In April I took a picture of an orange butterfly in the back yard. Oh, Painted Lady, I thought. But then it folded its wings and revealed magnificent cryptically-patterned undersides, which I seem to have failed to photograph. I didn't remember seeing such patterning on Painted Ladies, and the edges of the wings were somewhat more sculpted than I remembered from previous Painted Lady sightings. Hmm. This was something else.
Right family, wrong species. This is the Compton Tortoiseshell, like the Painted Lady a nymphalid, a brush-footed butterfly. I should also have been sceptical of the Painted Lady diagnosis because of the date. The Painted Lady is a migrant species that doesn’t overwinter in Canada. It appears from the south in May, then may go through two or three generations, whose butterflies are seen from June through October.
The Compton Tortoiseshell, on the other wing, overwinters in Canada in an adult. A single brood appears in July or August, and the adults may survive for almost a year, expiring sometime late the following spring, which is pretty ancient for a butterfly.
This Painted Lady was photographed in mid-June, near Chilliwack, BC. It might have been a recent migrant, or may have represented the first generation of the year.
One thing that becomes clear from photographing butterflies -- it isn’t easy being one. It is rare to take a picture of a pristine lepidopteran. Both of the butterflies shown above have notches in their wings.
I would bet that butterflies are having a hard time here today. There’s a strong wind that knocked the power out as I was typing this. I shrieked like Homer Simpson, then the children came wandering in, looking lost. We will survive, kids. We have a shopping cart.
References.Butterflies of Canada: http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/index_e.php
Massachusetts Butterfly Atlas: http://massaudubon.org/butterflyatlas/index.php (This site has a very helpful side-by-side species comparison feature.)