When it comes to summer insects, my first thoughts are far from positive. Gnats, ticks, and mosquitoes have been the bane of many an outdoor adventure, but they aren’t the only insects in town: summer is also the season of butterflies! They can be found all over the Pacific Northwest, especially during rafting season. I’ll be covering a few of the most common butterflies in our neck of the woods, but there are plenty more in the Washington area to explore here if you’re interested!
The painted lady is one of the most common butterflies in the world, found on every continent besides Antarctica. The patterns on their wings are somewhat similar to a monarch butterfly’s, and are commonly mislabeled as such, however, monarchs are typically only spotted in eastern Washington, if spotted at all in our state. They are most prominent in California, which is part of their yearly migration pattern, but more and more have been finding their way to our northern states. WSU associate professor of entomology David James has two theories. The first is that the heavy rain California has been getting has caused a major detour in their migration. His second theory is that their sudden rise in population is due to elementary classrooms that have raised entire generations of the butterflies and then released them into the wild, which really isn’t as crazy as it sounds! Either way, the painted ladies are here and they can be spotted on all over our rivers!
Western Tiger Swallowtail
While tiger swallowtail butterflies can be found in nearly every state, there is one species often spotted here in Washington that can only be found out west. The Western Tiger Swallowtail varies slightly from its eastern counterparts with thicker and darker inner body stripes. They are most active between the months of June and July, but can be spotted year round in some areas where the temperature stays warm through the winter. Their ideal breeding ground is wooded areas around rivers and streams. You can spot them near their food source: the wildflowers that grow in the area.
This is another very common species around the world. The Red Admiral feeds on tree sap and fermented fruit (one of the few species that only drinks flower nectar as a last resort), so it prefers wet, wooded areas. These hardy critters can live almost anywhere they want year round, and they change colors based on the weather they are in. In the summer, their vibrant orange and red spots shine bright on their large brown wings, but in the winter their color dulls down and they actually become smaller.
Butterflies are notoriously friendly and it is not uncommon to meet brave ones that aren’t afraid of humans. Book your next whitewater river rafting trip with us today to see if you can spot any of these butterflies on your trip, and possibly make a new winged best friend!