Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to all of you for making this blog such a success, it just passed 30,000 page views!  When I started it three years ago, there were barely 10 hits a week, and now there are usually 100 per day!
Wishing everyone a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Species Profile: Luna Moth

Luna Moth (Actias luna)
Wingspan: 2 7/8 to 4 1/8 inches
Male: bluish-green with yellow highlights, lavender to maroon wing edges and legs, and a single eyespot on each wing.
Female: same, but with narrower (less feathery) antennae.
Egg: brown.
Larva: bright green with greenish yellow lateral stripe.
Pupa: dark brown.  Outer cocoon is honey-brown and often wrapped with a leaf.
Similar Species
None in the USA.  
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: deciduous hardwood forests.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: uses a variety of deciduous trees, including White Birch (Betula papyrifera), Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), walnuts (Juglans spp.), and hickories (Carya spp.).
Adult food source: adults do not have developed mouth parts and cannot feed.  They live for approximately one week while searching for mates and laying eggs.
Luna moth emerging from its cocoon
Female Luna Moth expanding her wings
Female Luna Moth expanding her wings
Female Luna Moth
Male Luna Moth (note the wider antennae)
Male Luna Moth

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Insect Collection Census

Recently I've been working more in my insect collection, sorting and labeling new specimens and ordering more drawers and cabinets so I can properly organize everything.  I decided it was time to re-count everything, as the last time I did that was at least 7 or 8 years ago.
About 12 or 14 years ago I was given a large old cabinet full of mostly butterflies and moths, with a few other insects, by a friend and mentor who was retiring and moving out of town.  Most of the specimens had been collected by him and his mother, and many were from other parts of the world, outside of the US.  The collection had been moved several times and had not been regularly cared for, so many of the specimens were missing some or all of their labels.  It was a huge project to identify the specimens, and I'm still working on some of them, but it has been a great way to learn about world-wide butterflies.  This core collection is made up of about 1,800 specimens, and when I first counted them and the rest of my collection, the specimens I had personally collected came to just over 200.
My latest census came to a total of 3,820 specimens!  This includes both personally-collected and gifted specimens.  Here is the breakdown:
Mounted (prepared specimens on pins) Lepidoptera = 2,530
Mounted other insects (mostly beetles) = 652
Papered (still in envelopes, not mounted) Lepidoptera = 632
Papered other insects = 6
Included in those totals are 317 micro-moths, given to me with the old collection, and I have yet to ID them.  These are the very tiny, mostly brown moths that come to lights at night or fly during the day and are rarely noticed by most people.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

New Cocoons for 2013-2014 Season

Last week I received my order of cocoons and pupae (see Rearing Lepidoptera for information about where I purchase these).  It always feels like Christmas when they arrive! They should all emerge next spring, and I will give more information about each species at that time, along with photos of the adults.
The two large cocoons on the left in the photo are Cecropia Moths, Hyalaphora cecropia.  I have purchased a few of these before but have had limited success in getting the adults through the winter, but my methods seem to have improved, since I have had nearly 100% survival and emergence the past couple years.  I was also excited to see the dark-colored cocoon; Cecropia cocoons are usually the lighter brown color as in the upper left cocoon.  I had read that they also spin darker brown, almost reddish, cocoons, but have never seen one before.
The two gray cocoons on the right are Cynthia Moths (aka Ailanthus Silkmoth), Samia cynthia.  I purchased a cocoon of this species many years ago when I first started rearing moths, but it never emerged, so I hope to have better luck this time.  This species is native to China, and was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s in an effort to establish our own silk trade (which never took off).  The moths are still found scattered along the northeast coast, and feed on the introduced Chinese tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima).
The shiny light brown cocoon, center left, is a Cincta SilkmothRothschildia cincta, which is found in southern Arizona and Mexico.  It is quite an active little thing, the pupa inside the cocoon keeps wiggling and making rustling noises!
The fuzzy brown cocoon in the middle is the Rocky Mountain Agapema, Agapema homogena.  It is primarily found in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.
The big black pupa is the Imperial Moth (aka Yellow Emperor), Eacles imperialis.  It is widespread through the eastern half of the US, but is fairly uncommon.
The small pupa on top is an Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes asterius.  It is also found in most of the eastern half of the US.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mounting Specimens

I added a new page (linked here and in the column on the left) with instructions on how to spread and mount butterfly and moth specimens.  I may add a bit more later when I have better photos, but this should do for now.

Rearing Lepidoptera - updated

I finally finished some much-needed updates to the "Rearing Lepidoptera" page (linked here and also in the column on the left of the page).  Please check it out!  Over the next few weeks I intend to create individual posts for each species in the list that I have reared, and will link each post with the names on that list.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Species Profile: Echo Azure

As we near the end of October, most butterflies in the Pacific Northwest have died off or gone into winter diapause, although a few sightings of butterflies visiting late-blooming thistles and rabbitbrush are still being reported in some areas.  Rather than choosing one of those species to discuss today, I decided instead to look ahead to the return of warmer weather and one of the first butterflies to emerge in Spring: the Echo Azure.
Echo Azure (Celastrina echo), a.k.a. Echo Blue or Spring Azure
Wingspan: 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches
Male: frosty blue dorsal with thin charcoal border and white fringe lightly checkered with gray.  Ventral is dirty white-gray with variable dark brownish-gray markings; VHW margin always marked with row of dark gray spots capped with dark gray crescents.
Female: dorsal blue is much reduced with wide brownish-gray border.
Egg: pale greenish white.
Larva: yellowish- to whitish-green, final instar has highly variable markings in shades of magenta, white and dark green.
Pupa: dirty brown with blackish blotches.
Similar Species
Ventral markings of other blue species are more black rather than brownish gray.  Lighter Echo Azures may resemble Western Tailed Blues (Cupido amyntula) that are missing tails, or Anna's Blues (Plebejus anna), but Echo Azures are deeper blue and have no orange markings or scintillae (reflective blue-green scales) on the ventral surface.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: forests, canyons, and moist areas with flowering shrubs.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: uses a wide variety of flowering shrubs. Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) is a confirmed host on the Sinlahekin, and adults were observed near Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) but no eggs were found at that time. Other potential hosts available include Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), Western Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi), Bittercherry (P. emarginata), Common Chokecherry (P. virginiana), Mallow Ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea), Red Elderberry (S. racemosa), and White Spirea (Spirea betulifolia).
Adult food source: numerous flowers, including those of host shrubs as well as violets and buckwheat; males frequently visit mud, fire pits, and scat.
Hatched egg of Echo Azure on bud cluster of Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus), Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Echo Azure larva on Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus), Chumstick Mountain, Chelan County, WA
Specimens of Echo Azure (Celastrina echo) showing the wide range of variation; all of these were collected in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, mostly from a single location within three days of each other in May.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Blog update

Please pardon the sparseness of blog posts lately, it always slows down this time of year because I don't have any field trips to report, and I've also been even busier than usual the past few weeks. A couple weeks ago I made a few changes to the layout of this blog but forgot to point it out. If you haven't noticed, there is now a search box at the top of the column on the left, to make it easier for anyone (myself included!) to find a particular article or all the places I mention a particular species.  I also added a little paragraph, lower down in the left column, with instructions on how to contact me, as I've had several people trying to do that over the past couple months and most weren't sure how. I don't have a public email, and I don't want to encourage spammers, so until I get to the point of creating my own website with an associated email (not anytime soon at my rate!), this method will have to do.  Also notice the page view counter, it used to be at the very bottom of the page but I moved it up and into the left column... I can't believe how quickly it's grown this year! Thanks everyone for visiting my blog, your comments and requests are always welcome!

Species profile: Oregon Swallowtail

Today I received an email from someone I've been in contact with who is establishing a butterfly garden in Maupin, Oregon, and it inspired me to write this article.  One goal of the garden was to attract Oregon Swallowtails, the official state insect, and to that end they have planted wild tarragon and several wildflowers in the garden.  It was only established this spring, but already they have found one full-grown caterpillar on the tarragon!  Although Oregon Swallowtail larvae are nearly impossible to distinguish from Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) larvae, Anise Swallowtails tend to use desert parsley (Lomatium spp.) and other plants in the parsley family, while Oregon Swallowtails are exclusively found on wild tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus).  Also, the black and yellow stripe around each segment of the caterpillar is usually narrower on Oregon and wider on Anise swallowtails.  I have partially reared both species from late-instar larvae, and photos of those and other adults are pictured below.  Two years ago I wrote a profile for the Indra Swallowtail, another similar species, click here to see that article.

Oregon Swallowtail (Papilio machaon oregonius)
Wingspan: 2 1/2 to 3 inches
Male: Bright lemon yellow with black veins and wide black wing margins dotted with yellow. HW margin is dusted with blue scales. Slight orange blush above blue markings along VHW postmedian. Red eyespot capped with blue on HW near tail, black pupil on lower edge often appears as a short line or club, never centered in red spot. Abdomen is yellow with narrow black stripes along the length of the body.
Female: same.
Egg: pale yellowish-green; brownish blotches appear as it matures.
Larva: 1st, 2nd and 3rd instars are black with white and yellow markings giving them the appearance of a bird dropping. Final two instars are green, with alternating spots of yellow and black form bands around each body segment.
Pupa: pale green or brown.
Similar Species
Anise Swallowtail (P. zelicaon) has black abdomen with yellow side stripes, HW eyespot has centered black pupil. Indra Swallowtail (P. indra) is more black and has very short tails.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: dry hills and meadows where its host plant is found. Adults often hilltop.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host: wild tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).
Adult food source: numerous flowers such as daisies, asters, rabbitbrush, penstemon, milkweed, and dogbane. Males frequently visit mud.

Caterpillar and chrysalis of the Oregon Swallowtail (pupa darkened to brown within a day)
Newly-emerged Oregon Swallowtail (from the caterpillar above)
Oregon Swallowtail pumping up its wings
Oregon Swallowtail with empty chrysalis
Oregon Swallowtail (on the trailing edge of the hindwing, notice how the black spot seems to "melt" into the edge of the wing and is about halfway between the red and yellow, compared to Anise & Indra swallowtails that have a black spot completely surrounded by red and not touching the wing edge - see last two photos below)
Oregon Swallowtail males sipping from mud at Connors Lake boat launch, Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan Co., WA

Anise Swallowtail on wet concrete, Deschutes River near Maupin, OR
Indra Swallowtail on wet sand, Deschutes River near Maupin, OR

Monday, August 5, 2013

Reecer Creek to Lion's Rock - Table Mountain Fire Area

On Saturday, August 3, my family and I visited the Reecer Creek area.  Butterflies were abundant at lower elevations, mostly nectaring on tall buckwheat (Eriogonum elatum), thistle, and coyote mint (Monardella villosa).  A large rain cloud to the north darkly shaded the upper elevations (Lion's Rock/Table Mountain area) and butterflies were scarce, only seen on asters and other flowers along the road in sunny patches.  Most of the forest in that area is completely scorched from last year's fire, with very little vegetation left, yet the lupine, arnica, and a few other plants were very abundant popping up through the ash. The rocky meadows were largely left untouched, with a few burned sagebrush scattered throughout.
24-25 species seen
Hesperia juba - Juba Skipper, few dozen
Ochlodes sylvanoides - Woodland Skipper, very numerous everywhere
Papilio rutulus - Western Tiger Swallowtail, 1
Pieris/Pontia - 3 whites seen, one likely Cabbage White, two likely Becker's or Western whites
Colias sp. - 4 sulphurs seen, C. philodice?
Lycaena helloides - Purplish Copper, several dozen males and females
Lycaena nivalis - Lilac-bordered Copper, 1 female slightly faded
Satyrium behrii - Behr's Hairstreak, half dozen or so, all on Eriogonum elatum
Satyrium californica/sylvinus - California/Sylvan Hairstreak, several nectaring on E. elatum and pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Euphilotes columbiae - Columbia Blue, half dozen females and a couple males on E. elatum
Plebejus anna - Anna's Blue, several males and females
Argynnis cybele - Great Spangled Fritillary, 1 male nectaring on thistle
Argynnis coronis - Coronis Fritillary, dozens of faded females
Argynnis zerene - Zerene Fritillary, 2 fresh males
Argynnis mormonia - Mormon Fritillary, 3 fresh males
Argynnis hydaspe - Hydaspe Fritillary, at least a couple
Phyciodes mylitta - Mylitta Crescent, 1 faded
Euphydryas colon - Snowberry Checkerspot, 2 very faded/tattered
Polygonia satyrus - Satyr Anglewing, 1
Polygonia faunus - Green Anglewing, 1
Nymphalis antiopa - 2 very fresh adults, 1 very tattered/worn adult, several dozen mature larvae at Garrison Spring (about halfway up between bottom of hill and Lion's Rock), several masses of mid-instar larvae on willow shrubs along the road further north.
Aglais milberti - Milbert's Tortoiseshell, 1 or 2
Limenitis lorquini - Lorquin's Admiral, about a dozen
Cercyonis oetus - Dark Woodnymph - few dozen

The area we visited was affected by the Table Mountain Complex Fire last year, a fire that occurred shortly after the Taylor Bridge Fire was winding down.  The Taylor Bridge Fire was human-caused, started August 13, 2012 and burned 23,500 acres.  The Table Mountain fire was started by lightning on September 8, 2012 and burned 42,312 acres.  I wrote two blog articles about the Taylor Bridge Fire last year:
Aftermath of the Taylor Bridge Fire
How does fire affect butterflies
Most of the Reecer Creek/Table Mountain area was closed until this spring because of the high danger of falling snags.  The area is still dangerous because of the vast number of severely burned trees, but most roads are now open.  A few weeks ago, a local horse club spent a weekend cleaning up some of the trails in the Table Mountain and Haney Meadow area.  It will be a few years before the place starts looking back to normal, but I look forward to seeing the changing landscape and what kind of response the butterflies will have in the burn area.  Below are some photos from my Saturday trip.

Woodland Skipper on thistle
Woodland Skipper on chicory
Western Tiger Swallowtail on thistle
Great Spangled Fritillary (the first of this species I've seen in several years!) on thistle
Zerene or Coronis Fritillary on coyote mint
Juba Skipper
Coronis Fritillary female on coyote mint
Dark Woodnymph on dried leaves of balsamroot
Behr's Hairstreak on leaves of tall buckwheat, Eriogonum elatum
Tall buckwheat, Eriogonum elatum, blooming (outskirts of this meadow were burned; southernmost reach of the fire just below/south of the rock pit where people often target practice)
Anna's Blue (left) and California? (or Sylvan?) Hairstreak on pearly everlasting
Purplish Copper (female) on pearly everlasting
Snowberry Checkerspot
final/5th instar Mourning Cloak larvae on willow at Garrison Spring
final/5th instar Mourning Cloak larvae on willow at Garrison Spring
Mourning Cloak larvae (final/5th instar except for a few 4th instar) on willow at Garrison Spring
Zerene or Coronis Fritillary
Burnt pinecones in the Table Mountain Fire area
Burnt forest in the meadows just before the Lion's Rock turnoff, looking northeast
The fire burned extremely hot in this area, not many plants coming up in the middle of those trees yet (this is looking west, same place as above).
Also same place as above, looking north (before Lion's Rock/Table Mountain), toppled tree with burnt pinecones next to road.
Most of this little meadow burned, unlike the larger meadows nearby.
Vetch, fireweed, and lupine growing in the burn area
Mountain Arnica, lupine, and other plants happily popping up in the burn area
Same location as above, looking southeast along road not far south from where the paved roads turns to gravel
Looking north (south of the above photos), near the outskirts of the burn area
Same as above but looking south, near the outskirts of the burn area, lots of butterflies on the flowers here

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Species Profile: Duskywings (Erynnis)

There are four species of Erynnis in Washington.  A fifth species, Afranius Duskywing (Erynnis afranius) was previously thought to have been found in a few locations in eastern Washington and Idaho, but those specimens have since been ruled out as mis-identified Persius Duskywings (E. persius).
Dreamy Duskywing (E. icelus) is the smallest of these species, and the only one without a series of white spots ("hyaline spots") on the dorsal forewing.  It sometimes has one or two light gray, almost white spots on the forewing, but never a full series of four spots with one near the center of the forewing as in the other three species.  Dreamy Duskywing larvae feed on willow, aspen, and poplar.
Propertius Duskywing (E. propertius) is the largest of these species, and is usually much lighter than the other three species.  Females have large white spots and heavy dusting of gray scales on the forewings.  Larvae feed on oak leaves.
Persius Duskywing (E. persius) is separated from Dreamy by the presence of white spots on the dorsal forewings.  It is usually slightly larger than Dreamy.  The dorsal forewings of Persius are more evenly covered with gray scales, separating it from the easily confused Pacuvius.  Persius Duskywing larvae feed on legumes, primarily lupine species.
Pacuvius Duskywing (E. pacuvius) is easily confused with Persius, but the forewing is mostly brown from the body to the row of white spots, most of the gray coloring is restricted to the marginal area.  Larvae feed on Ceanothus species (mountain balm, buckbrush) and adults are primarily found near these shrubs.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Gifford Pinchot NF butterflies

Yesterday a friend and I explored some areas around Siouxon Creek, Calamity Peak Rd., and Canyon Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  I wasn't able to photograph any of the butterflies, but here is a list of what we saw:
Clodius Parnassian (100+) - Parnassius clodius
Western Tiger Swallowtail (2) - Papilio rutulus
Pale Tiger Swallowtail (3) - Papilio eurymedon
Margined White (2) - Pieris marginalis
Western Sulphur (1) - Colias occidentalis
Silvery Blue (10+ males, 1 female) - Glaucopsyche lygdamus
Hydaspe Fritillary (1) - Argynnis hydaspe
Western Meadow Fritillary (2) - Boloria epithore
Snowberry Checkerspot (10+) - Euphydryas colon
Lorquin's Admiral (20+) - Limenitis lorquini

Also saw two new flowers: globe gilia and Cascade/subalpine mariposa lily.
Globe Gilia
Globe Gilia
Cascade Mariposa Lily

Siouxon Creek