Wings

Spring is the perfect time to flit over to the houston museum of natural science to catch the prettiest butterflies in the state. No net required.

Portfolio by Dan Winters

EVER WONDER WHAT BUTTERFLY JUST sailed past? Chances are good that out of the five hundred or so species that have been found in Texas (more than in any other state), it is one of the seven pictured here. May is the perfect month for butterfly watching (warm enough for them, not too hot for you), but if you want to really see the details, drop by the Houston Museum of Natural Science and ogle its spectacular collection of Lepidoptera (the order that includes butterflies, moths, and stubby little mothlike skippers). The insects’ caretaker is curator of entomology Nancy Greig, who is also the source of the butterfly lore on these pages. (For instance, did you think “butterfly” was a corruption of “flutterby”? Think again, Greig says. It actually derives from the Old English word buttorfleoge and likely refers to the butter-yellow color of the male brimstone butterfly of Europe and the British Isles.) You can see magnificent preserved specimens in the museum’s Entomology Hall and then stroll through the Cockrell Butterfly Center to observe more than fifty live species in a rain forest setting—swooping, sipping fruit juice, and silently landing on your shoulder. Just one request: Please control your swat reflex.

EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL (At the top of the page)

Left: Papilio glaucus
Swallowtails dwarf smaller species. The gaudy yellow males fritter their time away sucking down nectar and trolling for females.
Right: Papilio glaucus
This black female avoids bird attacks by mimicking the toxic pipevine swallowtail. Other females are yellow (gentlemen prefer blondes).

Left: Junonia coenia
COMMON BUCKEYE
Eyespots on the wings confuse enemies. When a blue jay hesitates, wondering, “Is that a butterfly or what?” the insect gets away.

Left: Limenitis arthemis
RED-SPOTTED PURPLE
A butterfly’s pattern is formed by tiny multicolored scales, which rub off fast if it’s mauled by a dog, like this unlucky specimen.
Right: Limenitis arthemis
RED-SPOTTED PURPLE
The upper sides of most butterflies’ wings (see middle row) look completely different from the lower sides (outer rows).

Left: Colias eurytheme
ORANGE SULPHUR
The female of this widespread, easy-to-see species usually has more spots on her wings than the male.
Right: Atlides halesus
GREAT PURPLE HAIRSTREAK
See the tiny, threadlike tails? They resemble antennae, which can cause a predator to miss the insect’s vulnerable head.

Left: Agraulis vanillae
GULF FRITILLARY
Silvery spots on the insect’s underwings help it blend readily into a sun-dappled setting.
Right: Danaus plexippus
MONARCH
Struck by its color, American colonists named the monarch for England’s King William, of the House of Orange, who ruled from 1689 to 1702.

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