butterflies in the desert?

Even though the landscape looks (and feels) arid, southern Arizona seems to be a mecca for butterflies, perhaps because of the diversity of vegetation and flowers there.  Although we were busy photographing birds, the colorful four-winged flyers demanded our attention as well.


The Queen butterfly is a close relative (same genus) of the Monarch.


Adults sip nectar from a wide variety of flowers, but the larvae usually feed on a species of milkweed (Asclepiadaceae) that contain toxic chemicals that the adult butterfly retains, making them distasteful to predators.


Painted Lady butterflies were one of the most numerous species in the gardens at Ventana Canyon Lodge in Tucson.


The Texan Crescentspot butterfly is a small, narrow-winged butterfly found in Mexico and throughout the southern U.S. Its distinctive crescent moon-shaped spots on the hind-wings make it easy to spot.


Before I looked closely, I thought this was just another checkerspot butterfly but the distinctive antennae and large eyes make this a type of skipper — a white-checkered skipper.


Another butterfly with a distinctive name: this is the Southern Dogface, one of the many species of sulfur butterflies. I assume the black pattern on the top side of the wings gives it the distinctive name.


The Tailed Orange butterfly grows its “tail” (a pronounced point on the lower edge of the wing) in the late summer/fall months. Earlier in the year, this butterfly was a more brilliant orange, with distinctive black markings on the topside of the wings, and no “tail”.  


There were so many of these tailed orange butterflies feeding on this late blooming Salvia, they almost looked like dead leaves hanging down from the vegetation.  The species is unique in having not only two sexual morphs (male and female black patterns on the top side of the forewings), but two seasonal morphs (one with and one without tails) as well.

Another good reason to visit beautiful southern Arizona!

13 thoughts on “butterflies in the desert?

  1. Some of my favorite images are of colorful butterflies right here in Minnesota, the Caribbean, and Arizona … where there is a very cool museum in Scottsdale called “Butterfly Wonderland.” Maybe your readers have been there too. There are so many butterflies that they light on your cap and shoulders for pictures, or on many colorful plants, posing for pictures.

  2. Pingback: A 2016 suggestion for some interesting photographic sites | From guestwriters

  3. We so agree, Sue! We went to southern AZ this August and were amazed at the life and diversity in the middle of what we had always thought of as desert. Thanks for sharing these images!

    • Hi “marshdoctors”. Thanks for writing. I’m anxious to go back there in April for peak migration and see/photograph those gorgeous hummingbirds.

  4. Those photos are just devine. Southern Arizona may be arid but based on this there is no place with more vivid colours. It seems to share much in common with the Central Australian outback, my home. I don’t think there is anywhere more spectacular than the arid parts of our planet.

  5. The Texan Crescentspot is lovely and unique. Wish I’d had the chance to look for these when I was in AZ last fall, or perhaps Sept would have been too late to see these?

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