed.

Swallowtails lay their eggs on their preferred plants. The eggs hatch out into caterpillers, which proceed to feed on their host plants. When winter comes, these larva spin a chrysalis (cocoon), in which they overwinter.

Unlike Monarchs (Monarch Butterfly Migration) or Painted Ladies (Painted Ladies migrate across North America! Painted Ladies Part Two), swallowtails only produce one generation a season. The adult swallowtails emerge in May and June, and continue to be active in the same area through August, feeding on plant nectar, as the butterflies above are doing. Sometime in the summer, they lay their eggs.

Painted Ladies Part Two

After seeing thousands of painted lady butterflies a couple of weeks ago, I thought they were done for the season.Painted Ladies migrate across North America!

Painted Lady migration-5_edited-1

Wrong! There are still so many migrating through the Denver area, that, when they fly a bit higher, they are visible on radar!


NWS Boulder‏Verified account @NWSBoulder Oct 4 4/4: Migrating butterflies in high quantities explains it. Today, the butterflies are staying close to the ground. #cowx #Science

How cool is that?

Painted Ladies migrate across North America!

This morning, my husband and I stepped out of our house to walk our dogs, and were mobbed by Painted Lady butterflies! Painted Lady hatch-03

There were dozens in our yard, sipping nectar from sunflowers and oregano.

Painted Lady hatch-05As we walked through the neighborhood, the numbers increased. They were everywhere. Delightful!

Painted Lady hatch-02

Painted ladies are on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. (Painted Lady Vanessa cardui) Like the much more famous Monarch butterflies, Painted Ladies use multi-generational migrations. They start in Mexico, and take several generations to move into Canada, then turn around and take several generations to get back to Mexico (at least I think that’s how it works…) They do the same thing in Europe, migrating to tropical Africa. Nature Nut: Have you seen the painted ladies ‘invasion’? Nobody knows how they know where to go.Painted Lady hatch-11

They do this every year. Some years, the migration is bigger. And some years, like this year, the migration is enormous.

Painted Lady hatch-04

Happy to have seen it.

Bees and Butterflies

Our neighbors behind us are turning their backyard into a farm. They have a garden. They have chickens. They have fruit trees. This year, they added honey bees.

We, on the other hand, have always had a hummingbird garden that attracts all sorts of pollinators, including bees. One of the plants that planted itself and we have encouraged is native milkweed.

bees on milkwee (2)

Bees love it. They buzz around the milk weed constantly.

bees on milkwee (1)

But we noticed a problem lately — some of the honey bees are getting caught in the milkweed flowers.

bee caught in mikweed closeup

Honeybees are non-native — they are from Europe and Asia. Milkweed, on the other hand, is native to North America.

Bee caught in milkweed

Close up of honeybee foot (tarsi) caught in milkweed polonium.

The bees’ claw-like feet get caught in a structure called a polonium. This is actually exactly what is supposed to happen with the polonium. The polonium is full of pollen, and the insect is supposed to catch it on its feet, pull it free and take it to the next milkweed. The “Mydas” Touch/Eye on Nature

Unfortunately for the honeybees, they aren’t strong enough to pull free. If they are well and truly caught, they are doomed (we free the ones we find in our garden).

So why don’t we pull up the milkweed? Because it is of critical importance to endangered Monarch butterflies. Milkweeds are the only plant that Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.Milkweed is slightly toxic to a lot of animals, but not to Monarchs. The Monarch caterpillars hatch out, eat Monarch leaves and become slightly toxic themselves.Monarch Butterfly Habitat/US Forest Service

Bees are in trouble from the baffling Colony collapse disorder, but Monarchs are threatened with extinction, in part due to the loss of milkweeds.

monarch on milkweed (9) -1

Monarch on our backyard milkweed.

Sometimes, you have to make choices on what you help out.

Mathematical Patterns in Plants

One of the things that I really enjoy about nature is that it produces proofs that it obeys natural laws in the most unusual — and beautiful — ways. This spring and early summer I ran across three examples of math in plants.

Scorpianweed, like most plants in the hydrophyllaceae family, has a flower stalk that is tightly coiled. It reminds me of the shell of a nautilus seashell that gets bigger as the animal grows. The coil of each grows according the Fibonacci sequence: 1+1=2; 1+2=3; 2+3=5; 3+5=8.

Coiled scorpionweed flowers follow the Fibonacci sequence.

Coiled scorpionweed flowers follow the Fibonacci sequence.

For scorpionweed, though, at the top of the curl is an open flower. As the flower fades, the stem uncurls to allow another flower to come to the top and open.

When you look at the face of a sunflower, you are really looking at many many flowers that grow on a central disk. These flowers follow the Fibonacci sequence as well, but here it shows up as ever expanding spirals on the disk face.

Disk of the sunflowers is made up of spirals of flowers that follow the Fibonacci sequence.

Disk of the sunflower is made up of spirals of flowers that follow the Fibonacci sequence.











Finally, I was astounded by this picture.

The flowers of miner's candle march up the stalk in spirals.

The flowers of miner’s candle march up the stalk in spirals.
















What I thought I was taking a picture of was the really cool butterfly on the miner’s candle, in the borage family. It was only when I was sprucing the picture up that I realized that the white flowers were arranged in several spirals, or helixes. The geometry here is a bit more complicated, but the flowers do indeed appear on the stalk with mathematical precision.

There is order in the universe, and you can see it in the math of plants.