Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Befuddling cloudywings

Ahhh... the delicate art of correctly identifying cloudywing skippers!  I finished mounting the specimens I collected in Oklahoma and now I'm trying to identify the four cloudywings (last four pairs in the photo below, one I accidentally broke trying to open the wings, not realizing it had already dried out).  The first specimen in these photos is an old one from part of a collection that was given to me, and the second specimen I collected in southern Arizona in 2005.  Based on the information I've read, I believe that...
1. was correctly identified as Thorybes bathyllus (southern cloudywing)
2. T. pylades - (northern cloudywing), but that's tentative and it looks like a possible T. bathyllus
3. female T. pylades (originally mistook this for T. bathyllus)
4. female T. bathyllus (southern)
5-6. I think are both T. bathyllus (southern cloudywing)
click on photo to view full size
The best way to accurately determine cloudywing species is to dissect or view the genitalia under a magnifying  glass, which I have no experience in, so for now I'm trying to learn the wing markings.  Apparently, the best way to determine the difference is that T. pylades males have a costal fold, which appears as a slight bulge along the leading edge of the front wing. The four white spots nearest the front wing tip are in a straight line in T. bathyllus, and is slightly skewed in T. confusis. I'm sure there's more, but that is what I've picked up on for now. Next we'll see if I got any of these right, after I talk to someone who knows these critters better than I do!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wet spring

Tired of all this rain? I'm sure it's helping something somewhere, but the butterflies... not so much.  I have never seen the Columbia River so high, it has actually reached the flood stage at Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR, and is flooding some walkways near Vancouver as well as several islands.  The sun has peeked through between showers from ominous storm clouds the last two days, and during one of those sunny breaks today I saw two white butterflies floating about, most likely margined whites (Pieris marginalis), although I suppose they could have been cabbage whites (Pieris rapae).  I've also noticed a lot of lupine blooming along the freeway and in the field next to my office. I haven't spotted any blue butterflies visiting this host plant at the office, and I certainly couldn't see them from the freeway.  If you see any lupine displaying beautiful spikes of purple flowers, take a closer look, you might just find a shimmering blue butterfly awaiting you.
Puget blue (Plebejus icarioides blackmorei) larva tended by an ant
Puget blue butterfly (male) on lupine

Friday, May 20, 2011

Species profile: Indra swallowtail

Indra swallowtail - Papilio indra
The indra is special to me because it is one of the few local butterflies I always wanted to see, but never have until the last couple years.  It is a relatively small member of the swallowtail family (Papilionidae), and has very short tails.  The anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) is very similar, but is more yellow than black, and has longer tails.  The indra swallowtail shown here is the first individual I had ever seen, which is why I kept it for my collection.
Both indra and anise swallowtails use plants in the parsley family, usually in the genus Lomatium ("desert parsley") such as the one seen below.
Males are frequently seen "puddling", sipping dissolved minerals and other nutrients from moist sand and other surfaces. (click on photos for larger versions)

The individuals in the following photos are also puddling, but notice the deformed wing of the indra swallowtail (the other butterflies are anise swallowtails). You can see the complete wing pattern on the right front wing, but the edge is shrunken towards the center.  This kind of deformation may have been caused by a number of factors, including inadequate food supply in the larval stage, damage to the chrysalis, or a genetic deficiency.
Indra (lower left) and anise swallowtails and honeybees.
Finally, here are some more photos for your enjoyment...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Oklahoma part 3 - Wichita Mountains

On Monday, the final full day of my visit, my sister and I drove to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge about 1.5 hours southwest of Norman.  This area boasts free-roaming herds of bison (maintained at ~650 head), Texas longhorn cattle (300), elk (700), and deer, as well as a large prairie dog "town" and other wildlife.  On this particular day, we saw several longhorns scattered throughout the refuge, a few scattered bison and one large herd that included small calves, one deer, lots of prairie dogs and their pups (about 2 months old from what I can tell with internet research), three snakes, two collared lizards, and several butterflies.
Our first stop was a drive to the top of Mt. Scott, where in spite of the haze we had an amazing view of the surrounding landscape.
In the parking lot on top of Mt. Scott, I spotted a sachem skipper take a brief rest from the windy conditions...
Sachem skipper (Atalopedes campestris)
I also photographed some wildflowers, and set up my camera on a rock and used my remote control to snap a few pics of my sister and me. It was very windy up there!
While driving through the first part of the refuge, we saw a longhorn cow grazing near the road, and a herd of bison and their calves up the hill on the opposite side of the road.  Later in the afternoon, we saw three more bison near the interpretive center.
Free-roaming "wild" longhorn cow
Herd of bison, the small lumps are the calves
More bison near the refuge interpretive center
During a quick stop at Quanah Parker Lake, I noticed an odd shape in the water below the dock we were standing on, and then a snake head slowly rose out of the water! It was quite freaky (which became our word of the day after seeing two more snakes and not being sure if they were poisonous or not).  This snake turned out to be another diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer), at least three feet long.  We watched it swim for a while, and would sometimes lose track of it, only to spot it again when it lifted its head out of the water to breath about once every minute or two.
Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
When we left the lake, I saw the first butterfly of the day, a cloudywing (not sure yet if it was northern or southern) on green milkweed.
Northern? cloudywing on green milkweed near Quanah Parker Lake
Our next stop was Lost Lake, were we went for a hike around the lake and lost the trail several times.  The heat and humidity didn't help the situation much, and neither did seeing a large snake on the trail and another snake in the water.  This water snake was much smaller than the two diamondbacks, but I didn't take a picture because it was too close for comfort and we extricated ourselves from that situation in a hurry!  Despite all the unpleasant occurances, we did enjoy the hike and saw a large number of variegated fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia) and dainty sulphurs (Nathalis iole), a possible goatweed leafwing butterfly (Anaea andria), two collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris, state reptile of Oklahoma!), prickly pear and barrel cacti in flower, and a northern waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis).
Lost Lake, Wichita Mountains NWR (facing northeast)
Landscape south of Lost Lake
Jumping spider (Phidippus audax) feeding on some kind of stinkbug
Prickly pear cactus with hoverfly
Dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole)
Northern waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)
Western coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), one of our 'freaky' snakes of the day!
Collared lizard, aka "mountain boomer", Oklahoma's state reptile
Collared lizard (male)
Finally, at our last stop, we saw lots of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), including several young pups probably around two months old (they are usually born in early March).
Prairie dogs and two pups (one is next to adult on left)
Altogether I had a great time and saw many new animal species to add to my list (including butterflies!).  As my sister is moving soon for a new job, I don't know when the next time will be when I can visit Oklahoma again, but this was a nice send-off for both of us!

Oklahoma part 2 - Tulsa Zoo

On Sunday, my sister and I drove a little over two hours northeast of Norman to Tulsa, to visit the zoo and for me to see some new country.  Several zoo exhibits were closed for renovations, but we still saw some neat animals, and several birds I had not seen before in other zoos.  Strangely enough, my favorite animals weren't even part of the exhibits! We saw two cardinals close-up and a pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor philenor) cruise over the walkway, which added another new butterfly species to my life-list.
Northern cardinal (male) posing in the wind at the Tulsa Zoo, near the wetlands area where we saw the snake.
Near the edge of the zoo, there was a wetlands area open to wild critters, and while strolling on the small boardwalk over part of the pond, we noticed a large snake hiding in some semi-aquatic plants. Thanks to Richard Butler (www.okherp.com) for help identifying it as the diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer), a non-venomous but aggressive snake that because of its habits is often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth (aka water moccasin).
Diamondback water snake at the Tulsa Zoo (not part of a caged exhibit!)

Oklahoma part 1 - Lexington WMA

The first full day of my trip to Oklahoma to visit my sister began with a tour of the Lexington Wildlife Management Area northeast of Lexington, about a half hour south of Norman, Oklahoma. My sister and I met up with a local butterfly expert who gave us a great tour of the area (thanks Bryan!).  I wouldn't have spotted or known where to look for the sachem skipper, red-banded hairstreak, spring azure, and possibly others without his help.  We came to a total of 24 butterfly species, 15 of which were new species for me.  We also saw a western pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri), several Blanchard's cricket frogs (Acris blanchardi, click here for sound links), and an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea, also a first for me).  As always, please click on the photos for slightly larger versions.
My sister at Dahlgren Lake, in the middle of the Lexington WMA
Pygmy rattlesnake - notice the nearly indistinguishable rattle(s) on the tip of the tail. These sound like an insect buzzing and often go unnoticed or may not be heard.
Pygmy rattlesnake - after Bryan encouraged it to get off the road and pose for our cameras.
Blanchard's cricket frog at Dahlgren Lake
In addition to all the butterflies, we saw a few tiger beetles on the shore of the lake, and Bryan pointed out a toothpick grasshopper which we had never seen before, and perfectly matched the grass it was sitting on.
Oblique-lined tiger beetle (Cicindela tranquebarice)
Toothpick grasshopper (likely Leptysma marginicollis)
Our list of butterfly species is as follows (* indicates entirely new species for me, doesn't count subspecies, links connect to the Butterflies of America species pages).
Hesperiidae - skipper family
*Thorybes pylades pylades - northern cloudywing - 1 (ssp. found in WA is T. p. indistinctus)
*Thorybes bathyllus - southern cloudywing - 12
Epargyreus clarus clarus  - silver-spotted skipper - 2 (ssp. found in western WA is E. c. californicus)
*Achalarus lyciades - hoary edge - 4
*Atalopedes campestris huron - sachem - 1 (ssp. found in WA is A. c. campestris)
Amblyscirtes vialis - common roadside-skipper - 2 (sp. also found in northwest)
Papilionidae - swallowtail family
*Papilio glaucus glaucus - eastern tiger swallowtail - 1 male
*Papilio polyxenes asterius - black swallowtail - 1
Pieridae - whites & sulphurs
Colias eurytheme - orange sulphur - 1 (sp. also found in northwest)
Nathalis iole iole - dainty sulphur - 1
Lycaenidae - hairstreaks, blues, coppers
*Calycopis cecrops - red-banded hairstreak - 1
Cupido comyntas comyntas - eastern tailed blue - 5 (ssp. found in western states is C. c. sissona)
*Celastrina ladon - spring azure - 2
Nymphalidae - true brush-footed butterflies
Phyciodes tharos tharos - pearl crescent - 1
*Chlosyne nycteis nycteis - silvery checkerspot - 1
*Euptoieta claudia - variegated fritillary - 2
*Vanessa virginiensis - American lady - 5
Vanessa atalanta rubria - red admiral - 1 (sp. also found in northwest)
Junonia coenia coenia - northern (common) buckeye - 3
*Polygonia interrogationis - question mark - 8
*Anaea andria - goatweed leafwing - 8
*Asterocampa celtis antonia - hackberry emperor - 3
*Megisto cymela cymela - little wood-satyr - 12
Danaus plexippus plexippus - monarch - 2 (1 female, 1 unknown, same sp. as in northwest)

Southern cloudywing at Dahlgren Lake
Southern cloudywing (left) and common roadside skipper (right) on green milkweed
Silver-spotted skipper on blackberry (note the 'clean' markings)
Hoary edge skipper (note the smudged markings compared to silver-spotted skipper)
Hoary edge skipper
Eastern tiger swallowtail (male) on shore of Dahlgren Lake
Red-banded hairstreak (yes it's that small!)
Spring azure
Silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
Silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
Pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
American painted lady on evening primrose (along with some buprestid beetles)
American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
American painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Question mark near coyote scat
Question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)
Little wood satyr (Megisto cymela), with a possible bird strike on one of the wing eyespots.
Finally, here is a photo of white wild indigo (Baptisia alba) that I'm including for my mom, who is interested in natural dyes.  We also saw some blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) but I didn't get a photo of it.  These aren't related to the true indigo plant from India (Indigofera tinctoria), but they do have blue dye potential.
White wild indigo (aka white false indigo)