Finally, classic spring Butterflies & Moths emerge in significant numbers
With the exception of a few warm days in April, it seemingly took forever to get reliably warmer temperatures for spring, and many critters seemed to emerge a little late.
But, within the past two weeks, we've observed the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - the magnificent Delaware state butterfly - fly at Lums Pond, over Route 40 in Bear, and in New Jersey.
Common Buckeyes - more of a late-summer/fall butterfly - have been sighted in our area.
Canary yellow Common Sulphurs have been seen in significant numbers, even exceeding the 'exotic' Cabbage White.
Blues - both Eastern Tailed-Blues & Spring Azures - are flying.
Also Eastern Commas and Question Marks, some of which apparently overwintered as adults.
We're also starting to see some of the spectacular silk moths. I observed a Polyphemus - which had either emerged or purposely worked its way behind the grating, protecting itself from prey - at a convenience store/bank south of Northeast, Maryland, on the road to Elk Neck State Park.
This past Saturday, I trekked to the southern New Jersey Pine Barrens - around Lakehurst and Warren Grove - to participate in the annual field day of the Newark (New Jersey) Entomological Society.
A little cooler than a similar outing last year, but spectacular results:
In and around Lakehurst, we saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Spicebush Swallowtail; a Cabbage White; at least two Eastern Pine Elfins; the magnificent emerald green Hessel's Hairstreak; nearly a dozen Spring Azures; a couple of Eastern Tailed-Blues; about half a dozen Pearl Crescents; a Question Mark and a couple of Eastern Commas; one Red Admiral; about half a dozen American Ladies; one Common Buckeye; and eight Juvenal's Duskywings.
The area extending from Mile Marker 9 - Route 72 - in Burlington County, New Jersey, is a classic location for the much-sought-after Hessel's Hairstreak. We were not disappointed. Perhaps the greatest numbers ever for this little gem - 25+ - and all through the day until clouds got in the way. Also at that location: One Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; one Cabbage White; one Orange Sulphur; at least eight Brown Elfins; two Eastern Pine Elfins; about a dozen Eastern Tailed-Blues; and four Juvenal's Duskywings.
Near Warren Grove (after the obligatory visit to Lucille's Diner):
The usual dozens of Hoary Elfins, not far from their caterpillar food-plant: Bearberry, in the Heath family. The New Jersey Pine Barrens, and parts of the Appalachians in Virginia are the southernmost outposts for this tiny butterfly, found much more commonly in parts of New England.
Also, one Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; one Cabbage White; about ten Brown Elfins; one Eastern Pine Elfin; a couple of Eastern Tailed-Blues; four American Ladies; one Common Buckeye; ten Juvenal's Duskywings; one Sleepy Duskywing; and three Cobweb Skippers (another specialty butterfly of these Pine Barrens, and similarly, the serpentine barrens of Nottingham County Park and Goat Hill in Pennsylvania and the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area west of Baltimore).
It rained late Saturday afternoon/early evening in the Pine Barrens - and the temperatures started to drop - but lights and bait attracted several dozen moth species, including three silk moths (Polyphemus, Luna, and Rosy Maple).
But the die-hard moth enthusiasts look for smaller - and often drabber - moth species, some endemic to such habitat.
I shot many photos, but here's one great photo of Hessel's Hairstreak from the Carolina Nature website...
The pic you posted makes me want to take the trip to the Pine Barrens to see the butterfly live and "in person".
How do you spot all these different types - do you just sit still and wait for them to come to you, or do you hike around and look for them?
A couple weeks ago a yellow swallowtail fluttered by my work window and just a few days ago I saw a Spicebush Swallowtail behind our plant. (We're backed up to a small wooded area.) The other day I spotted our first goldfinch flitting around the business park. I actually look forward to coming to work in the summer to see these natural delights, since my residence is located in a bit of a concrete jungle.
I remember once outside the movies at Brandywine Town Center there was a huge moth - the span from wingtip to tip was about four inches - just sitting on the pavement. Have you ever seen a moth that size in these parts, and would you have an idea what it was?
Wed, May 11, 2011 2:16pm
How one spots butterflies (and moths) depends on the species, the weather, the habitat, and a variety of other circumstances.
Finding Hessel's Hairstreaks CAN be difficult. These tiny butterflies spend a lot of their time high above in the forest canopy, in this case, Atlantic White Cedar. (This is why the species wasn't even differentiated from the similar Juniper - Olive - Hairstreak until 1949.)
They're most likely to descend to the nectaring flowers below in the late afternoon. This past weekend was somewhat special in that they could be seen beneath throughout the day.
You can find most other butterflies simply by walking -- and closely observing. You learn that certain species gather on flowers or sand. Others perch on tree bark, just like certain birds.
As for that moth, we have several silkmoths in our area with wingspans of 4 to 6 inches.
I assume you know about the elegant lime-green Luna moth with its magnificent tails & often pink edging; even people generally suspicious or resistant to moths can appreciate the beauty of the Luna.
I would assume you saw either the Polyphemus, tan-colored with its large eyespots on its hindwings; the Promethea (males are dark brownish-black; females are bright reddish-pink); less likely, the exceptionally beautiful, dark brown & maroon Cecropia.
Other silkmoths in our area (although I rather doubt they'd materialize in an urban setting): The red-orange striped Regal, or Royal Walnut moth, and the yellow - or brownish - Io moth, with its spectacular eyespots on the lower wings!
If the wings were simply very LONG across (with an exceptionally stout body!), you might have encountered one of our larger sphinx, or hawk moths.
Next time, snap a photo and show it to me!
Wed, May 11, 2011 3:35pm
I did an image search, it was a Polyphemus. Next time I come across a big prehistoric looking moth, I'll be sure to send you a pic.
Wed, May 11, 2011 6:35pm
By all means, pennsy, feel free to forward any photos or descriptions.
But interesting how you describe the "big" (meaning, I assume, silkmoths) as "prehistoric-looking".
Actually, when you say that, I think of the truly primitive moths with mouth parts (mandibles) as opposed to a more modern proboscis, or, in the case of the silkmoths (and some sphinx moths) no mouth parts or proboscis at all. By that standard, the silkmoths are relatively "modern" moths!
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