~ Profiles of Pollinators & Backyard Wildlife ~
The spring azure (Celastrina ladon) is a common butterfly that can be found throughout much of the eastern U.S. It is one of the earliest butterflies to appear each year in our region. In Kentucky, spring azures can start flying as early as mid-March. Further south, they may start flying slightly earlier. While further north, it might be mid-April before they start flying.
Spring azures can range in size from approximately the size of a nickel to approximately the size of a half dollar. (Most of the ones I see are much closer to size of a nickel or quarter than the half dollar size.) The upper surfaces of their wings are a beautiful dusty blue to sky blue color, sometimes with various dark markings. However, the underside of their wings is a pale, almost greyish, color with various dark markings. They can be very easy to overlook, not only because they are small, but also because they tend to rest with their wings closed which allows them to blend in remarkably well with a variety of surroundings.
The adult butterflies only live a few days and will drink nectar from a variety of different spring flowers. The females lay their eggs on the flower buds of several native plants including flowering dogwoods, New Jersey tea, and blackberry. Once the caterpillars emerge from their eggs, they will eat the plant’s flowers and fruit. Depending on where you live, you may have one or two generations of spring azures each year. The last generation will overwinter as a chrysalis before emerging as an adult the following spring to start the process over again.
Although spring azures are common butterflies, there is still much we have to learn about them. One of the biggest questions is whether the spring azures represent a single species with locally variable coloration patterns and host plants or whether they represent a complex of species that look very similar. The taxonomic debate and research surrounding this basic question is ongoing, showing once again that just because something is common or can be found in our yards, doesn’t mean that we know everything there is to know about that species. However, regardless of whether the spring azures are a single species or multiple species, their appearance is a welcome sign that spring has begun.
Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.