Sunday, May 21, 2017

Columbia Hills

The long ridge paralleling the Columbia River north of The Dalles is called the Columbia Hills. It is crossed by the Dalles Mountain Road and is loaded with wild flowers this time of year. I spent the afternoon there yesterday and recorded several species of butterflies:

Papilio zelicaon Anise Swallowtail, 3 very faded individuals
White, 1 unknown species (Cabbage White/Becker's White size)
Icaricia icarioides Boisduval's Blue, several dozen fresh males
Glaucopsyche lygdamus Silvery Blue, 2 faded males
Euphilotes species "buckwheat blue," 1 male (couldn't catch, unsure of species)
Callophrys sheridanii Sheridan's Green Hairstreak, 1 plus another green hairstreak which I'm not sure is Sheridan's, could be either affinis or dumetorum.
Euphydryas colon Snowberry Checkerspot, several dozen newly-emerged males and around a half dozen females.
Vanessa cardui Painted Lady, around a dozen faded individuals.
Coenonympha tullia/california Ochre Ringlet, several dozen on the lower slopes.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Lupine

Show Phlox Phlox speciosa
Lupine and Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Douglas' Buckwheat Eriogonum douglasii

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, male

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon, female

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, sweet pea (Lathyrus sp.), Nine-leaved Desert Parsley (Lomatium triternatum), Bare-stem Desert Parsley (Lomatium nudicaule) and a number of other flowers!

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and sweet pea (Lathyrus sp.)

View south over the Columbia River and Oregon wheat country

View west towards The Dalles

So much paintbrush!

It really did look like it was glowing!

Yellow Prairie Violet Viola nuttallii

Large-headed Clover Trifolium macrocephalum

Panorama of the Columbia Hills (click to enlarge)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Butterfly Collections

Collections of butterfly specimens come in many forms, from personal collections ranging between a few dozen to thousands of specimens, to university or other institution collections of varying sizes. All collections are useful for a number of reasons, including personal education, education of the public and scientific research (primarily taxonomy and geographic range). My personal collection includes around 3,500 butterflies and moths and 658 other insects, mostly beetles. I primarily use my collection as a reference for my book and mapping projects and for occasional educational presentations to schools and other groups. There is nothing like seeing people's faces light up when they see "real" insects in display cases where they can spend as much time studying their appearance without the bug flying away or being in a position where certain wing markings aren't visible. It is difficult to fully comprehend size differences, subtle colors and reflective scales when looking at photos, all of which are more easily learned when handling or otherwise looking at specimens in person. Because butterflies reproduce so quickly and most adults only live for 1-2 weeks, collecting poses no harm to all but the rarest species (which are usually protected and not collected except by permit).

My specimen photography setup during a visit at the Burke Museum
For my recent book projects, I needed to photograph specimens of butterfly species found in the Pacific Northwest. I was able to use some of my own collection, but visited university collections to find some species and several subspecies I don't yet have. The Oregon State University Arthropod Collection (OSAC) in Corvallis houses one of the largest collections of Lepidoptera on the west coast. The collection of Lepidoptera at the Burke Museum of Natural History in Seattle houses an extensive collection of primarily Washington butterflies. Washington State University (Pullman) and Central Washington University (Ellensburg) also have collections of Lepidoptera and other insects. Most collections will allow anyone to visit and often will allow photography of specimens with permission.

Burke Museum in Seattle, WA

Invertebrate collection at the Burke Museum (there are
several large cabinets in this room and more in the hallway)

Oregon State Arthropod Collection (OSAC) at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Just a few of the many cabinets and drawers at OSAC

Drawer of skippers at OSAC

A few fritillaries, sulphurs and blues at OSAC

Display of interesting bugs at OSAC

Of these, the CWU collection is least known by local lepidopterists but is where "phase 2" of my personal interest in Lepidoptera took off. Until then, all my butterfly knowledge was obtained through all the library books and purchased guide books I could get my hands on, together with my own limited collecting ("phase 1"). Due to the lack of a curator and a move into a new building, the CWU collection fell into disarray by the time I started college there. I earned Independent Study credits curating the collection between 2004 and early 2006, completely reorganizing the specimens, cataloging which cabinets and drawers had which species, repairing broken specimens and creating several "teaching displays," drawers with sample specimens to be used for classes, in order to limit future shuffling of and damage to specimens.

Last year, I learned that two fellow lepidopterists donated specimens to CWU decades ago but later thought the collection had been destroyed (it was originally housed in a building that was condemned before construction of a new science building). This sparked new interest and I revisited the collection a couple weeks ago for the first time since I graduated. It has barely been touched since I left and very little has changed, but I was excited to see such a nice sample of specimens from Kittitas and Yakima counties, including an excellent series of the Columbia Basin segregate of Sylvan Hairstreaks (Satyrium sylvinus), a group which hasn't been given a subspecies status but which stands out as being very pale compared to all other Sylvan subspecies and primarily occurs in Kittitas County (where CWU is located). I plan to visit the collection more in the future to help bring it up-to-date with current species names. A few images of the CWU collection are shown here:

In the collection room at Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA:
The bank of cabinets on this side are all the Lepidoptera

Several drawers in the CWU collection.

Marbles and orangetips in the CWU collection

Some of the blues in the CWU collection (a few are mis-identified from when I first organized
them 12 years ago, along with a few specimens someone later added to the Silvery Blues)

Some fritillaries in the CWU collection

Checkerspots in the CWU collection (all of the E. chalcedona are probably actually E. colon,
I haven't checked those yet, and C. palla  and C. acastus are lumped together on the left).

A few wood nymphs in the CWU collection

A few skippers in the CWU collection (several of these need to be identified or corrected)

Some moths (sorry to the moth-lovers, I can't be more specific!) in the CWU collection

More moths in the CWU collection