By the time butterflies become flying adults, they have already gone through three previous stages: egg, larva/caterpillar, and pupa. In most butterfly species, adult lifespan is short, perhaps two to four weeks.
There are exceptions, such as Monarchs that migrate in the fall and Mourning Cloaks that spend the winter in hibernation as adults, but the exceptions are few.
As butterflies age, their colors fade and, often, their wings become ragged. While I usually prefer to use photos of brighter colored younger adults, doing that exclusively can misrepresent what is seen in the field.
Here are some examples of how butterfly color fades.
As I watch butterflies summer after summer, it has become clear that their short life is not as easy as it might appear to someone who watches them flit from flower to flower.
Tiger Swallowtails have been abundant this summer in Eliza Howell Park; I have been seeing several almost every visit. It is easy to think that I am seeing the same ones repeatedly, but, according to the information I have seen, each lives only two weeks as an adult.
Perhaps it is partly because I recognize my own aging, but I am learning to admire butterflies even when faded and torn.