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Spring and Summer Azures

Ranger Steve’s Nature NicheBy Ranger Steve Mueller

An azure sky captivates us on clear sunny warm days. Tiny pieces of sky flit nearby as we tend the garden, walk the woods, and field edges. Notice the tiny blue wings carry the Spring Azure butterfly on what might seems like an aimless journey. 

Their multifaceted eyes capture color drawing them to other blue butterflies and to flowers where they feed on nectar. They are able to locate plants essential to feed their offspring. Dogwood and viburnums shrubs are important. Adults lay eggs on developing flowerheads where the eggs hatch to feed. 

Eggs are laid singly and scattered throughout the habitat on host plants. The adult blue is about size of a dime when wings are folded over its back. The underwing appears light gray with black spotting. When it opens it wings, the upper sky azure flashes blue beauty. Males are brighter blue than females. Notice the female has a wider dark band along wing’s edge. 

As June approaches, the spring azure become less abundant and summer azures emerge. Summer azures gray underwing spots are not dark or bold. Spring Azures have a more distinctive zig zag line along the hind wing border. The differences between the two species are minor and make it difficult to distinguish them apart. 

For decades the nearly identical butterflies were thought to be the same species with slightly differing appearing spring and summer forms. Many butterflies have variable spring and summer color forms that differ depending on temperature during development. It was discovered the “spring azure form” did not produce a summer form as a second brood. Instead it stayed in the chrysalis until the following spring. Scientists studying anatomy of wing scales discovered unique wing scale structures differed between the two species. 

Mysteries of inhabitants of our yards abound. We might expect there are just two species of the tiny blue azures but not so. There are additional azures including one in our area called the cherry gall azure. Biodiversity of species with specialized nature niches continue to demonstrate amazing adaptations. 

Beyond the azure complex, the Silvery Blue butterfly has more iridescent deep blue upper wings with tan underwings. Instead of scattered dark spots on the underwing, it has a single row of black spots circled with white that arc across the underside. The Silvery Blues like other blues have a short adult life of about one week. During that time, they seek legumes where they lay eggs. We only get to see these iridescent blues when adults are on the wing during a few weeks of the year. Males emerge first.

The Federally Endangered Karner Blue butterfly resides in our area and has a deep blue upper wing with an orange underwing band along wing’s edge that is absent on Silvery Blues, Spring and Summer Azures. Its larval host plant is restricted to one species—Wild Blue Lupine.

As summer solstice arrives, another blue butterfly appears. The Eastern Tailed Blue has a gray underwing with similar black dotted pattern like azures but bears a small orange patch and a tiny tail projecting from the hind wing. When viewed from above, tiny black dots appear along the hind edge of the wing near the tail. 

It might seem like few butterfly species share habitat with us but about 50 species live at Ody Brook and perhaps dozens share your residence. By encouraging native plants to thrive, you can enhance opportunities for butterfly biodiversity during a time when wildlife are having difficulty surviving. How we behave and promote healthy living conditions around our homes is critical to a healthy environment for life on Earth. 

Manicured lawns are a sight to behold but are sterile for supporting native butterflies struggling to survive where native host plants are excluded. Make the effort to support native plants and animals. Enjoy the beauty and life found in wild habitats by allowing native species to share your yard. Be a force helping wildlife.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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