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First in Flight

March 22, 2016  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  4 comments  | 

My first gossamer wings of the season came as a moth: a Labrador Carpet (Xanthorhoe labradorensis) climbing the dining room window.

That’s the beast above. Who knows its provenance. Normally, we see this moth flying outside in spring and summer. So mine almost certainly over-wintered as a pupae on a plant we hauled indoors last fall.

But usually, our first in flight is a hearty butterfly. On warm days in March, with the sun rising higher, a few rugged butterfly species take to winter skies. But these aren’t newly emerged (eclosed) for the season. They’ve spent the winter here adults.

Each fall, Mourning Cloaks, Milbert’s Tortoiseshells, Eastern Commas and a few other relatives lower their body’s water content and raise their lipid levels. It helps them survive the winter freeze. They might spend the winter tucked into a tree slot or in between the clapboards on your home.

Then, on those warm, sunny days, they resurrect themselves and fly around in search of a mate. We’ve already got Mourning Cloaks, Milbert’s Tortoiseshells, and Eastern Commas on the wing here in Vermont — and I’m expecting more to come with warmer weather next week.

So as you walk the woods, waiting for the season’s first warblers flying in from the tropics, watch as well for butterflies. They’ve been with us all along.

4 comments
  1. Brian Hicks says:

    This coming week promises to be good as the temps are forecast to soar to 70f here in Norfolk UK. Time for the new emergers, maybe an Orange Tip or two.

  2. martha bush says:

    So Fascinating. I believed that the butterflies flew in from a warmer place. To think that when I was a kid playing in the woods there may have been butterflies in my midst. Thank you for this great info.

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