New Annual Butterfly Count for Maryland

I’m happy to report we’ve just received the official blessings of the North American Butterfly Association to host a new annual count centered in Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland.

I say “new” but in fact GRSF is one of our iconic butterfly locations: Olympia Marble and Silvery Blue in the spring; Appalachian Tiger and Giant Swallowtails, plus Hoary Edge, in early summer; Northern Metalmark in midsummer. Tortoiseshells and White Admirals have been known to turn up as well.

And there have been systematic count efforts here before, notably Bob Ringler’s counts in eastern Allegany Co. from 1995-2006.

We hope this will become a regular annual NABA count. This year the count will be July 10 (rain date July 11) in hopes of catching the metalmark flight. The circle was constructed to capture a diversity of butterfly habitats, from shale barrens to mature forest to ridgetop meadows to Potomac River frontage. Plus, it’s an easy day trip from most central MD, southern PA, northern VA, and eastern WV locations.

I’ll be establishing sectors and soliciting volunteers for these sectors in April/May so we can have a good plan of action. We’ll play by ear whether we’re safe to do a tally rally afterwards at one of the local restaurants, or at the picnic tables at the GRSF visitor center.

Posted in Calendar, Events and Meetings, Field Trips/Annual Counts, general butterfly news, maryland | Leave a comment

Ohio Lepidopterists Webinar on Amateur Contributions to Moth Studies, March 13

From our friends and colleagues at The Ohio Lepidopterists, an upcoming webinar on amateur contributions to moth biology and conservation:


>>We’ve had an unusually snowy February here in Ohio but the days are getting longer, the sugar-boilers are tapping trees, and I heard the sound of snowmelt in my gutters yesterday, so take heart: spring is on the way.

To help you wait patiently for better days ahead, please join the Ohio Lepidopterists for a free webinar on March 13th, from 2–3 PM, when we host Jason Dombroskie, Manager for the Cornell University Insect Collection and the Coordinator of the Insect Diagnostic Lab @ Cornell. Jason’s topic will be:

What we don’t know and what you can do about it: how amateur contributions are vital to moth research.

What we don’t know can hurt us and in this talk we will look at some of the biggest gaps in our knowledge of moths and why it is important to fill these gaps.  We will explore the major role that amateurs have played through history right through to modern day contributions.  Advice will be given on what you can do from documenting biodiversity in your backyard, to monitoring invasive species, to documenting life histories, to describing new species (yes you too can describe a new species).

The webinar will be available for viewing live through Zoom and Facebook. Only viewing through Zoom will allow you to ask questions and interact with other members.

 To view on Zoom, you must register:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.To view on Facebook:

At the date and time (March 13th, 2 PM) go to The Ohio Lepidopterists’ Facebook page <<

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Checklist of Butterflies of Virginia

Virginia’s state insect, the Easter Tiger Swallowtail — in this case, a dark morph female showing the characteristic “watermarks” of the wing stripes that earn this butterfly its common name.

Here in the DC region, tomorrow offers the best chance of seeing a FOY Mourning Cloak we’ve had in some weeks — sunny, with temperatures pushing 60F. The butterfly season is inching closer, the ice and snow of the past week be damned.

Which of course turns the lepidopterist’s mind to field work (we hope) and what new checklists might have emerged from the relative butterfly doldrums of winter.

One such is Harry Pavulaan’s recent checklist of the Butterflies of Virgnia, noting county-level occurrence for all of the Commonwealth’s butterfly fauna. You can view the checklist and the accompanying notes on butterfly names used in the checklist by clicking the links below:

Posted in checklist, general butterfly news, state butterflies | 1 Comment

New YouTube Tutorial: Raising Butterflies by Obtaining Eggs from Gravid Females

Mating Ithomiinae butterflies, Methona confusa [courtesy]

Here’s a 2021 new lep year resolution. Try your hand at raising butterflies by collecting mated and gravid (pregnant) females.

Todd Stout — a University of Florida Research Associate and a board member for the International Butterfly Breeders Association, Inc. — offers an hour-long webinar on YouTube on how to net females and get them to lay eggs you can then rear to adulthood.

While the focus is on western North American species, it’s a terrific resource for those of us in the eastern and central US as well. And if you do live in the West, he also has some interesting discussion about how difficult it is to do successful butterfly gardening out West.

Watch the video here.

URL for the video:

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Sayonara, Speyeria; Buenos dias, Dione

Atlantis Fritillary, Argynnis atlantis, Buzzard Swamp PA [2014 June 22, photo by REB]

Jonathan Pelham’s new Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada is out (28 January 2021), just in time to revise field checklists and such before heading out in search of leps this summer. Unlike the last revision, with its myriad nomenclatural changes for those of us in the eastern US, there are few changes I found in a quick glance — notably, the loss of Speyeria (as in the genus of our eastern greater fritillaries), now sunk as a subgenus under genus Argynnis.

So, no more Speyeria fritillaries for us. This includes Great Spangled, Diana, Regal, Aphrodite, and Atlantis in the East.

Argynnis cybele, Great Spangled Fritillary

Argynnis diana, Diana Fritillary

Argynnis idalia, Regal Fritillary

Argynnis aphrodite, Aphrodite Fritillary

Argynnis atlantis, Atlantis Fritillary

In other “fritillary” news, the Gulf Fritillary is no longer Agraulis but Dione vanillae. Of course Gulf Fritillary is no true frit at all but one of the typical longwings, Heliconiini.

Posted in general butterfly news, taxonomy | 2 Comments

Oviposition Sinks in West Virginia Whites

Leaf necrosis in cabbage in response to an egg laid by a Cabbage White (image courtesy Waginingen University and Research)

Initially, the hypothesis about the decline of West Virginia Whites (Pieris virginiensis) was attributed to some interaction — competition, disease — with the introduced congeneric species, Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). After all, the decline in West Virginia Whites was noticeable at about the same time that Cabbage Whites were spreading across West Virginia White territory. More recently, attention has turned to the role of garlic mustard as a culprit. Female West Virginia Whites are lured by the mustard oils in garlic mustard as they would be in their native hosts, toothworts (Cardamine spp.), and lay their eggs on the invasive mustard instead of on the toothworts, seeming even to prefer the scents of the garlic mustard. These eggs usually die. But the mechanism hasn’t been well explored. And the spread of introduced garlic mustard in many ways mirrored the spread of Cabbage White.

Now a team from Wageningen University and Research of the Netherlands has postulated a potential pathway. Unless a butterfly species has co-evolved strategies around it, many wild mustards defend themselves by selectively killing off the cells around pierid butterfly eggs, creating a zone of necrosis that causes the eggs to dry out and fall off. Since Cabbage White and garlic mustard co-evolved in Europe, it’s not a problem for the introduced white. But West Virginia White lacks any counter-measures so eggs laid on garlic mustard will die. And even if they survive this first frontal attack on the eggs, previous research has noted that when transferred from a suitable host plant to garlic mustard, West Virginia White caterpillars usually fail to thrive — they lack the ability that Cabbage Whites have evolved to tolerate the high levels of mustard oil in garlic mustard.

Among the strategies that some pierid butterfly species use to get around the garlic mustard defense tactic are laying eggs in clusters (which seems to blunt the effect of leaf necrosis), switching to other host plants, or laying their eggs on flowers (which can’t do much in the way of necrosis or they wouldn’t be able to attract pollinators) instead of leaves.

Read Insect egg‐killing: a new front on the evolutionary arms‐race between brassicaceous plants and pierid butterflies online in the journal New Phytologist or in the LepLog library:

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The Curious Case of the Midwinter Monarchs

We generally think of Monarchs in the mid-Atlantic as summer-season migrants and occasional breeders. And we have believed for a long time that southward bound Monarch migrants were in reproductive diapause during their sojourn south.

But it appears someone forgot to tell some Maryland and New Jersey Monarchs.

I posted to the MDLepsOdes Google Group back in early January when I ran across a sighting of a very fresh male Monarch observation on iNat dated January 2 — from Point Lookout State Park in southern MD! It was in pretty much pristine condition, and granted it’s been a rather warm winter so far, it was still unusual enough to flag for the group’s attention. Best guesses at the time were that this was either purchased livestock released in the fall that didn’t know how to migrate (a finding recently reported in the scientific literature), or perhaps someone’s “rescued” late caterpillar that they reared to emergence and released.

But then responding to that listserv item was a note from Jack Connor in New Jersey, who reported that Mark Garland had a Monarch at Cape May Point on Dec. 26 (2020, photographed) and Tom Reed had a sighting over the dunes at Cape May Point on Jan. 12 (2021). Mark’s female butterfly was in pretty good shape too, with only some scratching and a nick on the right forewing.

Then came Rick Cheicante’s reports of two Monarchs in January 2021 — one at Assateague Island MD on Jan. 2, and one again at Point Lookout State Park on Jan. 15. One a male, one a female. BOTH in exceptionally pristine condition — immaculate even. The Point Lookout Monarch was a female; the Jan. 2 Point Lookout sighting from iNat is a male. So definitely two different butterflies.

Male Monarch, Assateague Island, MD, January 2, 2021 (photo courtesy of Rick Cheicante)
Female Monarch, Point Lookout State Park, MD, January 15, 2021 (photo courtesy of Rick Cheicante)

What on earth gives here? These all look freshly emerged. And the scattered sightings suggest something else is going on.

There is a potential alternate explanation.  MD, NJ, and VA gardeners increasingly plant tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, to attract Monarchs.  That’s been especially true of this Covid year as people garden even more enthusiastically. A. curassavica, despite the moniker of tropical milkweed, is actually a very hardy plant, and only dies back after a quite hard freeze.  I suspect that southward-bound migrants in the normal migration cycle break reproductive diapause and oviposit when they encounter these healthy, lush, and very evident September and October milkweed sources that would NEVER have been available from native species.  In a very mild winter, a caterpillar could have food available until Thanksgiving or later, and adults could emerge as late as December if there are no hard freezes.  Of course it is highly doubtful these will survive either to migrate or to persist through the winter as adults, so A. curassavica may be acting as a de facto oviposition sink for Monarchs. But they could hang around in torpor in rather pristine condition for a while.  In theory, anyway. 

Tropical (aka Blood, Sunset, or Mexican) Milkweed, a fast growing but rather hardy annual in the mid-Atlantic (photo courtesy Mary Salinas via the University of Florida Extension Office)
Posted in general butterfly news, sightings | 3 Comments

NC Butterfly Summer Field Work Opportunity

St. Francis’ Satyr [photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service]

Job notice from Michigan State University:

The Haddad Lab at Michigan State University is hiring four field
technicians for research in North Carolina on the St. Francis’ satyr
butterfly from early May through mid-August. One position may begin on
April 1st and extend through September. The St. Francis’ satyr is a
federally endangered butterfly that is found only on the Ft. Bragg Army
Installation in North Carolina. It is restricted to
disturbance-dependent wetlands. Work will include daily monitoring of
adult butterflies during flight periods, maintenance of restored
habitat, captive-rearing and breeding of individuals from eggs to
adults, vegetation surveys, and assistance with studies on butterfly
behavior and plant demography. All technicians will live near Ft. Bragg,
NC for the duration of the summer.
Qualifications: Applicants must have or be working toward a bachelor’s
degree in biology, fisheries and wildlife, or a related field. They must
also be comfortable working outdoors all day in extreme heat and
humidity and be willing to tolerate biting insects and the presence of
venomous snakes. Candidates with previous field work experience will be
especially favorably received. This position represents an excellent
opportunity for enthusiastic and motivated students who are interested
in gaining or expanding their field experience in conservation biology.
Additional information about the project is available here.

Compensation is $16.25/hour. Shared housing has been identified and rent
will be split among researchers.

To apply: Applications must be submitted through the Michigan State
University careers website. The job posting can be found here.

In your application, please include a cover letter describing why you
are interested in and qualified for the position, resume, and the email
address and phone number for two professional references.

Posted in general butterfly news | 1 Comment

New Maryland Butterfly Records for 2020

Matt Whitbeck’s 2020 Dorchester County record for Northern Pearly-eye.

Well, the 2020 season did not bring us any new butterfly species as additions to the MD lep fauna, going by our data platform of record the Maryland Biodiversity Project. That’s not unusual, since there are few candidates for new species we can expect for the state, even with warming climate. It’s more likely we’ll lose northern species for which the summer temperatures are too warm for too long at a time, than we we will southern species capable of establishing beachheads in the state. There are always the prospect of introduced species, of course.

But we did score two county-level records this year:

Species ID 572 – Northern Pearly-eye (Lethe anthedon) recorded by matt_whitbeck via iNaturalist was new for Dorchester Co. (View)

Species ID 635 – Ocola Skipper (Panoquina ocola) recorded by Stephen John Davies via iNaturalist was new for Kent Co. (View)

In addition to the county ticks, MBP processed 424 quad-level records for butterflies in 2020, listed here:

Thanks to Bill Hubick and the folks at Maryland Biodiversity Project for running the codes to collect these data, and for their keen attention to butterfly records in Maryland.

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FOY Mourning Cloak Challenge

This year the “first of the year” LepLog butterfly challenge is for the first photodocumented Mourning Cloak sighting reported within a 50-mile radius of DC. The contest kicks off on January 1, 2021, and continues until a winner is declared.

The winner will be the first to email me ( with the photo, not the date of the photo itself. That way I have a verifiable time stamp on the entry. The butterfly must be alive and in the wild. And of course it has to be an identifiable photo, not a black speck on a faraway tree trunk!

Contestants might keep in mind that Mourning Cloaks will fly during warm spells even in January and February, or can sometimes be found hibernating under loose bark or in wood piles. These are fair game too! Early food sources for the adults are sap weeping from broken limbs, cracked bark, or sapsucker wells; they can also be found on early willow and maple flowers.

The 2021 winner when certified will receive a copy of Sharman Apt Russell’s “An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair With a Singular Insect.”

Good Mourning Cloak hunting, and good luck!

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