Okanagan boasts rich diversity of butterflies

The next couple of weeks should bring the greatest abundance and variety of butterflies at low elevations in the valley

Last week’s Meadowlark Festival is a celebration of the natural world around us. It could not be better timed.

Most, if not all, of our migrant birds are back, antelope brush is in full bloom and while arrow-leaved balsamroot, our spectacular spring “sunflower” has gone to seed in the drier parts of the valley, some remain in flower and are joined by a changing pallet of colour as a procession of other wildflowers come into bloom.

The profusion of new plant growth coincides with the flight season of a rich assemblage of butterflies — probably the highest diversity in Canada. The next couple of weeks should bring the greatest abundance and variety of butterflies at low elevations in the valley — weather permitting.

Our earliest butterflies are those that have overwintered as hibernating adults. They have been on the wing on warm days since early March but, because of our remarkably cool April, are still around engaged in the business of producing the next generation.

The warm days of May have brought out a wave of true spring butterflies. These are species which have overwintered as pupae and first emerged as adults with the end of winter. The emergence of new species will continue over the coming weeks until early August, and some spring butterflies will have second or even third generations before winter sets in.

One of the fascinating spectacles among the butterflies emerging in spring and summer are “puddle parties”. These are often groups of related species — most notably swallowtails and blues — gathered at moist cutbanks, old firepits or drying puddles.

These aggregations are invariably all-male affairs and the attraction isn’t moisture per-se but salt which they extract from the damp soil. Prior to the industrial revolution, and the globalization of trade, salt (sodium chloride) was also a precious commodity for humans in many parts of the world

Sodium is too scarce in the vegetation that the caterpillar stage feeds on to meet the requirements of the eggs and embryos of the next generation. So while the female butterfly provides most of the protein and energy to the eggs developing in her body, the males donate sodium along with the sperm, in a gelatinous package called the spermatophore.

A “nuptial gift” as it were. Puddles are not the only sources of sodium — sweaty hikers are another convenient source, but it’s unusual to attract more than one butterfly at a time. Perhaps the most bizarre or disgusting source of sodium, and probably other nutrients, are carnivore feces.

Coyote dung seems to be especially favoured by anglewing butterflies. Seeing a group apparently feasting on such vile fare must be rather a shock to those used to thinking of butterflies as faerie-like creatures flitting amongst the flowers. But don’t pass judgment — remember they’re doing it for their “children”.

The next meeting of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will be on Thursday. Lauren Meads, South Okanagan site co-ordinator for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., will present a program on the re-introduction of burrowing owls to the south Okanagan Valley, including how they are raised and the steps taken to release them safely in the wild.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the basement hall of the Penticton United Church on Main Street. Everyone is welcome.




Dennis St. John is a member of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club, retired university professor and consultant wildlife biologist.



Just Posted

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News file)
One dead after fiery Okanagan Connector crash between two semis

DriveBC estimates road won’t be open until 5 p.m.

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Turn out is high in advance voting for the Penticton by election taking place Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Screen shot)
Over 2,500 already voted in Penticton by-election

General voting day is Saturday, June 19

The City of Penticton is beginning plans to revitalize its north entrance on Highway 97. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton reviewing ideas on how to make the city’s north gateway more vibrant

The city has plans to redevelop the area into a welcoming and attractive entrance

People decided to tag Skaha Bluffs rocks which the Ministry has to go in and now clean up. (Facebook)
Bluffs at popular Penticton rock climbing park defaced

Ministry of Environment is going to clean it up

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media stock photo)
RCMP name 2015 homicide victim near Creston, investigation ongoing

26-year-old Clint Wolfleg was found dead in a private residence on May 31, 2015

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits to failing to supervise his staff and find, report the shortage

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to collect donations ahead of Kristy Handel’s 33-kilometre run for Chelaine McInroy (pictured) to cover costs for a new prosthetic leg after her June 12, 2021, surgery. (GoFundMe)
Friend running to raise funds for Armstrong woman’s new prosthetic leg

33-km Run for Chelaine to help athlete cover medical costs from latest surgery

The Okanagan Eatery owner Chelsea Enns brings with her years of front-of-house and management experience to Vernon’s newest restaurant. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star)
Vernon’s newest restaurant serves up Okanagan eats

Trio brings passion for locally sourced dishes and smash burgers to the table

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

The Summerland branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has cancelled its Canada Day celebrations for 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Summerland Review file photo)
Summerland Legion cancels Canada Day events

Pandemic restrictions led to decision on annual celebration

Fire near Highway 97 C close to Merritt. (Facebook)
Wildfire burning near Highway 97C

The fire is an estimated nine hectares in size

Athena and Venus, ready to ride. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Goggling double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to B.C. commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Most Read