Looking for Lepidopterans in Illinois!

May 7, 2020

by Aaron Pflug • Kidzeum Staff

While we may focus on Monarch butterflies for good reason, it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate all the other Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), too! In fact, our community and surrounding areas have the potential to attract interest from a wide range of butterflies and moths. Let’s check out a few of them you and your young naturalists might just see this Spring!

We’ll start off by highlighting the Viceroy butterfly. Viceroys are definitely not Monarchs but certainly look like them, and for good reason: the Viceroy butterfly wants the Animal Kingdom to know they are just as unpalatable as Monarchs! You’ll have to get pretty close to see the subtle difference in wing patterns; it may be easier to distinguish by size. So, if you come across a “little” Monarch, you may well be seeing a Viceroy!

Summer Azure
The Summer Azure is as delicate and beautiful as the name would suggest! They are notable for being among the smallest butterflies in North America. And, the larval stage – caterpillar – of the Summer Azure has a fascinating symbiotic relationship with ants: in exchange for protection during this vulnerable stage, the caterpillar allows the ants to feed on a sugary secretion from its abdomen!

Hummingbird Moth
The Hummingbird Moth has been highlighted before but is well worth mentioning again. And, unlike many moths, adults are active during the day, bettering the odds of finding one of these creatures in action!

Gray Hairstreak
The aptly named Gray Hairstreak is a common and widely distributed butterfly. Featuring red eyespots near the tips of its wings and a single “hair” behind each eyespot, the Gray Hairstreak is both intimidating to potential predators and distinctive to anyone hoping to find this fluttering friend!

Yucca Moth
While the Yucca moth – and its host plant, the yucca – are not native to our area, you can nevertheless find them pretty easily as the yucca plant is often used for decorative purposes and has naturalized in some areas! Also, the symbiotic relationship between plant and moth, coupled with the fact that the Yucca moth is the only pollinator of the plant, means that if you find a yucca plant, you are essentially guaranteed to find a Yucca moth nearby! This moth is unique in that it purposefully acts a pollinator (to guarantee a food supply for the next generation caterpillars), unlike the incidental pollination of other animals and insects.

These butterflies and moths were highlighted, in part, because of their recognized roles as pollinators. However, this is just a small portion of the hundreds of butterfly species and thousands of moth species you may find in our area. Most of us have picture-taking equipment in our pockets that would make historical naturalists green with envy! Why not make use of it whilst out for a morning stroll? Start an online collection or scrapbook of the butterflies and moths found this Spring and Summer!

And don’t forget: it’s not just the adult forms of these insects you’ll find making their way through nature! The various stages of development – especially those caterpillars and chrysalises – can be just as fascinating and beautiful as the final version!

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