See the World from
a Butterfly’s Point of View

Neil Björklund   Website

fact

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

Bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Blue Mountains to the north, Oregon’s high desert covers approximately 24,000 square miles. Annual rainfall in the high desert varies from 5 to 14 inches. The average elevation is 4,000 feet; at 9,733 feet, the summit of Steens Mountain is the highest point in Oregon’s high desert. The terrain of the high desert was mostly formed by a series of lava flows that occurred between 30 and 10 million years ago.

Sources: The Oregon Encyclopedia; Wikipedia  

fact

Bobcat

Bobcat

Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus

 

fact

Badger

Badger

Badgers are generally nocturnal, but, in remote areas with no human encroachment, they are routinely observed foraging during the day. They prefer open areas with grasslands, which can include parklands, farms, and treeless areas with crumbly soil and a supply of rodent prey.

Badgers are born blind, furred, and helpless. Their eyes open at four to six weeks.

Latin name: Taxidea taxus

Sight

Look at the head of a butterfly to find the two tiny compound eyes that give them a wide field of vision (yes, they see you too). They can see up, down, to the side, forward, and backward at the same time, and they can detect colors into the ultraviolet range that confounds us.

Their eyes have tens of thousands of individual light receptors—picture a honeycomb—each with its own microscopic lens. When the amount of light hitting the receptors changes, as when a predator or a net approaches, butterflies can detect the movement and take evasive action.

Butterfly shown: Coronis Fritillary
Photo: Christopher Christie, https://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherchristie/

Sound

Butterfly hearing hasn’t been studied for long—there is so much about even the most common of animals that we’re still learning. But we do know that some butterflies can hear using a membrane located on their wings (or other body parts) that vibrates in response to sounds.

Some moths have ears tuned to the high-frequency echolocation calls of bats; when they hear those calls, they either take evasive action or drop to the ground as if dead. Butterfly hearing is thought to be similar, only theirs is tuned to different frequencies—like the low-frequency sound of a bird’s wings flapping as it swoops in for a meal.

Butterfly shown: Boisduval's Blue
Photo: Christopher Christie, https://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherchristie/

Smell

Butterflies have chemoreceptors similar to the ones in our noses, but theirs are located on their feet and antennae. The club-like tips of butterfly antennae are especially dense with chemoreceptors, which can sense the honey-like odor of nectar or the smell of pheromones emitted by males of some species.

Butterfly shown: Ancilla Blue
Photo: Neil Bjorklund, Butterflies of Oregon

Touch

Butterflies touch and feel leaves, flowers, and other objects with their feet, antennae, proboscis, and tiny hairs all over their bodies.

Butterfly shown: Yuma Skipper
Photo: Neil Bjorklund, Butterflies of Oregon

Taste

Butterflies eat leaves and other food when they’re larvae (caterpillars), building up their strength to eventually transform into adults. During their usually brief adult lives, they don’t eat; rather, they drink nectar and other substances using the straw-like proboscis at the front of their heads.

They also taste leaves using chemoreceptors on their forelegs, which is especially important for female butterflies when they’re trying to find the right place to lay their eggs. Each butterfly species can only lay eggs successfully on certain host plants that provide the right nutrients—most famously, Monarchs need to lay their eggs on milkweeds.

Watch closely, and sometime you might see a butterfly drumming her legs—sometimes all six legs—on a leaf to draw out juices for the chemoreceptors on her legs to test. Only if the taste is right, indicating that the leaf is indeed that of a host plant, will the female deposit one or more of her eggs.

Butterfly shown: Basin Wood Nymph
Photo: Christopher Christie, https://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherchristie/

Get out there

The next time your friend remarks on a butterfly’s beauty while walking quickly past, you might stop and say, “You know, they’re more than just beautiful …” Then stay for a while. Pull out your binoculars and your field guide, so you can both identify the species and appreciate how that one individual is experiencing the world.

Learn More

ONDA member Neil Bjorklund has created a terrific resource for learning about the butterflies that live in Oregon. Check out the website Butterflies of Oregon for beautiful photography and to follow along as Neil shares updates from his quest to photograph all 160 of the butterfly species that breed in Oregon.


About the author

LeeAnn Kreigh is a long-time ONDA member, freelance writer and author of The Nature of Bend.

Get "The Nature of Bend"

See the World from
a Butterfly’s Point of View

I wonder if butterflies might get annoyed by all the poetic language they attract. They’re “tiny rainbows,” “flying flowers,” or “ephemeral angels.” We use them as metaphors for transformation and as symbols of beauty, joy, and immortality. But what are they really? My fear is that all the chatter about beautiful butterflies reflecting the...

Read More

Species Spotlight: Burrowing Owl

A Funny Little Owl By LeeAnn Kriegh Pronghorn are perhaps the most graceful animal native to the high desert country of Central and Eastern Oregon. Golden Eagles are the most majestic, Greater Sage-Grouse the most emblematic. And Burrowing Owls? They’re the funniest. Let us never overlook the fact that we’re talking about owls who...

Read More

Three Tiny Creatures
of Oregon’s High Desert

Racing pronghorn. Soaring golden eagles. Charging salmon. Oregon’s high desert pulses with the movement of these great creatures, but it’s good to remember that the desert’s iconic animals, birds and fish are no more vital to this ecosystem than any other species. They’re just easier to see. In fact, the little guys that live in the...

Read More

Oregon: The Beaver State

You may have heard Oregon referred to as the “Beaver State.” The American Beaver, Castor canadensis, is Oregon’s official state animal and the Oregon State University mascot. And, there is an unincorporated community in Oregon called Beaver. What’s the story behind Oregon’s identification with this huge rodent? The beaver’s range encompasses all but one...

Read More

Species Spotlight: Bluebirds

Bluebirds of Happiness By LeeAnn Kriegh Is there any bird that inspires more passion and poetry than bluebirds? Henry David Thoreau, for one, wrote eloquently of the bird that “carries the sky on his back” and suggested that a person’s “interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list...

Read More

In Search of the
Elusive Long-nosed Snake

UPDATE: Long-nosed snakes confirmed in the Owyhee! On August 19, 2018, ONDA shared this blog article about the possibility of Long-nosed Snakes in southeastern Oregon, requesting documenting photos of sightings which brought astonishingly quick results. To be exact, the very next day after that plea was posted! Herpetologist Alison Davis Rabosky emailed me several...

Read More

Migratory Birds of the High Desert

Every year, dozens of beloved bird species migrate from their part-time homes around the world back to the high desert of Oregon to breed, feed and raise chicks. These birds can fly many thousands of miles in order to get to the land and water they rely on to survive and thrive as a...

Read More

Species Spotlight: Black Cottonwood

Where There’s Cottonwood, There’s Water. We recommend listening to this Cottonwood Canyon Riparian Soundscape while you read this Species Spotlight. At the new Riley Ranch Nature Reserve in Bend, a friend pointed into the distance and said, “Huh, looks like there’s water over that rise.” We couldn’t actually see any water, so how did...

Read More

Species Spotlight: Mountain Mahogany

By LeeAnn Kriegh Trees live their lives on a different timescale than ours, so it helps to slow ourselves down to fully appreciate them. Certainly, a shrubby little tree like curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) isn’t going to catch our eye if we’re racing past along the trail. But take time for a closer look,...

Read More