Butterflies have more in common with birds than wings and flight.
My interest in butterflies has been renewed after scant attention paid for several decades. I am building a file (small to date) of butterfly photos taken on birding outings. (I look for birds, but I take pictures of anything that strikes my interest.)
There are about 170 species of butterflies in Minnesota, close to half the bird number.
Like birds, butterflies have individual markings for male, female, and juvenile.
Like birds, butterflies are broken into distinct families, which helpfully can lessen the identification effort.
Like birds, different species of butterflies can look much alike, at least to the beginner eye. Think of your first efforts with warblers and sparrows — males, females, juveniles. Each grouping could blend into two types, the colorful ones and the brown ones.
Like birds, certain butterfly species are becoming threatened, their numbers shrinking.
Like birds, there are proper ways to interact with these delicate creatures.
There are books to help you with identifying butterflies. We are fortunate to have “Butterflies of the North Woods” covering Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Its text and photos offer help with 61species, a manageable number.
The author, Larry Weber, lives in Carlton County. He has received national honors for his work as a middle school science teacher. This book is published by Kollath+Stensaas Publishing of Duluth. It is in print. Your local book store has it or can order it.
A broader look at butterflies is offered by a new Princeton University Press book, “A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America” (second edition, 416 pages, 5x8 inches, Flexibound cover, 3,500 color photos and maps, $29.95).
Author Jeffrey Glassberg is president of the North American Butterfly Association, and editor of “American Butterflies” magazine. He took most of the excellent photos in the book, an enormous effort recognized if you have given any time at all to butterflying.
Both books use clear text and, on photo impose arrows pointing to critical ID marks. Both books offer range maps. (The maps in the Glassberg book are small but superior.)
We should not approach birds so closely that we provoke flight. Glassberg says it is the same for butterflies. Binoculars and telephoto camera lenses are essential tools in both cases. We would not capture a bird to ease identification or improve photo opportunities. It’s the same for butterflies. And in both cases, killing is absolutely wrong.
Butterflies and birds share every North American environment. They share loss of environment. It both cases that loss is a major if not the major reason for declining populations. Glassberg urges use of native plants in gardening and landscaping. That, of course, is what birds need, too.
You can attract birds to your yard with food and water. You can attract butterflies by creating a garden featuring the plants the insects need for their eggs and for caterpillar and adult food.
The guide to the North Woods is helpful for local efforts. The Princeton book is an intense look at the stunning variety of butterflies in North America. It arrived in book stores July 5. I found it at Barnes & Noble. There are other guide books. The Internet also has information.
Using either book, learning local butterflies would be a rewarding effort. Just like birds.
(Both books are available from the Hennepin County Library.)
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
Checkered White, female