Events

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Mexico's Megadiversity

Wed, August 27
7:00 PM

Mexico is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse countries in the world.

Nature on Tap: Bears and Trash in Los Alamos

Thu, August 28
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

Worried about bears in our trash?  The County's Environmental Services Division Manag…

Take Wing Event: Stargazing on the Valles Caldera

Sun, August 31
8:00 PM - 11:00 PM

Take wing with PEEC at one of our special Take Wing events.  These special event…

Beneficial Insects for your Greenhouse and Garden

Wed, September 3
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Are all insects bad for your garden? Absolutely not! In fact, some are beneficial to it. P…

Take Wing Event: Composting Operations Tour

Fri, September 5
10:00 AM

Take wing with PEEC at one of our special Take Wing events.  These special event…

First Friday Forts

Fri, September 5
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Come to PEEC and get building! On the first Friday of every month, join other kids who lik…

Take Wing Event: Cerro Pelado Fire Lookout

Sat, September 6
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Take wing with PEEC at one of our special Take Wing events.  These special event…

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Butterflies of the Pajarito Plateau

Text by Dorothy Hoard
Photos by Sally King

Few creatures lift our spirits more than butterflies. They are even more wonderful when you know a bit about them. The caterpillars can only survive by eating species-specific host plants before they wrap themselves into a cocoon. The adults emerge from their cocoon fully grown and live only two weeks or so. Some butterflies have two or three broods per year, so you see them throughout the season. Others only fly for a short while. Butterflies can only fly in direct sunlight. It is futile to look for them on cloudy days or in deeply shaded areas. Their sole and single minded purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Remember this as you contemplate their behavior. We have identified 103 species of butterflies and skippers in the Los Alamos area, over 150 in the Jemez Mountains. New Mexico has one of the highest numbers of species of any state in the United States because of its diverse habitats, ranging from desert to alpine rock fall. The best equipment for watching butterflies are close-focusing binoculars. The best field guide for this area is Butterflies through Binoculars by Jeffery Glassberg.

For more photos of local butterflies, see the butterfly set on Flickr.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

If you see a butterfly on a warm day in winter, it is a mourning cloak. This is the only butterfly that flies year round in our area. It is instantly recognizable by its dark purple velvety color with a yellow band around the outer margins of its wings. It is 3.5 inches across with wings spread. It glides majestically by, often at eye level, so you can admire its jewel-like colors. It can disappear in a flash merely by closing its wings because its underside looks like tree bark.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Most butterflies are indigenous; they do not migrate. However, painted ladies are exceptions. They fly up from the south each year, some years bringing more than others. You are most likely to see them swarming on butterfly bush blossoms. Painted ladies are 2.3 inches spread wing, orange on the topside; wingtips are black with white dots and dashes. Undersides are an exquisite cream and tan pattern with a striking salmon colored area on the upper wing that the butterfly can flash by moving its hind wings. The butterflies sold to schools and wedding parties are painted ladies.

Two-tailed Swallowtail

Two-tailed Swallowtail

Everyone recognizes big, yellow, high-flying swallowtails. The biggest of all is the two-tailed, over 5 inches wide with wings spread. (Actually, we have found six swallowtails in Los Alamos County, two of which are black.) Its distinctive feature is the two tails per wing, but these are hard to see as the swallowtails zip by 50 feet above our heads. Yellow swallowtails have black stripes coming off the shoulders onto the upper side of their forewings. On the two-tailed, these stripes are narrow, so both the upper and under sides of their wings are a vivid yellow.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western swallowtails are smaller, only 4 inches wide spread wing, and their shoulder stripes are wider. Therefore, they don't have as bright a yellow flash as the two-tailed. No matter. The westerns are still handsome as they patrol open corridors through the forests, like the road to Camp May. If any swallowtail poses in plain view, be sure to notice the iridescent blue and red dashes on the underside of the hind wings.

Weidemeyer Admiral

Weidemeyer Admiral

If you walk up the narrow canyons off State Road 501 ( West Jemez Road) on a warm summer day, chances are excellent that a Weidemeyer_s admiral will confront you. It is a large black butterfly, 3.5 inches wide spread wing, with a prominent, wide, white V-shaped marking on its upper side. Male admirals patrol open corridors in the woods searching for females. They resent intruders, including you, and fly just above your head to frighten you off.

Atlantis Fritillary

Atlantis Fritillary

If the butterfly world has gluttons, they are the fritillaries. In autumn when the coneflowers bloom, these butterflies swarm over them, several per flower, intent on slurping out the nectar. Fritillaries are orange with variously arranged check marks and dots on their upper wings. Their crowning glory is the gleaming silver spots on their under wings. We have four common fritillaries in our area. The Atlantis is 2.5 inches wide spread wing and the easiest to identify. It has dark, almost brown, shoulders near its body.

Orange Sulphur

Orange Sulphur

If you notice a butterfly seemingly on steroids, it is an orange sulphur. It flies fast just above the bushes, following the contour of the land in wide, far ranging circles. If it lands at all, it is only for an instant. Well-named, it is yellow with a distinct orange tinge, 2.5 inches wide spread wing; wing tips are black with some orange dots. The under wings are rather greenish. There are albino forms which are a entirely white. We have other sulphurs that look similar if they all hold still simultaneously, but none so hyperactive.

Checkered White

In spring and throughout the summer, we have multitudes of undistinguished white butterflies hanging around. Chances are good that they are checkered whites, the dandelions of the butterfly world. Nothing flashy; 1.75 inches wide spread wing, white with light gray checker marks on the topside of their wings; wing tips are darker. Love them anyway. Butterflies are considered the canaries in the mines of the ecological world. So, when the checkered whites fly, it means the world is still OK.

Sara Orangetip White

Sara Orangetip White

You know spring is coming when the orangetips fly. They are our first butterflies to emerge as the weather warms. They are exquisite bright-white little things, 1.5 inches wide with wings spread open. True to their name, they flaunt the flagrant orange spots on the tips of their forewings. Fortunately, they fly low enough and slowly enough that you can quickly recognize them. Orangetips prefer sunny spots in wooded canyons.

Monarch

Monarch

Monarchs, the most recognizable and beloved of all the butterflies, occasionally pass through our area. Most years, we see a few on their way north in spring, a few more in autumn as they migrate back to the mountains of Mexico. Monarchs are big, to 4 inches wide, a deep burnt orange with three black veins like a peace symbol. The true mark of a monarch are the white dots on the wide black margins of the under wing. On rare occasions we have seen a queen, the monarch's favorite mimic. Queens are smaller, only 3 inches wide, and lack the bold black veins.


 

© Pajarito Environmental Education Center
3540 Orange Street (or PO Box 547)
Los Alamos, NM, 87544
(505) 662-0460
Center@PajaritoEEC.org, Webmaster@PajaritoEEC.org

Banner photo by Hari Viswanathan; logo by Tori Hansen; photographs by many community members.
We welcome comments and submissions to this web site.