Well, LepLog gang, that’s a wrap for another season, our 8th year for such sightings and prognostications. We hope you enjoyed this year’s reports. Let me know if you find these worthwhile, enjoyable, diverting from work email, or all of the above. I always swear off doing these again when the year ends (especially as they are more and more work as people post sightings on more and more different sites and platforms). But then I recant and commit to another year as spring rolls around. Your comments and interest are a big part of the reason I keep it up, so let me know in the comments section below or by dropping an email to MDLepsOdes@gmail.com or a tweet to @LepTreks.
HIGHLIGHTS: Gray Comma
What a difference a week makes. Across the states in the mid-Atlantic, diversity as reported on iNat dropped by a quarter or a third, and numbers of sightings showed a similar decline. The butterfly garden at the Parris Glendening Nature Preserve in southern MD yesterday was typical of what folks were finding in the field across the region. Gone were the clouds of yellow and orange skippers of varying pedigrees; the handful of Sachems on the wing were worn and frazzled to a dull brown, and Fiery Skippers were sparse. Gone too were all the swallowtails that were seen here just a week or two ago; gone the cloudywings. There weren’t even any sulphurs or whites in the meadows surrounding the garden, or American coppers in the dry fields beyond. There were a few fresh butterflies on the wing: Gray Hairstreaks on aster and boneset, a pristine new flight of Pearl Crescents. A couple of Common Buckeyes worked the short grass.
Among the butterflies that one can expect to see reasonable numbers of as the summer season winds down are the various anglewings and cloaks. Since they all overwinter as adults (and indeed can sometimes be seen during warm spells even in midwinter), they persist until the first hard frosts of the year, happily taking juices from fallen, fermenting fruit. So this was a week of good sightings for Eastern Comma, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, and a nice handful of Gray Commas in Garrett Co. where they are often found, the campsites along Big Run Road.
Along with the buckeyes, Variegated Fritillary numbers are still climbing as locally eclosed adults join northward immigrants. The greater fritillaries are fading, although long-lived females could still be encountered for another few weeks. Meadow Fritillaries have a final late flight that emerged recently, so they’re still relatively fresh.
And it’s a bumper crop year of Monarchs, apparently. But then that is often the case here in the mid-Atlantic, and many of our adults apparently make it to their Mexican winter roosts without incident (a few wind up in the Gulf States, where they serve as another source of repopulation for us in the spring). The issue for Monarch declines now seems to be that persistent drought and heat tied to climate change make the return trip north through Texas and the lower midwest increasingly fraught for the large heartland population, not that milkweed habitat is scarce when they reach their northern breeding grounds.
We haven’t had much of a flight this year of either Sleepy Oranges or Cloudless Sulphurs, two species we can usually count on for late season color. Cloudless Sulphurs in particular are already on the move southward; they are at least partially migratory in most of their range. An undocumented sighting of a Little Yellow in central MD raised hopes that others of this southern/western sulphur might be on the wing regionally .
Several blues and hairstreaks in addition to the aforementioned Gray Hairstreak persist well into fall, and there were the expected sightings of White M, Red-banded, and Great Purple Hairstreak. There were still American (Small) Coppers flying in spots other than the Glendening Preserve, and we typically have a flush of late Bronze Coppers (although none were reported regionally this week). The falling numbers of Summer Azures and Eastern Tailed-blues will drop quickly as the temperatures follow suite.
The one skipper that defied the downward trend this week was Ocola Skipper, which was reported as the most common skipper on the wing in extreme southern MD this week.
Food for Thought: Many of us marvel at the beautifully rippled and heavily textured wings of the giant silkmoths, and those of us familiar with tropical species have long speculated about function (or if there was a function) of the twisted and sometimes even gnarled ends of the long tails sported by many Saturniidae. Turns out this texturing and these odd tails serve as acoustic decoys, guiding bats away from the more important thorax and abdomen and allowing them to escape most bat encounters, as recounted in this Conversation piece from researchers at the University of Bristol.
While the Almanac is on winter hiatus, please share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.