Now that you know how to find and
observe butterflies, the next step is correctly identifying them.
By using a few simple clues, you can learn the identity of an
unknown butterfly. And, as your butterfly-watching skills increase,
recognizing these clues will become second nature.
One of the first and most obvious characteristics to note when
you see a butterfly is its size. Although field guides often list
wingspan for each species, such numbers are generally of little use
in the field. It is easier to think of butterflies as small, medium
Wing Color and Pattern
Butterflies come in a wide variety of
colors and patterns. These distinctive wing features are the most
valuable field marks and can be used to quickly identify different
butterfly species. As you get started, stick with the basics.
First, notice its overall ground color. Is the butterfly, for
example, primarily yellow, black or white? Then try to spot any
major wing patterns. Does the butterfly have distinct stripes,
bands or eye spots? Finally, note the color, size and position of
major markings and whether they occur on the upper surface (dorsal)
or lower surface (ventral) of the wings.
The shape or silhouette of a butterfly's wings also provides a
valuable clue to its identity. Even if you can't discern any
markings, wing shape will help you narrow down the family to which
Flight Pattern and Behavior
Butterflies are active creatures. The way they fly,
feed or even rest often differs a great deal among species. Thus
flight pattern becomes a good identification clue. Does the
butterfly flutter slowly with a weak, relaxed motion or whiz past
with a strong, rapid flight? Does it fly low to the ground or soar
far overhead? Does the butterfly bob up and down or periodically
glide following a series of quick wing beats?
Many butterfly species are found only in certain regions of the
state. Before making a wild guess, consult a field guide range map
and always start with the most probable identification.