Since butterflies are ectothermic (cold-blooded), they require warmth from their environment in order to be active. This is why butterflies are most often found in open, sunny habitats. Many species of butterflies feed on nectar, and there are many species of flowers in the Duke Forest that produce nectar that is appealing to butterflies. Below are some examples of butterfly habitats and nectar plants found in the Duke Forest.
Habitats and Nectar Plants
Power lines like this one (accessed from Gates 44 and 45 in the Korstian Division) are good places to look for butterflies.
When nectar sources are few and far between in the springtime, butterflies can sometimes be found nectaring on daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum).
Check out patches of Coreopsis for nectaring butterflies in the spring. Here's a Silvery Checkerspot nectaring on Coreopsis along a wide trail in the Hillsborough Division 5/16/2004.
A harbinger of Spring, Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a common tree along the edges of much of the Duke Forest, such as this display from the Blackwood Division photographed on 4/4/2005.
Scan Eastern Redbud flowers in the springtime for swallowtails, azures, elfins and other hairstreaks, and duskywings.
The edges of regenerating clearcuts can be good butterflying. In the Spring, scan the blackberry flowers for nectaring butterflies. In the summer & fall, inspect the edges for various flowers attracting butterflies. This regenerating pine stand is in the Korstian Division, accessed from Gate 23.
Another power line worth exploring is this one in the Korstian Division, accessed from Gates 23 and 24. Mountain-Mints (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) (see below) are great nectar plants for butterflies and are often found under power lines in the summer.
Mountain-Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) attracts many species of butterflies such as this Southern Cloudywing.
Mountain-Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) -- close-up of the inflorescence.
Walking wide roads and trails with sunlit patches through deciduous woods is a good way to find butterflies such as Eastern Comma, Question Mark, and Mourning Cloak. Swallowtails often cruise down the roads, and azures, Red-spotted Purples and duskywings may be found imbibing minerals on the ground in the sunny patches.
The mud around the edges of puddles in these roads is often particularly attractive to butterflies. Approach puddles carefully and scan the edges.
Trails (like this one in the Korstian Division by the Wooden Bridge) winding through grassy vegetation by creeks are good places to look for satyrs, pearly-eyes, and browns. These belong to a group of butterflies that utilize bottomland grasses for their caterpillar host plants and are more often found in dappled shade than other butterflies. In sunny patches along these trails, look for the golden-orange flash of male Zabulon Skippers as they dash out from perches to chase away all intruders, usually returning fairly quickly to the same or a nearby perch!
Japanese Stilt-Grass, also known as Nepalese Browntop, (Microstegium vimineum) is an exotic invasive in many bottomlands and other forested environments. It's invasiveness is undoubtedly causing the loss of herbaceous diversity in many areas. The only good thing about it is that it seems to be eaten by the larva of Carolina Satyrs, a species that can be abundant at certain times of the year in the Duke Forest.
Muddy edges along streambanks are also favored areas for leps. Although you cannot see them at this resolution, this picture contains 2 Summer Azures, an American Snout, 2 Silvery Checkerspots, and a Silver-spotted Skipper! Note also the shrub in the back-right, on the edge of the water. It is the Buttonbush featured in the photo below.
In the summer, Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is an excellent nectar plant for butterflies. It grows in wet areas like marsh edges, swamp edges, and creek edges like this one here on New Hope Creek in the Korstian Division. Note that each of the lower-right flowers is hosting a Silvery Checkerspot.
This power line right-of-way can be accessed from Gates 10 and 12 in the Durham Division. It is a good place to look for butterflies at all seasons. This photo, taken 9/24/2004 shows various yellow flowers and purple spires of Blazing Star (Liatris sp.), which can be a butterfly magnet!
Large Flower Aster (Aster grandiflorus) blooms in late summer and is good to check for nectaring butterflies. It may also be a host plant to some species of butterflies, such as the Pearl Crescent.
Follow the links below to view photographs of most of the butterfly species found in the Duke Forest.