Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard
All butterfly species have a similar life cycle. Adult butterflies lay eggs on or near their favored host plant. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed until they are ready to pupate. They metamorphose in their chrysalis and emerge as adult butterflies. For some species, this entire life cycle can complete in a few weeks but for others, it takes an entire year. Some spring butterflies are only found this time of the year.
As soon as the spring flowers like False Garlic and those in the mustard family emerge, Falcate Orangetip butterflies emerge from their chrysalises where they have been for nearly a year. These white butterflies show gender differences in their color and patterning. Only the male (below, left) of this species shows the bright orange tip on its forewing. After mating, the female Falcate Orangetip (below, right) lays her eggs singly on the emerging blooms of a mustard plant. The eggs hatch as the plant blooms providing food for the caterpillar until it wraps up in its chrysalis to wait for the next spring. Look for these on Haller Haven Trail or along Oil Field Rd.
Two species of Swallowtails are among the earliest butterflies found on the refuge because they overwinter as chrysalids. They are the largest and busiest butterflies seen here. In early spring you can find Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (below, left) everywhere from Haller Haven and Meadow Pond trails to Bennett and Oilfield Roads. Black Swallowtails (below, right) will often be found nectaring on flowers on the auto tour and in the fields along Wildlife Road but you may also find them alongside other roadways looking for blooms.