A walk outdoors in most months in North Texas is made more enjoyable when we spot one or more of the many different types of butterflies that inhabit or migrate through this part of the world. Watching them go about their daily activities, going from flower to flower or cruising by, can distract us momentarily from the problems of the day or just be a pleasant diversion to help us ignore the heat for a minute or two. An open field, a grove of trees, even a backyard can hold an assortment of these brightly colored insects.
Butterflies are insects of the order Lepidoptera, distinguished from other insects by having scales over all or most of their wings and often on the body as well. Butterflies come in a rainbow of colors, some bright, some dull, all worthy of a second look.
So, we’re walking along and see a pair of orange and black wings flying nearby, the first assumption generally, is “there’s a monarch”, and while many times the identification is correct, to the untrained eye (and sometimes to the trained ones), it is easy to mistake other orange and black butterflies for the better known monarch. The Monarch, of course, is orange with a black border and black veins in each wing. One of the easiest to confuse is one with another name from nobility, the Viceroy. These beauties are nearly identically colored, but have an additional black band on the hind wings. They are also slightly smaller (3 inches as opposed to 4 inches for the Monarch). All in all, it takes a pretty close look to tell the difference.
Other orange and black butterflies that could fool us on occasion include the Comma, Question Mark, Queen, Red Admiral, American Painted Lady, or some of the Fritillaries, maybe the Gulf, Mexican, or Variegated varieties. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies has 50 different butterflies in the “Fritillaries and Orange Patterned Butterflies” section, not all of which frequent North Texas, but many do. At a distance, a glimpse of orange and black could be a Monarch or any of the other Orange and Black ones, so it’s worth a closer look, field guide and binoculars in hand.
Wow, look at that black one with the blue back! I wonder what that one is?
For more information about Master Naturalists, call the AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://tx.audubon.org/Dogwood.html.