One of the most beautiful butterflies to grace Monroe County is the pearl crescent. However, due, in large part to its demure size, it is also one of our most overlooked butterflies.
The pearl crescent has a wingspan ranging from 1.25-1.75 inches wide. Females are larger than males. Looking down on a pearl crescent, the butterfly appears to be tawny orange and black. The butterfly’s wings are bordered in black. Black splotches and lines create an attractive orange and black pattern. The insect’s underside is much paler. Along the trailing edge of the hind underwing, a dark patch is featured. This blotch encircles a pale crescent. The pearl crescent is named for this tiny pearly-colored mark.
The pearl crescent is one of our most common butterflies. Here in Monroe County it can be seen from early spring into late fall. During these many weeks, it produces multiple broods. However, while it is possible to spot the butterfly anytime during this time of the year, there are occasions when you are hard-pressed to find a single one. When this occurs it is usually because the butterfly is between broods. By that I mean, as one brood of pearl crescents is slowly living out its short lifespan, another may have not yet emerged to replace it.
The pearl crescent is arguably the most successful member of its tribe. For certain, its success is closely linked to the fact that it is a consummate generalist; it literally thrives in a number of different habitats. Here in Monroe County it can be seen flitting about our yards, in clearcuts, alongside our highways and byways, along the edges of forests, in utility right-of-ways, you name it.
In addition, it will nectar on a wide variety of plants. I have seen them sipping nectar from the beautiful orange blossoms of butterfly weed (better known as a host plant for the monarch). In my backyard, I spot them on a number of nectar plants including butterflybush, coreopsis, lantana, white clover and blanket flower, to name but a few.
However, although the pearl crescent lives in a variety of habitats and nectars on literally scores of plants, it lays its eggs only on asters. As such, if you don’t have asters growing in your neck of the woods, you won’t see the pearl crescent.
Although you will rarely come across a large number of pearly crescents in one location, if you do you might have stumbled across a puddle party. The pearl crescent is one of several species of butterflies that convene on mineral-laden mud or sand. They gather at such locations to consume the minerals concentrated there.
Interestingly, should you find such a gathering chances are all of the butterflies assembled there will be males. This is true for all butterflies that puddle. In fact, since females are so rarely seen at puddle parties they are often called bachelor parties.
The pearl crescent displays an erratic, rapid flight. This makes trying to identify it difficult when the butterfly is aloft. This problem vanishes when it lands and begins nectaring; then you will be able to see the distinctive color pattern of its wings.
One behavior that will help you identify a pearl crescent is its behavior while feeding. Feeding pearl crescents will continually open and close their wings as they feed.
During the current drought, the pearl crescent has been one of the few butterflies regularly visiting my backyard. When I see one, it is usually flying close to the ground. If it happens to be a male, I know it is spending most of its time searching for a mate.
Keep your eyes peeled for this dainty black and orange butterfly. Once you take the time to identify one, you will not overlook this beauty again.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at email@example.com.