Identification of brown butterfly with orange/black/white spots

Identification of brown butterfly with orange/black/white spots

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These brown butterflies are very frequent at my place now. Two or three can be found quietly sitting with their wings folded everyday, at different locations. It's a transition period between Autumn and Winter here, West Bengal, India.

What species is this?

Why is it taking shelter inside a house? They don't seem to move much, even during the day I've found one sitting quietly by the window. It wasn't flying off even after being disturbed.

I think this is the "Dark Evening Brown" or Melanitis phedima possibly Melanitis phedima bela:

Some further information can be found here (image 1) and here (image 2). If you look close at the second image, you can see the spot on the wing.

Why they are coming into the houses is something I can only speculate about, but probably they are either attracted by light or by warmth.

As to your question why they come into the house: Some butterflies survive winter (hibernate) on a dry, cool but frost-free place such as parts of houses that are not heated. In autumn they actively search for such places. I often find them in a wood stack or on the attic. In Europe, examples are Gonepteryx rhamni, Polygonia c-album and Inachis io. I think the latter two belong to the same family as Melanitis phedima, so it might try to find a place to hibernate. For more info see

Pennyroyal Research

Below is an identification key I created, which includes some of the most common butterfly species found in the Central Queensland area. The key uses clearly visible features such as size, colour, and spots, so may not correctly identify all variations of a species. The butterflies which make up the key are:

  • Caper White (Belenois java teutonia)
  • Small Grass-yellow (Eurema smilax)
  • Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida Cressida)
  • Glasswing (Acraea andromacha)
  • Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)
  • Meadow Argus (Junonia villida)
  • Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi)
  • Common Grass-blue (Zizina labradus)
  • Orchard Swallowtail (Papilio aegeus)
  • Varied Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)
  • Common Crow (Euploea core)

Dichotomous Key

1a Small wingspan typically <35 mm across 3
1b Wingspan >35 mm across 2

2a Medium wingspan typically 40-70 mm 6
2b Large wingspan typically >75 mm 4

3a Mainly yellow coloured black along outer edge of forewings
Eurema smilax
3b Wings grey with violet blue Zizina labradus

4a Hind wings scalloped with red spots forewings wholly or partly
transparent 5
4b Velvet black bright purple or orange spots on wings
Hypolimnas bolina

5a Forewings wholly transparent with two large black spots no blue present red on
abdomen and around head Cressida cressida
5b Forewings only partly transparent blue hints on upper and/or underside of
hindwing Papilio aegeus

6a Wings mainly brown and/or orange 7
6b Wings not mainly brown or orange 9

7a Relatively small (40-50 mm) many orange patches on hind and forewings
7b Larger (60-75 mm) mainly brown coloured orange patch on forewing enclosing
two dark spots with white centres numerous vivid ‘eyespots’ underneath
Melanitis leda

8a Mainly brown two spots on each wing, consisting of orange, black and purple
rings underside grey with one dark spot on forewings visible
Junonia villida
8b Mainly orange black with white spots on edge of forewings four small blue spots
ringed with black on hindwing underside red, orange and brown with intricate
patterning Vanessa kershawi

9a Wings mainly black with many white spots no other colours visible
Euploea core
9b Wings mainly white, yellow or transparent on upperside

10a Forewings transparent hindwings cream and black with yellow spots on trailing
edge abdomen with black and yellow patterning
Acraea andromacha
10b Wings mainly white or yellow black on edges of all wings, with pale spots bright
yellow on underside black veins clearly visible on underside
Belenois java teutonia

A PDF of the key, which includes information and photographs of each species, is available here.

The Latin species name niobe refers to Niobe, daughter of Tantalus in Greek mythology. [1]

  • F. n. niobe (central Europe and Western Siberia)
  • F. n. changaicaReuss, 1922
  • F. n. demavendis(Gross & Ebert, 1975) (Iran)
  • F. n. gigantea(Staudinger, 1871) (southern Europe)
  • F. n. intermediaReuss, 1925
  • F. n. khusestana(Gross & Ebert, 1975) (western Iran)
  • F. n. kurana(Wyatt & Omoto, 1966)
  • F. n. orientalis(Alphéraky, 1881)
  • F. n. ornata(Staudinger, 1901)
  • F. n. shiva(Wyatt & Omoto, 1966)
  • F. n. tekkensis(Christoph, 1893)
  • F. n. valesinoidesReuss, 1926 (Korea)
  • F. n. voraxidesReuss, 1921

Fabriciana niobe is common throughout Europe, but absent from the United Kingdom and Northern Europe, and is also found in Siberia, Russia, Iran, China, and Korea [2] These butterflies can be found in open grassy places, slopes, woodland and clearings at altitudes between sea level and 2,400 metres (7,900 ft). [3] [4] [5]

Fabriciana niobe has a wingspan of 46–60 millimetres (1.8–2.4 in). [3] The females are rather bigger and have more marked wings. [1] These medium-sized butterflies have a bright brown-orange background with black dots and crossbands, and a line of submarginal triangular patches. [6] The forewings margin shows a rounded shape. The underside of the hindwings usually has small whitish-silvery spots, a black pupilled yellow spot and black lined submarginal lunules and veins in the basal area. [5] Caterpillars have a dark basic colour with small, white spots and white thorns.

This species is rather similar to the dark-green fritillary (Speyeria aglaja) and high brown fritillary (Fabriciana adippe), [7] but it is quite smaller, the silver centred brown spots are smaller and the postdiscal silver markings are not continuous. [5]

Seitz - A. niobe L. (69c). Above very similar to aglaja, at once recognized by the much more variegated under-side. The hindwing beneath is without the even verdigris shading in the basal half, the latter bearing distinct leathery-yellow patches, which are often centred, edged or shaded with brownish green. The nymotypical form has abundant silver-spots beneath, more than aglaja, as the distal band has no silver in aglaja, while it bears silvery centres in niobe. [8]

This species is univoltine. [5] It overwinters at the caterpillar stage in the egg shell. Adults fly from May to late August. [3] The eggs are laid on the vegetation, near the host plants. The larvae hatch in March and mature in June. Caterpillars feed on Viola tricolor, Viola canina, Viola riviniana, Viola odorata, Viola hirta, Viola palustris and Plantago lanceolata. [1] [2]


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z While flying, the colors and patterns on a butterfly's dorsal (back) side, are readily visible however, when resting, a butterfly usually folds its wings over its back, allowing the colors on the ventral (underside) side, to be displayed. A moth, on the other hand, will spread its wings to the sides, showing its back or dorsal side on top, while at rest.

Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) on Wild Clematis (Clematis virginiana), Glen Burnie, Maryland, April 2017. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Admiral, Red (Vanessa atalanta)
Dorsal side: black-brown with white spots and red-orange bands.
Ventral side: red-orange bands and white and blue spots on forewings, and an overall marbled appearance on hindwings.

Drinks tree sap, nectar from clover, daisies and milkweed, and juice from fermenting fruit. Inhabits moist areas, including woods, parks, marshes, and yards. Hibernates over winter. Azure, Spring (Celastrina ladon)
Dorsal side of wings: brighter blue for male, while female is darker blue and has black markings on forewings' edges.
Ventral side: gray with black spots.

Drinks nectar from blackberry, privet, and milkweed. Inhabits areas near woods, fields, and marshes. As a caterpillar, it secretes a substance or honeydew that ants use as food and, in return, the ants protect the caterpillar from predators.

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) butterfly, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2017. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Blue, Eastern-tailed (Cupido comyntas)
Dorsal side: blue with gray-brown edges for male, while female is brown or charcoal with some blue in Spring. Ventral side: gray or white with black spots. White fringe is present on wings and orange spots, and a narrow tail appears on the rear of hindwings.

Drinks nectar from wild strawberry, aster, and clover. Inhabits open, sunny areas, including fields, meadows, and parks. The caterpillar secretes a substance or honeydew that ants use as food and, in return, the ants protect the caterpillar from predators.

Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas), Baltimore, Maryland, August 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Buckeye, Common (Junonia coenia)
Dorsal side: brown with two eyespots on both forewings and hindwings. Two orange bars and a whitish band line the forewings, while an orange band stripes the hindwings.
Ventral side: brown in Summer and red in Fall.

Drinks nectar from aster, knapweed, and peppermint. Inhabits open areas, including fields, gardens, and savannas.

Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Assateague Island National Park Seashore, Berlin (Worcester County), Maryland, October 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Checkerspot, Baltimore (Euphydryas phaeton)
Dorsal side: black with white and orange-red spots along edge.
Ventral side: black, orange, and white.

White spots on abdomen. Drinks nectar from rose, viburnum, and milkweed. Inhabits swamps and meadows. Spends winter as larvae. Named for George Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore. Maryland State Insect. Classified as endangered in Maryland. Clearwing, Hummingbird (Hemaris thysbe)
Dorsal side: clear wings with red/brown/black borders and dark veins
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side

Plump, furry bodies with fan-like tail tip and yellow legs. Thorax olive on dorsal side and yellow/white on ventral side. Burgundy/red/brown abdomen with dorsal patches. Long tongue rolled under chin. Mimics hummingbird flight pattern. Drinks nectar from flowers, including honeysuckle, beebalm, thistles, clover, and lilacs. Inhabits forests, meadows, and gardens.

Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), Baltimore, Maryland, August 2019. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Comma, Eastern (Polygonia comma)
Dorsal side: brown-orange with black spots on forewings, while hindwings, bearing a dark border with paler spots along edge, turn black in summer, then orange with black spots in winter.
Ventral side: mottled brown with a silver-white comma-shaped mark on hindwings.

Drinks tree sap and juice from rotting fruit. Inhabits woods near water and swamps. Crescent, Pearl (Phyciodes tharos)
Dorsal side: orange with black edges and markings.
Ventral side: orange with dark marks, and a white-pearl crescent-shaped mark within a dark patch.

Male has black antennae. Drinks nectar from milkweed, dogbane, and aster. Inhabits open areas, including fields, open woods, and pastures.

Duskywing, Juvenal's (Erynnis juvenalis)
Dorsal side: brown with dark and white marks - spots for male, larger, more pronounced spots, especially on forewings, for female.
Ventral side: brown with two paler spots near hindwings' upper edges.

Drinks nectar from dandelion, blueberry, and lilac. Inhabits scrublands, woods, and fields.

Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos), Monkton, Maryland, October 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Elfin, Henry's (Callophrys henrici)
Dorsal side: brown, and female has a spot on forewings' edge.
Ventral side: light brown near edges and darker brown-black near body with some white marks separating colors.

Small tail on hindwings. Drinks nectar from redbud, willows, and hawthorn. Inhabits woodlands and barrens.

Elfin, Frosted (Callophrys irus)
Dorsal side: brown, and male has long, dark spot on forewings' edges.
Ventral side: red-brown with dark lines and whitish edges on hindwings, dark spots near small tail.

Drinks flower nectar. Inhabits scrublands, fields, and open woodlands. Classified as endangered in Maryland.

Fritillary, Great Spangled (Speyeria cybele)
Dorsal side: orange (darker near body) with black marks for male, while female is usually darker.
Ventral side: orange-yellow with black marks and several silver spots on forewings and brown-orange with silver spots and a wide cream band on hindwings.

Drinks nectar from thistle, coneflower, and milkweed. Inhabits fields, pastures, and woodlands.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele), Monkton, Maryland, July 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Fritillary, Variegated (Euptoieta claudia)
Dorsal side: yellow-orange with black lines and black spots near edges. Black-ringed spot on front edges of forewings.
Ventral side: mottled orange, brown, gray, and yellow.

Drinks nectar from violets, coneflowers, and thistles. Inhabits open fields and meadows.

Hairstreak, Gray (Strymon melinus)
Dorsal side: blue-gray.
Ventral side: light to dark gray with white, black, and orange lines on forewings and hindwings orange-red and black spot on hindwings.

Male has orange head and abdomen, while female has gray abdomen. Drinks nectar from milkweed, mint, and goldenrod. Inhabits open areas, including fields, parks, and gardens.

Variegated Fritillary butterfly (Euptoieta claudia), Monkton, Maryland, October 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Hairstreak, King's (Satyrium kingi)
Dorsal side: light brown.
Ventral side: light brown with brown markings, as well as an orange-topped blue spot and orange and black spots on hindwings.

One long and one short tail on hindwings. Drinks nectar from Allegheny chinquapin and sourwood trees. Inhabits areas near swamps and streams. Classified as endangered in Maryland.

Lady, American (Vanessa virginiensis)
Dorsal side: orange with black marks, and a black patch on forewings, as well as blue and white spots.
Ventral side: olive-brown with a pink area on forewings and a marbled pattern, a streak, and two large eyespots on hindwings.

Drinks nectar from dogbane, aster, goldenrod, and marigold. Inhabits open areas, including meadows, parks, and dunes.

Marble, Olympia (Euchloe Olympia)
Dorsal side: white with few dark patches on forewings and near body.
Ventral side: white with green-yellow marbling.

Drinks nectar of chickweed, houstonia, and phlox. Inhabits meadows, open woodlands, and shale barrens. Classified as endangered in Maryland. Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
Dorsal side: orange with black edges, veins, and a black patch of scent scales for male, while female is orange-brown with wider black edges and lines. White spots along edges.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on Mexican sunflower, Kinder Farm Park, Millersville, Maryland, October 2018. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Ventral side: orange with black veins and a black patch with white spots on forewings, and brown-yellow with thick black veins. Black edge with white spots.

Drinks nectar from milkweed, lilac, and blazing star. Inhabits fields, marshes, and meadows.

Body is gray. Inhabits catalpa trees, yards, and woodlands.

Moth, Cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia)
Dorsal side: brown (red near base of forewings) with white and reddish bands, crescent-shaped spots, and tan edges, as well as eyespots on tip of forewings.
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side.

Body is red with white stripes. Male has large, feathery antennae, while female has larger, rounded abdomen. Inhabits urban and suburban environments.

Moth, Giant Leopard (Hypercompe scribonia)
Dorsal side: white with black spots.
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side.

Abdomen is blue-black with orange-red marks male has a yellow line along side. Inhabits fields, meadows, and areas near woodlands.

Moth, Io (Automeris io)
Dorsal side: yellow with dark markings on forewings for male, while female has brown-red forewings. Dorsal hindwings are yellow-orange with a large black-blue eyespot.
Ventral side: brown with dark spots on forewings, and small white-silver spots on hindwings.

Male has large antennae. Inhabits forests, parks, and yards. Moth, Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae Harris)
Dorsal side: yellow-brown forewings with darker areas and white spots. Dorsal hindwings are pale, nearly translucent white-yellow. Ventral side: similar to dorsal side.

Body is brown and hairy. Inhabits hickory, walnut, ash, elms, and other hardwood trees. Caterpillars are toxic and should not be handled. The adults, which may carry some toxins, have organs which allow them to "vocalize." Also known as Hickory Tiger Moth.

Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae Harris), Friendsville, Maryland, October 2015. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Moth, Salt Marsh (Estigmene acrea)
Dorsal side: white forewings with small black spots on most. Orange-yellow hindwings for male and white hindwings for female. Black markings on hindwings.
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side, though forewings may have yellowish shade on male

Head and fluffy thorax are white and abdomen is yellow-orange with large black spots. Inhabits marshes, woods, farm fields, and grasslands.

Salt Marsh Moth, (Estigmene acrea), Baltimore, Maryland, August 2019. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Purple, Red-spotted (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)
Dorsal side: blue-green with iridescent colors on hindwings.
Ventral side: brown with two red marks on forewings, and red spots on hindwings.

Drinks sap, juice from rotting fruit, nectar from privet and viburnum. Inhabits forests and plains. Same species as White Admiral.

Purple, Red-spotted butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), Glen Burnie, Maryland, September 2018. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Silkmoth, Promethea (Callosamia promethea)
Wing borders are tan. Males are black with a set of eyespots on their forewings, while females range from dark brown to reddish-brown with spots on all their wings.

Feeds on tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), sassafras (Sassafrass albidum) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Also known as Spicebush Silkmoth.

Promethea Silkmoth (Callosamia promethea), Glen Burnie, Maryland, June 2019. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Skipper, European (Thymelicus lineola)
Dorsal side: orange with black edges and dark veins. Male has a black patch of scent cells on forewings.
Ventral side: orange on forewings, and gray on hindwings.

Drinks nectar from thistles, clover, and milkweed. Inhabits meadows, fields and pastures.

Skipper, Peck's (Polites peckius)
Dorsal side: brown with yellow-orange patches and scent cells on forewings for male, while female is darker with pale spots.
Ventral side: red-brown with a central yellow spot on hindwings.

Drinks nectar from clover, milkweed, and purple vetch. Inhabits meadows, yards, and marshes. Skipper, Silver-spotted (Epargyreus clarus)
Dorsal side: black-brown with square yellow spots on forewings.
Ventral side: dark brown with silver-white mark across hindwings.

Drinks nectar from non-yellow flowers, including milkweed, clover, and blazing star. Inhabits woods, gardens, and fields.

Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus), Baltimore, Maryland, August 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Skipper, Zabulon (Poanes zabulon)
Dorsal side: orange with brown-black edges for male, while female is brown with pale spots on forewings.
Ventral side: orange-yellow with brown outer edges, brown-red spots, and a yellow spot for male while female is brown-red with some gray-purple and a white line on hindwings.

Drinks nectar from clover, blackberry, and thistle. Inhabits woodlands, parks, and gardens.

Zabulon Skipper butterfly (Poanes zabulon), Baltimore, Maryland, August 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Sulphur, Clouded (Colias philodice)
Dorsal side: yellow with black edges, as well as dark spots on forewings, and a silver spot on hindwings for male. Female is either white or else yellow with white-yellow spots in black edges.
Ventral side: yellow for male, and yellow or white for female. Brown-ringed spot on hindwings.

Drinks nectar of milkweed, butterfly bush, and coneflower. Inhabits meadows, yards, and alfalfa and clover fields.

Sulphur, Orange (Colias eurytheme)
Dorsal side: yellow and orange with black edges for male, while female is yellow and has yellow spots through her black edges. Like the Clouded Sulphur, females also may be white in overall color. Dark spot on forewings.
Ventral side: yellow-orange with small black spots and a central silver spot.

Drinks nectar from milkweed, coneflower, and butterfly bush. Inhabits open areas, including alfalfa and clover fields, pastures, and meadows. Swallowtail, Black (Papilio polyxenes)
Dorsal side: black with orange-black spot on hindwings, and pale spot on forewings' edges. Male has a yellow band and spots across wings, while female has smaller yellow spots, as well as a large blue band on hindwings.
Ventral side: black, yellow, and blue.

Drinks nectar from clover, coneflowers, and milkweed. Inhabits gardens, fields, and marshes. Fastest swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), Monkton, Maryland, July 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger (Papilio glaucus)
Dorsal side: yellow with four black stripes and black edges for male, while female can be similarly colored (yellow morph), or black with black stripes (dark morph). Both female forms have a blue band on hindwings near tail. Male also has a few orange-red and blue spots near tail.
Ventral side: yellow and black with yellow spots along edges. Female shows some blue coloration on hindwings, as well as a row of orange spots.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), Monkton, Maryland, July 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Drinks nectar from cherry, lilac, and milkweed. Inhabits parks, gardens, and forests.

Swallowtail, Spicebush (Papilio troilus)
Dorsal side: black-brown with cream-colored spots along edges. Hindwings have green-blue patch for male, and an orange spot and a blue patch for female. The subspecies Papilio troilus ilioneus may have yellow spots instead of blue, as well as blue marks down the tail.
Ventral side: black with two rows of orange spots, and green or blue coloration between rows.

Drinks nectar from coneflower, milkweed, and butterfly bush. Inhabits meadows, gardens, and swamps.

Swallowtail, Zebra (Eurytides marcellus)
Dorsal side: white-green with black stripes, and two blue dots and a red dot on hindwings.
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side, but also runs a red stripe across hindwings.

Triangular wings and very long tails. Drinks nectar from blueberry, verbena, and milkweed, as well as water from sand. Inhabits swamps, fields, and woodlands.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
Dorsal side: orange and black with a thin black line cutting through the dark veins on hindwings, and white dots along black edges.
Ventral side: similar to dorsal side.

Drinks nectar from milkweed, goldenrod, and thistle. Inhabits areas near water, meadows, and fields. Webworm Moth, Ailanthus (Atteva aurea)
This webworm ermine moth is small but colorful with orange wings bearing black-outlined white spots. When it rests still on a leaf, it looks like a bug or beetle, for it rolls up its wings tightly around its slim body. In flight, it resembles a wasp. Formerly limited to the south and the tropics, this moth has followed the Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive species, north to Maryland and New England.

Ailanthus Webworm (Atteva aurea) on goldenrod, Glen Burnie, Maryland, September 2018. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
White, Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)
Dorsal side : black with white stripes, as well as blue and red marks on hindwings.
Ventral side: brown-red with white stripes.

Drinks tree sap, juice from rotting fruit, nectar from privet and viburnum, and aphid secretions. Inhabits forests. Same species as Red-Spotted Purple.

White, Cabbage (Pieris rapae)
Dorsal side: white with black patch on forewings' tip. Male has one black spot on forewings, while female has two.
Ventral side: gray-yellow with faint black dots or specks.

Drinks nectar from dandelion, mustard, and mint. Inhabits gardens, parks, and fields.

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Identification of brown butterfly with orange/black/white spots - Biology

In some cultures, a brown or tan colored butterfly symbolizes a new life or a fresh start.

Seeing a brown butterfly also mean there is good news or important news soon to come your way. If a brown butterfly enters the house it means that an important letter or message will arrive soon.

Some believe that when a brown (or white) butterfly enters the house it is the spirit or soul of a deceased loved one from the distant past. It can also mean that the actual soul of the individual is nearby.

Some say that if a brown butterfly flies into your home, that it can be the spirit of a loved one coming to warn you ahead of time about some unlucky event or misfortune that could occur in general, it may mean to be extra cautious for the next few days.

If the first butterfly of the season you see happens to be brown, it can indicate misfortune practice extra positive thinking and be extra careful at this time.

One myth says that if a brown butterfly enters and flies around the house, that great fortune will befall the owner of the house.

In many cultures, especially in Filipino superstition, a brown butterfly would represents money soon to come your way. If it lands on you it will bring extra good luck.

Likewise, if a green or brown butterfly flies inside and around the house, great fortune will befell on the owner of the house. The color green and brown signify bills and money.

In parts of Eastern Europe it is believed that brown butterflies can be a bad omen, or may mean that bad news is on its way.

Chalk hill blue (Polyommatus coridon)

Chalk hill blue male upperwing

The habitats of Chalk Hill Blue are in chalk and limestone grassland. This butterfly can be seen in Britain and Ireland, exactly on August. T

he wings of females are brown with a bit blue around their body and white edges, while the wings of males are blue with the dust black and white edges.

  • chalk hill blue caterpillar
  • chalk hill blue caterpillar
  • chalk hill blue egg
  • chalk hill blue female underwing
  • chalk hill blue female upperwing
  • chalk hill blue male underwing

Size and family

Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio

Whenever I do a large post on a particular group of plants or animals, I always seem to start with a disclaimer. Not all of the skippers are illustrated here. I simply haven't seen all the species in Ohio. But in the interest of keeping my posts going, here are a few.

Lepidoptera are the Butterflies & Moths. There are those who like to add AND the Skippers. Like Hymenoptera, the bees, wasps, ants, and Sawflies. Sawflies are a type of wasp, but with fat bodies. Same goes for the Skippers. They are a "type" of butterfly, but have fatter bodies. They are extremely fast fliers, which means they have strong wing muscles. As any collector can tell you, pinning and spreading their wings is quite a challenge. Another difference is many species sit with their upper wings folded, and the hindwings open.

Also look at their antennae. Most don't end in a club. They are swollen, but then form a fine tip. These tips are often curved on many species. There are about 50 different Skippers in Ohio. Over 40 of them are known to breed here. The others are strays, having been recorded only once or twice in the state.

I have collected over 30 of them found in Ohio. My goal now is to photograph them. I could expand this post and illustrate mounted specimens, but as I have been fond of saying, a post that size could go on forever. This is the most difficult family of Butterflies to identify by photos, many of them you need to have 'in hand' to examine fine details. For now I will stick to live shots, but hope to add more on the subject at a later date.

One of our largest and most common species is the Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus. If all you see is the inside of the wings, it could be mistaken for the slightly smaller Golden-banded Skipper.

A quick look at the backside, and the silvery-white patch in the middle of the wing is unmistakable. This species is found statewide.

At the other end of the size spectrum is our smallest species, the Least Skipper, Ancyloxypha numitor. It has a longer body than other skippers. The wings are all orange on the outside, and darker orange inside. These are weak fliers when compared to other members of the family, so look for them in low vegetation near the ground.

The Least Skipper ranges all the way down to Florida, where this shot was taken. It's nectaring on Lippia flowers. In Florida there is a similar looking species called the Skipperling. That species has a broad white band across the back of the hindwing.

Some of the earliest skippers to come out in the spring are the Dusky Wings. These are medium sized skippers that are brown with mottled hindwings. That pretty much describes all of them, as they look quite alike.

One of the things I use to narrow down the species is the gray linebordered by black dots. That makes this either the Dreamy Dusky Wing, Erynnis icelus, or the Sleepy Dusky Wing, Erynnis brizo. Sleepy tends to be found more in dry oak woods, while Dreamy prefers Willows and Poplars and a wetter area. Dreamy usually has much larger gray patches on the forewings than you see here. To me this looks more like a Sleepy, but I have been told this photo is a Dreamy, so I defer to the experts.

Another group of similar looking species include Juvenal's, Horace's, and Mottled Dusky Wings. These can be recognized by the silvery white spots in the upper wings. The Mottled Dusky Wing, mostly found in southern Ohio, has large black 'mottling' on the hindwings.

These are photos of Juvenal's Dusky Wing, Erynnis juvenalis. Notice the two light spots on the hindwing. If these are present on the back of the wing, it's Juvenal's, if absent, it's Horace's Dusky Wing. Also, Juvenal's flies only in the spring months. Horace's can be found all summer. Another thing this group of skippers have in common, the margin of the wing appears indented along the top. Dusky Wings commonly bask on the ground in open sunlight.

Here are the two spots I mentioned. Yes, the specimen is posed, but I wanted to make sure you saw the spots I was referring to.

Wild Indigo Dusky Wing, Erynnis baptisiae. I found this species flying among the Blue and White False Indigos (Baptisia) on our prairie. I recognize this species by looking for the several large silvery white cells in the upper part of the forewing, followed by a couple tannish-brown rectangle cells below.

Historically, this species was restricted to fields and open prairies. The flower Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia, has been planted throughout the state, and has broadened the range of this butterfly. Crown Vetch is now the primary host for the caterpillars.

This is the Northern Cloudy Wing, Thorybes pylades. Sometimes mistaken for a Dusky Wing, they lack the mottling of that group. Essentially the wings are a chocolate brown. Look for two rows of 3-4 small white dots coming down from the wing margin. The center of the wing will contain one or two other silvery white spots. The markings are the same on the back. In the similar Southern Cloudy Wing, those little spots are large broad rectangles. Look for this flying along forest edges.

The Little Glassy Wing, Pompeius verna, is one of the smaller, rapid flying skippers. Dark like the Cloudy Wing, it has only one row of small spots coming down from the wing margin. The center spots of the Cloudy Wing are highly separated, in the Glassy Wing they are crowded together. The spots are somewhat translucent.

The backside shows the same spot arrangement, but the hindwing often hides them. The hindwing may or may not show faint spots. Look for the white spot behind the swollen portion of the antennae.

Common Sooty Wing, Pholisora catullus. This butterfly is all black. Look for the S shaped row of white spots. A few pin hole sized spots may also be present. On females, the spots are more obvious. The speckled white head may also aid in identification. These are found state wide in open fields.

Broken-dash Skippers. The top one is the Northern Broken-dash, Wallengrenia egeremet. South of Ohio is the Southern Broken-dash, W. otho. These are orangish-red butterflies when looking from behind. The hindwings have a semi-circular pattern of yellow spots. The forewings are edged in gray.

The inside usually has at least one large light colored rectangular spot. The arrow indicates where the common name comes from. There is a black line near the base of the hindwing. It appears busted in half, like a broken bat. Click on the photo for a closer look. This is a summer species found statewide.

The Sachem Skipper, Atalopedes campestris. Look for white squares randomly placed on the backside. The largest one, out near the edge of the forewing, is transparent. This is especially noticeable on these females. She also has a transparent spot on the inside, right behind a black dash. Both sexes have a black mark inside, but it is not broken like the previous species. In males, the black mark (or stigma) may be square, and half black, half gray. Look for these in open fields, as the caterpillars are grass feeders.

Here is another species I find difficult to identify when looking at the inside of the wings. It's the Peck's Skipper, Polites peckius. They too have a black dash inside the forewings. It is shaped like a skinny S, but not visible when they hold their wings like this.

I posted several of these because the underside is so distinct. Two semi-circular rows of yellow spots. The inside one narrow, the outside patch broad. It's one of the most common of our small skippers, having been found in every county.

Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. A very sexually dimorphic species. Male above, female below. The rusty colored female is recognized by the thin white streak at the top of the hindwing.

The male has one big round yellow patch interspersed with dark spots. This yellow patch fills up most of the hindwing.

Here is Sachem, Peck's, and Zabulon side by side. If you are specifically in the field to identify skippers, and it takes too long to sort through pages in a book, simply create your own field guide. Make plates of species you have identified and print them out. It can serve as a quick reference guide.

Flying low to the ground is the Hobomok Skipper, Poanes hobomok. It prefers sunny openings in woodland forests. Both the front and hind wing show large solid patches of yellow-orange. It most closely resembles zabulon, but without the pepper marks in the wings.

There is one skipper called the Whirlabout. That's what all of these do. When disturbed they whirl in a very erratic pattern. First they are flying in front of you, and suddenly they disappear. Don't worry, just turn around, they probably landed six feet behind you.

This brightly colored butterfly is common to see in open fields and along roadsides. Males are typically yellow orange with a dark border around their dorsal wings. Females have similar coloring but they have spots within their dark border. There have been rare findings of females with white coloring as well.

A quite common and widespread butterfly, the Pearl Crescent typically has a 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 inch wingspan the female is typically slightly larger. Orange and brown coloring varies depending on the season. Up to five broods (generations) can be produced each year.

Swallowtail Butterfly Identification and Comparison

This magnificent family (Papilionidae) of large butterflies is loved by many, and includes more than 600 species worldwide.

Most of these large, brightly colored butterflies feature tails on their hind wings. These tail-like appendages resemble the tails of swallow family of birds, hence their name. However, some, like the Indra and Polydamus, do not have tails.

Several species of Swallowtails are predominantly black, and share similar yellow, blue and orange markings. Identification is often difficult. Shown below are photographs of several common Swallowtail butterflies to aid in identification.

Swallowtail Butterfly Identification Chart

The identification chart below compares the colors and features of common Swallowtail butterflies using their dorsal views.

Dark-Colored Swallowtail Butterfly Comparison Chart

Several members of the Swallowtail family are dark-colored, and have very similar appearances at first glance. These include the Eastern Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, and the dark form of the Tiger Swallowtail. The identification chart below compares the colors and features of these common dark-colored Swallowtail butterflies as seen in ventral views.

Read More About These Swallowtail Species

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

The male Black Swallowtail Butterfly has a row of large yellow-colored spots across the middle of its wings which are more dominant than on the female

The female Black Swallowtail has a row of much smaller spots, and its patch of iridescent blue on the hind wings is more dominant than on the male

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Wings are black with light colored spots, or scales, on the trailing edges.
On the male, the spots are a pale green, and on the female the spots are iridescent blue. The underwings feature bright orange spots.

Female Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Male Spicebush Swallowtail (green coloration, on the left) pursues female (blue coloration, on the right)

The chart below shows the differences seen in the ventral views of the Black Swallowtail and the Spicebush Swallowtail. The Spicebush has a bluish-green colored "swosh" and is missing one orange spot.

The upper side of the Giant Swallowtail is black, or dark chocolate brown.
It features a line of large yellow spots directly across the wings, and another line above the trailing edges.

The body of the Giant Swallowtail is mostly yellow, and the underside a pale yellow with iridescent light blue patches.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Shiny black with iridescent blue hind wings with arrowhead-shaped white spots.
Sometimes called the "Blue Swallowtail". Typical wingspan about 3.5".

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly

Both sexes are similarly marked, with rounded brownish black wings rimmed with yellow spots and crossed by another broad V-shaped yellow band.

Female Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly with dark coloration

While all male Tiger Swallowtails are yellow,
females can be either yellow, or black due to dimorphic coloration

The Red-Spotted Purple is not a swallowtail, but a brush-foot, and is black with blue or blue-screen scaling. At first glance it can be mistaken for a swallowtail, but it has no tails.
Orange or red marks are seen on the tips of the wings.

Some side-by-side Swallowtail comparisons

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Pipevine Swallowtail (upper right)

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Spicebush Swallowtail (upper right)

Reproduction and Offspring

Monarchs have three stages of development a larva, pupa, and adult stage. Males court the females, tackling them and breeding with them on the ground. Then, the females search for a milkweed to lay their eggs on. Within 3 to 15 days, the eggs hatch into larvae that feed on milkweed for an additional two weeks. When ready to change into a pupa, the larva attaches itself to a twig and sheds its outer skin. In another two weeks, an adult monarch emerges.

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