In August, our flower gardens are shimmering with butterflies. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Entomologists, scientists who study insects, group butterflies into 6 classes: Swallowtail, White and Sulphurs, Gossamer Wings, Metal Marks, Brush-foots, and Skippers. In Carroll, there are no metal marks but we have several common species in the other categories.
Swallowtails are usually the first butterflies you notice in your garden. They are large, with yellow and black or blue and black patterns. The swallowtail family has distinctive tails and flutter their wings to keep their balance when feeding. The three most commonly seen in gardens are the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail.
Whites & Sulphurs
The cabbage white is the most commonly seen member of the White and Sulphur family, but Sulphurs also abound in gardens. The butterflies in the White and Sulphur family are relatively small, with about a 2-inch wingspan. They range in color from white to yellow orange and feed with their wings closed.
Brush-foots are a large group of butterflies that include the well-known Monarchs and our state butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will see a Baltimore Checkerspot in your garden; they are uncommon and prefer wet, swampy areas. Brush-foots vary in size and can vary in color but are usually orange and brown to black. Their wings are usually open when they are nectaring on flowers.
Gossamer Wings are small, delicate butterflies that feed with their wings closed. The most common gossamer wing in Carroll County gardens is the Eastern Tailed-Blue. This tiny butterfly can be seen fluttering near the ground. The dorsal upper side of the males is a beautiful blue. Females are a duller gray-black. Both males and females are light gray on the ventral (underside).
The final group of butterflies in Carroll is Skippers. There are literally hundreds of skippers darting around meadows. Skippers are very small to medium sized with short stout bodies and relatively large heads. Since they stay low to the ground and dart quickly, they can be hard to identify. The Silver Spotted Skipper is common in Carroll County visiting a variety of nectar sources.
These are the most common butterflies seen in Carroll County gardens but hundreds more can visit your garden. A good butterfly guide can help you identify those butterflies. A couple good guides for this area are Butterflies of Pennsylvania and Butterflies through Binoculars. The website Maryland Butterflies Is another wonderful resource. Have fun trying to identify all the butterflies in your garden!
Baltimore Checkerspot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wackybadger/14422277228
All other photos by Nancy Bittler
Butterflies of Pennsylvania by James L. Monroe & David M. Wright, 2017 University of Pittsburg Press
Butterflies of Maryland: A Biological Summary & Checklist: https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Documents/butterfliesofmaryland_biological-summary_checklist.pdf