I always get excited when a new butterfly makes its first appearance in the garden. This happened a few days ago. At first I thought it was a Black Swallowtail, but then realized it didn’t have a “tail” and that the color and markings were very different.

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Red-spotted Purple, upper wings, on Cup Plant

Turns out the butterfly was what is called a Red-spotted Purple (RSP). Not a rare butterfly at all, actually. On the other hand, we’re not too far from the northern edge of its range.

I’d like to think I contributed to its appearance by planting two Chokecherry trees (Prunus virginiana) – Prunus is one of the genera that serves as a host plant. But turns out that this butterfly has quite a few host plants that are already found in our vicinity, including Willow (Salix), Cottonwood (Populus), and Serviceberry (Amelanchier).

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Red-spotted Purple, underside

I had a hard time getting a good picture because I’m just not good at finding small moving creatures with Judy’s zoom lens. But what I’ve got here gives you a pretty good idea of what this critter looks like. I like the red-orange spots and how the wings range from light blue to dark purple.

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Not sure what is attracting the RSP to these spent flowers of Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). Adults of this species feed on sap, rotten fruit, carrion, and dung – along with occasional sips of nectar.

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Here’s something I didn’t know before: RSPs and White Admirals are actually two forms of the same species. Red Admirals, however, are a different species altogether, from a different butterfly subfamily, though both are from the family Nymphalidae.

I always thought that Red Admiral and White Admiral would be good superhero names. Either that, or they could be archenemies from some Russian novel like Dr. Zhivago.

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Question Mark Butterfly

And now for a little bonus. While I was trying to capture the RSP I noticed a Question Mark butterfly basking on a Cup Plant leaf. We’ve definitely been seeing more Question Marks since we planted a Hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalus) in the parkway.

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Why are they called Question Marks? I have no idea. But this is another butterfly that likes dung and rotting fruit. Flowers come in a distant second as a preference.

Are you familiar with Red-spotted Purples? Do you see them in your garden?

31 Comments on “A New Butterfly in the Garden

  1. Oooh, it’s a beauty! I also admire the photos of the question mark. Every time I see one in my garden, they’re just too quick for me to catch with the camera. Well done!

  2. I have never seen that butterfly, but I am farther North than you are. I have had fewer flying critters this year than in years past. Sad to think about them disappearing.

  3. Yes, we get Red-spotted Purples in our garden from time to time. The Question mark has a question mark on the underside of the hind wing. If you watch it with it’s wings folded up you can see it. That is a good way to tell it apart from the Comma.

  4. I have not seen either before, but the Question Mark reminds me of our Comma! (Wonder if there are any other punctuation mark butterflies!) The Red-Spotted Purple is very unusual colours. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I have a friend who lives in Illinois and sees the Red-spotted purple. She spends a lot of time at Illinois Beach state park, as well as roaming the fringes of suburban Chicago, and says she finds them there. I’ve never seen one myself, but your photos certainly make their beauty apparent.

  6. We don’t have those beauties in Maine, and if I spotted the red-spotted purple, I would jump for joy as high as my creaky knees would allow.

  7. Not sure I’ve seen a red-spotted purple. It is lovely. Interesting information about it.
    You planted a hackberry? They were the demarcation line for the farm that used to back onto the gardens on my side of the street, now providing some privacy from sprawling suburbs.

  8. What a beautiful butterfly! Needless to say I’m not familar with the Red-spotted purple butterfly, but I’m very impressed with the amount of butterflies in your garden…a good example for us all.

  9. We’ve seen a comma butterfly in early July (northwest side of Chicago) for a few years in a row.

  10. Wow, those are so beautiful, I only seem to spot cabbage whites and moths, not particularly exotic and not really worth taking photos for. I’ll enjoy yours instead.

  11. The red-spotted purple is a new butterfly for me; it’s a beauty! I think the commas and question marks get their names from markings on their undersides.

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