I'm not sure why, but I seem to be seeing a much larger number of butterflies taking wing this summer than I have in the past. Locally, the Western Tiger Swallowtails are both abundant and colorful. They seem to particularly like our phlox.
One thing I've noticed in contrast to other local wildlife is that butterflies seem slow to get going in the morning - kind of like our teenage grandchildren who like to sleep in late. Why? As it turns out, butterflies need to get their blood temperature up to a minimum 86 degrees before they can fly. Their lifespan as an adult butterfly is also typically short, perhaps just 3 months or less.
I first thought this guy was a moth but the club on the end of it's antenna clearly shows it to be a butterfly. No such club for moths. Here is another tiger swallowtail enjoying the nectar from one of our rhododendrons.
How can butterflies survive from year to year? As we all were taught in grade school, they have four lives. First, a mature female must lay fertilize eggs, usually leaving them on a leaf as shown in the following picture.
Image courtesy Canisius.edu
Interestingly, some butterflies can "taste" with their feet, helping them to identify whether the leaf they are on will be a good place for laying eggs. Caterpillars (larve) rely on these leaves for food as they grow and grow. That's the job of caterpillars - eat and grow big. They are not always the prettiest creature at this stage of their life.
Note the ants clinging to this caterpillar. Looking for a meal? Because they grow so fast, caterpillars continually shed skin. Then comes becoming a pupa, hanging from a tree swathed in a protective net and looking like a mummy.
Finally, mature butterflies hatch from the pupa, completing the cycle back to adult butterflies. Once able to fly, it becomes a mad dash to mate and lay eggs before they can be eaten by numerous preditors, starting the cycle all over again. They sure are pretty now.