Field Notes: Texas Butterfly Festival Day 2!

With a first US record butterfly under our belts from Day 1, we headed out this morning for a leisurely boat survey of a couple of miles of the Rio Grande behind the National Butterfly Center, best for birds (both specialty kingfishers showed) and herps (Rio Grande Cooter and a veritable colony of Blue Collared Spiny Lizards.  But a couple butterflies also crossed our water path, including Great Southern White and Crimson Patch.

But the real action was back on land as we got permission to explore the “Back 70” acres of the National Butterfly Garden property.  Excellent habitat along the river with a tons of nectar.  Surprisingly, though, few species today despite the excellent clear, warm weather.  One of the best was Two-barred Flasher, from the family of skippers called “flashers” for their iridescent colors.

Two-barred Flasher, Astraptes fulgerator, in a shaded patch of crucita on the

Two-barred Flasher, Astraptes fulgerator, in a shaded patch of crucita on the “back 70” of the National Butterfly Center [2015 Nov 2, photo by REB]

The foray this afternoon also helped us lay to rest the identity of one of common orange skippers we’d been seeing (Common Mellana, with its Southern-Broken-Dash-look with a couple of light spots on the VHW) and a skipper that had us scratching our heads between it and the almost-ubiquitous (here and now) Clouded Skipper (in this case, Fawn-spotted Skipper).  Other good finds today included Brazilian Skipper (Tom Stock spotted this one); Southern Dogface; two blues, Cassius and Ceraunus; and Mimosa Yellow.

Common Mellana was one of several common, medium-sized orange skippers we were seeing a lot of [2015 Nov 2, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

Common Mellana was one of several common, medium-sized orange skippers we were seeing a lot of [2015 Nov 2, National Butterfly Center, photo by REB]

Fawn-spotted skipper was a numerous

Fawn-spotted skipper was a numerous “medium brown skipper” in the National Butterfly Gardens today [2015 Nov 2, photo by REB]

Back in the main gardens, the best butterfly of the day for us was Ruddy Daggerwing:

Ruddy Daggerwing, seen off and on all day today at the National Butterfly Center [2015 Nov 2, photo by REB]

Ruddy Daggerwing, seen off and on all day today at the National Butterfly Center [2015 Nov 2, photo by REB]

The “Back 70” is pretty wild, and there are plenty of problems ready to ruin the day of inattentive naturalists.  Here’s a nest of wasps in a trailside palm frond; other wasps build these odd free-hanging nests in the open.

This nest of wasps along the road could have spelled real trouble for an unwary lepster!

This nest of wasps along the road could have spelled real trouble for an unwary lepster!

For me, a real highlight of today’s peregrinations wasn’t a butterfly at all but a very special spider, the Mexican Two-tailed Spider, the only US representative of the spider family Hersiliidae.  Mostly nocturnal, these spiders dash up to prey on tree trunks and quickly pin them down with silk from these exceptionally long spinnerets (which give them the name two-tailed).

Mexican Two-tailed Spider in wait for prey on a tree trunk.

Mexican Two-tailed Spider in wait for prey on a tree trunk.

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