Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Flutter of Butterflies

Taking a picture of a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is not a problem this spring, as every step through a field of dandelions scares up about twenty butterflies. Other than statements such as "the right number of variables came together", there doesn't seem to be a simple explantion for the dramatic increase in numbers (it has not been attributed to global warming). But the butterflies passing through now are laying egss ... are we going to be inundated by another wave this summmer?

Closely related to both the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady (the caterpillars of which I'm trying to raise to adulthood), the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), sometimes called the Hunter's Butterfly, also seems to be more common than usual this year. The markings on both Lady's upper wing surfaces can be variable, making the two species difficult to distinguish. The best feature is the light orange roughly triangular spot on the leading edge of the forewing – this area is distinctly white in the Painted Lady.

The butterflies are easy to tell apart if you can get a look at the undersides of the hindwings .... the American Lady has two large eyespots, whereas the Painted Lady sports a row of four smaller spots.

This is my fifth year of photography; it took that much time and patience to luck out and get just a glimpse of the irridescent blue upper surfaces of this butterfly's wings. I've learned to have a lot of respect and appreciation for the effort the real pros have to put forth to get their shots, these people are true artists.

Apparently this small blue butterfly with the anomalous dark patch on the hindwing is a variant of the Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus). I can only find one other picture of a similarly marked Spring Azure ... it's too bad the person who posted this didn't mention her resource, as I would like to research this further.

Fresh tree sap always makes a great butterfly magnet. Initially there was another Mourning Cloak and a couple more Red Admirals but they took flight upon my approaching too closely.

Foreground (Bottom) – Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Foreground (Top) – Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Background (Center) – Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The species and numbers were constantly changing as butterflies competed for the best places to nectar.

A mere photograph cannot portray the intensity of the blue and violet spots bordering a Mourning Cloak's wings.

An Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) perching not far from the butterfly festooned tree, and no doubt visiting it from time to time for a sip.

Moths are often drab when compared to butterflies, but not always. My first attempts at taking pictures of a brightly colored Grapevine Epimenis (Psychomorpha epimenis) were a near failure because it wouldn't sit still for two seconds. The next day I stumbled across another individual and had a little more luck. The moth became so absorbed in sipping on a particularly tasty spot of mud that I was able to pick it up and turn it to take photos from whatever angles were advantageous.

Now this looks more like a moth should – a Forage Looper (Caenurgina erechtea) neatly camouflaged against a background of dust and gravel.

The mottled wings of a Splendid Palpita (Palpita magniferalis) blend into the bark its resting on.