Red-spotted Purple: Beautiful with Wings Open or Closed

July is the best butterfly month of the year in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park. This year I have been especially pleased to get many good looks at one of my favorites — the butterfly called Red-spotted Purple.

Often when I am trying to get a good picture of a nectaring butterfly, I wait for it to open its wings so I catch see it at its most colorful. With this species, I am undecided whether it is more attractive with wings open or with wings closed.

It is fairly large (the wingspan is 3 – 3 1/2 inches) and, at first sight, it might remind one of a swallowtail. But it has no “tail” and, after meeting it a couple times, most butterfly watchers quickly learn to recognize it whenever it shows.

It is far from the most common butterfly in Eliza Howell Park, but this month I have had sveral good viewing opportunities. As is true of a good number of other species, it is attracted to Purple Coneflowers (above pictures) and to Wild Bergamot (below).

The common English name seems a little misleading. To me, it appears to be a blue butterfly with orange spots. I have to admit, however, that its questionable name has never lessened my enjoyment of it.

I can usually expect to see Red-spotted Purple between June through August, but only occasionally. Their range includes most of eastern U. S. and a part of the southwest. (The range map is from Gardens With Wings).

The Red-spotted Purple uses several different host plants for caterpillar food. One of these is Wild Black Cherry tree, of which there are a number in the park. The caterpillars overwinter in a hibernaculum (rolled leaf) on the host plant.

Black Cherry is one of my favorite trees, one of my stopping spots on many walks during the year. It seems fitting that a favorite tree serves as a host plant for a favorite butterfly!

I will try to explore this connection a little more at some orher time. For now, I am enjoying whatever opportunities I have for admiring the adult Red-spotted Purple.

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