Photo: Eli Egertson.

Tips for an excellent butterfly expedition

May 14, 2021 by Sarah Mowry
Early summer is the perfect time to try your hand at butterflying! Here are some tips to make your next butterfly expedition a success.

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Late spring and early summer are the perfect times to try your hand at butterflying! Warmer weather and a profusion of wildflowers, means these beautiful fluttery creatures will be out and about and ready for viewing. Here are some tips to make your next butterfly expedition a success:

  1. Check your butterfly meter! Whether it's Kiki the Hawaiian dancer (who only dances when it is warm) or your favorite weather app, you need warm weather to go butterflying! Butterflies only come out and fly when temperatures are warm and the sun is out, ideally 70 degrees and up. Butterflies are ectotherms—they depend on external sources for their body heat. In this case, warm sunny days allow the butterflies to be like solar panels: they bask in the sunlight and warm up their flight muscles so they are ready to soar. A good rule of thumb to find an appropriate weather day is that you want to be able to roam the forests or meadows searching for butterflies in a short sleeve shirt!

  2. Go to the butterflies! You’ll need to find some place where the butters fly (yes, butterflies are often called butters!). Wildflower meadows, forests with flowers, even your backyard can be a good place to try. The Land Trust’s Metolius Preserve is a great place to go butterflying in late spring/early summer.

    Make sure you have a good net when you head out butterflying! Photo: Land Trust.
    Make sure you have a good net when you head out butterflying! Photo: Land Trust.
  3. Get yourself a good net. If you really want to try out butterflying, it is best to get an official insect net. Yes, you can get the cheap bug nets made for kids and give it a try, but most likely this will result in frustration for you and injury for the butters. A good butterfly net has a long cone shaped net that allows you to safely and effectively perfect your butterfly catching technique!

  4. Practice your netting technique. There are two main techniques for catching butterflies in an insect net. We recommend practicing before you go out on your expedition! The first technique is the most simple and is called the plop method! When the butterfly lands on the ground, gently place the net on top of the butterfly. Keeping the net on the ground, gently lift the net up into a tent shape to let the butterfly fly towards the end of the tent. Once your butterfly is at the end, fold the end of the net over the ring to corral the butterfly. Watch butterfly guru and Land Trust stewardship director, Amanda Egertson, show this technique in the video below.

    The second technique is more complicated and is called the swish and flip! It involves catching the butterfly on the fly and swooping the tail of the net around to keep it from flying out. Amanda Egertson demonstrates this technique in the video below. Other tips to keep your net happy: avoid swinging it through pokey bushes. This will leave you with giant holes. Clean your net regularly so grasses and burrs don’t accumulate. Final, most important tip: always be gentle when netting butterflies! It is better to miss the butterfly than injure it. Butterflies are extremely delicate creatures.

  5. Plan on a short amble, not a long hike! Butterflying is best done while on leisurely walk through the woods. Don’t plan on racking up the miles because its more likely you’ll make it 500 feet! Plan on a short walk where you can easily stop and follow the butterflies wherever they decide to go!

  6. Be careful, butterflies are very delicate! Photo: Land Trust.
    Be careful, butterflies are very delicate! Photo: Land Trust.
    I caught one, now what?! If you are successful enough to catch a butterfly, there are several ways to get a closer look. You can simply hold it gently through the net and view it this way. If you have a large jar with holes in the lid, you can also try to corral the butter into the jar while it is in the net. Always remember to be gentle! Butterflies have delicate scales on their wings that can fall off when touched. Then, try your hand at identifying it! See our list of favorite butterfly books below. Don't forget to let your butterfly go and try to not catch the same one again.

Thanks to Amanda Egertson for technical expertise, inspiration, and fun terminology!

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