Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Pursuit of the Perfect Picture ... and People Friendly Butterflies

The Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis) seems to be uncommon locally, as its name implies the larve feed on hackberry. A beautiful specimen, likely recently emerged and showing no faded colors or wear and tear of the wings.

After patiently pursuing this subject for about half an hour hoping to get a good dorsal view of the wings, the butterfly finally stopped and posed for the camera ... on the cuff of my pants. Maybe it was attracted to the smell of my running shoe?

Yes, it must be my scented shoes. The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) visible in the upper right took flight just before I could snap a picture of it sampling my clog's chemistry. The caterpillars, on the other hand, have different tastes and prefer to feed on plants belonging to the nettle family.

Vibrantly colored and without torn wings or missing parts, the butterfly perched on a nearby rock and sat still long enough for me to take a couple of pictures.

Another Red Admiral checking out the taste my jeans.

Most butterflies of the subfamily Satyrinae, such as the Northern Pearly-Eye (Enodia anthedon), prefer shaded moist woodlands. These insects tend to rest with their wings closed making it hard to obtain a dorsal view, and when sitting motionlessness on bark they are almost invisible.

Another people friendly species! Actually it was a hot humid day and what the insect was attracted to was the chemicals in perspiration on my hand. I often walk through a considerable amount of mud and water in the pursuit of the perfect picture, and the Hackberry Emperor and Red Admiral in the foregoing photos were attracted to my shoes for similar reasons.

A couple more members of the subfamily Satyrinae (a.k.a. Browns): I was unable to get a dorsal view of this Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela) but in this case it wasn't necessary to make an identification.

The two large pale rimmed eyespots on the forewings of the Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala nephele), visible from both above and below, make this butterfly easy to "spot" at a distance.

It can be challenging at best and often impossible to make a positive identification at the species level from a picture and you can never have too many views from different angles. Although the following two butterflies can be distinguished by inspection of their dorsal wing patterns, the undersides of the wings are radically different for a Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) ...

... and a Harris's Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii), making it easier to differentiate the two in the field or from a photo.

You never knows what will cross your path at an unexpected moment and it's impossible to be ready for everything. A faster film speed would have captured more detail of this Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) courtship.

The orange spots on the ventral sides of the wings, and the tails on the hindwings, are distinctive field marks of the Eastern Tailed-Blue (Everes comyntas) ... if you can see them. Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies gives the minimum length as 20 mm but this tiny butterfly appeared to be only half of that.

Two more of our commonly encounterd local "tailed" butterflies, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) ...

... and the Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus).

The lakeshore is a good place to hunt for butterflies, where they are attracted to the moisture and bird droppings. But it takes a bit of luck to stumble across one worth photographing and the wings of this Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), a bit rough around the edges, reflect the realities of life in the wild.

This Mourning Cloak didn't land on my hand voluntarily because attracted to my scent. It was at the side of the road, stunned by a collision with a car, so I took advantage of an opportunity to take its picture in exchange for a safe place to rest and recuperate.

The Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) is another "people friendly" insect that has landed on me on several occasions. The silvery comma-shaped mark, the butterfly's namesake, can be seen on the underside of the hindwing. The color and pattern on the ventral sides of the wings combined with their irregular profile is a near perfect imitation of bark, and the butterfly virtually disappears when it perches on a tree trunk.

Mourning Cloaks, Tortoise Shells, Commas and Question Marks overwinter as adults and are the first butterflies encountered in the spring, often when there's still snow on the ground. The black, almost purplish border along the hindwings indicate this is the is the summer form of the insect. This area of the wing is orange in the winter brood .