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More butterflies take flight this summer

They seem to be everywhere this summer -- small yellow butterflies flitting around farm fields and colliding with car windshields on a regular basis.

The Clouded Sulfur butterfly is common in these northwestern parts of Wisconsin, but this year's population appears to have spiked.

According to Kyle Johnson, a butterfly enthusiast with the Wisconsin Entomological Society, the Clouded Sulfur (or Colias philodice) is especially common in agricultural areas.

"The caterpillars feed on various legumes, including clover and alfalfa," he said. "Hence why they're so common in clover fields."

Johnson said it's normal for butterfly populations to go up and down, although the long-term trend seems to be downward for many species, based on observations by many in the region who work with butterflies.

"This year was definitely better for butterflies than last year in my opinion," he said. "I'm not sure why this year would be so good. Perhaps the early spring warm up, without many drastic late freezes, would be one reason."

With higher butterfly numbers this summer, the Clouded Sulfurs seem to congregate in large groups near alfalfa and clover fields. They also are attracted to the heat generated along paved and gravel roads.

Johnson said good butterfly habitat is created when there is food for the caterpillars, as well as food for the adult butterflies. Nectar in the form of flowers, and also mud puddles for moisture and mineral uptake, are good examples of where adults may be found in large groups.

"Some butterflies are quite specialized in what they need, but Clouded Sulfurs are not picky," he noted.

The adult Clouded Sulfur butterflies can usually be seen May into early November, depending on the season, according to Johnson. Once they become butterflies, they typically live for just two or three weeks.

"When you don't see the butterflies they're either an egg, caterpillar (larva), or pupa -- which in butterflies is called a chrysalis, the 'changing room' stage before the adult comes out," he explained.

Johnson, who is a graduate of and works with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Entomology Department, said Wisconsin has 150-160 different species of butterflies.

If homeowners want to attract butterflies, gardening tips for getting the best results are simple, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.

- Butterflies need sunlight. They are cold-blooded, so they use the sun to warm their bodies. Pick a sunny spot for a garden and place flat stones around so butterflies can rest while warming up.

- Butterflies need water. Butterflies like landing on moist dirt or sand on the sides of puddles to catch a drink. Keep a mud puddle damp in your garden, or fill a bucket with sand and enough water to make the sand moist.

- Don't use pesticides in the garden. They can harm butterflies, birds and other insects in the garden.

- Butterflies are attracted to purple, orange, yellow and red flowers. They are also attracted to plants where they can lay eggs and that will provide food for future caterpillars. Monarch butterflies particularly like milkweed because of this.

- Butterflies need shelter from the wind and rain, and a place to rest at night. Planting a garden near shrubs and trees will give butterflies the shelter they desire.

- Plant a variety of garden species with varying blooming times, colors and heights. Such a garden will attract butterflies over a longer period of time.

If you want to catch a close-up view of a butterfly, there are techniques that work well.

- Go slow.

- Stay low.

- Don't let your shadow cross over the butterfly. Sudden changes in light often frighten the creatures.

- Be patient.

If you work up a sweat as you hunt for butterflies, don't be surprised if a butterfly lands on you to sip your salty perspiration.

For more information about butterflies in Wisconsin, visit

Jeff Holmquist is a reporter at the New Richmond (Wis.) News, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.