Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Butterflies And Springtime

The signs of spring. Little frogs, called spring peepers, croaking at the top of their amphibian lungs. Redbirds singing from the highest branch of the tallest tree. Bursting buds on the maple tree. Daffodils, tulips and violets. And butterflies.

There's nothing like the sight of a butterfly to indicate springtime. For many centuries, people everywhere have noticed the first butterfly of the new season.

The term butterfly probably was derived from the common yellow cabbage butterfly because it is first seen in the early spring season. Early spring has been called the butter season because milk production tends to increase then. In Anglo-Saxon language, these insects were called "butter-fleage,"--meaning butterfly. A German name for these insects is "Schmeterling,"--from cream, -- suggesting a similar derivation from the English term.

In most temperate regions of the world, butterflies overwinter as mature larvae or pupae. So when spring rolls around, they are ready to pupate and emerge as butterflies.

Butterflies are well-known seasonal travelers. The Monarch butterfly goes north in the spring and south each fall across North America. In South America, travelers in the jungles can sometimes determine the points on the compass by observing the direction of the flight of butterflies.

Whether as newly emerged adults or as migrants headed to summer breeding grounds, the presence of butterflies is a sure sign of spring in North America.

Many folk sayings are associated with the first butterfly of the season. In Devonshire, England, people are admonished to "Kill the first butterfly you see each year, or you will have bad luck all through the year." This may, be a reflection on the pest nature of the cabbage butterfly; its larvae feed on and damage many plants of the cabbage family.

In some areas of the world, good luck is said to follow when a butterfly lands on a person. That saying was known to a Congressman who, while in attendance at a Washington political rally in the late 1800s, noticed that a butterfly had alighted on his hat. The fellow stated that his luck was going to be good. However, another Congressman of the opposition party commented that he wouldn't be so sure. It was a cabbage butterfly that was on the hat. The insect, the observer noted, had recognized a cabbage head when it saw one!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Steve Cain