WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Fall Butterflies (And my encounter with a sonar-jamming moth!)

Although I always welcome the spring, single-brood butterflies (Hairstreaks, Elfins, and certain skippers), early September represents, perhaps, the pinnacle of the butterfly year.

This is the time when Swallowtails (Eastern Tiger, Spicebush, Black, and - in southern Cecil County - Zebra) still fly in good numbers; the Monarch southward migration crosses through Delmarva and south Jersey; big Cloudless Sulphurs appear in greater numbers, and we get Common Buckeyes and the Vanessa species: Ladies and the Red Admiral.

(However, I still believe populations of American and Painted Ladies, plus Red Admirals, have been subpar all year long. Could the relatively cool summer have something to do with it?)

I've also seen a few very localized (and comparatively rare) butterflies, such as Bronze Copper south of the C & D Canal, about a mile west of the Reedy Point bridge.

If you have a garden club or other group wanting to hear about butterflies and moths this fall, feel free to contact me. I can tell you stories and show you many photos.

On a more truly eclectic note, I was very pleased to observe and photograph the elegantly patterned Bertholdia trigona tiger moth during my recent vacation out west (In this case, I found the Bertholdia trigona tiger moth in an outdoor telephone booth at Keystone, South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore.)

Why is it so special? This species is the first in the animal kingdom known to jam the sonar of predator bats with its own defense system, in this case, bursts of the moth's own ultrasound.

Researchers at Wake Forest University used ultrasonic recorders and high-speed infrared video to study the Bertholdia moths.

Previous research has uncovered tiger moths which utilize ultrasound clicks either to startle bats - or warn of a Monarch-style repelling taste. But the jamming of bats' sonar was something new.

Posted at 7:56pm on September 1, 2009 by Allan Loudell

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