J.Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge is one of seven sites in North Dakota that underwent extensive butterfly research. Biologists are now armed with an inventory of butterflies that can be found within the 58,700-acre refuge - 75 of the 145 recorded species in North Dakota.
Where can I find butterflies? The numbers and types of butterflies on the refuge change not just daily and weekly, but hourly as well, depending on temperature, wind and location. Just as deer - and all animals - have certain basic needs for food, water and cover, so do butterflies. But butterflies are not as adaptable as deer. Instead, think of butterflies as being more like the bighornsheep of the insect world - less versatile, less flexible - needing more of a certain type of niche in which to live their lives. J. Clark Salyer offers woodland butterflies, such as Edwards' hairstreak and grassland butterflies like the Melissa blue. The Edwards' hairstreak lives its life intrinsically tied to the ants and oak trees of the refuge's hardwood forest, as seen in the photo by Dr. Ron Royer of Minot State University.
When should I look for butterflies? Butterflies are diurnal (active during the day). In fact, being cold-blooded creatures, they become more active as cool morning temperatures give way to summer warmth.
What do they eat? Native silverberry, a cousin to the Russian olive tree, is found in several places on the refuge and in early Juneprovides valuable nectar for many butterfly species. Another readily availablewoodland plant - aspen leaves - provides delicious food for tiger swallowtail caterpillars.
How long do they live? Butterflies really are just caterpillars with wings. Their mobility allows for escape, finding food, mating and genetic diversity. After emerging from the chrysalis (the third stage in their life cycle) colorful adult butterflies generally only live about two weeks. But during that time, the subtle insect offers a fleeting splash of color, enlightening and enhancing a summer's day on the refuge.
The butterfly has a four-stage lifecycle. The first stage is the egg, followed by the larva (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The pictures below depict the four differnt life stages. The egg is from an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the caterpillar is a Monarch, the pupa is a Variegated Fritillary, and the adult butterfly is a Melissa Blue.
*The butterflies pictured above may be larger or smaller than they appear.