First Butterfly of the Season!

Butterfly Ridge has its first butterfly of the season!  The only problem . . . I don't know what kind.

As we drove up the gravel drive to the Ridge on Sunday (March 22) I thought I spotted a butterfly about ten yards in front of us.  Then the debate began.  Was it a butterfly?  Was it a leaf?  Was it something else?  As my wife, daughter, and I tried to spot the flying wonder, the answer that usually came to our lips was, "No, that wasn't it."

We inched the truck closer.  Of course we forgot the camera.  A leaf would skirt along the ground creating in us a brief excitement that was quickly dashed onto the jagged rocks that our truck rested upon.  

Finally, after traveling one foot/hour for five minutes, the first butterfly of the season flew up in front of us off the road.  My hope was that it would land back upon the gravel road so we could get a closer look.  It didn't.

As it flew off into the adjacent, leafless maple and beech trees I was looking hard for a yellow fringe at the edge of the wings, a feature of the Mourning Cloak which is typically the first butterfly I see each spring.  Instead of the golden fringe I got a brief glimpse of orange.  A dull, dark orange.  This early in the season, a dull, dark orange means one of two things, either Eastern Comma or Question Mark.  Which it was I don't know.  On the Butterfly Ridge property, commas are far more common (we are a relatively uninquisitive bunch I reckon!).

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

Question Mark

Question Mark

At first glance, these two butterflies look nearly identical.  On each butterfly there are three large black spots in the middle of the forewing (that's the top wing).  On the Question Mark however, there is a dash above the outer most of these three spots.  Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, this dash is really hard to see on a flying butterfly from ten yards away.

So the mystery will remain and we will celebrate March 22 as the day of the first butterfly ever observed at the new Butterfly Ridge Butterfly Conservation Center!