It’s time to start watching for the first butterflies in your wildlife garden. Yes, even you wildlife gardeners in the Northeast where it’s still quite chilly!
One of the first butterflies that you can see in spring is the Mourning Cloak. These butterflies overwinter as adults, finding shelter in tree crevices and other protected places. On warm sunny days at the end of winter, you may be able to spot them flying around.
Mourning Cloaks mate first thing in the spring, and will develop to adulthood by mid June or July. They feed briefly then estivate (summer hibernation) until fall when they will emerge again to feed and store up energy to make it through the winter.
Adult Mourning Cloaks feed on tree sap, especially oak trees. They may also feed on rotting fruit, and very rarely nectar. Eggs are laid on trees, most often Willow, but the caterpillars will feed on several other trees as well, including Elm, Hackberry, and Aspen.
Also to be seen in the early spring are the Spring Azure butterflies. Compared to the Mourning Cloak (2 ½ to 4″), Spring Azures are tiny (¾ to 1 ¼ “) so you’ll have to look carefully to spot them. Some are only about the size of your thumbnail.
Spring Azure adults will nectar at a wide variety of plants including New Jersey Tea, Blackberry, and Milkweeds.
Eggs are laid on a variety of woody shrubs including New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americana), dogwood (Cornus florida), and Meadowsweet (Spiraea salicifolia).
Learning the life cycles of butterflies is fun and will help you plan the best butterfly garden for your area. Keep notes in your garden journal of when you first spot each different butterfly. This will help you remember when to expect them for next year.
There are lots of resources for planning your butterfly garden, and by using them you will create a beautiful haven where the air is full of these swirling beauties.
What are the first butterflies of spring in your wildlife garden?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
© 2011 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.