South Fork Butterflies

People are drawn to butterflies because of their beauty and the symbolism their life cycle represents─the wonder of how something so insignificant can transform into something so delightful.

The more we learn about butterflies and the importance of the environment, the more we find we don't know a great deal about the butterflies that inhabit our area. Over 60 species of butterflies can be observed on the South Fork of Long Island, and they are very important to the success of our native plants and food crops as pollinators. Nearly 90% of all plants need a pollinator to reproduce. With bee populations declining, the role of the butterfly as a pollinator has become even more vital. Without these pollinators, many plant species would be unable to reproduce, resulting in a decline in the abundance of the wildflowers we all know and love, and affecting not only us but the animals around us as well.

Butterflies play a number of roles in the ecosystem, and their presence is an indicator of a healthy environment. In the food chain, the fauna most responsible for passing energy from plants to animals that don't eat plants are insects. So many animals depend on insects for food─spiders, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and many of our favorite backyard birds─that removing insects, in general, from an ecosystem will cause a catastrophic collapse in the food web. As butterfly populations decrease, so will the populations of the animals that rely on them; for example, it takes 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of Black-capped Chickadees.

Some butterflies are becoming more abundant and some less so due to local and global changes in environments. Help SoFo track these changes as we collect data to revise our Butterflies of the South Fork checklist. The checklists SoFo offers are valuable tools for both beginner and expert nature observers to identify local species by narrowing down much larger field guides to focus more on our local area. To help SoFo with this Citizen Scientist project, we need as many pictures of the butterflies seen locally as possible. We are specifically interested in butterflies found in the Southampton and East Hampton townships. Please take as clear a picture as you can of the outside and/or inside wings, if possible, depending how the butterfly is resting. Please attach the image (original size) to an email; then we can zoom in on the field marks (pictures inserted into the body of an email are much harder to zoom in on) and send the email to info@sofo.org.

Please include the specific location (or as close as you can) where the picture was taken and by whom and let us know if we can use your picture (crediting you) in future publications. The date the picture was taken is also very important because there are a few species of butterflies whose only noticeable difference is the time when they are seen flying on the South Fork. Butterflies are active from April to first frosts in November and are most active and visible on sunny days with little or no wind. It is important to send in a picture for every butterfly you were able to observe that day, even if they repeat between days/observations, in order for us to get the most accurate results possible.

We hope you can take a few minutes on sunny days to take pictures of the butterflies visiting your gardens or on your hikes around the South Fork. Check SoFo's website for species information and species counts as well as the best pictures sent in for the week and month. Join Xylia on Saturday, July 22 at 2 pm for a presentation and walk about the benefits of planting native wildflowers for our local pollinators.

About Butterflies
Butterflies and moths belong to the order of insects known as Lepidoptera. They are often called “leps” for short by the rapidly expanding number of naturalists who have become butterfly watchers. In our area there are two superfamiles of butterflies, the true butterflies and the skippers, which combine to form seven families. Unlike the majority of moths, most butterflies are active exclusively during the daylight hours. They can be distinguished from moths by the shape of their antennae, which have a club-shaped swelling at the end, which most moths do not have. OBSERVING – The butterfly-watching season on the South Fork extends from the first warm days of spring to the last warm days of fall when the overwintering stage begins. During the season it is productive to look for butterflies in open sunny areas. Meadows, fields, and openings in the woods such as power-line cuts often produce the largest variety. A garden well planted with nectaring flowers and host plants can attract numerous butterflies. On cool cloudy days many species are inactive and hard to find. Paradoxically, it is occasionally possible to see a mourning cloak or less frequently a question mark on the wing in mid-winter. These species overwinter as adults and will sometimes become active on unusually warm sunny winter days. Since the field study of butterflies is relatively new in comparison to birding, there are many opportunities for the average person to add important information concerning behavior and field marks to the ever-expanding knowledge about these fascinating insects. To be successful identifying butterflies in the wild, one needs a field guide that shows them in their natural environment and points out their field marks, the salient characteristics that help a viewer separate two species that look similar. The guide we recommend is Butterflies through Binoculars, by Jeffrey Glassberg. It is also very helpful to have a pair of close-focusing binoculars to enable one to see details that may not be visible to the naked eye. If you wish to attract butterflies to your home, consult one of the many books on butterfly gardening that tell what nectaring and host plants to use. Be aware that the larvae or caterpillars of some species of butterflies and moths have urticating (stinging) hairs for protection against predators. Thus larvae should not be handled with bare hands. We do not recommend handling them at all.  

Ethics
With the advent of close-focusing binoculars, and the availability of current field guides that point out field marks and behavior, it is no longer necessary to capture and kill butterflies to identify them. Study them in the wild or take photographs, but do not touch them. The same techniques that changed bird shooting to bird watching one hundred years ago are now being applied by a rapidly growing number of naturalists to the field identification of butterflies. Since many species are experiencing declines in population due to drastic changes and elimination of habitat, it is important that they be left in the wild to give local populations a chance to survive.

Species Accounts

Common Name (Scientific Name)
  • Abundance
  • On the Wing
  • Number of Broods
  • Larval Host Plants
  • Overwintering Stage
 
Swallowtails (Papilionidae)
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
  • Rare
  • Late May to September
  • Two Broods
  • Pipevine, knotweed
  • Pupa or adult
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late April to September
  • Two Broods
  • Wild Carrot, parsley dill
  • Pupa
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late Aprill to mid-June & July to mid-September
  • Two Broods
  • Wild Cherry, Tulip Tree
  • Pupa
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio Troilus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late April to mid-June & late June to mid-September
  • Two Broods
  • Sassafras, Spicebush
  • Pupa
 
Whites and Yellows (Pieridae)
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) Introduced
  • Common
  • Late March to first hard frost
  • Three Broods
  • Mustards (crucifers)
  • Pupa
Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
  • Common
  • April to November
  • Three Broods
  • White Clover
  • Pupa
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
  • Common
  • April to November
  • Four Broods
  • Alfalfa and others of the pea family
  • Pupa
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) Southern Emigrant
  • Uncommon
  • September to November
  • No Broods Here
  • Sennas and other related species
  • No Overwintering Stage Here
Little Yellow (Eurema lisa) Emigrant
  • Rare
  • August to September
  • No Broods Here
  • Sennas and other related species
  • No Overwintering Stage Here
 
Gossamer Wings (Lycaenidae)
American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
  • Common
  • Late April to mid-October
  • Three Broods
  • Sheep sorrel, dock
  • Pupa
Bog Copper (Lycaena epixanthe)
  • Uncommon
  • Late June to early July
  • One Brood
  • Cranberry
  • Egg
Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-June to mid-July
  • One Brood
  • Wild Cherry, Wild Plum
  • Egg
Edward’s Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)
  • Uncommon
  • Mid-June to July
  • One Brood
  • Scrub Oak
  • Egg or Larva
Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-June to late July
  • One Brood
  • Oaks, hickories
  • Egg
Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops)
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-June to July
  • One Brood
  • Blueberry, wild cherry
  • Egg
Olive Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)
  • Uncommon
  • Late April to May & mid-July to early August
  • Two Broods
  • Red Cedar
  • Pupa
Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus)
  • Common
  • Late April to mid-May
  • One Brood
  • Blueberry, Bearberry
  • Pupa
Frosted Elfin (Callophrys irus)
  • Uncommon
  • May to mid-June
  • One
  • Lupine, wild indigo
  • Pupa
Eastern Pine Elfin (Callophrys niphon)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late April to mid-June
  • One Brood
  • Pitch Pine, White Pine
  • Pupa
White M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album)
  • Rare
  • Late April to September
  • Two Broods
  • Oaks
  • Pupa
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late April to October
  • Two Broods
  • Many species of plants
  • Pupa
Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes comyntas)
  • Common
  • Late April to October
  • Three Broods
  • Pea family
  • Egg
Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)
  • Common
  • April to May
  • One Brood
  • Many different plants
  • Pupa
Summer Azure (Celastrina ladon form neglecta)
  • Common
  • Mid-June to September
  • One Brood
  • Many different plants
  • Pupa
 
Snout Butterflies (Libytheidae)
American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)
  • Rare
  • July to September
  • Two or Three Broods
  • Hackberry
  • Pupa
 
Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
Variegated Fritallary (Euptoieta Claudia) Southern Emigrant
  • Rare
  • June to November
  • No Broods Here
  • Violets
  • No Overwintering Stage Here
Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) Extirpated
  • Extirpated
  • Formerly July to August
  • One Brood
  • Violets
  • Larva
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
  • Common
  • May to June & July to October
  • Two Broods
  • Asters
  • Larva
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) Migratory
  • Fairly Common
  • April to July & August to September
  • Two Broods
  • Nettles, Elm
  • Adult
Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vau-album)
  • Rare
  • March to June
  • One Brood
  • Birches, willows
  • Adult
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) Aestivates
  • Fairly Common
  • March to June & September to October
  • Two Broods
  • Willows
  • Adult
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
  • Common
  • Mid-April to October
  • Two Broods
  • Everlastings, many other plants
  • Adult, pupa
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) Variable Immigrant
  • Rare to Fairly Common
  • May to October
  • Two Broods
  • Thistles
  • Adult, Pupa
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) Migratory
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-April to October
  • Two Broods
  • Nettles
  • Adult, Pupa
Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) Migratory
  • Fairly Common
  • May to October
  • Two Broods
  • Gerardias, toadflax, plantain
  • Adult (often dies)
Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)
  • Uncommon
  • Mid-May to September
  • Three Broods
  • Cherry and other trees and bushes
  • Larva
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
  • Uncommon
  • June to October
  • Two Broods
  • Willows
  • Larva
 
Satyrs and Browns (Satyrinae)
Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes Appalachia)
  • Uncommon
  • Mid-June to early August
  • One Brood
  • Sedges
  • Larva
Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela)
  • Common
  • May to July
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Larva
Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia)
  • Rare
  • June to August
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Larva
Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)
  • Common
  • Late June to early September
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Larva
 
Milkweed Butterflies (Danainae)
Monarch (Danaus plesippus) Migratory
  • Common
  • Late May to November
  • Three Broods
  • Milkweeds
  • Adult in Mexico
 
Spread-winged Skippers (Pyrginae)
Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
  • Fairly Common
  • May to September
  • One Brood
  • Black Locust
  • Pupa
Southern Cloudywing (Thorybes bathyllus)
  • Uncommon
  • Mid-June to mid-July
  • One Brood
  • Legumes
  • Pupa
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late May to mid-July
  • Two Broods
  • Legumes
  • Pupa
Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)
  • Late April to May
  • One Brood
  • Scrub Oak
  • Larva
Juvenal’s Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)
  • Common
  • Mid-April to mid-June
  • One Brood
  • Oaks
  • Larva
Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae)
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-May to mid-June & early July to early August
  • Two Broods
  • Wild Indigo
  • Larva
Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)
  • Fairly Common
  • Mid-May to mid-September
  • Two Broods
  • Lamb’s quarters
  • Larva
 
Folded-wing Skippers (Hesperiidae)
Swarthy Skipper (Nastra lherminier)
  • Rare
  • Mid-June to early July
  • One Brood
  • Little Bluestem grass
  • Unknown
Least Skipper (Ancyloxpha numitor)
  • Common
  • June to October
  • Three Broods
  • Grasses
  • Unknown
European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) Introduced
  • Common
  • June to early July
  • One Brood
  • Timothy Grass
  • Egg
Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus)
  • Uncommon
  • Late August to September
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Larva
Cobweb Skipper (Hesperia metea)
  • Fairly Common
  • May
  • One Brood
  • Bluestem Grasses
  • Pupa
Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late May to June & late July to September
  • Two Broods
  • Grasses
  • Larva
Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites thermistocles)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late May to early June & Late July to early September
  • Two Broods
  • Grasses
  • Larva (probable)
Crossline Skipper (Polites origenes)
  • Uncommon
  • Late June to July
  • One Brood
  • Purple-top Grasses
  • Larva
Long Dash Skipper (Polites mystic)
  • Uncommon
  • June
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Larva
Northern Broken Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet)
  • Uncommon
  • Late June to July
  • One Brood
  • Panic Grasses
  • Larva
Little Glassywing (Pompeius verna)
  • Uncommon
  • Late June to July
  • One Brood
  • Purple-top Grasses
  • Larva (probable)
Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok)
  • Common
  • Late May to early July
  • One Brood
  • Grasses
  • Unknown
Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon)
  • Fairly Common
  • Late May to June & late July to early September
  • Two Broods
  • Grasses
  • Unknown
Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator zizaniae)
  • Fairly Common
  • July to August
  • One Brood
  • Phragmites
  • Unknown
Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)
  • Common
  • Late June to early August & August to early September
  • Two Broods
  • Sedges
  • Unknown
Dusted Skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna)
  • Uncommon
  • Late May to mid-June
  • One Brood
  • Bluestem Grasses
  • Larva