Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mourning Cloaks and Anglewings

Often the first butterfly seen each year in the Northwest, the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) overwinters as an adult and therefore comes out of hiding on warm days in late winter and early spring.  Adult Mourning Cloaks, or Camberwell Beauties as they are known in Europe, seek out sheltered spots in late summer under loose bark and in wood piles and old buildings.  When they emerge the following year, they seek out willow trees and lay masses of eggs on the leaves and in rings around small branches.  The larvae are black with many harmless spikes and a row of red spots down their back and are very easy to rear.  If you find the caterpillars, put them in a roomy cage supplied with fresh willow leaves every day or two.  Mature larvae are about two inches long, and will stop feeding and crawl around the cage looking for a spot to pupate.  The adult will emerge from the chrysalis a little over a week later.
Mourning Cloaks, like other Nymphalis spp., often have very noticeable crash-and-boom populations.  I remember frequently seeing Mourning Cloaks all over Kittitas County 12-15 years ago, and finding the caterpillars on the willows at home and at the local fishing pond.  For the past ten years I've rarely seen any until 2010, when they started popping up in twos and threes in various locations around the county.  They seem to be steadily increasing, and judging by the numerous sightings reported all over the state so far this year, it is looking like this will be another good year.  Check out the Butterflies of America photos of Mourning Cloak Immatures to see what the eggs, larvae, and pupae look like.
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa (dorsal side)
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa (ventral side)
Adults that have overwintered may be up 6-9 months old, resulting in faded colors and tattered wings, seen here.
Another slightly faded individual, here the wing edge blends in with the very white rocks on a road in the Sinlahekin.
Mourning Cloaks like to feed on sap, carrion and scat, a good habit to have when you emerge too early for flowers!
Green Anglewing Polygonia faunus, here one is sneaking up for a sip of what the Mourning Cloak is having.
Satyr Anglewing Polygonia satyrus, another species that overwinters as an adult.
This photo was taken in June, but is also of a Satyr Anglewing and shows how opportunistic they are... it is sipping a remnant of mineral-laden water on the weatherstripping of my car door!

Arrival of Spring and a new butterfly project

While I keep an eye on the succession of flowers bursting forth this time of year, I usually mark the first day of Spring as the day I see my first butterfly of the year, or the day a butterfly or moth I've been rearing emerges from its pupa after spending the winter on my porch.  This year, it was a Rosy Maple Moth, from some pupae I ordered from Bill Oehlke (his website is World's Largest Saturniidae Website).  I've wanted to see this species up close ever since I saw a picture of it in my first bug guide.  It lives in most of the states east of the Rockies and feeds on maple trees.  Although it sometimes is a pest of those trees, it is such a beautiful moth that I don't think I'd mind a few less maple trees!
Rosy Maple Moth Dryocampa rubicunda
Rosy Maple Moth Dryocampa rubicunda
Rosy Maple Moth Dryocampa rubicunda
In other news, after the suggestion of Dale (manager of the Sinlahekin and other Okanogan County wildlife areas), I've decided to start up a sort of question-and-answer website for the public to post their photos of butterflies that they wish to have identified, and so that anyone can report their observations that will be summarized each month.  Because I am most familiar with the butterfly species of central Washington, I decided to keep the focus on Kittitas, Chelan, and Okanogan counties.  Anyone may post photos of butterflies from other places for identification, but any record-keeping will be restricted to observations from those three counties.  The geographic range and seasonal flight times of most butterfly species in Washington are fairly well-known, but it is always interesting to see the trends that pop up when lots of people are reporting their observations.  Dale and I are particularly interested in tracking the seasonal emergence of adult butterflies. This varies depending on temperature, latitude (north-south) and elevation, and we thought it  would be a good idea to ask the public to report their butterfly sightings in order to help track this, in addition to encouraging the public to become more aware of butterflies and to teach how to identify the local species.
The main site is on Facebook: the North-Central Washington Butterfly Report
Anyone can view the page, but only people with Facebook accounts are able to post photos, questions and comments.  Once the traffic picks up (hopefully!) I plan to publish a monthly summary of the reported observations both on the Facebook page and here on my blog.  I'll do my best to answer any questions and help with identifying butterflies.  Moths are welcome too, but I'm more limited in that field.

Help make this a success! If you have any butterfly photos you'd like to have identified, upload them to the North-Central Washington Butterfly Report ("Like" the page to join).  Please provide as much information as possible about your observations, either with or without a photo and including the date, weather (temperature/rainy/cloudy/sunny), location (GPS coordinates if possible, or general part of town/country if it is your residence and you don't wish to give the exact location).  Information about the plants in the area is also helpful, especially if the butterfly seems to be hanging out around particular species, such as willow trees or lupine.
Also, if you do not have a Facebook account, you may contact me by submitting a comment to any of my blog articles.  The comments are sent to me for approval, so if you put your contact information in the text of the comment, I can reply to you directly and delete the comment so your information won't be made public.