Butterflies arriving in Scripps Ranch

Sara orangetip

Butterflies arriving in Scripps Ranch

As soon as the weather warms a bit and the days are no longer rainy, we’re starting to see the usual spring butterflies. Living on a canyon in Scripps Ranch that faces southeast, we’re fortunate to have a long vista and can see the butterflies as they come up the canyon and pass through our yard, flying from the desert southwest on their northwesterly-bound journey.

One of the first to fly through is the painted lady. They haven’t come in swarms yet like last year, but we often see one-a-minute. Start looking for them! In flight they’re a medium/small butterfly, with an orange cast. Once they land you can see they look more moth-like on the underside with bits of brown and white.

Painted lady

Another early visitor is the Sara orangetip, and we’ve seen a number of them fly through. The first recorded one in San Diego this year was on Feb. 4. They’re one of a number of white butterflies in the Anthocharis family. They can be seen from February into May, depending on the weather. In flight you see mostly white, but when they land the bright orange spot on the dorsal forewing is an excellent distinguishing feature. In our yard they go to the small purple blooms of society garlic sea lavender. They are especially fond of the fields of wild mustard that cover our foothills in the spring.

It’s unusually early for the swallowtail butterfly, but already we are seeing them daily. They’ll be lots more prevalent as warmer weather brings more blooms. They are fond of the flower stalks of pride of Maderia. There are several different types of swallowtails and they can all be found along the Pacific coast from Baja to Canada.


Cool facts: Most butterflies only eat the nectar from flowers, and occasionally pollen, tree sap and rotting fruit. When they get thirsty, they will sip water from damp patches on leaves or occasionally land on still, shallow water.

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