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In the Glory of Hackberry Butterflies: Everyday Magic, Day 1082

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

For a week each year, the hackberry butterflies float, soar, and flutter in such number that we have to keep our mouths closed when walking from house to car. Known as the hackberry emperor (with the formal name of Asterocampa celtis), they hatch out of their chrysalis and party hardy for a week or so before withering away.

Their big butterfly dance is one of the most magical passage each year I know when just walking across the backyard to take out the compost means making my way through a cast of thousands, some of them landing on me, especially on hot days, since these critters love the salt our sweat produces. It’s also a time of rolling down car windows to try to wave some out back outside where they’ll have a much better life and often driving places with hackberry butterflies clinging to my sleeping windshield wipers.

Living the country, and among many hackberry trees (where they go through their pre-butterfly stages, often under the bark), I’ve gotten used to the late May/ early June explosion of small brown and gray butterflies hovering among us like fairy lights, but of course, it’s really us moving among them. They favor landing on anything made of wood and spend ample time sunning themselves in the hundreds along our deck railings.

Like most things, hackberry butterfly season is over too quick. Just today, I noticed far less of them spinning the light over the gravel drive, and I’ve been picking up dead hackberry butterflies from the deck and even our bedroom floor to toss them into the garden for a better burial. Meanwhile, I am watching the ones still aloft, at play in the air while they still have time.

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