Butterflies are flying insects that are active by day, brightly colored, have a thin body, rests with wings held erect over their backs and which have antennae that are thin, but thickened at the tip. All butterflies have two pairs of wings covered with overlapping layers of fine scales.
Most animals change during their lifetime, but few do so as dramatically as butterflies. They have a complex life cycle consisting of four developmental stages:
- Eggs - They are laid singly or in clusters on vegetation or on the ground.
- Caterpillars - These worm-like creatures hatch from eggs and feed primarily on plants. As they grow caterpillars shed their skin often.
- Pupae - These are cases within which resting caterpillars transform into adults.
- Adult - Butterflies emerge from pupae to feed and breed.
Roughly one hundred species occur regularly in Houston, 44 of which have been sighted at West 11th Street Park. Visit this link to find information on common butterflies in Houston. To attract the maximum number of butterfly species, both nectar plants (for adults) and host plants (for caterpillars) must be provided. It should be noted that nectar plant and host plant will not be the same plant. Because butterflies require both types of plants they have definite preferences in habitat.
Below are some of the butterflies that can be seen at West 11th Street Park during the year.
Click on the photo for enlarged view of picture.
2 1/2 to 4 inches in size. Black wings with rows of yellow spots separated by blue scaling. A "garden" butterfly, widespread in east and in desert southwest. Found from sea level to mountains in a variety of habitats. Flies spring to fall, most of year in deep south (2-3 broods). Males are mostly black with yellow spots along wing edge and a sub-marginal yellow band of varying width. On females, this band is reduced to small spots on forewing and replaced by blue scaling on hind-wing. It is attracted to any plants in parsley family, including cultivated, weedy, and native species.
4 To 6 inches in size. As the name implies this is the largest North American butterfly. Considered a pest of ornamental citrus by growers, as its larvae feed on the foliage. Flight is a graceful series of strong flaps and short glides, usually flying at eye level or above. Both sexes of the giant swallowtail have dark chocolate-brown wings with bands of yellow spots. Nectar plants include butterfly bush, dianthus family, lantana, sunflower and salvia. Host plants are prickly ash and rue.
| Giant Swallowtail, oblique view
This large, dark brown and yellow swallowtail is nearly always found in association with plants in the citrus family. It is equally at home in gardens and in natural wooded areas, and although it is common, the first sighting of one never fails to dazzle the observer. Ranges throughout most of the east; more limited distribution in the southwest, but has expanded into the Los Angeles basin within the past 20 years.
2 to 2 1/2 inches in size. Female is larger than male. Olive-brown or gray-brown with dark pattern. White-ish spots on outer forewing and row of eyespots on hindwing. Round, dark eyespot near outer margin of forewing both above and below. This brush-footed butterfly is one of two common emperors found throughout the Houston area. The various hack-berry tree species in our area serve as the only larval food plants and give this pretty, active butterfly its scientific name.
2 1/2 to 3 inches in size. Orange or orange-brown, with black veins; black line across middle of hindwing; black wing margins contain a row of white spots. Told from similar Monarch butterfly by its smaller size and the thin black band on the hindwings. This Nymphalid or brush-footed butterfly prefers moist habitats along streams, lake shores, swamps and wet meadows. Males patrol all day near the host plants in search of females, often returning to the same perch day after day.
2 1/2 to 3 inches in size. Underwings are covered with metallic silver spots. Elongated orange wings with black markings. Silver spots on hindwing and tip of forewing below. Gulf Fritillary larvae feed on Passion-flower plants. Can be seen throughout the year in Houston, even during sunny winter days. This longwing butterfly flight is fast and steady, with shallow wingbeats. Males will patrol their territories in search of mates. Nectar plants include butterfly bush, hibiscus, lantana, zinnia and salvia. Host plants are passion flowers.
3 to 3 1/2 inches in size. Long, narrow black wings with yellow stripes. This beautiful and unmistakable butterfly is unfortunately a rare visitor to Houston. Usually seen in the late summer and early fall. This longwing butterfly inhabits forests and woodland edges, flying with a slow, fluttering wingbeat. Adult zebra butterflies usually remain within a few hundred yards of their home territory. They are sometimes found roosting in groups at night.
1 to 1 1/2 inches in size. This gossamer-winged butterfly is dark gray above with orange tail spot. Light gray below with orange and blue patches near tails. Usually consumes nectar from various flowers and plants. Can be seen from February thru November in the Houston area. Unlike most hairstreaks, they bask in the sunlight with their wings spread widely. Males will perch on the leaves of shrubs and trees in the afternoon, waiting for passing females.
3 1/2 to 4 inches in size. Orange, with black veins and white-spotted black borders. Male has scent patch on hindwing. Note the rows of white spots on edges of wings. Males have bright burnt orange colored wings versus females which usually have a duller orange than her mate. Annual migration route of this milkweed butterfly may cover thousands of miles. During these longs flights, individuals often wander far off course. Monarchs inhabit open fields, marshes, pastures and roadsides, visiting a wide variety of flowers for nectar.
|Wild Indigo Duskywing
1 1/8 to 1 5/8 inches in size. This skipper butterfly is dark blackish brown; forewing with brown central patches and pattern of dark and light bands on outer half; hindwing fringes are brown. Can be seen April thru November in Houston. Feeds on wild indigos, lupines, crown vetch, rattlebush and several other legumes. An inhabitant of open fields and woodland edges, this butterfly sips nectar from a variety of flowers.
1 1/2 to 2 inches in size. The female is heavily checkered on upper side; male lightly marked on forewings only. Seen in Houston from March thru November. Unlike most butterflies, the males do not produce a pheromone for mating. The male's wing pattern absorbs ultraviolet light, which attracts the females. Checkered Whites lay their eggs on the leaves and stems of plants in the mustard family.