Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Lesson in Geographical Coordinates & Insect Labels

Recently I've been creating labels for all the butterfly specimens I collected over the summer, and have also started replacing older labels with the new format I decided on after researching the proper labeling system for scientific/museum collections.  I discovered that there isn't very much information available online that describes a standard form for creating insect labels, and what is available often contradicts other sites.
In the past, I've labeled my specimens rather inconsistently, the labels changing over the years as I've experimented with what works best for me and learned more about the proper format.  Some sites say that a specimen must have two labels, and other sites say you only need a second one if you want, and some say the two labels must be the same size, while others say the second one can be smaller.  Adding to the confusion, some sources instruct you to label the information starting with the date, then the specific location (such as geographic coordinates), then give the county, state, and country, while others, including most museums that I see, start with the country, state, and county, then give the coordinates and date.  To further complicate matters, there are many ways to cite geographic coordinates. Should you use latitude/longitude? If so, in which format: decimal degrees, degrees decimal minutes or degrees minutes seconds? Or should you use PLSS (township/range/section) if you only collect in the USA?  I explained some of these issues in a past blog post about mapping butterfly records. The most universal method is to use lat/long coordinates as they are easily calculated for any location in the world, rather than other coordinate systems that use different projections depending on the country or region.  I will discuss the formats of lat/long coordinates below, after my instructions on creating labels.

After comparing several websites and studying how my peers and many museums label their specimens, I've come up with a "standard" format that I plan to use for all my specimens.
Font, label size, and printing
Font size - 4 to 6 pt, usually 4, which is what I now use.
Primary label - usually between 3/4" and 1" long by 1/4" to 1/2" wide, and contains all the location data and the date collected. Can also include other information as needed.
Secondary label - usually the same size or smaller than the primary label, and contains any extra information not on the primary label.  I usually keep this extra information (such as weather, time of day, butterfly behavior, flowers it was on, etc.) in a database rather than making extra labels.
Paper - use an acid-free light card stock (BioQuip sells this).
Ink - print labels with a laser printer, not inkjet, as printer ink will bleed or fade over time.  If hand-writing the labels, use an ink that will resist fading and bleeding, such as these from BioQuip.

Label Format
Location data - the primary label should start with the Country and/or State/Province, and the County/District (for example: WA: Cowlitz Co. or CANADA: BC: Vancouver Island). Specific location information should be included on additional rows, as described below.
Name & Determination - one label should have the species name and who determined it (made the identification).  I put this on my secondary label.

Creating labels in Microsoft Excel
I have found that the easiest way to create labels is with Excel.  Most of my labels are approximately 5/16" by 15/16", although some are slightly over 1" if the location information is longer.  In Excel, this means that most of my labels are in columns with a width of 10.86 (81 pixels), and rows with a height of 6.00 (8 pixels), with an extra row between each label that is 1.50 (2 pixels) high for spacing (see image below).  Although it looks like the text is overflowing the cell size, if you view the spreadsheet in Print Preview mode or print a sample page, you can see that it actually fits and is not cut off. Also make sure that the text is not too close to the label in the next column, or it will be difficult to cut them out without cutting off some of the text.
Depending on the location information I wish to include, my labels are either 4 or 5 rows.  Using labels of this size and 1/2" margins on the paper, you can fit 8 labels across and either 25 (5-row labels), 29 (4-row labels) or 38 (3-row labels) down to fill a standard 8.5x11" sheet of paper.
Once you print the labels, trim off the excess paper around the edge. I always save these blank strips and cut them into pieces to use for hand-written labels, waste not want not!  After the edges are trimmed, use a paper cutter to cut the labels into strips either by column or row, then use scissors to cut each label from the strip.

Row 1 contains the state, county, and date collected. I also print labels without dates for locations that I frequently collect in, so that I can write in the date by hand later, and not have to print and cut out labels every time I collect butterflies.  When typing the date, I simply add several spaces after the county name to make the date approximately even with the right side of the label, adjusting the number of spaces depending on the county name length, and checking it on the Print Preview screen to make sure the date isn't too far to the right.
Row 2 (and 3 if using a 5-row label) contains the more detailed location information, such as the national forest, road intersection, creek or lake name, etc.
Row 3 (or 4 if using a 5-row label) contains the geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude in decimal degrees; this will be explained in more detail below) and the elevation in feet. I've found that all of this fits at the size described above, when I use this format: N00.00000 W000.00000 elev 0000'. If the elevation is 10,000 ft or higher (i.e. over 4 digits), then you can remove the space between "elev" and the number to make it fit.  This information is very useful, but is not necessary if the other information describes a very specific location such as the address of a residence.
Row 4 (or 5 if using a 5-row label) contains the name of the person who collected the specimen, and is written as "coll. Name".  Some people put this on a separate label, but I have found this too tedious as it is extra work to cut them all out, and they are so tiny they are easy to lose and hard to handle.
Secondary label - species name and person who identified it
As mentioned above, I have started printing a separate label that only has the species name and the person who determined it.  These are simple, 2-row labels in the same font and row size as the primary labels, but the column width can be reduced to fit the length of the names as needed.  The species name is typed in italics on the first row, and the person's name is typed on the second row with the "det." prefix ("determined by") like this:
Papilio eurymedon
det. Caitlin C. LaBar
Example of butterfly labels in Excel, using Arial 4pt font. Note the narrow row separating each row of labels.

Latitude/Longitude formats
There are two parts to the format of lat/long coordinates. First is the identification of North/South and East/West.  These directions can be indicated either by the letter abbreviations (N, S, E, W) or by a positive number for North and East (40 degrees = North, 120 degrees = East) and a negative number for South and West (-40 degrees = South, -120 degrees = West).  The second part of the format is how the numbers are written: degrees minutes seconds, degrees decimal minutes, or decimal degrees.
There are 60 seconds in 1 minute, and 60 minutes in 1 degree. I prefer to use decimal degrees, partly because it is the simplest format, and partly because it takes up less room on my labels!  There is a setting in most GPS units that allows you to choose which of these three formats to use, and it will automatically change all of your recorded data to the new format.  If you have saved coordinates in another program or written them in a notebook in different formats, here is how to convert them:
From decimal degrees to degrees minutes seconds:
N 42.32482 --> 0.32482*60 = 19.4892 (42 deg 19.4892 minutes) --> 0.4892*60 = 29.352 --> 42 deg 19' 29.352" North
From degrees minutes seconds to decimal degrees:
42 deg 19' 29.352" North --> 29.352/60 = 0.4892 --> +19 --> 19.4892/60 = 0.32482 --> +42 = 42.32482 degrees North

The number of decimal places you should keep depends on which format you are using. In general, it is unnecessary to keep more than one decimal place for seconds in the degrees minutes seconds format. A difference of 0.1 seconds roughly translates to 3 feet of latitude or 7 feet of longitude (at mid-latitudes), which is often less than the accuracy of hand-held GPS units (usually have 10-20 feet accuracy).  Four decimal places in the decimal degrees format (42.3248) is roughly equivalent to having no decimal places in the degrees minutes seconds format (42 deg 19' 29"), and for each decimal place that is used in the seconds, another should be added to the decimal degrees format (42 deg 19' 29.4" = 42.32483 degrees).
Some other numbers to think about are (if I've done my math correctly, so don't quote me on this and correct me if need be!)...
1 minute of latitude is roughly equal to 1 mile
1 minute of longitude is roughly equal to 1 mile at mid-latitudes and 0.5 mile at high latitudes

Considering GPS accuracy and the fact that butterflies fly, I am quite happy with four decimal places when using decimal degrees, or no decimal places when using degrees minutes seconds, but I have decided to use 5 decimal places just to give myself a little extra wiggle-room if I ever want to round off the number or convert it to another format.

Hopefully you will find all these instructions useful and not too long and confusing!  There is no single "correct" format for insect labels, which is why there are so many versions, but it is important to be consistent in whatever format you choose. I welcome any comments on these or other solutions anyone has found helpful regarding insect labeling and coordinates.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Woolly Bear - Fuzzy, Fun and Fascinating

I am being invaded by woolly bear caterpillars this year, they seem to know I'll offer them refuge and have been showing up on my back porch, front porch, and all over the parking lot at my apartment! I always see a lot every year, but have never had so many so obviously "on my doorstep"!
The first invader was crawling up my screen door a week ago, and when I went out to put it back in the vegetation, I found three more hiding in various places around my flower pots, so I started putting them all in a bug cage stuffed with crumpled paper.  The news must have spread, because Number 15 was rapidly crawling towards my car as I arrived home from work today.
The first invader - this woolly was crawling up the screen door on my back porch
Woolly bear caterpillars are larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth, a light orange-brown moth with black speckles that is often seen at porch lights in the summer.  The moths lay eggs in late summer and early autumn, which hatch a few days later.  The larvae feed on numerous plant species, but I usually find them on red alder and various maples here in southwest Washington.  In this area, the larvae always seem to reach maturity before going into hibernation, and then spin cocoons and pupate in the spring, emerging as adults in the summer.  In colder climates, such as northern Canada, larvae have been known to take up to 14 years to fully develop, only eating a little bit during the short summers and then returning to hibernation.  This species has the amazing ability to freeze solid during the winter, and one report I read said that they have been known to survive a winter being completely frozen in an ice cube!  Because of this, they are more susceptible to come out of hibernation early if they are too warm.
The first woolly bears that I found on my porch
I plan to keep these fuzzy critters exposed to cold temperatures on my porch, rather than putting them in my outdoor storage closet, where I usually put overwintering lepidoptera.  I placed a small plastic flower pot in a mesh bug cage, then loosely stuffed the cage with crumpled paper under and around the pot.  The caterpillars seem to like that arrangement, and most of them are either buried near the bottom of the cage or in the flower pot.
Woolly bears, numbers 10 through 13, that I found in the parking lot

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Western Tent Caterpillars

Going back through my photos from this summer, I was reminded of the local tent caterpillar infestation and thought it might be useful to answer some of the questions I heard at the time.  The infestation was so large that it even made it into the local news:
Caterpillars setting up camp in Columbia County
Caterpillars invading Washington side of the Columbia too
During the summer, I rode my bike about once a week in an area west of Longview/Kelso, which was in the area infested with tent caterpillars, and on June 18th I noticed caterpillars covering the road and bushes, and then realized many of the alder trees along the forest road were nearly defoliated!  When I stood quietly and listened, it sounded like it was raining even though there were no clouds in the was the sound of all the droppings of millions of caterpillars falling through the trees and bushes, gross but fascinating!
Western Tent Caterpillars during an outbreak west of Longview/Kelso
There are many moth species with larvae that feed in communal groups and spin large webs or "tents" for protection, and are therefore known as tent caterpillars or webworms.  The most common species in our area is the Western Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma californicum (see here for photo of adult and more information).  The Western Tent Caterpillar usually goes unnoticed, with only a few tents scattered high up in deciduous trees, but occasionally goes through a period of epidemic outbreaks, such as we saw this June.  Another large outbreak occurred in the Mt. St. Helens area in 2011 and 2012, where they completely defoliated alder trees.  These outbreaks usually end after one or two years because of viruses and/or lack of food.  Even if the trees are completely defoliated, they are rarely killed because of the relatively short period of the outbreak.  In the area west of town that I mentioned, the alder trees were already leafing out again less than two months after the caterpillars stopped feeding and pupated.
Mostly-defoliated alder trees west of Longview/Kelso on June 18th
Although alder trees are the favored food source of Western Tent Caterpillars in this area, they will feed on nearly any deciduous trees and shrubs, often switching to maples, poplars, fruit trees and berry bushes when they've consumed all the alder in the area.  By the time this occurs however, the caterpillars are usually in the final stage of development and only have around one week before they pupate and turn into adult moths.  At 1 1/2 inches, the caterpillars are also more noticeable in the final stage, and seem to appear out of nowhere because up until this point they have spent most of their time high up in the trees and out of sight.
Defoliated (left) and mostly-untouched (right) alder trees west of Longview/Kelso on June 18th

Thursday, July 10, 2014

First Monarch Caterpillar!

During my recent trip to the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, I discovered my first Monarch caterpillar! Shortly afterward, my mom found a second one nearby, which I brought home to rear, as it was slightly larger than the one I found and I didn't want to risk taking both if I couldn't find enough milkweed to keep them fed.
He has gone from just over 1/4 inch long to over 1 inch long in one week!  Also while up north last week, I took advantage of being in the area and visited Long Swamp for the first time.  It is a place I've been curious to see, especially as it hosts the Freija Fritillary, which is only recorded in a small area of northern Okanogan County in Washington (most of it's range is in Canada).  Long Swamp is only about 15 straight-line miles from the Sinlahekin, but is at about 6,000 feet elevation, so has a suite of higher-elevation/sub-alpine butterfly species not found at the Sinlahekin.  I was able to collect my first Freija Fritillary (Boloria freija), a nice fresh male, and also saw numerous Vidler's Alpines (Erebia vidleri) and Anna's Blues (Plebejus anna).
I'm about to head down to the Lepidopterists' Society annual conference in Utah next week and don't have much time to report about my trip to the Sinlahekin just yet, so there will be lots to catch up on when I get back!
For now, here are some photos of Mr. (or Ms.) Bugaboo...
My first Monarch caterpillar!
Mom's first Monarch caterpillar (the one I brought home)
Mr. Bugaboo, three days after bringing him home (~3/4 inch)
What he looks like today, at a little over 1 inch long

Monday, June 30, 2014

Weekend of Butterflies at the Sinlahekin!

This coming weekend I'll be leading a series of butterfly field trips at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area (northern Okanogan County, Washington) as part of their 75th Anniversary Celebration this summer.  I've been frantically editing several hundred photographs over the past few weeks and finally finished several pages for a condensed field guide of Sinlahekin butterflies that I will hand out to participants this weekend.  I'm so thrilled to have finished it that I want to share part of it here. Sorry about the copyright watermark but because this will be part of a larger self-published book, I don't want it being circulated without credit... you'll have to come on a field trip if you want a clean copy :) and yes, there's a typo on the first page, I fixed it but don't have time to re-export these images for my blog at the moment.
The weather will be great for butterflies, but it's going to be hot so if you are planning to participate, bring lots of water!  There will be several nets available if anyone wishes to use them during the field trip, but we will be visiting several places that should provide good photo-ops of butterflies on mud and flowers, and hopefully some caterpillars.
Visit the WDFW page for more info on this and other events:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Species Profile: Margined White

Margined Whites range throughout most of western Washington, with scattered populations in the northeast and southeast corners of the state.  They are one of the first butterflies to appear in the Spring in Western Washington, and are common along forest roads and wooded rural areas.  Margined Whites are often mistaken for their introduced European cousin: the Cabbage White.  On May 1 of this year, I found some Margined White eggs on a native bittercress (likely Cardamine angulata) in the Mosquito Creek area northwest of Longview, WA. I brought three of the eggs home and all three hatched three days later.  Only one of the larvae survived to adulthood, and it emerged yesterday, June 7.  During another trip to Mosquito Creek on May 22, I found a 1st instar larva on the same plants where I found the eggs, and brought it home.  It is in the final (5th) instar right now and should be pupating soon.  I reared both larvae entirely on garden cabbage (young plants I purchased from a garden center).
Margined White (Pieris marginalis)
Wingspan: 38 to 57 mm
Male: white above and below, sometimes with yellowish tint.  Veins usually lined with gray to greenish-gray, especially on VHW.  Spring form has more gray on dorsal wings.
Female: slightly heavier gray markings.
Egg: yellowish white.
Larva: bright green covered with tiny white and dark green speckles and faint stripes.
Pupa: greenish yellow to tan.
Similar Species
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) almost always has one or two black spots on DFW and black FW apex, and lacks the dark wing veins on the VHW.  Some forms of Margined White lack strongly-marked VHW veins and may have faint black DFW spots similar to Cabbage Whites.  Margined Whites tend to be more common in woodlands and forest edges, while Cabbage Whites are more common in disturbed habitats.
Habitat & Biology
Habitat: woodland edges and clearings, riparian areas and forest road corridors.
Overwintering stage: pupa.
Larval host:  native crucifers, including rockcress (Arabis spp.) and bittercress (Cardamine spp.).
Adult food source:  many flowers, including mustards, dandelions, asters, daisies, cinquefoils, and salmonberry.
Flowers of plant (likely Cardamine angulata) that eggs were found on.
Leaf of plant (likely Cardamine angulata) that eggs were found on
Margined White (Pieris marginalis) egg on Angled Bittercress (Cardamine angulata)
Newly-hatched larva (L1) of Margined White (Pieris marginalis)
Late L1 (first instar) larva of Margined White
Freshly molted L2 (second instar) larva of Margined White
Late L2 (second instar) larva of Margined White
Freshly molted L3 (third instar) larva of Margined White
L4 (fourth instar) larva of Margined White (head is facing down)
L4 (fourth instar) larva of Margined White (head is on left)
L5 (fifth instar) larva of Margined White (head is on right)
Newly-formed pupa of Margined White
Pupa (4 days old) of Margined White - note the small white patch of the wing forming
Pupa (4 days old) of Margined White
Pupa (8 days old, 3 days before emergence) of Margined White
Empty pupa after emergence of adult Margined White
Newly-emerged male Margined White

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Painted Lady migration

There have been numerous reports of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) making their way north through Washington the past couple weeks.  The Painted Lady usually can't survive our winters and must migrate here from warmer regions in the southern states.  Depending on weather and population conditions, some years we may never see any Painted Ladies here, while other years they will be everywhere.  I haven't seen very many at all for the past couple years, but this year have already spotted two near Longview, and others have spotted them in places around Seattle, Ellensburg, and Spokane.  They are very fast and wary butterflies, often hard to catch or photograph.  Their larvae feed on thistles, so keep an eye out for spiny, lavender-gray caterpillars and shiny gold chrysalids whenever you see a patch of thistles!
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - dorsal side
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - ventral side
A cousin of the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), is another butterfly that usually cannot survive our winters and must migrate here from warmer climates, although occasionally a lucky few will survive in garages or other protected areas.  Their larvae feed on stinging nettle, and form folded-leaf tents that I have described in a previous blog post (see here).  Red Admirals have been spotted near Yakima recently.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - dorsal side

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - ventral side

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thank you Maupin!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about butterflies to several groups of kids in the Maupin, OR school district.  It was a long day and my voice was a bit hoarse by the end of it, but it was a wonderful time and I was very impressed with all the kids.  I don't think I've encountered so many observant and interested kids before, a few really stood out to me with the things they picked up on, and I was particularly impressed with the high school group.  It was a great experience and I hope to have more opportunities like this in the future!
Many of you took my business card with my email address, so I hope to hear from you if you have any questions - I tried to answer as many as I could, but simply didn't have time to listen to everyone, so many wonderfully curious kids!  You also may comment on any of my blog posts here - I moderate the comments to eliminate spam, so keep in mind that when you submit a comment it won't show up right away, usually I'll see and "okay" it within a couple hours.
Several of you had questions about how I preserve the specimens, and some asked why I kill some of the ones I raise, instead of letting them go.  There are links on the left side of this page (Rearing Lepidoptera, Collecting Lepidoptera, Mounting Specimens, and others) where I have written answers to these questions, and there is information there about how to spread butterfly wings to preserve them for a collection, along with general guidelines about ethical collecting practices.  There is also a list of books and other resources I recommend.  In particular, The Butterflies of Cascadia by Robert M. Pyle is the best (at least my favorite) guide book to Washington and Oregon butterflies, although some of the scientific names have changed in recent years, and some new species have been described.  Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies by David James and David Nunnallee is a newer book with the updated names, and is the first book to ever show all the egg-larva-pupa stages of our local butterflies.  It does not have as many photos of adult butterflies, so you will need to use other books and websites to help with the identification of some species, but there is a lot of information in that book about what plants each butterfly uses and what the caterpillars look like.
Also, following up on the two butterflies the kids found (Kindergarten class brought a dead Anise Swallowtail and the High School class brought a dead Indra Swallowtail), here are two blog posts I wrote a while back that talk about these two swallowtails and the similar Oregon Swallowtail:
Indra & Anise swallowtails
Oregon Swallowtail

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Will touching a butterfly's (or moth's) wings kill it?

I hear this question frequently, and it came up again recently, but I don't think I've discussed it yet on my blog.  People are often taught that if they touch a butterfly or moth and rub any scales off its wings that it will die.  However, that is not the case.  
Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek words lepis (scale) and ptera (wing).  Their wings are covered in tiny scales, overlapping like shingles on a roof.  These scales give the butterflies and moths their wing patterns, and make them more aerodynamic, a little like feathers on a bird's wing.  However, unlike birds, when butterflies and moths lose scales on their wings, they can still fly.  Depending on the amount of scales lost, it may make them less aerodynamic and affect their flight pattern slightly, but it will not kill them.  Some species of butterflies and moths actually have very few scales, resulting in partially or entirely clear wings. It's really not much different than most other insects with wings, such as dragonflies and wasps.
Butterflies and moths naturally lose scales throughout their lives.  They often rub some off in the course of emerging from their pupa, in addition to losing scales while flying, and from escaping from birds or other animals (nothing like a mouthful of powdery scales to make you change your mind about a meal!).
Although butterflies and moths are certainly delicate, they are much hardier than many people give them credit for.  So the next time you encounter a butterfly or moth, don't be afraid to coax it onto your hand if it wishes to cooperate! Handle it gently, don't try to pet it, and enjoy its beauty!
One of many species of clear-winged butterflies from South America
Close-up of the clear patch and surrounding scales on the wing of Rothschildia lebeau forbesi (see previous blog post)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Silkmoths

This year I'm enjoying being nearly overrun by silkmoths; in past years, I usually only had three or four different species, but this year I decided to get a wide range and wound up with 1-3 cocoons each of ten species!  I've had four moths emerge in the past three days, and spent some time photographing them last night and this morning.  I have had 8 moths emerge so far this year, and have 11 more that should emerge between now and the end of April.  These species are mostly from the eastern half of North America, although the Rothschildia and Eupackardia species are from southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, south into Mexico.  Last November, I posted a photo of several of the cocoons I purchased (see here).  I ordered a few more after that.
All of these moths do not feed as adults, therefore they only live for about a week, just long enough to mate and lay eggs.  I always feel a little bad about putting these in the freezer after a day or two, but the reason I do this is twofold: 1) so I can photograph the cocoons and live adults and 2) so I have perfect specimens and can show people all the different kinds of cocoons and how beautiful moths can be.  It always surprises people to be told that these are moths, as many think of little brown things buzzing around a lamp, rather than such a large and colorful bug.
What has emerged so far:
February 15 - Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia Moth, male
March 9 - Automeris io Io Moth, male
March 12 - Automeris io Io Moth, female
March 18 - Actias luna Luna Moth, male
March 26 - Rothschildia lebeau forbesi Lebeau's Silkmoth, female
March 28 - Eupackardia calleta Calleta Silkmoth, female
March 28 - Actias luna Luna Moth, male
March 29 - Callosamia promethea Promethea Silkmoth, male
What is left to emerge:
Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia Moth x1
Callosamia promethea Promethea Silkmoth x1
Samia cynthia Cynthia Moth x2
Rothschildia cincta Cincta Silkmoth x1
Rothschildia lebeau forbesi Lebeau's Silkmoth x2
Eupackardia calleta Calleta Silkmoth x2
Agapema homogena Rocky Mountain Agapema x1
Eacles imperialis Yellow Emperor x1
Rothschildia lebeau forbesi - Lebeau's Silkmoth, female
Rothschildia lebeau forbesi - Lebeau's Silkmoth, female (underside)
Rothschildia lebeau forbesi - Lebeau's Silkmoth, female
Rothschildia lebeau forbesi - Lebeau's Silkmoth, female
Eupackardia calleta - Calleta Silkmoth, female
Eupackardia calleta - Calleta Silkmoth, female (underside)
Eupackardia calleta - Calleta Silkmoth, female
Actias luna - Luna Moth, male
Callosamia promethea - Promethea Silkmoth, male
Callosamia promethea - Promethea Silkmoth, male
Having fun with my silkmoths!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Coming soon to a land near you...

Spring is just around the corner, the daffodils are starting to bloom around town, and the crocuses on my porch are about to bloom.  Yes, I'm in southwest Washington and I know the other side of the Cascades is still blanketed in frost and snow, but even in those colder places some butterflies, such as the Moss' Elfin (Callophrys mossii), are known to emerge in late February or March when patches of snow are still on the ground.  The first butterfly of the year in Washington was reported on Friday in Seattle, a Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) taking advantage of the sunny day to stretch her wings.  Several butterfly species, such as Milbert's Tortoiseshell, overwinter as adults and are often the first butterflies observed on warm days in late winter and early spring.  Other species, such as Echo Blue and Moss' Elfin, overwinter as pupae and are some of the first butterflies to emerge as fresh adults.  On sunny days when the temperatures start to climb, keep an eye out for some of the butterflies pictured here.

Many nymphalids, such as tortoiseshells and anglewings, overwinter as adults.  The following species are often the first butterflies seen each year in Washington.
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) at Reecer Canyon, Kittitas County, WA
Compton's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis l-album) sipping water at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.
It is larger and has a distinct white mark on the leading edge of each wing, compared to California Tortoiseshell (see below).
California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), dorsal view
California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), ventral view
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus) at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.  It is generally brighter orange dorsally and very brown ventrally, compared to the Green Anglewing (see below).
Green Anglewing (Polygonia faunus) basking in the sun at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA
Green Anglewing (Polygonia faunus) at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Okanogan County, WA.  It has two rows of sea green spots along the ventral wing margins and is darker than the Satyr Anglewing (see above).
Some butterfly species overwinter as pupae, allowing adults to emerge very early in the spring.  Examples of species you might see in Washington are shown here.
The Two-banded Checkered Skipper is very small and easy to miss, often appearing as a large fly or bee quickly buzzing about close to the ground, searching for low-growing flowers and mates.
Two-banded Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis), dorsal view
Two-banded Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus ruralis), ventral view
Margined Whites (Pieris marginalis, not pictured), Spring Whites and Sara's Orangetips are usually the first pierids (whites and sulphurs) to emerge in spring, sometimes in early March.  Margined Whites are common in forested areas of Western Washington, with smaller populations in the northeast and southeast corners of the state, while Spring Whites are found in drier, shrub-steppe habitats from the east slopes of the Cascades through eastern Washington and Oregon.  Sara's Orangetips are found throughout Washington and Oregon but are absent from most of the coast.
Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii), dorsal view
Spring White (Pontia sisymbrii), dorsal view
Sara's Orangetip (Anthocharis sara) basking in the sun at Deschutes River Canyon near Maupin, OR
Sheridan's Green Hairstreak is often the first butterfly to emerge in shrub-steppe habitats, sometimes competing for the early record with Spring Whites and Sara's Orangetips.  This and other green hairstreak species are generally called "greenies" by lepidopterists, and are mostly gray but have a beautiful dusting of sea green scales on the undersides of their wings, flashing emerald in the sunlight.
Sheridan's Green Hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii) nectaring on desert parsley (Lomatium sp.) in Deschutes River Canyon near Maupin, OR
Echo Blues are usually the first butterfly I see each year near my home in Cowlitz County, only occasionally beaten by the Margined White that emerges around the same time.
Echo Blues (Celastrina echo) gathering minerals from mud near the Lewis River, Clark County, WA
Echo Blues (Celastrina echo) gathering minerals from mud near the Lewis River, Clark County, WA
If you have seen any butterflies this year, please comment on this post and let me know where and when!