The plight of the monarch has focused our attention on the annual fall migration of this gorgeous black and orange butterfly. Since the butterfly’s population has plummeted some 90 percent, backyard butterfly watchers are keeping a close eye on the numbers of monarchs that flutter through their backyards each spring and fall. While this epic event it taking place, the largely unrecognized migration of a broad mix of other butterflies is also taking place.
Would you believe that well more than a dozen other butterflies that you are apt to see in your Georgia backyard also migrate?
Here is a list of some of these amazing insects: American lady, painted lady, common buckeye, red admiral, cloudless sulphur, little yellow, cloudless sulphur, sachem, question mark, fiery skipper, mourning cloak, gulf fritillary, long-tailed skipper, ocola, queen, and American snout.
By far, the monarch stages the longest migration of all North American butterflies. This migration can measure some 2,500 miles in length. The migrations of other butterflies that visit our backyards are much shorter. In addition, all the while monarchs are winging their way south, some butterflies such as the fiery skipper and some cloudless sulphurs are actually flying in the opposite direction.
The migrations of most of these other butterflies is so subtle you would never notice them until one day you wonder where all of the American snouts, gulf fritillaries and others have gone, while the numbers of individuals of other species such as the painted lady have increased.
However, migration cannot account for all of the fluctuations in butterfly populations that take in our backyards at this time of the year. Since most of our butterflies are sedentary, as days get progressively shorter, they simply do not produce any more generations (flights). Most butterflies overwinter as an egg or pupa.
Aside from the monarch, the most obvious migration we are likely to witness in this neck of the woods is that of the cloudless sulphur. Using the sun as their compass, migrating cloudless sulphurs fly approximately twelve miles a day.
During this time of year, cloudless sulphurs are drawn to the red blossoms of Turk’s cap growing in my yard. They are also fond of scarlet sage, pineapple sage, and zinnias.
One major difference between bird and butterfly migration is that the same birds that were raised and fed in our yards this year might return next spring. However, none of the monarchs, cloudless sulphurs, red admirals and other migrating butterflies that graced your property this spring and summer will ever return.
While we measure the lifespan of birds in years, the average butterfly lives no more than a month or less. Consequently, the butterflies that appear in our backyards the following year are ancestors of those that nectared at our flowers this year.
During the next few weeks, I hope you will see many monarchs in your yard. If you do, that might be a sign monarch populations are on the rebound. However, don’t forget to look for those other backyard butterflies that also migrate. Although they will never grab the headlines like the monarch, they are truly fascinating members of our backyard wildlife community and very much deserving of our attention.