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The Vanishing Butterfly

It is May on Long Island and as I walk down a trail that winds through oak woodlands, my attention is drawn to flashes of blue about a foot or two above the ground. As I get closer, I see that the flashes are from a metallic blue colored butterfly fluttering across the trail.

I raise my camera to snap a photograph of this little butterfly and follow it as it dashes across my path into a brushy area. It suddenly disappears. I lower my camera to see if I can find it, but it is gone! I see another one crossing the trail and follow it and it too disappears.

Finally, I watch a third one intently as it flies into the woodlands and again it vanishes. Looking closely at the last place I saw it, I finally find it. It landed on a dead gray branch, closing its wings revealing a grayish underside that blended perfectly in with the branch making it nearly impossible to see.

Alas! It is the spring azure butterfly. Sky blue on top and gray underneath makes this insect a master of deception. It is a challenge to any bird that is looking for a tasty butterfly for lunch.

It makes sense for the butterfly to be abundant here. One of its host plants is the wild blueberry, a shrub that is plentiful in these oak woodlands. Spring azure caterpillars will devour the blueberry leaves and after a couple of weeks will form chrysalids where they will overwinter. In the spring they emerge as adult butteflies to begin the process over again.

Many insects use camouflage as a way to protect themselves from predators. If you watch any of the nature shows on your electronics, you probably have seen insects that look like branches and bugs that look like leaves. You do not need to travel to exotic places to see this in action. The spring azure butterfly in ubiquitous in North America. If you live near oak woodlands or freshwater wetlands where blueberries and viburnums grow, you may see the blue flashes of spring azure butterfly.

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