I was up camping in the San Bernardino Mountains this weekend and one joy was coming across a muddling area, next to the stream my friend Christine and I were camping near. It was lush with butterflies — also called a puddle party. For those who don’t know, a muddle is a mud puddle, or in this case it looked more like a couple circular areas of moist, fine gravel that were several feet across. I sat for about 45 minutes and enjoyed the parade of butterflies as they gathered nutrients the muddle provided, and buzzed each other. Butterflies weren’t the only ones. Various insects and bees alighted too, and the butterflies occasionally harassed a train of harvester ants, making them pick up their pace. (See photos below)
According to An Introduction to Southern California Butterflies by Fred Heath, male butterflies use the muddles to take up salt, nitrogen and amino acids because the plant foods eaten during the earlier caterpillar stage are low in these. The spermatohore that the male passes to the female during mating includes these nutrients.
June great time to see butterflies in So CA mountains
According to San Diego entomologist and butterfly expert Michael Klein, June and July is when the Southern California mountains have the highest number of butterflies. In the lower elevations, which are of course drier than the mountains, March and April log the highest concentration since the flowers then are the most abundant after the winter rains. The deserts usually have the highest butterfly activity in late February thru mid-April.
Butterflies live on average a couple weeks, another reason to revel in their specialness when you see them.