Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 18, 2013 Butterfly Monitoring

Just a few days before the arrival of Spring, our GTM NERR Butterfly Monitoring group headed out under cloudy skies in search of the elusive Lepidoptera.  The name Lepidoptera, derived from the Greek words "lepido" for scale and "ptera" for wings, refers to the flattened scales that cover the body and wings of most adult butterflies. 

The conditions were damp to wet In Transect A (the Dam transect), and we didn't see many butterflies until the sun came out after 11:00 A.M., but we did spot two Phaon Crescents (Phyciodes phaon, Nymphalidae family) resting in the dry grasses, and a Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus, Lycaenidae family). Thistle was blooming among the dry grass. The dam was open and the tide was low, with oysters exposed, so we did see a variety of birds including a white pelican, tricolored heron, a dowitcher, a dunlin, savannah sparrow near the cedar trees, a pied-billed grebe, two lesser scaups on the lake (and a clapper rail in the marsh grass, a secretive marsh bird, heard but not seen.)  After a little sunshine, a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) , Salt Marsh Skipper (Panoquina panoquin), two Great Southern Whites (Ascia monuste) and two Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole) butterflies were observed. The Dainty Sulphur is the smallest butterfly of the Pieridae family, and has elongated forewings.

 Their wing span is 3/4 - 1 1/4 inches. 
Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)

The upper side of the wings is yellow with the tip of the fore wing being black. Black bars extend along the trailing edge of the fore wing and the leading edge of the hind wing. The underside of the wings varies depending on the season. Summer individuals have yellowish hind wings whereas winter individuals have greenish-gray hind wings. Both forms have black spots near the forewing margin and have a yellowish-orange patch near the base of the fore wing.
Males patrol a few inches above the ground in low areas for females. Females lay eggs singly on leaves of host plant seedlings. Adults rest with wings closed and held perpendicular to the sun's rays to warm themselves. The caterpillar hosts include low-growing plants in the aster family (Asteraceae)Adults nectar at asters, wild marigold, rabbitbrush, and others.
By comparison, the Little Yellow (Eurema lisa), observed at GTM NERR in February, is larger than the Dainty Sulphur, lacks the dorsal fore wing and hind wing black bars, and on the underside of the fore wing lacks the black spots and the yellowish-orange patch.
Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela)

The trail transect volunteers counted ten Palamedes Swallowtails (Papilio palamedes), ten Cloudless Sulphurs, and eight Little Wood Satyrs (Megisto cymela) (a.k.a Viola's Wood Satyr.)

Our next expedition will be on Monday, April 15 at 9:30 A.M. and will be followed by a presentation on Florida Butterflies with Dr. Jaret Daniels, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida and assistant curator of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Biodiversity. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Winter Butterfly Monitoring: December 2012 to February 2012

It was a fairly warm winter at GTM NERR, and during our December, January and February outings we counted several of our year-round butterflies including Phaon Crescents,  Cloudless Sulphurs and Common Buckeyes.

Little Yellow (Eurema lisa)
December 15, 2012: In Transect A (the Dam transect), one Little Yellow, a.k.a. Little Sulphur (Eurema lisa), of the Pieridae family, was observed.

 The wingspan is between 32 and 44 mm. The dorsal view of the forewing has a broad dark margin and the hindwing's ventral view has two basal black spots.  This butterfly is rarely seen at GTM NERR. Adults nectar from flowers in the aster family (Asteraceae) including goldenrods and asters. Larval hosts plants include Partridge pea (Cassia fasciculata) and wild sensitive plant (C. nicitans) in the pea family (Fabaceae).

Checkered White (Pontia protodice)
Another single butterfly, this one observed in Transect B (the freshwater marsh transect) was the the Checkered White (Pontia protodice) in the family Pieridae
The upper side of the wings are white and marked with black and gray, more so on the female. The underside of the hindwings are marked with extensive yellow-brown veins. The wingspan is 1.25-1.75 inches. Its host plants include broccoli brussel sprouts and cabbage.

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus
A single Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) of the Nymphalidae family was seen in Transect A. The upper side of the wings is chestnut brown; black borders of the forewings have 2 rows of white spots; white spots are scattered at the forewing apex.The underside of the hindwing has black veins; black borders of both wings have 2 rows of white spots. The upper side of the male hindwing has a black scale patch. 
Their wingspan is 2 5/8 - 3 7/8 inches. To find females, males patrol all day. Females lay eggs singly on leaves, stems, and flower buds, which the caterpillars eat. Adults roost communally.
Larval host plants are milkweeds and milkweed vines. Adults nectar from flowers including milkweeds, fogfruit, and shepherd's needle.
Some of the milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Queen, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Queens in the future.

A single Ocola skipper (Panoquina ocola) of the Hesperiidae family was also seen. This butterfly has forewings projecting far beyond the hindwings when the butterfly is at rest. The upperside of their wings is dark brown;  the underside of the hindwing is brown with no markings; the female has a blue-purple iridescent sheen. Adults nectar from  lantana, spanish needle, milkweed, and buttonbush.

January 28, 2013 was a great day for butterfly monitoring. We saw Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) of the Pieridae family 7 in transect A and 11 in transect B; one Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) of the Nymphalidae family, and also in transect A the elusive Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) of the Nymphalidae family. 
The upper side of the Red Admiral is black with white spots near the apex; forewing with red median band, hindwing with red marginal band. The winter form is smaller and duller, summer form larger and brighter with an interrupted forewing band.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Their wing span is 1 3/4 - 3 inches. The Red Admiral has a very erratic, rapid flight. Males perch, on ridgetops if available, in the afternoon to wait for females, who lay eggs singly on the tops of host plant leaves. Young caterpillars eat and live within a shelter of folded leaves; older caterpillars make a nest of leaves tied together with silk. Adults hibernate.
Larval host plants of the nettle family (Urticaceae) including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).
Adults nectar on sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, bird droppings, common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa.
One White M hairstreak (Parhassius m-album)  of the Lycaenidae family was also seen.
White M hairstreak
(Parhassius m-album)
The adult is 1 1/4 - 1 5/8 inches. It is tailed, with the upperwings iridescent blue with black borders. The underside is grayish brown, with a white postmedian line edged with black and forming a white M near the tail, and a white spot near base of the costa. Compared with the gray hairstreak, white M hairstreaks have an additional white mark on the leading edge of the ventral side of the hindwing, and a stronger "M" mark on the outer corner of the ventral side of the hindwing, and the red-orange spot of the white M hairstreak is more inset from the wing margin. In flight, a flash of brilliant blue can be seen. Typically for other hairsteaks, the hindwings are always moving vertically when at rest, adding to the "false head" effect. 
The M-shaped lines on the underside hind wing lead towards a focal point of "false eye" - the red and blue spots and the "false antennae" - short wing tails with white tips. The hairstreak turns around when it lands to fool the predator about the whereabouts of its vital organs. Hence, frequently one can find individuals missing parts of the wings where the eyespot and tails were located: these individuals escape attack by predators, such as birds.
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Also counted in transect A were four Long tailed skippers (Urbanus proteus) of the Hesperiidae family, 23  Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) of the Nymphalidae family, eight Cloudless Sulphurs (Phoebis sennae) of the Pieridae family, and 35 Phaon Crescents (Phyciodes phaon)  of the Nymphalidae family. Great numbers for a winter monitoring expedition!

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
February 18, 2013 was a very cold day, but we were still able to observe our year-round butterflies in transect A:  three Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) of the Nymphalidae family and 26 Phaon Crescents (Phyciodes phaon)  of the Nymphalidae family.
Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon)

In transect D, the Red bay transect, where many red bay saplings are still surviving, we spotted one Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) of the Papilionidae family, and we did see two others of that species along the trails between our transects, however we don't count those, as we must follow the protocol of the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network.

Our next expedition will be March 18, 2013.