It's time for butterflies and flowers

Southwest Colorado's jewels sparkle in the summer

Hoary comma

As summer moves along, more and more wildflowers are taking to bloom. These flowers are a feast for our eyes and also produce delicious nectar that provides a feast for many of nature's creatures. Look carefully and you will see hummingbirds, ants, bees, flies and others feeding on the nectar. Butterflies are often seen drinking from these fantastic flowers.

What is a Butterfly?

According to, "butterflies are a member of the insect family, and together with moths make up the order known as 'Lepidoptera.' The dividing line between butterflies and moths is fairly fuzzy and some creatures could seem to fall into either category. However, the main difference between them is butterflies are generally active in the day and moths are active at night. Also, in a resting position, moths lay their wings down over their bodies, while butterflies stand their wings up so that their undersides may be seen."

"Butterflies have a large proboscis, which is actually a mouthpart, and is used to suck nectar and fluids from flowers. While feeding themselves butterflies also serve the function of helping to pollinate flowers. Some pollen sticks to them and is transferred from one flower to another as they flit about." (See the Learning on the Land newsletter from April 2010 for more on pollinators.)

A butterfly has four stages in its life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult (butterfly). It is a repetitive cycle, but the butterfly does not turn back into an egg! Like most animals, the male and female adults work together to produce new fertilized eggs. For more on butterflies and moths, read the March 2008 issue of Learning on the Land.

Colorado Mountain Butterflies and Flowers

There are more than 60 species of butterflies in Colorado. Here are some of the more common ones seen in the summer above 8,500 feet and the flowers on which they feed. They vary greatly in size, color and plant food. Read on to learn more about these winged wonders!

Callippe fritillary - 2 1/8"

Easier to spot than it is to spell, this butterfly is everywhere from June to August.

Favorite flowers: milkweeds, thistles, dogbane, vetch, red clover, cow parsnip

Checkerspot - 1 1/2"

Appropriately named, this butterfly is identified by the spots within its checkered pattern. There are at least 8 species of checkerspots in Colorado and pattern varies within each species.

Favorite flowers: asters, paintbrushes

Western tiger swallowtail - 3 1/2"

One of the largest butterflies you will see, these are also some of the most common butterflies during June and July.

Favorite flowers: many flowers, including red clover, dandelion and thistles

Blues - 1 1/8"

These little beauties are so small, you might miss them... until you startle them and they flutter away. Look for them in muddy, wet areas. They love moisture.

The Arrowhead blue os one of many species of blues in Colorado. It is differentiated by a tiny orange arrowhead on the outside bottom of each hindwing.

Favorite flowers: anything in the pea family, especially lupines

Hoary comma - 1 3/4"

Easily mistaken for the larger Tortoiseshell, the Comma has a small comma in the center underside of its hind wing. This butterfly hibernates in winter.

Favorite flowers: varies, includes currants

Common alpine - 2"

This butterfly is not as common in this area as the name would imply. Look carefully and you may be fortunate enough to spot one.

Favorite flowers: grasses, cow parsnip, bittercress

Now, go searching for butterflies! They can be found in any backyard or park, near ponds, steams, puddles, out in a meadow or at a flower box downtown. The trick is, it needs to be a sunny day. Butterflies are scarce when it is cloudy. They can't fly in the rain! Wear bright colors to help attract them.

For help with identification, view photos of Colorado butterflies at or see a list of Colorado butterflies at You can search for butterflies on the Naturalist Hikes at Purgatory, Tuesdays and Thursdays through August 15, 10 a.m. to noon. Meet at Backcountry Experience at Durango Mountain Resort, or contact Gabi Morey at 970-385-1256 or

The San Juan Mountains Association is the non-profit partner of the Sasn Juan National Forest, BLM Tres Rios Field Office, and BLM Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. SJMA staff and volunteers work to promote education, volunteer stewardship, information and hands-on involvement on public lands in Colorado. For more information, call 385-1210.

Checkerspot Enlargephoto


Callippe fritillary Enlargephoto

Callippe fritillary

Common alpine Enlargephoto

Common alpine

Arrowhead blue Enlargephoto

Arrowhead blue

Western tiger swallowtail Enlargephoto

Western tiger swallowtail