We have a couple of lulls in butterfly activity that are normal every year, not brought on by scorching heat or a sudden cold snap or a week of soggy rain. This is one such lull, the transition between the univoltine spring species (or the first brood of multivoltine species) and the butterflies of summer, which here in the mid-Atlantic is with us beginning in the middle of May. So this is the time to be out looking for the spring specialists — elfins, azures (only Summer Azure is multi-brooded for us), the spring duskywings (Sleepy and Dreamy), and the early whites — Falcate Orangetips, West Virginia White, Olympia Marble. They won’t last much longer. Tempus fugit, just like butterflies do.
Eastern Pine Elfins and Brown Elfins are still flying well; Henry’s had a rather disappointing flight and is mostly over and done with. Despite a teaser of a very early Frosted Elfin, no further sightings have come in. We’re between azure broods now, at least in the non-mountain regions; the next up will be second brood Summer Azure any day now and the late spring specialist Appalachian Azures. Eastern Tailed-blues emerged with a vengeance this week; I saw well over a hundred on a walk through MD’s Patuxent Research Refuge in Anne Arundel Co yesterday.
The balance in the sex ratio of Falcate Orangetips has shifted in most places to overwhelmingly female; males are out a good week or 10 days before females, but females linger into May for us. Olympia Marbles are still in flight.
It’s been a rather disappointing season so far for nymphalids other than cloaks and anglewings; we have a few scattered reports in the region this week of Red Admiral, and both Painted and American Ladies. Best chance for American Ladies just now is probably in the tents the caterpillars make on pussytoes (Antennaria spp.). Pearl Crescent is either off to a slow start or a poor flight. And there have been a few sightings of Monarchs but many more sightings of eggs on freshly emergent milkweed from stealthy female Monarchs that escaped notice.
Horace’s Duskywing sightings are starting to trickle in, unlike last year when they outnumbered Juvenal’s by a wide margin in their spring flight. Juvenal’s (almost all males in most places still) are common to abundant this season. Wild Indigo Duskywing sightings are up this week. Aside from these duskywings and a few reports of Common Checkered-skipper, skipper season has yet to kick off; although Silver-spotted Skipper reports came in from a number of locations this week.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail numbers are building, and the first reports of dark morph females made the rolls this week. This is the time, of course, to observe wing pollination of native azaleas by swallowtails, as neatly documented by NC State U biologist Jane Epps and explained in this blog by Jim McCormac. The constant “fanning” of wings by swallowtails is more than an attempt to keep them balanced; it’s an important aspect of pollination, where the large wings bridge the wide gap between the azalea’s stamens and pistils and its nectar source — in ways that other pollinators can’t.
Prognostications: Given the mild winter, it could be a good year for Checkered White, which would be showing up about this time. Once this chilly week is behind us and we pick up again with the steamy hot days of mid-Atlantic spring, we will be seeing FOY Red-spotted Purples. The cold delayed blackberry bloom a bit (back in the Ozarks where I grew up we’d refer to these late spring cold snaps as “blackberry winter”) and thus the cloudywings; they’re still due out shortly. Pepper and Salt Skippers should be out; they’ve been reported to our north.
Share your observations and questions about regional butterflies here as a comment or, if you’re in Maryland or DC, on MDLepsOdes, the Google Group for field observations of leps and odonates.