Red-spotted Purple

Late in the morning along a stretch of road with woods on both sides, a Red-spotted Purple butterfly fluttered on the edge of the roadside. Its colors looked fresh and bright, pristine, with black wings that shimmered a subtle bronze on the upper parts, and large patches of iridescent blue on lower back of the wings. A rim of very thin white edged the wings. It fluttered low to the ground and then lit, so I was able to watch it closely for several seconds. It held its wings mostly outspread as it moved around on the ground, only now and then folding them up briefly, to show several large, irregular, brick-red spots, and a row of smaller, red-orange spots that lined the edge.

The body and head were black, marked with white; the long, thin antennae were clubbed on the ends. It probed the ground with a long proboscis, and also touched the ground with both antennae. The ground in this spot was hard red clay, mixed with lots of small granite stones, very hard, rough ground, with only low, poor-looking, drab-green weeds creeping fiercely over the clay. The spot looked almost barren and as if there could not possibly be anything of substance there, but there must have been something of interest, because the butterfly stayed for quite a while, five minutes at least. Once it paused to curl the proboscis up, and held it there for a few seconds. Then it curled it out and began to move and probe the ground again. And finally, after a few more minutes, it flew away.

Looking it up later, I learned that while the caterpillars of Red-spotted Purples feed on the leaves of trees and shrubs, such wild cherry, poplar, willow, birch and oaks, the adult butterflies may feed on sap flows, rotting fruit, carrion, dung, and occasionally the nectar of tiny flowers, including spiraea, privet and viburnum.

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