Spring Butterflies

From the Cloudless Sulphur to the Tiger Swallowtail, the Lowcountry is home to a wide range of butterflies.

As spring in the Lowcountry brings warmer temperatures, many plants and animals return or reemerge in the ecosystem. Among these are the delightful, colorful butterflies that frequent our woods and beaches. This fascinating insect is one of many pollinators that are vital to the success of food crops. This spring, take some time to observe the wide array of butterflies that call the Lowcountry home.

The Cloudless Sulphur

From spring to fall, butterflies perk up the natural spaces of the Lowcountry. There are 165 species of butterfly that live in or visit South Carolina. Fall migratory species include the iconic Monarch, which briefly visits our area on its migration from Mexico to Canada. The Cloudless Sulphur, an all-yellow butterfly, starts its journey by overwintering in the south. Throughout spring, summer and fall, the Cloudless Sulphur breeds prolifically while migrating north on the Eastern Seaboard. The adult butterflies eventually migrate back south in late fall.

Other species of butterflies live in the Lowcountry year-round, and spend their winters in either the pupa or caterpillar stage of their life cycle. The South Carolina state butterfly is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which is yellow with black markings and distinctive long hind wings.

The Swallowtail lays its eggs on the leaves of poplar, willow, maple and elm trees. When they first hatch, the tiny larva resembles bird poop in order to ward off potential predators. As it grows, it develops two signature black spots on its green body, which resemble eyes. These pseudo eyes protect the caterpillar by making it seem fiercer than it is! 

If you’re vacationing in the Lowcountry, you can visit the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge for some great butterfly viewing. The refuge is an island, surrounded by marsh and flanked by the Calibogue Sound, Mackay Creek and Port Royal Sound. The natural landscape of the island includes several freshwater ponds that provide a habitat for many animals, including the American alligator. The ponds also serve as a safe haven for bird rookeries, and at times you can see hundreds of bird species, especially herons and ibis. As part of the natural landscape of the island, volunteers maintain a butterfly garden, which is full of indigenous plants that attract or provide habitat for butterflies.

Monarch butterfly and milkweed plant.

If you’re a local, the best way to see butterflies is to attract them to your own butterfly garden. Butterflies eat the sweet nectar from the flowers of numerous plants. Specific species of butterflies are attracted to certain plants that offer them the best chance of extracting nectar. Butterfly-friendly nectar plants include milkweed, thistle, lantana, sunflower, mint, clover and buttonbush. To encourage even more butterfly activity in your garden, grow plants that these winged insects prefer to lay eggs on, including passion flower vine, asters, peas and snapdragons.

So whether you attract them to your garden or see them in the wild, enjoy Lowcountry butterflies this spring!

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