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, 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!


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