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