Skippers, Sulphurs and Swallowtails... exploring the world of butterflies

Jul 24, 2012
Crossing the south fork of Lake Creek we spotted a Pale Swallowtail, a large creamy white butterfly with black tiger-stripes. Our next sighting was the fluttering orange Great Arctic.


Driving Highway 20 toward Sisters, with gloomy skies and a chill in the air, I did not have high hopes for an abundance of butterflies on our morning walk at the Metolius Preserve.  One thing I’ve learned from Amanda in my years hanging around the Land Trust office is that butterflies are solar powered.  Without sunshine and warmth, our fluttery friends hide in the bark, branches, and leaves… wherever they find protection.

Amanda Egertson, the Land Trust Stewardship Director and butterfly guru, started off with a lesson about the four main families of butterflies … Papilionidae (swallowtails), Pieridae (whites and sulphurs), Lycaenidea (coppers and blues), and Nymphalidae (brush-footed).  Observing the sulphurs and blues in Amanda’s butterfly case, we learned that you cannot determine a butterfly species by the upperside of the wing alone.  Only upon closer inspection of the underside are the intricate detail, spots and sparkles revealed.  Amanda’s eyes lit up when she pulled the Melissa Blue from her collection (her personal favorite)… a blue beauty with brilliant sparkles called chevrons on the underside of the wing. 

As the group gathered at the South Fork kiosk to begin our exploration of butterflies, a hint of sunshine emerged. We set out on the trail with high hopes, jackets off and sunglasses on.  Our first sighting was a Wood Nymph with distinctive “eye spots” on the wings.  These spots actually deceive birds into biting the wing rather than the body- a life saving feature!  Butterflies have an incredibly short life span to achieve their mission… consume nectar, mate, lay eggs and die.  Generally the smaller the butterfly the shorter the life span, with the smaller species living only 5-10 days! 

Crossing the south fork of Lake Creek we spotted a Pale Swallowtail, a large creamy white butterfly with black tiger-stripes.  Our next sighting was the fluttering orange Great Arctic.   This butterfly has a 2 year life cycle so we were lucky to see this one!  A splash of yellow crossed our path and Amanda used her skill with the net to allow a closer examination of the Western

Pale Swallowtail
Pale Swallowtail
Pale Swallowtail

Sulphur.  We were amazed with the intricate detail and delicate pink antennae.  Who knew that butterflies can smell with their antennae and taste with their feet?!

Our final destination was the bend in the road between the north and middle fork of Lake Creek.  Due to the moisture and tremendous diversity of flowers and grasses, this area is typically a haven for butterflies.   Interesting that butterflies are tied to specific host plants.  So if you’re looking for a specific butterfly, become familiar with its host plants! 

Wrapping up the hike, we spotted a few more Blues, a couple stout little Skippers, and a few Fritillary.  Heading back toward the  kiosk, an abundance of new butterfly terminology was fluttering through my head.

Every time I go out and explore one of these special protected places… whether the focus is birds, butterflies, or wildflowers… I feel a deeper sense of connection to the place.  As Jodi commented at the end of the hike, “I love going on these different hikes because it makes my eyes feel open again…”  I knew exactly what she meant.  My eyes were seeing the Metolius Preserve in a new light – new colors and patterns and especially in tune with the small fluttery creatures that call this place home.

View a Flickr slideshow of the butterfly tour.