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. 

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