Friday, November 13, 2015

Species Profile: Euphilotes - Buckwheat Blues

These species recently came up when someone contacted me with an identification question, so in light of my poor record of posting blog articles lately (it's crunch time with my book!) I thought I'd throw together my summaries of the two species groups ("Dotted" and "Square-spotted" blues) with descriptions of the two most common species in our area.

Columbia Blue (Euphilotes columbiae)
This species was originally thought to be a subspecies of Dotted Blue (E. enoptes), but analysis by Andrew Warren (Butterflies of Oregon, 2005) discovered that it is a separate species. Columbia Blue ranges across the eastern slopes of the Cascades in WA and OR, and scattered parts of E WA and NE OR. Dotted Blue ranges across most of CA, parts of NV and AZ, and scattered populations in W and Central OR and S WA.
Wingspan: 16 to 20 mm
Male: dusky blue dorsal with gray-brown border and white fringe. Whitish-gray ventral covered in numerous round black spots; submarginal row of orange crescents, rarely forming a solid band.
Female: warm brown dorsal color may be dusted with blue; orange submedian band on DHW.
Egg: pale greenish-white.
Larva: first instar is greenish-yellow, second and third instars are gray-green speckled with black, final instar varies from gray-green to pale cream, often with rose-red markings.
Pupa: honey brown.
Similar Species
Cascadia Blue (E. "battoides") has squarish black spots and is associated with Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. heracleoides). Other blue species that have a VHW marginal row of orange (Northern, Anna's, Melissa's, and Lupine blues) all have scintillae (sparkling blue-green scales on the marginal row of black spots). Worn individuals should be carefully inspected in bright light for any remaining reflective scales from the scintillae.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: wherever host buckwheat grows, primarily in shrub-steppe canyons, meadows, and edges of pine forests.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: Northern Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) and Tall Buckwheat (E. elatum).
Adult food source: primarily buckwheat, yarrow and rabbitbrush; males frequently visit mud and occasionally damp fire pits.

Cascadia Blue (Euphilotes "battoides")
The taxonomy of this group is currently being revised; recent studies indicate that the Square-spotted Blue (Euphilotes battoides) is actually made up of previously-undescribed species, each specializing on different buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.). The Cascadia Blue is very common in WA and OR and is nearly always on Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. heracleoides), it is also suspected to sometimes use Douglas' Buckwheat (Eriog. douglasii). The Summit Blue (E. glaucon) is the only Euphilotes species found to feed on Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriog. umbellatum), but is also occasionally found with Cascadia Blue on Parsley Desert Buckwheat, where it usually flies earlier than the Cascadia Blue. A possible third species feeds solely on Round-headed Desert Buckwheat (Eriog. sphaerocephalum) and is found in E Kittitas County and W Grant County in WA.
Wingspan: 16 to 20 mm
Male: dusky blue dorsal with gray-brown border and white fringe, usually with small orange patch near trailing edge of DHW. Whitish-gray ventral covered in numerous squarish black spots; submarginal row of orange crescents, sometimes forming a solid band.
Female: warm brown dorsal color may be dusted with blue; orange submedian band on DHW.
Egg: pale greenish-white.
Larva: greenish-yellow first instar, red and white second instar, third instar similar but slightly darker, final instar varies from gray-green to reddish with pale and dark green and/or red markings.
Pupa: honey brown.
Similar Species
Columbia Blue (E. columbiae) has round black spots and is associated with Northern (Eriogonum compositum) and Tall (E. elatum) buckwheats. Other blue species that have a VHW marginal row of orange (Northern, Anna's, Melissa's, and Lupine blues) all have scintillae (sparkling blue-green scales on the marginal row of black spots). Worn individuals should be carefully inspected in bright light for any remaining reflective scales from the scintillae.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: wherever host buckwheat grows, primarily in shrub-steppe canyons and meadows.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: Parsley Desert Buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides).
Adult food source: primarily buckwheat, yarrow and rabbitbrush; males frequently visit mud and occasionally damp fire pits.
Comparison of Columbia (Euphilotes columbiae) and Cascadia (Euphilotes "battoides") blues

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Red Admiral closeups

I'm editing photos for a book I'm working on and found these shots of a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) I reared from a larva earlier this summer. I didn't notice before that they have tiny hairs on their eyes! For your enjoyment, here are some photos demonstrating the intricacies of Creation.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mormon Metalmarks

It's that time of year again! If you happen to be out and about in central and eastern Washington and Oregon this Labor Day weekend, keep an eye out for these little jewels nectaring on rabbitbrush and other late-blooming flowers.  They only appear for about two weeks this time of year, and are our only representative of the metalmark group, Riodininae, a mostly southern-US and tropical group of butterflies.
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo on rabbitbrush at Ellensburg Viewpoint, I-82 south of Ellensburg

Mormon Metalmark & Woodland Skipper on rabbitbrush at Ellensburg Viewpoint, I-82 south of Ellensburg

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Late-season Butterflies

The butterfly season is winding down but there are still several species flying in the Northwest, especially up in the mountains.  I have heard reports of large numbers of Great Spangled Fritillaries (Argynnis cybele) flying in the mountains north of Ellensburg and have personally observed most of the following species recently between Cougar and the Windy Ridge Viewpoint east of Mount St. Helens, as well as the area west of Indian Heaven Wilderness.
Look for these little beauties when you're out in the woods hiking and camping over the next few weeks:
Woodland Skipper - Ochlodes sylvanoides
This little orange jewel is quite common in most locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, flying from June until the first hard frost, usually peaking in August.  The larvae feed on various grasses.
Woodland Skipper - Ochlodes sylvanoides
Clodius Parnassian - Parnassius clodius
Mountain Parnassian - Parnassius smintheus
These are the large white gliders seen in sunny forest edges and meadows in mid-summer. Their flight is winding down right now but they are still out in fair numbers at higher elevations.  Look for Clodius Parnassians on the west side of the Cascades and Mountain Parnassians on the east side. They are easily distinguished by their antennae: Clodius' are solid black and Mountain's are checkered black and white.  Other diagnostic characteristics include the two red spots on the hindwing (the lower spot is usually slightly smaller than the upper on Clodius, and slightly larger than the upper on Mountain) and the amount of scales on the forewing (Clodius forewings have fewer white scales around the edges so appear more clear, while Mountain Parnassians are mostly white). Clodius Parnassian larvae feed on bleeding hearts and Mountain Parnassian larvae feed on various stonecrops (Sedum species).
Clodius Parnassian (above) and Mountain Parnassian (below)
Pine White - Neophasia menapia
Larvae of these butterflies feed on the needles of pine and occasionally Douglas-fir trees.  Females usually stay high up in the trees, occasionally coming down to nectar on thistle, rabbitbrush, and other late summer flowers.  In years with high population numbers, these butterflies create the appearance of snow in the forests, fluttering high around the trees and floating down to nectar on flowers.
Pine White - Neophasia menapia
Purplish Copper - Lycaena helloides
Mariposa Copper - Lycaena mariposa
Purplish Coppers are widespread and common and usually have multiple generations per year, so are one of the few species seen in late summer.  Their larvae feed on several plant species, mostly in the Polygonaceae family (knotweeds, smartweeds and dock).  Mariposa Coppers are much more localized, restricted to areas where their host Vaccinium species grow, such as huckleberries and wild cranberries.  I love seeing the flashes of coppery purple and frosty brown among the bushes while I'm picking huckleberries this time of year!
Purplish Copper L. helloides (above) and Mariposa Copper L. mariposa (below)
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo
These little gems should be appearing soon in the dry washes and canyons of central and eastern Washington.  Look for them nectaring on rabbitbrush in areas where their host buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) grow.  Some good locations are along the Columbia River and at the two viewpoints off I-82 on Manastash Ridge overlooking the Kittitas Valley.  You'll get some puzzled looks from onlookers wondering why you're scampering around the rabbitbrush apparently staring at broken bottles and trash instead of taking pictures of the valley like a sane person!
Mormon Metalmark - Apodemia mormo
Lorquin's Admiral - Limenitis lorquini
This butterfly is tenacious, continuing to fly into late summer in spite of tattered wings and often being so faded it is nearly unrecognizable save for its characteristic flap-flap-glide flight pattern.  Lorquin's Admirals usually peak around the end of June and early July, but I am still seeing them here and there in the mountains.
Lorquin's Admiral - Limenitis lorquini
Great Spangled Fritillary - Argynnis cybele
These are one of the last fritillary species to fly in the summer.  They seem to be nearing the peak of the flight season right now. They are sexually dimorphic, which means the females are colored significantly differently than the males.  Both are very large, nearing 3 inches compared to the ~2 inch wingspan of other fritillaries.  While flying, the females often look more like a Mourning Cloak than a fritillary.  As with other fritillaries, the larvae of Great Spangled Fritillaries feed on violets.
Great Spangled Fritillary (male & female) - Argynnis cybele
Hydaspe Fritillary - Argynnis hydaspe
Coronis Fritillary - Argynnis coronis
Hydaspe Fritillaries are very common in forested areas on both sides of the Cascades.  On the western side, they are usually the only fritillary species flying. Where they fly with other fritillaries, they are often distinguishable on the wing by their deep orange color.  Great Spangled Fritillaries have a similar color but are usually brighter and always larger.  Another late-summer fritillary is the Coronis Fritillary (below). They are more yellowish-orange and appear much lighter in color than Hydaspe in flight.  Larvae of both species feed on violets.  Coronis Fritillaries are known for their seasonal migration, emerging in the sagebrush-steppe of central and eastern Washington in late spring and following the flowers to higher elevations, especially westward into the Cascades.  They are rarely seen west of the Cascade crest, but I observed several of them near Mount St. Helens last week, possibly due to the dry summer resulting in a lack of nectar sources further east.
Hydaspe Fritillary - A. hydaspe (above) and Coronis Fritillary - A. coronis (below)
California Tortoiseshell - Nymphalis californica
Milbert's Tortoiseshell - Aglais milberti
Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta
These three butterflies may be confused with each other by the casual observer.  Red Admirals usually aren't very common but have had a good year with more local sightings.  Both tortoiseshells are common, primarily in the mountains from the Cascades eastward.  California Tortoiseshells have boom and bust cycles and have had fairly low numbers in recent years. Their larvae feed on Ceanothus species (buckbrush/snowbrush).  Milbert's Tortoiseshells usually have a fairly steady population and are found nearly anywhere their host stinging nettles grow.  Red Admiral larvae also feed on stinging nettle.
California Tortoiseshell (above), Milbert's Tortoiseshell (center) and Red Admiral (below)
Ochre Ringlet - Coenonympha tullia
Common Woodnymph - Cercyonis pegala
These are nearing the end of their flight season but are still popping up occasionally.  Typical of the satyr family, they both have slow, floppy flight patterns and rarely fly more than two or three feet above the ground.  Larvae of both feed on various native grasses.
Ochre Ringlet C. tullia (above) and Common Woodnymph C. pegala (below)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Species Profile: Swallowtails

The butterfly season is in full swing; the Spring-fliers are wrapping up at the lower elevations and early Summer species are starting to appear.  Right now is the perfect time to see all six species of swallowtails on the wing in Washington and Oregon!  Indra and Anise swallowtails have finished flying in many locations but may still be seen at higher elevations, while the Oregon Swallowtail should be emerging soon, and the Western Tiger, Pale Tiger, and Two-tailed Tiger swallowtails are all on the wing in most locations.  I've previously written about Oregon Swallowtails here, and Anise and Indra swallowtails here.  Because swallowtails are fairly common and easily noticed by many people, I am frequently asked questions about them and how to tell them apart.
One misunderstanding that comes up, more often than some might think, is that these are Monarchs. Although a quick look at pictures of swallowtails (yellow and black) and Monarchs (orange and black) quickly clears up this issue, I think the reason some people are confused is because Monarchs are so often talked about in public forums (media, classrooms, etc.) and swallowtails are large, widespread and very common, so people assume they must be the oft-mentioned Monarch.  Although there are many things about the Monarch that make it special, I am often discouraged that it is held in such high regard while so many other equally or even more unique butterfly species are ignored.  Not taking away from the Monarch, just wishing that more interest was shown in other species.

Swallowtails in our area can be divided into two groups: "black" swallowtails and "tiger" swallowtails.  The first are generally known by their half black, half yellow wings, relatively short tails, and large red eyespot on the hindwing.  The second are known by their familiar black tiger stripes on mostly yellow (or white) wings and longer tails.  As larvae, black swallowtails primarily feed on plants in the parsley family, including desert parsley (Lomatium spp.) with the exception of the Oregon Swallowtail, which feeds only on tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).  Tiger swallowtails primarily feed on broadleaf trees such as willow, birch, aspen, and chokecherry.  All swallowtails overwinter as a brown or green chrysalis.

Indra Swallowtails are mostly black and have the shortest tails of all these species.  They only use a few species of Lomatium, and are usually found on rocky slopes and canyons on the east side of the Cascades.
Black swallowtail group: Indra, Anise, and Oregon swallowtails.
Anise Swallowtails are common throughout Oregon and Washington.  They are deep yellow and the black pupil in the eyespot is completely surrounded by red.  Oregon Swallowtails are restricted to east-side locations where their host tarragon is found.  They are butter-yellow and the black pupil is bordered by yellow on the lower edge, or is sometimes much reduced (see below).
Comparison between Anise and Oregon swallowtails
Western Tiger Swallowtails are bright lemon yellow with wide black tiger stripes and a single tail.  Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtails are usually darker yellow (faded individuals may appear more similar to Western Tigers in color), have narrow tiger stripes, and a small second tail.  Female Two-tailed Tigers often have wider stripes and appear more like Western Tigers, but are generally larger and have the second tail.  Western Tigers are found throughout Washington and Oregon, while Two-tailed Tigers are only found from the crest of the Cascade range eastward, except in southern Oregon where they range out to the coast.  Pale Tiger Swallowtails are white or cream with wide black stripes and are found through most of western Washington and Oregon and most forested parts of the eastern side of the states.
Tiger swallowtail group: Western, Two-tailed, and Pale tiger swallowtails.