Friday 5: Counting Butterflies, Again!

The last couple of weeks have been really great ones!  I’ve gotten to see some excellent insects and done a lot of work with a variety of other scientists, entomologists and otherwise.  The bioblitz I was involved in last weekend was a ton of fun and I got to attend a science scavenger hunt last Sunday that was awesome!  On Tuesday I got to help out with the annual Wake County butterfly count with another scientist at the Museum where I work.  We spent about three hours looking around the field station for butterflies and saw some excellent things.  For this week’s Friday 5, I bring you 5 of my favorite butterflies from the count!

Monarch, Danaus plexippus

Monarch

Monarch, Danaus plexippus

I didn’t get to see many monarchs before moving to the eastern US, so I think I find them more exciting than a lot of other people around here do.  I have been extra excited to see monarchs recently though!  It was supposed to have been a really bad winter for monarchs and very few have been spotted in areas where they have been common in the past.  Between all of my coworkers at the field station, we saw maybe 3 individuals all summer, right up until a couple of weeks ago when they started trickling in.  Over the last  week, I’ve seen dozens!  It gives me hope that the monarch population might be on the rebound, and that we might see more next year.

Horace’s Duskywing, Erynnis horatius

Horace's duskywing

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatius

I love this skipper!  The dark coloration and furry body and wings are appealing to me for some reason.  The caterpillars of this species feed on oaks and like open areas near oak stands.  Happily, we have some of their preferred habitat a the field station!  We only saw a couple of these on the butterfly count day, but I’ve seen several others over the past week.  I can always tell them from the other skippers by the way they hold their wings: open at rest, as in the photo above.  I don’t see many skippers hold their wings out to the sides like this.

Silver Spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus

Silver spotted skipper

Silver spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus

This is the biggest skipper I’ve seen so far this year and they’re very common. In case you don’t know what distinguishes a skipper from the other butterflies, you can see some of the important characteristics in this photo.  Skippers have thick, robust bodies that are unlike the more slender bodies of most of their butterfly relatives.  They also have hooked antennae, not clubbed antennae.  What you can’t see in the photo is the jerky way they fly, darting seemingly randomly (and surprisingly quickly!) from one place to the next.  This odd flight behavior is due in part to the fact that they skip a wingbeat every now and again when they fly. Sean McCann recently posted some high speed video footage of a skipper in flight on his blog.  I recommend that you take a look because it’s awesome!

Red-Banded Hairstreak, Calycopis cecrops

Red banded hairstreak

Red banded hairstreak Calycopis cecrops

These gorgeous little hairstreaks are detritus feeders as caterpillars and specialize on rotting leaves, so you’ll often find them near forested areas.  As adults, we find them nectaring at a wide variety of flowers in the open areas near the forest, and sometimes out over the prairie.  They’ve been really common recently, and we saw several of them during the count.

Sleepy Orange, Abaeis (Eurema) nicippe 

Sleepy orange

Sleepy orange, Abaeis (Eurema) nicippe

For whatever reason, we don’t get many oranges or sulphurs at Prairie Ridge. It’s always fun to see one!  This year we saw a few cloudless sulphurs moving through the area (they’re a migratory species), but the sleepy oranges are more likely to sit still long enough for you to snap a photo.  These butterflies like open fields, which we happen to have in abundance in the prairie.  The name sleepy orange comes from the fact that these oranges do not have eyespots on their wings like most of their relatives.  The “eyes” are closed, and are thus sleepy oranges!

We found somewhere on the order of 25 species of butterflies during our count with the Carolina satyrs totally stealing the show.  We saw so many satyrs!  Some of the more exciting finds were a crossline skipper and a couple least skippers, both things that we don’t commonly see at Prairie Ridge.  All in all, it was a great way to spend a morning, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s count!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Hummingbird Clearwing

I participated in a bioblitz last weekend, one in which we tried to document as many species as possible in a 24-hour period.  I really enjoyed it!  My very favorite species was this:

Hummingbird clearwing moth

Hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe)

Hummingbird clearwing moth!  I never did get the perfect shot I was hoping for, but I’ve been dying to see one and this was my first opportunity.  There they were, nectaring at the pickerel weed along some small ponds.  That alone made the experience absolutely worth it, though I also got to see some friends and spent part of two days playing with bugs.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Swarm Sunday (on Monday) – 8/18/2013 – 8/24/2013

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

Swarm Sunday is a day late this week, but here it is!  Dragonfly swarms were reported from the following locations last week:

USA:

Redding, CA
Sacramento, CA
Hudson, IL
Modoc, IN
Marshalltown, IA
Standish, ME
Ham Lake, MN
New Brighton, MN
Wynot, NE
Misquamicut, RI
Westerly, RI
Saint Albans, VT

And here’s the map:

weekly swarm map

Red pins are static swarms, blue pins are migratory. Click to enlarge!

Super slow week this week!  Still waiting for that big late summer/fall surge to occur, but I’m becoming less convinced it’s going to happen this year…

And with that, this week’s very short report is finished.  Have a great week!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5 (on Saturday): Capturing Insect Behaviors

A few days ago, the place where I work started a new weekly activity, a nature story time for young children.  After reading a story about butterflies, the leader took everyone up to our native plant garden to look at some live butterflies.  They were totally upstaged by a black rat snake sitting curled up in the wisteria vine, but there was a good crowd wandering around looking at things.  At one point, my boss called me over to look at something, a group of insects flying over the grass.  I told him what I thought they were, but I didn’t give it much thought as I needed to get my volunteers ready to do the weekly ladybug sampling.  I was about to go into the office yesterday morning when something flew by that reminded me of that little swarm of insects and how interesting it was.  So, I took my camera down to see if I could film it and was happy to walk away with a short recording.  Later in the day, I ended up with some time to kill after work and before my evening moth program, so I headed back down to the garden to take some photos.  I ended up with several videos of fun insect behaviors, so I thought I’d share some with you!  First up, the little swarm…

Swarm of Scoliids

Scoliids are awesome wasps!  They’re gorgeous creatures with bold markings and you can find them by the dozens at flowers in my area of North Carolina. Now I’m not entirely sure what the scoliids in the video (Scolia dubia) are doing, but there are two good possibilities.  Scoliids are parasites of scarab beetles, including the green June beetles we have in very great abundance around here. That area where they were swarming is also an area where the beetles have been very active until recently.  The wasps could have swarmed the area because there were a lot of good beetle larvae to parasitize by laying their eggs on them!  The other option: males are known to do little mating dances for females, a wiggly little S shape or figure 8s.  You can see these sorts of patterns in the video, and I know at least some members of the swarm were males, so it could have been a bunch of males showing off their sexy dances for females.  Either way, it was super cool to see so many scoliids flying around in one area!

Munching Pipevine

The woolly pipevine is currently COVERED with pipevine swallowtail caterpillars!  I’ve shared some photos of their awesome defense mechanism before, but the video above highlights their feeding behavior.  I don’t care as much about how it looks as how it sounds.  If you can’t hear it, turn the volume up. You can hear those little buggers chewing!  You can stand 5 feet back from the vine and hear these little popping noises and it’s all the caterpillars crunching up pipevine leaves.  I think it’s fantastic!

Off to Pupate

Once the voracious little pipevine swallowtail caterpillars have eaten enough to grow to a certain size, they wander off to pupate away from the vine.  The video above shows a caterpillar wandering.  That little guy was surprisingly fast!  Desperate to pupate?

Courting

There have been a lot of butterflies around recently as they’re getting a late start on their summer activities.  I came across the scene above in the native plant garden, a male and female variegated fritillary getting ready to get it on.  Bug porn!  The pair ended up being scared away by a bird or something that flew overhead, so I only got the courtship, not the result…

And last, but not least:

Gulf Fritillary Nectaring

Apparently these butterflies are exciting here!  Considering I’ve only been here two summers and I’ve seen them both summers, they didn’t seem that exciting to me, but I was talking to one of the leaders of the annual Wake County Butterfly Count today and he told me he’s only seen them in any sort of abundance only three years out of the 50 or so years he’s been watching butterflies.  Perhaps their movement into North Carolina is due to climate change?  Or perhaps the warm winter we had?  Who knows, but they’re beautiful so I can’t say I’m sorry they’re here.

Because I’m getting this up on Saturday and not Friday, I think it’s only fair to share a bonus video with you!  This isn’t an insect behavior, but one that I think is really entertaining:

For whatever reason, the juvenile hawks seem to LOVE the wind turbine!  You’ll see them up there riding around like this every now and again.  It makes me smile every time I see it.

I have had a great bug weekend and have more to look forward to tomorrow, so my weekend’s been going great so far.  Hope you all are having excellent weekends as well!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5 Will Be Late!

I had a late night mothing for a bioblitz I’m participating in this weekend and I need to get some sleep so I can go right back to work some more in the morning. I’ll post Friday 5 tomorrow, but I think it will be worth the wait!  And just because I’m me, here’s a picture to distract you from the lack of a real post today:

Eastern tiger swallowtail feeding on phlox

Eastern tiger swallowtail feeding on phlox

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Eater of Insects

I thought I posted this last night, but apparently something went wrong!  Oops…

For this week’s Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday, I give you the humble sundew:

sundew

Sundew

That lovely little plant is a fierce eater of insects.  They lure insects in with the promise of sweet nectar, but those droplets aren’t sweet at all!  Instead, they act like glue, trapping the insect so that the plant can slowly digest it.  What a crazy thing to witness!

Isn’t nature grand?

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Swarm Sunday – 8/11/2013 – 8/17/2013

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

It’s time for Swarm Sunday!  Dragonfly swarms were reported from the following locations last week:

USA:

Moscow, ID
Haverhill, MA
Hull, MA
Romulus, MI
Nottingham, NH
Ocean City, NJ (3 reports)
Greenville, NC
Apple Springs, TX
Denton, TX
Galveston, TX
Houston, TX (2 reports)
Marshall, TX
Victoria, TX
Salem, WI

Canada:

Edson, AB
Prince William, NB
North Gower, ON

Here’s the map for this week:

Red pins are static swarms, blue pins are migratory.  Click to enlarge!

Red pins are static swarms, blue pins are migratory. Click to enlarge!

As in the last few weeks, the activity was centered over the east coast, the Great Lakes area, and Texas.  Three people reported migratory swarms coming in off the coast of New Jersey last week and one migratory swarm was also reported in Texas far from the coast.  Excitingly, there were a few western swarms this week as well, one in northern Idaho and another in Alberta.  I don’t get many reports from Idaho at all, so it’s exciting to see it pop up on the map for the first time this year!

Things seem to be pretty consistent so far this year, but I’m still expecting a big surge in activity in the next few weeks.  Here’s hoping that will actually happen!  Last year’s southward migration was largely a non-event, and I hope we won’t see that again.

And with that, this week’s report is finished.  Have a great week!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth