This time of year, our Lowcountry skies are graced with flashes of orange, black and yellow as butterflies take to the air on their seasonal migrations. Most well-known, of course, is the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), famous for the species' thousand-mile flight from the midwestern United States and Canada
to overwinter in Florida or further south in Central Mexico. The annual southward and northward migrations are multi-generational; no individual butterfly makes the entire journey.The common name is thought to have been bestowed in honor of King George III of England, who also carried the title Prince of Orange, the color that most distinguishes the Monarch.
But there's another butterfly also arriving in the southeast this time of year, and one easily mistaken for the Monarch. the Gulf Fritillary (Dione vanillae). Also brightly orange-colored, it's distinguished from its more famous cousin by its black wing spots and silver wingtip coloring. Its wings are longer and narrower than the Monarch's, too. Sometimes called the passion butterfly, the Gulf Fritillary overwinters here in the Lowcountry and further south, in Florida and Texas, before returning north, sometimes as far north as northern New York; and like the Monarch, these migrations spawn many generations from start to finish.
What about the small, flitting yellow butterflies that we're seeing frequently these late summer days? These have the delightful common name of Cloudless Sulphurs (Phoebis sennae), and while seen as far north as Canada, are most common to the southeast, Florida and Texas. The Latin nomenclature comes from the Latin for light, phoebe, and from the fact that adult females lay their eggs, and the larvae feed on, senna and pea plants.
Planting a butterfly garden is a great way to enjoy these colorful visitors. Learn more about what to plant, and where, here.