Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Melange of Moths

Conspicuous, colorful and often beautifully patterned, the butterflies tend to monopolize the Lepidopteran spotlight. Although many moths are indeed small, cryptically colored and only come out at night, this isn't always the case.

With a wingspan of about 55 mm the Virgin Tiger Moth (Grammia virgo) is one of the larger "tigers", and like many of its Arctiid cousins it has contrasting patterns and flashy colors to warn bats or birds of its toxicity. As a rule these moths rest with their wings closed but luckily this one showed off its stunning red and black hind wings.

The Beautiful Wood-Nymph (Eudryas grata) also sports bold patterns but for an entirely different reason – to imitate a bird dropping (the real thing can be seen to the right in the first photo). When the moth is perching on a wall, the fuzzy front legs spread at a wide angle help contribute to the illusion of a random "splat".

A mating pair of Rose Hooktips (Oreta rosea) masquerading as a dead leaf.

The variety of disguises, deceptions and impostures are seemingly endless, for example, this male Virginia Creeper Clearwing (Albuna fraxini) gives a pretty good impression of being a small wasp.

A Short-lined Chocolate (Argyrostrotis anilis) ...

.... and an Orange Mint Moth (Pyrausta orphisalis) ... hmmmm ... chocolate and mint, this is starting to sound yummy ...

Lepidoptera larvae are natural works of art in their own right, sometimes boldly colored like the adults to advertise their inedibility, or covered in bizarre arrays and clumps of hairs or spines – often toxic or irritating – to make them less appetizing or at least tougher to swallow. Ofttimes many of the more strikingly colored caterpillars metamorphose into the aforementioned drab, cryptically colored adults – click on the names to link to an account at Butterflies and Moths of North America.

Haploa, not sure which species

The well-known and beloved Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Do not touch! The caterpillar of the Io moth (Automeris io) is covered in stinging spines that can cause dermatitis (speaking from experience, it feels like brushing against a Stinging Nettle).

When it feels threatened the larva of the Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus) pulls its head and true legs inside its natural version of a turtle-neck sweater.

And what kind of a moth might this be? The pupa was just laying on the ground out in the open; the shed caterpillar skin, complete with the head, is toward the right of the picture. It appears to be alive and undamaged, so its been placed in a "bug cage", and who knows what will eventually emerge? – a moth, or has the pupa been parasitized by a wasp? Time will tell ...

Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)

Encountered any time from mid-May until late August, the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus) is easily identified by the row of coral colored spots on the underside of its hind wings and lack of a tail.

Coral Hairstreak caterpillars feed on Wild Cherry and Chokecherry, and although these trees were present in the area the males were found perching on Common Milkweeds in a high and fry neglected field at a significant distance from the larval host plants. They were very agressive in defending their turf, attacking not only others of their own species but leaving their perches to pursue skippers that were just passing by.

This has been a good year to find Acadian Hairstreaks (Satyrium acadicum). The larvae feed on various willows, so not surprisingly the butterflies were found perching at about waist height on the low vegetation bordering a local marsh that supports Peachleaf, Sageleaf and Pussy Willows. The adults fly from June through to August.

When resting many Satyrium spp have a habit of constantly moving their hind wings up and down. It's thought that the prominent – often orange with contrasting blue or black capped – spots, and tails, are are form of deception meant to resemble eyes and antennae and dupe a predator into aiming at this non-vital area of the insect's body. The butterflies draw even more attention to the false head by the motion of their wings and as the next image illustrates, this is a plausible theory and probably correct.

Surprise, surprise ... an encounter with Canada's only carnivorous butterfly, the Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius). This subtly beautiful little lep is not very common and it's been two years since the last local sighting. It's the caterpillars that are the carnivores, feeding on Woolly Aphids or scale insects that in turn feed on Alder, Hawthorn or Ash, all of which were plentiful where the butterfly was photographed. The adults don't visit flowers but will "puddle" at moist soil or imbibe aphid "honeydew". Expect to see this butterfly in damp woodlands near marshy areas from mid-June to mid-August.

EDIT ... as of August 06, although getting a bit rough around the edges, the Coral Hairstreaks are still flying. This one was encountered west of Tweed at a marsh bordering the trans-Canada Trail.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Photo Potpourri

A collection of miscellaneous encounters from spring and early summer, in chronological order ...

May 08, Douglas Road, west of Tweed – False Morel or Turban Fungus (Gyromitra esculenta). This mushroom is poison, here's how to distinguish the False Morel from the edible morel.

May 08, Menzel Centennial Provincial Nature Reserve – Goldthread (Coptis trifolia). Well worth the trip to see this flower and the Miterwort, as they don't seem to grow within walking distance.

Miterwort (Mitella diphylla)

June 08, Drag Lake, about 7.25 km west of Tweed – Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok), not the usual color form that's pretty much identical to the male, nor the dark "Pocahontas" morph, but something in between.

June 14, Moira River, near the dam and footbridge – this fearless beaver has probably left its mother recently and hasn't learned to tell friend from foe.

Aurora Damsel (Chromagrion conditum) – seldom encountered in the past, it seems to be everywhere this season. A couple of males at the Vanderwater Conservation Area on June 15 ...

... and a female at a stream on French Settlement Road on June 21; Aurora Damsels were quite abundant at this site.

June 27, a cool Robber Fly – but which one? Laphria index or Laphria ithypyga cannot be separated on the basis of a photograph.

June 29, spider vs spider – this robust female Bold Jumper (Phidippus audax) got the jump on a male Gray Cross Spider a.k.a. Bridge Spider (Larinioides sclopetarius).

June 30, misadventures with Arrrowhead Spiketails – this is all there is to show for an hour of patiently watching this male make ten trips up and down the stream. A female was also present, and she, too, was camera shy.

July 03 – a Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris) ...

... and a Little Glassywing (Pompeius verna)

July 04, two great finds in one day – an Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica) ...

... and a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus); an impressive butterfly, this male was a large as some Giant Swallowtails.

July 05 – some species seem to wax and wane, they are plentiful one year and scarce the next, this is the first sighting of the Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius), Canada's only carnivorous butterfly since 2012.

Also not seen since 2012 ... the Amber-winged Spreadwing (Lestes eurinus).

The best find of the day was a Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) growing in a local field, the closest know site to date has been the Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves. Hopefully it will get a chance to become established locally, and no one will come along and think it might look nice in their flower bed. Butterfly Weed has very deep roots and does not transplant well.

July 06 – White-striped Black (Trichodezia albovittata), a small day flying moth very easily mistaken for a butterfly.

A mating, or about to mate, pair of Filmy Dome Spiders (Neriene radiata).

Angry birds ... never, ever get between adult geese accompanied by their young, and their perceived safety of the water ...