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I took a hike on Saturday along the Chautauqua Rails To Trails – the Nancy B. Diggs Nature Trail section from Hannum Road to Route 430.  It was quite a day for butterflies.  During the drive to the trailhead and all along the trail I saw dozens of migrating Monarchs.

Monarch - Wingspan 3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches

So large when flying, I have sometimes mistaken them for small birds, Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are pretty easy to identify.  Most people know about their amazing life cycle, munching on milkweed as caterpillars, creating the most beautiful chrysalises of all the butterflies, then emerging as a large, sturdy adults.  Those born early in the spring may migrate north or stay put.  If the adult emerges late enough in summer, it will attempt a very long migration south to Mexico.  Several generations of Monarchs are produced in a year and somehow that last generation “knows” its way to Mexico.  Blows my mind.

When the trail took me into the woods, another orange and black butterfly caught my eye, not as large as the Monarch, but also a strong flyer.

Eastern Comma - wingspan 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches

Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) produce two generations in a year.  The adults we see at this time of year will hibernate through the winter, then emerge to fly and lay eggs in spring through the end of April.  From these eggs comes the summer generation.  These adults will fly from May through September and will lay eggs that become the winter form.  Caterpillars dine on all members of the elm and nettle families.  Adults eat rotting fruit and tree sap.

I was almost back to my car when I saw the third and smallest black and orange butterfly.

Pearl Crescent - wingspan 1 1/4 - 1 3/4 inches

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) produce several generations throughout the summer months.  As winter approaches, third stage caterpillars will enter hibernation.  Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of wildflowers.  Caterpillars munch on asters.

In preparing this post, I found a wonderful website – Butterflies and Moths of North America.  Check out these links: