No, this week’s featured creature has nothing to do with goats.

If I said goatweed leafwing, would you call 911 ,thinking I was suffering sort of medical emergency?

Well, rest easy, I am not suffering any medical issues as of now.

The goatweed leafwing is a butterfly. And it gets its name for two reasons: because the larvae feed on goatweed and its relatives in the genus Croton, and because with its wings closed, it resembles a dry, dead leaf.

I normally wouldn’t feature insects during the cold months; however, the goatweed leafwing has two forms — a summer form and a winter form. And on warm days in the winter, they can be active.

These butterflies are not easily seen, and I must usually hit the woods to observe them. I see them most when I’m out hiking.

And they are nearly impossible to locate unless in flight or when they become startled. Their closed-wing camouflage is second to none — see my photo.

Description

Adults are orange above and brown below. They have brownish outer margins on both the forewings and hindwings. The female is similar to the male, but with more marking above on the wings. To me, the backs of the females appear as if they were painted with watercolor paints.

The color of both sexes is bolder in the winter forms. And goatweed leafwings have small tails at the backs of their hind wings. The tails are longer in the winter form.

The photo I’ve included with this column is a winter-form male.

The wings are distinctively shaped, with a very downward curved tip of the upper wing.

The wingspan of the goatweed leafwing ranges from about 2 to 3 inches in width. They are somewhat similar in size and appearance to the question mark and eastern comma butterflies.

However, both of those species have many brown spots on the backs of their wings. I will feature those species in future columns.

The caterpillar is very light green and plump. It has small, raised red spots along the sides.

Lifecycle

According to naturalists, the goatweed leafwing has two flights per year in the northern part of its range and may have three or four flights in the southern portion near the Gulf Coast. The summer form flies from late June through August. The winter form emerges at the end of August and lives until the following May or June, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The winter forms hibernate as adults and are sometimes seen flying on warm, sunny days in winter. The length of daylight experienced by the nearly full-grown caterpillars determines whether they emerge from their pupae as winter- or summer-form adults, reports the MDC. Day length also determines if females will mate soon after emerging (summer form) or wait for the winter to pass before mating.

Food

According to the North American Butterfly Association, goatweed leafwing caterpillars use the goatweed plant as food and shelter. Individual eggs are laid on the underside leaves of the plant. After hatching, caterpillars use the leaves for food and also as shelter inside either a folded or rolled leaf. Goatweed is used as food by only the caterpillar.

Adult goatweed leafwings eat sap, rotting fruit, carrion, dung and bird droppings.

Habitat

Deciduous woods and scrub, especially along waterways; open fields, roadsides, railroad tracks and other places.

Range

Goatweed leafwings can be found all over Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Their range runs from Arizona to Nebraska to Florida and all states in between.

P.S.

On another note, I mentioned in a recent column that I was experimenting with offering wild birds homemade suet and that I would provide you with an update on how the birds feel about it.

I made it of equal parts lard (the kind that doesn’t have to be refrigerated), natural crunchy peanut butter and cornmeal.

Well, they love it! I offered quite a bit and had to make a second batch within a week.

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.