Summer is a great time to look for butterflies. Many species are most active during warm weather and can be easily seen as they bask in the strong sunlight of mid-day.
The Rust Sanctuary of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Leesburg is a good place nearby to see a variety of these colorful insects, including the red spotted purple, eastern tiger swallowtail, hackberry emperor and common wood nymph butterflies.
A "butterfly basics" program at the sanctuary on Saturday, June 28, at 11:30 am, offers the public an opportunity to learn more about the insects’ habits and life cycle.
Rust features a special garden that has plants especially attractive to butterflies. The woods and meadows of the 67-acre sanctuary also have native American wildflowers and other plants that provide nectar for adults and food for the immature butterflies or caterpillars.
Female butterflies, in fact, will only lay eggs on certain plants. For example, the monarch prefers the common milkweed. The tiger swallowtail is attracted to tulip and cherry trees. The spicebush swallowtail, as its name implies, chooses that understory species.
With careful attention, you may see a butterfly’s long, coiled
proboscis, a tubular organ, unwind as it probes into a flower for nectar. Caterpillars can be hard to find and identify, but they have a wondrous variety of colors, patterns and adornments.
If your yard has an abundance of caterpillars of a known species you can take one inside, provide ample supplies of the proper host plant as food, and with luck witness the miracle of metamorphosis.
Competing males, who will aggressively fly after each other to defend their territories, provide another show. A flying butterfly that looks heavy and awkward may actually be a pair of the insects in a mating embrace.
There are many books available for the beginning butterfly
enthusiast, including "Butterflies and Moths," by Mitchell and Zim, part of the pocket-sized Golden Press series. "The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies," by Opler and Malikul, is extensively illustrated.
The June 28 walk at Rust also includes a short lecture. The fee is $5 for ANS members and $7 for nonmembers. Call 703-669-0000 to let us know you are coming.
Tammy Schwab is manager of the Rust Sanctuary, located at 802 Children’s Center Road.