From the Stump: To find butterflies, know where host plants grow – Columbus Dispatch

I’m happy that the butterflies are back at the Franklin Park Conservatory. They are so

I’ll go there with my camera in hopes of getting a good shot of an exotic butterfly from some
far-off land. Perhaps it will be a blue morph, a very large butterfly I’ve seen in the jungles of
Costa Rica. Believe me, they are something else!

Taking pictures of butterflies is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. They are so beautiful
that they can make a very average photographer into an artist.

That’s one reason I’m eager for spring weather to begin — so I can wander about the countryside
looking for butterflies. I’ve seen some as early as March, including the large mourning cloak and
the common cabbage white.

Some of us try to attract eye-popping butterflies to our backyards. If you plant certain flowers
such as milkweed and shrubs such as butterfly bushes, they will come. I even have fennel — an herb
on which black swallowtails lay their eggs — planted in my backyard. Unfortunately, after the eggs
hatch and the larvae grow, birds eat most of them.

I see tiger swallowtails, monarchs, red admirals, painted ladies and other beauties in my
backyard every year.

To find butterflies, you have to know where to find their host plants — the plants their larvae
feed on. Milkweed, which attracts monarchs, grows almost everywhere, but host plants for some
butterflies, such as the dazzling Baltimore checkerspot, grow only in certain places. Checkerspots
feed on a plant with an equally odd-sounding name: turtlehead.

If I want to see checkerspots, I go to Clear Creek Metro Park in the Hocking Hills, where
turtlehead grows.

The booklet
Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio calls the checkerspot one of Ohio’s most-beautiful
butterflies, so the trip to the Metro Park is worthwhile.

Kenn Kaufman wrote in his
Field Guide to Butterflies of North America that the orange-and-black checkerspot and

orange-and-black Baltimore oriole were both named after Lord Baltimore, who started the colony
of Maryland in the 1600s. The Baltimore coat of arms was orange and black.

The underside of the checkerspot’s wings is probably the most beautiful part of the butterfly,
so I try to take photos of them with their wings closed. Most of the time, I want to shoot pictures
of butterflies with their wings open wide.

There’s no doubt that people love butterflies even if they are not particularly enamored of
nature. I’ve seen the proof of that over the years at the Ohio State Fair, where streams of folks
go through the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s butterfly house. People have their cellphones out taking
pictures of butterflies landing on flowers, and children watch wide-eyed.

When I see my first beautiful butterfly in the wild, then I will know that the long, hard winter
is finally over.

Retired weather columnist John Switzer writes a Sunday Metro column.


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