Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Butterfly Watching is the Ultimate Spectator Sport

For time immemorial humans have enjoyed watching sporting events. So much so that spectator sports have become billion-dollar industries in modern times. We pay dearly to witness such contests.

We sit and watch baseball, basketball and football games. Soccer, cricket and tennis matches attract spectators galore. So do ice hockey and golf. Millions witness horse and auto racing.

We humans love to watch things. We watch fireworks displays, plays and even construction projects. We go to zoos and watch the animals.

Humans even make a sport out of watching each other. People watching at the mall is a favorite pastime for many of us. 

Watching the opposite sex has always had a special allure for humans. A top musical hit for The Four Lads in the '50s was "Standing on the Corner." The song featured girl watching-"Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by!" In 1968, the one-hit-wonder the O'Kaysions released "Girl Watcher" that began with the line, "I'm a girl watcher, Watching girls go by." But we all know that boy watching is just as popular.

We also like to watch animals in nature. Bird watching is a very popular hobby-and so is butterfly watching.

Butterfly watching is becoming an increasingly popular sport. It has even entered the realm of a paying spectator sport. Butterfly houses-facilities that have free-flying butterflies-have become popular tourist attractions in several major cities around the world. For a fee, humans get to interact, up close and personal, with beautiful butterflies.

You don't have to travel to a commercial butterfly house to be a butterfly watcher. At least in the good old summertime, all you have to do is look in your backyard. For most of us, the summer brings the butterflies to our yards and parks-at least if those yards and parks have flowers.

Some people encourage the butterflies with plants that support the butterfly populations. Such butterfly gardens are becoming increasingly popular.

In butterfly watching, as in other sports, the more you know about the game the more enjoyable it is to watch. So it helps to be able to identify some of the more common butterflies.

Unlike participants in many sports, butterflies don't have uniforms with names and numbers on their backs. But their uniforms are distinctive, so you can identify butterflies by the way they look. This sometimes is aided by having a pair of close-focusing binoculars.

Some of the common butterflies that we see in the Midwest belong to one of the following groups. The swallowtails are our largest butterflies. Their long tails give them their name and make them easy to identify.

The whites and yellows are very common. Their names reflect their colors and they exhibit a low and quick flight. They can be found all summer long.

Angle wings and tortoiseshells include the question mark and mourning cloak butterflies. These butterflies can frequently be seen feeding on rotting fruit or carrion. They are commonly seen resting on dirt roads.

The skippers are brownish butterflies that exhibit a quick, darting flight. They all have hooked antennae that make it easy to identify this group.            

The blues, as their name suggests, are blue colored. They are fairly small butterflies. The blues and angle wings can frequently be seen drinking water around a mud puddle.

Most people recognize the monarch, or milkweed, butterfly. It is frequently observed on the southward migratory flights each September and October.

Butterfly watching is a fun spectator sport. And the price is right!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox