The warmest temperatures of the season will likely bring out a host of FOY butterflies this weekend, even with some cloudiness and showers. Anyone who can get out Friday may have the most sunshine, but Sunday lepsters will have the higher temps.

Last weekend and the first few days of this week produced a good number of new butterflies in the area, including Zebra Swallowtails in northern VA; and azure spp., Falcate Orangetip, and an unidentified elfin in Prince George’s Co. near the District. Farther south, in Wicomico Co. near Mardela Springs, I had my FOY Brown Elfin on the Tom Tyler Nature Trail in an area that often produces dozens of Brown and Henry’s Elfins later in the season. Cabbage (Small) White was reported in several nearby locations the past few days.

This weekend will likely produce additional elfins throughout the region (Brown, Henry’s, and Eastern Pine; Frosted will be several weeks away when lupine begins to flower – it wasn’t even showing aboveground when I checked on Sunday near Furnacetown MD). Zebra Swallowtail numbers should build in areas with Pawpaw (along the C&O Canal, Governor Bridge Natural Area, Jug Bay/Merkle). We could see our first Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this weekend or during the week next week, in addition to larger numbers of azures. A few more Falcates should be flying this weekend in wooded areas across the region that haven’t been too overbrowsed, and at peak by next weekend given more warm weather.   Expect Juvenal’s and Horace’s Duskywings in the next week or two as well, in addition to Colias sulphurs.

I’m headed south to the Great Dismal Swamp on the NC/VA border this weekend as part of an Audubon Naturalist Society field trip focused mainly on birds, but hoping to pick up some of the Swamp specialties – Hessel’s Hairstreak, Lace-winged Roadside-skipper, Creole Pearly-eye, and Gemmed Satyr in particular – if they’re on the wing.

Things are still looking pretty cold and barren in western Maryland this weekend; look for anglewings and Mourning Cloaks, and the occasional errant tortoiseshell. West Virginia Whites are probably at least a week out still, given sufficient warmth, as are most Falcates and Olympia Marble. In Green Ridge State Forest, the west- and south-facing slopes without trees often heat up early, so if it turns out warm and sunny over the weekend one might find early Silvery Blues, elfins, early duskywings (including Dreamy and Sleepy), Cobweb Skipper and Juniper Hairstreaks, but chances are much better the closer we get to May 1.

Enjoy the warm weather and don’t forget to post or send your sightings for the next Weekend Forecast! In the meantime, visit us at http://leplog.wordpress.com/ and on Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

Black cherry finger gall, larval food source for C. serotina, Cherry Gall Azure.

Black cherry finger gall, larval food source for C. serotina, Cherry Gall Azure.

And to round out our collection of ID tips for spring azures in the mid-Atlantic, here’s a copy of Harry Pavulaan’s and David Wright’s description of a new azure species, Celastrina serotina, or Cherry Gall Azure. C. serotina is also a univoltine species with the interesting food plant association of feeding primarily on galls formed by eriophyid mites on black cherry (Prunus serotina) leaves, the so-called Black Cherry Finger Gall.  According to the 2005 paper, though, serotina also feeds on incipient flowers of a number of other plant families, as many other Celastrina do.

Harry and David describe serotina this way in their paper:

Male: Dorsal color uniform light blue; some individuals with purplish-blue tint. White insuffusion between veins on DHW common. Androconia present. Wing fringes white; black checkering minimal to absent. Ventral color uniform white to light gray-white. Black maculations reduced. Most individuals are lightly marked, similar to form “violacea”, except in RI, MA, and PA where a few (1%, 3%, 9% respectively) have partially fused maculations on the VHW disc (form “lucia”). FW length 10.2-15.0 mm (mean 13.5, n = 52). Rhode Island and southern New England males average slightly larger than those from northern New England, Canada, and higher elevations in southern range (WV, MD, PA).

Female: Dorsal color lustrous metallic light blue; some individuals with purplish tint. Black on DFW costa and outer margin. DHW with series of submarginal black dots. White insuffusion on DHW common; occasionally also on DFW. Wing fringes white; black checkering minimal to absent. Ventral color and pattern as in male. Forewing length 10.5-15.0 mm (mean 13.4, n=28). Rhode Island and southern New England females average slightly larger than those throughout rest of range. Note: The male genitalia of eastern North American Celastrina species differ from Eurasian C. argiolus L., but they cannot be reliably distinguished from one another. The sclerotized apical process of the valve bears small teeth, which tend to be largest in neglectamajor and smallest in neglecta. All remaining taxa, including serotina, are intermediate in this character. No distinguishing features of female genitalia of eastern North America are known.

Although Cherry Gall Azure was already in use as a common name to describe the azure that had been observed feeding on cherry galls, Pavulaan and Wright proposed the common name “Late Spring Azure” but that never took off, apparently.

Given the decade since the serotina paper was published, maybe Harry will favor us with simpler identification tips!  In our area, C. serotina seems to be resident in the far western counties of Maryland.

 

Harry Pavulaan, one of our local azure experts who kindly provided many of the the comments that I post here each spring to help sort out the complicated ID picture for spring-flying azures, recently corresponded about some new data he’s been studying that helps distinguish Northern Azure, Spring Azure and spring-form Summer Azure.  Because these species are difficult to tell apart (and even with this new information I often find them hard to distinguish in the field, let alone from photos), and because at least in some populations he’s studying the three all fly together at the same time in their spring flight, azure ID in our area in the spring has gotten even more challenging!

Harry notes that these three all are found near Gore, VA, in Frederick Co.; in addition he’s  found lucia “at several other sites in northern Virginia, mainly at George Thompson WMA (Lake Thompson area, NOT the ridge top) where it is quite rare, around Big Meadows off Skyline Drive, and the ridge north of Reddish Knob on the W.V. border.

Lucia occurs on Appalachian ridges in this region and is closely associated with Wild Black Cherry, but ladon and spring neglecta also use that plant. In Maryland, lucia has been found on Town Hill and it must occur elsewhere in Green Ridge State Forest.  I’ve only found ladon there in spring (not even spring neglecta!).  It must be associated with Black Cherry in that area.  Lucia is very common on top of ridges in the South Mountain State Forest west of Gettysburg, PA where is feeds on lowbush blueberries.  Not far from Maryland and I’ve always held up hope of finding it around Camp David, but to no avail.  They should be very common up at Cranesville [Swamp, Garrett Co. -- REB] and fly with an odd high-altitude population of neglecta in similar habitats in W.V.”

Here are some miscellaneous notes about the azures he’s been studying in N. VA excerpted from Harry’s email:

>>Celastrina ladon. Males are typically of the typical spotted (ventral hindwing) phenotype, showing no tendency to develop darkened ventral hindwing margins or dark ventral hindwing discal patches, which are more frequent toward the northern portions of the species’ range.  Under magnification, males of C. ladon are easily distinguished from all other blue Celastrina species by their unique male wing scale structure; ladon is the only blue Azure in which the males lack androconia.  All other blue Azure species have male androconia (the dark brown C. nigra is the only other Azure that lacks androconia)  Adults of ladon tend to be slightly paler and more violet-blue in color than either lucia or neglect.  Moreover, .Work that Harry and his colleague David Wright have found C. ladon to be univoltine throughout its range.

Celastrina lucia. Males are generally of the spotted (ventral hindwing) phenotype, with some individuals displaying darkened ventral hindwing margins [described as form marginata (W. H. Edwards, 1883)]. Males of C. lucia are easily distinguished from males of C. ladon which bear the unique wing scale structure. Adults of lucia tend to be noticeably more metallic, deeper blue in color than ladon when they are fresh, but have a peculiar tendency to become more violet when flight-worn with age. Males of lucia can be distinguished from sympatric males of spring form neglecta by the lack of very distinct white wing veins along the leading forward edge of the dorsal side of the forewing, which are characteristic of spring form neglecta. Also, individuals of spring form neglecta bear clear wing fringes, while in lucia, they are either darkened or checkered black and white. Females are generally difficult to distinguish, as both lucia and neglecta females tend to be very similar in appearance, both being noticeably lighter blue than females of ladon. In series, lucia females from the Appalachian region tend to be markedly smaller than neglecta females and have narrower black outer margins on the dorsal forewing.  C. lucia is known to be an obligate univotine butterfly throughout its range.

Celastrina neglecta spring form. Males are typically of the distinctly-spotted ventral hindwing phenotype, showing no tendency to darkened ventral hindwing margins or dark ventral hindwing discal patches. Males of C. neglecta spring form are easily distinguished from males of C. ladon which bear the unique wing scale structure, however, in all other respects, they are extremely similar to ladon and very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish by ventral markings alone. Adults of neglecta spring form tend to be bluer in color than ladon, but are very similar in color to lucia. Males of neglecta spring form can often be distinguished from sympatric males of lucia by the presence of distinct white wing veins along the leading edge of the dorsal forewing, which is characteristic of neglecta spring form; but not always reliable, as in some individuals the wing veins might be subdued. Also, neglecta spring form bears clear wing fringes on the hindwing edge, while in lucia, they tend to be darkened or checkered; and in ladon they tend to be darkened but can appear light in some individuals. Females are generally difficult to distinguish from lucia, but are generally larger and have broader black outer margins on the dorsal forewing.

Celastrina neglecta summer form. The summer form of neglecta is uniquely different from the three spring phenotypes, in that the venter is very white, and dark markings are reduced to mere dashes and dots. On the dorsum, the males and females both display characteristic distribution of white coloration on the hindwings, arranged in rays between the wing veins. This phenotype has been produced in reared offspring of spring form females throughout the range of neglecta. <<

Harry also gives this tip to bolster my field ID skills :  “With practice, and with a series of specimens of the different species, one can easily see the reflective effect of the unique ladon male scales.  Ladon males have a greasy sheen.  All other blue Celastrina do not have this greasy sheen (brown nigra has the unique male scale structure).  Best way to see this is to hold a tray of a few specimens that you know are ladon and a few that you know are not (i.e. summer neglecta, neglectamajor) for practice.  Move them around in direct sunlight at different angles and eventually the unique ladon reflectance will suddenly reveal itself to you.  Once you see it, identifying male ladon specimens is a snap.”  [FYI -- There's a good electron microscope image of the androconia in Wright & Pavulaan's description of C. idella.]

I think a future where any azure identification is a snap  for me might be a ways off, but I’ll be practicing this spring!

Tom Ostrowski's 2014 March 21 sighting of Eastern Comma in Chapman State Park, Charles Co MD

Tom Ostrowski’s 2014 March 21 sighting of Eastern Comma in Chapman State Park, Charles Co MD

Another dicey weekend forecast is shaping up after our week of wintry weather: somewhat warming temperatures but rain – sometimes chilly rain – on Saturday and Sunday. These March forecasts are tricky, though, so we might get a combination of temperatures near normal (50’s-low 60’s) and some sunshine, most likely on Sunday. But it’s not looking good.

Just before the latest cold snap, though, a lot of new FOYs cropped up throughout the East.

Here in Maryland we saw the emergence of the first non-adult-overwintering butterflies, Cabbage White in Howard Co. and an unidentified sulphur in Montgomery Co. at Dickerson Conservation Park. Eastern Commas were seen in a number of places locally, including the US National Arboretum and Charles Co.

Eastern Comma and Mourning Cloak sightings extended well up through PA, to NY, and into CT last weekend. To the south, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, azures, and a strong flight of Juvenal’s Duskywings were abroad in South Carolina, with Palamedes Swallowtail, Gemmed Satyr and Red-banded Hairstreak all observed in Francis Marion National Forest. Henry’s Elfin and White M Hairstreaks were reported in both Carolinas, and a Great Purple Hairstreak joined continuing White M Hairstreaks near Spartansburg SC.   Meanwhile, in the Raleigh NC region the first Falcate Orangetips were out.

Given a few more days of temperatures in the 60’s, the next two weeks could bring cherry blossoms and the first azures to the DC area, along with orangetips, Cabbage Whites, sulphurs, and possibly early elfins. My own prediction for this spring will be that we’ll have a lot of activity compressed into a short period – early fliers will emerge late and mingle with mid-season and late-season spring species.

Hope to see you in the field looking for them, and be sure to share your sightings on your favorite listserv (especially if that favorite listserv happens to be MDLepsOdes on Google Groups!).

Just in time for the 2014 season, I’ve made revisions to the  Field Trip Checklist for Butterflies of Maryland I first put together in 2012.  It reflects a number of changes in status from Dick Smith’s work and the field observations several of us made during our Big Butterfly Year last season.  It also corrects some typos and omissions from the 2012 version.

It’s designed to be printed back-to-back on one sheet and folded as a tri-fold, like most checklists.  If you find additional errors or omissions, let me know and I can correct it.  I printed several hundred for use of Maryland lepidopterists the first time; I’ll wait and see if there are any changes before I order another printing.

Not a very promising weekend for those of us in the DC metro area (or much of the rest of the mid-Atlantic either, it appears).

While temps are likely to be warm enough tomorrow (Sat.), it’s all going to be about the cloud cover.  Best chance for sun seems to be in the morning and toward the north and west.  Rain is a possibility later in the day.  Sunday appears to be a complete wash (perhaps literally) with cool temperatures, clouds, and possible showers.  And then there’s a return to cold temperatures and the possibility of snow early next week.

Last weekend was a good one here in metro area, with both expected Polygonia anglewings and Mourning Cloaks putting in a show.  No pierids reported yet this year, although we should be seeing Orange Sulphur and Cabbage White very soon, and Falcate Orangetip by early April — many of the cresses and cardamines are not yet in flower so there is little adult nectar available except red and swamp maples. Farther south, in the Carolinas, the season seems actually to be a bit early, with Juvenal’s Duskywing and White M Hairstreak (nectaring on flowering plums) reports both coming in from South Carolina this week as well as the expected whites, sulphurs, and nymphalids.

Good luck if you venture out this weekend!

MD Botanical Heritage Work Group ReportButterflies depend on diverse plant assemblages both for larval food and adult nectar and other food sources, so it behooves the good field lepidopterist to know as much as possible about our native flora.  The Maryland Botanical Heritage Work Group in January released its report to the Governor and General Assembly its sobering report on the state of Maryland’s plant diversity.

The Maryland Botanical Heritage Work Group was created in June 2013 (Chapter 655, Acts of 2013) to prepare a report to the General Assembly and the Governor that would define challenges, explore opportunities and make recommendations for the “preservation of plant species native to the State and the region.” Authorization for the Work Group extends through May 31, 2014. The law is included as Appendix 1. Work Group members who are not state employees received no compensation for their participation. State staff were provided from among current employees. The Work Group began its work in late August after the members had been appointed by the Governor or designated by the Secretaries of their respective agencies.

The 2014 Maryland Botanical Heritage Group report is available in the LepLog library.

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