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Butterflies spread their wings early after warm start to spring

A Red Admiral butterfly. Courtesy Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

A Red Admiral butterfly. Courtesy of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

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Updated: May 21, 2012 8:35AM



First the bulbs poked up through winter dirt. The lilacs bloomed ahead of schedule.

Now the butterflies are here, heralding an unusually proper springtime in Chicago.

These cheerful snippets of spring have already arrived or awoken, eating what they can find, thanks to warm March temps.

The Red Admiral ­­— a medium-sized velvety black butterfly with orange bands on its wings — has already migrated up from the South for the milder half of the year.

“It got here early this year,” said Doug Taron, a longtime lover of butterflies who manages the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, home to 1,000 butterflies at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. “A lot of things got here early.”

In the last weekor so, the Red Admirals have multiplied ferociously, Taron said. They’re drawn to the city because they eat an inconspicuous plant known to pop up through sidewalk cracks and in people’s lawns: Pelletory.

And they’ve been spotted throughout the region sipping nectar from lilac bushes and apple trees, some of the only earliest available sources, he said.

Yellow-tipped Mourning Cloak and orange-and-brown-spotted Question Mark butterflies have already emerged, too, awoken from hiberation in local trees and building cracks and woodpiles, said Jeff Mitchell, a curator at the Brookfield Zoo.

“The best thing is (that) these animals have an ability to adapt to Chicago winters,” he said. “They don’t have coats.

“They’re surviving out there and we have a chance to see them early and it just shows how we’re all connected to wildlife and nature,” he said.



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