Hunting Bromeliad Hairstreaks in the Desert?

2017APR18 Strymon solitario Grishin & Durden, 2012 (Big Bend Scrub-Hairstreak)_TX-Brewster Co-Rio Grande Village nature trail

Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak, Strymon solitario, one of dozens hill-topping on a limestone mesa near Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. [TX: Brewster Co., 2017 April 18, photo by REB]

As part of my long-planned foray to the Big Bend area of extreme southwest Texas, I’d been keeping an eye out for recent literature on any interesting leps being found there.  But as I’ll report in a longer LepLog piece, the weather gods did not favor butterfly hunting in April this year.  The spring came early with good rains and prompted an early bloom and flush of spring butterflies; by the time I got there last week most of the nectar sources had crisped up and withered away.  With them went most of the spring species I’d hoped to see.

So it was without a lot of hope that I decided to recover — after one particularly grueling hike day into the heart of the Chisos Mountains tracking the Colima Warbler — by driving down the following day to the relatively flat desert along the Rio Grande in search of one of North America’s most recently described butterflies.  I was after  Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak, named by Nick Grishin and Christopher Durden in 2012 from an area near Rio Grande Village called Boquillas Canyon in the far western reach of the national park [Grishin, N.V. & C.J. Durden. 2012. New bromeliad-feeding Strymon species from Big Bend National Park, Texas USA and its vicinity (Lycaenicdae: Theclinae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 66(2): 81–110.]  This new species, Strymon solitario, the Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak, has a limited distribution in exceptionally arid, rocky habitats where one can find its food plant, Texas false agave, Hechtia texensis.

2017APR18 Hechtia texensis Ground Bromeliad_TX-Brewster Co-Rio Grande Viillage nature trail

Texas false agave, Hechtia texensis, a plant of arid, rocky limestone desert and host to larvae of the Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak. It’s called a false agave because it’s actually not an agave at all but a desert-adapted bromeliad.

Imagine my surprise, then, when after walking out the nature trail at Rio Grande Village and climbing up to the top of a limestone promontory overlooking the river, that I encountered veritable swarms of hairstreaks hill-topping on the summit.  I’d seen few lycaenids at all in Big Bend to this point, and none of them hairstreaks, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them landing on my cap, my hand, my camera — and on the fading stalks of Hechtia that were all around!  Sure enough, when I got back to the computer that night and compared the photos with the illustrations in Grishin & Durden and elsewhere online, looks like this is another population of Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak.

The species epithet solitario, by the way, doesn’t have anything to do with its gregariousness or lack thereof.  It’s named after El Solitario, a geologic formation looming over the landscape in the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park, where specimens also were collected.

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El Solitario, a geological formation in extreme southwest Texas that gave name to the recently described Strymon solitario. [photo courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department]

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Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2017 April 22

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Cobweb Skipper flying in Green Ridge State Forest 2017 April 18 [photo courtesy Jim Springer]

New to the list this week as FOYs are Tropical Leafwing, Reakirt’s Blue, Arizona Skipper, Chisos Banded-skipper, Big Bend Scrub-hairstreak … oh, wait.  No.  That’s where I am NOW!  Big Bend National Park.  [Sorry for the tease]Meanwhile, back in the mid-Atlantic — The rush of new species continues, with recent sightings of Juniper Hairstreak, Frosted Elfin, Cobweb Skipper, Silver-spotted Skipper, Common Sootywing , Painted Lady, Variegated Fritillary, Spicebush Swallowtail and Monarch.

We’ve reached that complicated time of the year when numerous azure species can be flying; So far, only Spring (ladon) and Summer (neglecta) have been affirmatively reported in our area.  Holly Azure is out in southern New Jersey so likely flying closer to home as well.  Eastern Tailed-blues have become common, Gray Hairstreaks are being reported regularly, and all three of the “normal” elfins — Pine, Brown, and Henry’s — are on the wing.  Frosted Elfin is also flying in southern New Jersey (which is typically about a week ahead of our populations on the Maryland Eastern Shore).  Juniper Hairstreaks were widely reported across the area.

Dwindling pierids now are Falcate Orangetips, although Olympia Marbles were still flying well last weekend.  Notable populations of both Clouded and Orange Sulphurs are out, as opposed to last year when both species were scarce.  No reports of West Virginia White but they are certainly on the wing.  Likely Checkered Whites are flying in disturbed habitats in small numbers, especially on the Eastern Shore. Cloudless Sulphurs are apparently pushing northward into the Carolinas aggressively so we may have an early year for these.

There are still a few reports of Mourning Cloaks trickling in, and winter form anglewings are still out.  Pearl Crescent numbers are peaking.  Meadow Fritillary and the first Variegated Fritillaries of the season have been spotted. Painted Ladies look like they are making a strong spring showing for the species, with widespread reports across the area (not the usual pinpoints near elementary schools where the kids have released their captives after studying metamorphosis). The first Monarch reports of the season came in from MD and PA, and Common Buckeye was reported in southern NJ.

The new swallowtail kid on the block is Spicebush Swallowtail, which joins Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, and Zebra SwallowtailBlack Swallowtail is probably out as well now too but just not reported yet.  It will be a week or two before we are likely to see Appalachian Tigers in the appropriate western/higher elevation habitats.

All three common spring duskywings — Juvenal’s, Horace’s, and Wild Indigo — are flying in good numbers this week.  Common Sootywing and Cobweb Skipper were both reported from Green Ridge State Forest.  The first Silver-spotted Skippers also appear to have emerged in our area this past week.  Common Checkered-skippers are flying now as well.  In the Virginia mountains, Appalachian Grizzled Skipper is on the wing.  Closer to home, Pepper and Salt Skipper is probably flying too and should be watched for in the western and mountain counties.

 

Nectar sources of note this week: Fleabane, pinxter azalea (for the swallowtails especially), yellow rocket and other tall spring mustards, vetches, and early clovers.  Plus the usual assortment of low forbs henbit, geranium, ground ivy, deadnettle, and dandelion.I’ll be back from my LepTrek to Trans-Pecos Texas for the next Forecast (look for more posts on LepLog with highlights of the trip), but meantime  if you make it out in the field over the next couple of days, please let us know what you find for the next Forecast. You can leave your sightings as a comment here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2017 April 15

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Pine Elfin photographed by Matt Orsie in Green Ridge State Forest last weekend. Check out Matt’s blog at http://wvbirder.org/wvleps/

The warm weather of this past week continued to bring out new first-of-years, including American Copper, Spring Azure, Juniper Hairstreak, Red Admiral, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Pine Elfin, Sleepy Orange and probable Holly Azure (given habitat and oviposition behavior).

Sleepy Orange is a new addition to the pierid roster for 2017, observed flying in Green Ridge State Forest last weekend and in Virginia. And Virginia also is seeing West Virginia Whites on the wing in the mountains; likely they are flying in western Maryland as well now or soon will be. Numerous Olympia Marbles were observed in and around Green Ridge State Forest last weekend, including in areas where they haven’t been seen in a decade or more.

Fresh White M Hairstreaks, larger numbers of Gray Hairstreaks, and both Henry’s and Brown Elfins were seen this past week. Pine Elfin is also flying, seen in Green Ridge. More Eastern Tailed-blues were reported from throughout the region. Juniper Hairstreak hasn’t been reported locally, but based on Carolina and VA reports is probably out here as well. Azures probably represent a mix of species at this point, so care should be taken to separate them, especially for Holly Azure in coastal and piedmont holly ecosystems. American Coppers appeared for the first time this season.

Pipevine Swallowtails from the gardens around the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall made the FOY list this week. Zebra Swallowtail numbers are climbing.

Anglewing numbers are dropping off, as are Mourning Cloaks. We have yet to see a major emergence of Pearl Crescents but the warm weather should bring them out. Red Admiral was picked up in several locations in the past couple of days.

No new skippers made the Forecast this week.  Horace’s Duskywing is picking up in numbers among the much more common Juvenal’s, and a couple more confirmed Wild Indigo Duskywings were also noted this week.   [6 pm update:  On a short expedition to the Patuxent National Wildlife Research Refuge/South Tract in Laurel, MD, late this afternoon, I picked up three Common Checkered-skippers on cinquefoil and geranium in short grass along the lake berm].

Nectar sources:  Major nectar sources this past week have included redbud, flowering dogwood, viburnum, various Vaccinium species, some early fleabanes, and the usual low forbs henbit, ground ivy, deadnettle, chickweed, dandelion, and spring cresses. Blackberry is budding and will likely be the next major nectar source; this is also the seasonal cue to start looking for cloudywings.

I’ll be on a LepTrek to trans-Pecos Texas the next two weekends, but watching for local reports.  If you make it out in the field over the next couple of days, please let us know what you find for the next Forecast. You can leave your sightings as a comment here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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Perfect Day in Green Ridge SF

2017APR09 Olympia Marble_GRSF_Tom Stock photo

The only Olympia Marble we found at rest (thanks Tom Feild!) [2017 April 9, Green Ridge State Forest, photo by Tom Stock]

Spring comes early — and earlier than most people think — to the ridges and valleys of Green Ridge State Forest.  This patchwork of shaded streams, shale cliffs, barrens, and hemlock groves bisected by mostly dirt (and sometimes little of that!) roads and powerlines gives some of the best habitat for unusual butterfly sightings in the spring season.

This area warms up surprisingly early in the spring.  Common wisdom used to be that Green Ridge was never really productive until late April or early May; that may have been true once, and it’s clear that warming average temperatures in the East have advanced the spring schedule somewhat, but I think what’s really going on is that butterfliers just don’t get out early enough in the Green Ridge to see the first flush of leps.

Some of the most productive habitat lies along south- and west-facing slopes under powerlines, on sparsely forested ridgelines, and on the few remaining shale barrens.  Here, even with ambient air temperatures in the 40’sF, the microhabitat at ground level can be 70F or higher.  This brings out some real specialties in early spring.

Green Ridge is the state’s last known redoubt for Olympia Marble, whose numbers have rebounded somewhat over the past decade.  It’s never abundant anywhere in the area, but by assiduously checking out every female Falcate Orangetip along the higher elevation roads and ridgetops, lucky observers will likely see a handful of Marbles in a full day and many road-miles of exploration.  Other specialties are more accommodating; Silvery Blues are found regularly wherever its larval host Carolina Vetch grows, and that’s over much of Green Ridge where there’s sufficient sun.  Tortoiseshells are seen here sporadically, and both Dreamy and Sleepy Duskywings can be abundant.

2017APR09 mating silvery blues_GRSF_Tom Stock pic

Silvery Blues were in courtship and mating condition, this pair along a powerline. [2017 April 9, photo by Tom Stock]

I joined an impromptu party of naturalists — some by arrangement, and some by lucky happenstance as we ran into each other on the back roads — for most of the day yesterday, one of the best field days I’ve had in Green Ridge. By the time it coalesced, the group included Tom Stock, Jim Brighton, Tom and Geraldine Feild, Jared Satchell, Jim Stasz, Matt Orsie and Barry Marts. We found Olympia Marbles, our primary target species, in several locations, including one area where it has been absent for at least a decade.  The full list below of species seen between us is courtesy of Tom Stock’s recordkeeping:

Zebra Swallowtail (3)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (2)
Cabbage White (abundant)
Olympia Marble (~6, observed closely or in hand)
Falcate Orangetip (abundant)
Orange Sulphur (1)
Eastern Pine Elfin (2)
Gray Hairstreak (4)
Summer Azure (abundant) [I checked the wing scaling of a number of specimens in hand to confirm they were spring brood Summer Azure rather than Spring Azure]
Silvery Blue (7)
Mourning Cloak (3)
American Lady (1)
Red Admiral (1)
Sleepy Duskywing (abundant)
Juvenal’s Duskywing (abundant)

We were also treated to another insect specialty of Green Ridge, Cow Path Tiger Beetle, a handsome creature of dry barrens and short grass.

2017APR02 C purpurea Cow Path Tiger Beetle_MD-Allegany CO-GRSF

Cow Path Tiger Beetle in Green Ridge State Forest taken last weekend [2017 April 2, photo by REB]

Of course, no excursion Tom Stock & I take is complete without a LepLunch shout-out, in this case a LepDinner at Buddy Lou’s in Hancock, MD, where we could relax on the outside deck and plan more of the summer butterfly calendar.  Some of the counts and field trips are already posted here on LepLog at https://leplog.wordpress.com/2017-field-trips-counts/.  We’d be glad to see you joining us.

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Butterfly Field Forecast for the Week of 2017 April 8

2017APR02 Silvery Blue ventral_MD-Allegany Co-GRSF Kasecamp

Silvery Blue is flying in the western MD counties [2017 April 2, MD:Allegany Co:Green Ridge State Forest, photo by REB}

2017APR02 Silvery Blue dorsal_MD-Allegany Co-GRSF Kasecamp

Silvery Blue is flying in the western MD counties [2017 April 2, MD:Allegany Co:Green Ridge State Forest, photo by REB}

The past week and weekend showed a steady increase in species diversity and numbers, including Silvery Blue, American Lady, Zebra Swallowtail, Eastern Tailed-blue, Meadow Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Henry’s Elfin and Black Swallowtail.

Unless I missed the report, the azures on the wing locally are all still Summer (spring brood) Azure, although with the emergence of buds on flowering dogwood we should also be seeing Spring Azure (in much smaller and apparently diminishing numbers).  All the azures netted for close ID in Green Ridge State Forest last weekend were Summer, even the heavily marked ones that bring to mind old and out-of-date azure formulations of marginata, violacea, etc.  Neither has Holly Azure been reported yet, but I strongly suspect it is now flying in the appropriate holly habitat. In southern NJ, Blueberry Azure, often considered the distinct species lucia, is reported on the wing.

Of the elfins, only Henry’s Elfin made an appearance this week (both sightings in Prince George’s Co MD), timed as always with the bloom of larval host redbud (although it appears that in parts of its range around here Henry’s also feeds on holly).  Be especially observant to report the very green viridissima form and note if it is flying with the typical brown morph  (normal henrici).  Brown Elfin is out in southern NJ.  Eastern Tailed-blue has begun flying; so has Silvery Blue in the higher elevations to the west.  Gray Hairstreak sightings picked up.  If they aren’t out already, both Red-banded Hairstreak and Juniper Hairstreak will be on the wing soon.

Little change in status for whites and sulphurs this week; Falcate Orangetips are building in numbers.  So far, it’s still mostly males, but the sex ratio should even out this week.  Olympia Marbles were searched for last weekend in Green Ridge State Forest but were not observed.

Zebra Swallowtails joined Eastern Tiger Swallowtails on the rolls this week, and Black Swallowtails were reported in the gardens around the Smithsonian Castle in DC.

American Ladies showed up across the region this week, some (in Green Ridge for example) pristine enough to be locally emerged and some tattered and torn probable migrants.  It’s been a rather poor Mourning Cloak year, but they are still flying, as are good numbers of Eastern Commas and Question MarksPearl Crescents and Meadow Fritillary made first of the year appearances here.  American Snouts continue.  Variegated Fritillary and Common Buckeye were picked up in NJ.  Anyone in the field in the mountain counties over the next week should keep a sharp eye out for tortoiseshells and specialty commas like Gray and Green Comma.

Skippers numbers and diversity are up; Dreamy and Sleepy Duskywings were reported in Green Ridge and elsewhere, and Juvenal’s appears to be having an early and large flight (some of which could be Horace’s, the undersides of which have not been checked).  Cobweb Skipper should be on the wing in appropriate xeric bluestem habitats.  Where it still exists, field observers should look for Appalachian Grizzled Skipper (fingers crossed for MD).

Nectar sources:  Major nectar sources this past week have included moss phlox, redbud, crabapples, high-bush cranberry, and the usual low forbs henbit, ground ivy, deadnettle, dandelion, and spring cresses.

Sunday looks to be the standout day this weekend, and the rains of yesterday and this morning may push a number of new species to emerge.  If you make it out, please let us know  what you find for the next Forecast. You can leave your sightings as a comment here at https://leplog.wordpress.com/ or by posting to Google Groups at MDLepsOdes.

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New Field Guide: Butterflies of Pennsylvania

9780822964551The spring is upon us, with sightings of azures, swallowtails, early pierids, elfins — and a brand-new field guide to tell them apart!

Later this month, University of Pittsburgh Press will bring out Butterflies of Pennsylvania: A Field Guide, written by the inimitable team of James L. Monroe and David M. Wright.  Here’s the blurb announcing the new publication:

Butterflies of Pennsylvania is the most comprehensive, user-friendly field guide to date of every species ever recorded within Pennsylvania.  It includes more than 900 brilliant color photographs, making identification quick and easy.  Features include:

  • Skippers of Pennsylvania in addition to butterflies
  • Both the front and back of male and female specimens
  • Magnified photo callouts draw attention to details
  • Information on distinguishing marks and traits
  • County by county occurrence maps
  • Average wing span identifiers
  • Habitat and host plants
  • Tips for field identification
  • Seasonal flight graphs show when they are present

Butterflies of Pennsylvania is a handy reference for a broad readership, including students and educators, backyard butterfly enthusiasts and gardeners, conservationists and naturalists, as well as entomologists and lepidopterists.”

James L. Monroe is a research associate at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity in Gainesville, Florida, and is professor emeritus of physics at Pennsylvania State University, Beaver. His butterfly photographs have appeared in Nature’s Best Photography, American Butterflies, Butterfly Gardener, and numerous other journals. David M. Wright is chairman of patient safety and quality council at Abington Health-Lansdale Hospital in Pennsylvania. He is an anatomical and clinical pathologist who has published extensively on the butterflies of Pennsylvania and neighboring states. His papers have appeared in American Butterflies, Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society, The Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, and numerous other journals.

University of Pittsburgh Press has a terrific “flip book” online that lets you browse the book, and it looks really sharp.  I’m looking forward to reviewing it!

When it comes out (Amazon is taking preorders to fulfill April 28) it will be available from the Press for $24.95.  336 pages, paper/flex bound, 5.75 x 8.75 inches.

 

 

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Questionable Commas

There’s a great post currently up on the South Jersey Butterfly B/log that makes for intriguing reading when sorting out this spring’s Eastern Commas and Question Marks.  At issue is regular sightings of Eastern Comma with “broken” punctuation on the silver mark that look more like the “question mark” of P. interrogationis.

LepLog readers might also find interesting the early/late dates of New Jersey butterflies, also on their site currently.

And note they’ve had Eastern Pine Elfin already!

Posted in general butterfly news, Identification tips, sightings | 3 Comments