Summer Reading Series: Arkansas Butterflies and Moths by Lori Spencer



Last week I caught sight of a beautiful black and blue butterfly on the clothesline.  Thanks to Lori A. Spencer’s 2006 guidebook, Arkansas Butterflies and Moths, I was able to search through multiple photos of the butterflies and moths that frequent the state and concluded that the creature was a spicebush swallowtail, a common butterfly found this time of year. They make their annual flight between March and October and lay their eggs in spicebush and Sassafras, plants that grow wild or can be cultivated in the home garden.

If you’re interested in making your property a haven for butterflies, and/or you’re interested in knowing more about butterfly life cycles and habitats, this book is perfect summer reading material. It’s an especially great selection to take with you to the garden as you search for caterpillars or watch the butterflies jump from flower to flower. Filled with beautiful photographs, it’s also a great book for children.

Butterflies are known for their visual beauty, but just talking about butterflies evokes the senses and imagination. Common Butterfly and moth names read like poetry: “Clouded Sulphur,” “Confused Cloudywing,” “Dreamy Duskywing,” “Southern Broken-Dash,” “Gray Hairstreak,” “Gemmed Satyr,” “The Betrothed,” “Spring Azure,” and, the regionally common, “Diana Fritillary.” Typically named by the entomologists who classified them, their scientific names are equally beautiful, and often derived from characters in Greek and Roman mythology. Take, for example, the afore mentioned spicebush swallowtail. The scientific name is “Paplio Polyxenes.” “Papilio is Latin for butterfly,” writes Spencer, “and polyxenes is for Polyxena, daughter of King Priam, King of Troy in Homer’s Iliad.

At the end of Spencer’s book is a wonderful section entitled “Arkansas Butterfly Hot Spots,” which breaks down the state into several regions and lists the best places and times of the year to catch sight of these creatures. We’re lucky here in the River Valley to have Mount Magazine, famous for its annual Butterfly Festival held every June. Home to 11 different ecosystems and 375 species of wildflowers, over 85 different butterflies have been recorded on the mountain.  Diana Fritillaries are especially common from May until early July and can be found feeding on the roadsides covered in Butterfly Milkweed.  Other butterflies you can see this time of year include the “Coral Hairstreak,” “Northern Pearly-Eye,” “Pipevine Swallowtail,” and the “Funeral Duskywing.”



You don’t need to head to the wilderness or a botanical garden to see butterflies. Choosing native plants for your garden and avoiding the use of pesticides like Roundup and other harmful chemicals will ensure butterflies visit your yard and reproduce for the future. Spencer’s book has a long list of suggested plants to attract butterflies and lists several nurseries where you can purchase native wildflowers, including nearby Pine Ridge Gardens in London, Arkansas.  

If you want to check out great shots of butterflies and share your own, reader Nao Ueda of the blog GreenAR by the Day suggests connecting with the facebook group, “Arkansas Butterflies” where butterfly lovers across the state share images and stories. We’d love to hear about the butterflies in your yard! If you’re willing to share some photos we’d love to post them here.



The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.


Previous Installments in the Summer Reading Series:

Summer Reading Series June 9, 2013: Right to DREAM: Immigration Reform and America’s Future 

May 22, 2013: Summer Reading Series: An Arkansas Folklore Sourcebook 

Check out these other related columns:

Butterfly Gardening (Part 2 of the Bringing Nature Home series) 

 Bringing Nature Home part 1