Posts Tagged 'butterflies'

So Many Monarchs

Have you noticed what a good year it is for Monarch Butterflies? There have been lots of positive reports from around the city and further afield about the large numbers of Danaus plexippus being seen. On Saturday, I walked from Sunset Park to Park Slope and back again to pick up some baked goods. I was distracted: over two hours, I counted 51 Monarchs, the majority of them overhead, heading south towards Mexico along 5th Avenue. Detouring into Green-Wood, I found fourteen. Not one was in the pretty plantings, all exotica, at the neo-gothic gate at 25th Street — a good argument for pollinator-friendly plantings. Because up in the native meadow patch — the prototype of a much larger hillside native meadow project — there were at least half a dozen winking their enormous velvety wings. And in the extraordinarily productive low-growing Buddleja patch by Valley Water there were at least seven more. (Yes, this one spoils that native plant theory…) Normally, I only see one or two Monarchs around these candy purple flowers, which have been swarming with Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) for a solid month and a half. Portrait of a Lady. There has also been a single Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) in this patch, as well as a whole crowd of skippers (and European Hornets trying to tackle everything). Note that small gap in the hind-wing of this individual; I’ve been seeing this one for a while now. Why go somewhere else to feed?

The Butterfly International

Was it my imagination or where the (Red) Admirals in Sweden redder? Vanessa atalanta is found all around the northern hemisphere and is often the last butterfly seen flying in the fall.This birch sap leak was attracting them all at the edge of the ljung (heath).

We also saw our old friend the Cabbage White in its native continent, too. But it paid to look closer: this one on inspection turned out to be Pieris napi, the Green-Veined White, Rapsfjäril.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx…This Monarch was having some trouble, dragging her wings like a wet prom dress. She didn’t seem to be able to fly and was crawling around the leaves as a wasp harried her. The wasp actually took off a piece of wet, damaged wing.Nearby, a caterpillar was at the start of pupation. Also in the NYBG, this Calastrina genus blue was quite obsessed with a small bird turd, coming back to it repeatedly and allowing me to get my phone in its face. One of the “Spring Azure” complex, rather late in the year?Green-Wood, meanwhile, was busy with Painted Ladies and several other species, including this skipper slurping up some nectar. And a Monarch caterpillar was still growing strong.

Current Lepidoptera

And even more butterflies. This is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus). Mostly southern, but makes forays as far north as New England. First spotting of this species for me, in Green-Wood.Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar. This is the one that gets on your parsley; the earlier instars or stages are black with a white splotch in the center, making them look somewhat like bird turds. Behind a fence on a lot in Red Hook, where several Killdeer, a couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a Semipalmated Plover were patrolling the mud of a stalled development project. Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) on a sidewalk in Brooklyn Heights.And another, this time in Coffey Park, winking its wings in some sun-spotted shade.A Red-baned Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) found with swarms of bees and wasps on a non-native aralia at the NYBG. This is another mostly southeastern butterfly species that strays up into our parts (but I supposed all these reference books are old; planetary warming means species are moving north.Same pollination frenzy. This Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) looks species-perfect on the outside, except for some ragged edges to the wings.But looks rather like an “intergrade” between Red-spotted and its co-specific White Admiral, which is generally found further north (I’ve never seen one). Here’s another I spotted some years ago in Prospect with more purple.

Painted Ladies

There were more Vanessa cardui butterflies around the Green-Wood Buddleja planting than I’ve ever seen in one place in New York City.Really nice to see so many individuals of slightly different sizes and color intensity.What is up with this hanging out on the stone or tarmac?

Papilio glaucus

Now, that’s a flag. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.Another specimen. This one was working so close to me that I could put my phone next to it to measure the wingspan: slightly longer than 5″. Open up this image to get a sense of the magnificence of life scale. Note that one of the swallowtails is missing: it may have ended up in a bird’s beak.

Caterpillars

In case I spoiled your breakfast with the carnivorous devouring of an adult Monarch’s brain, here’s the famous caterpillar stage of Danaus plexippus. Spotted in Virginia recently.Although the Yellow Bear caterpillar is named Spilosoma virginica, this one was spotted in Westerchester Co., NY. It’s a Tribble! And it looks like it might have some mites on it. The moth of this species is resolutely unspectacular, but the caterpillars are, in David L. Wagner’s words, “exceedingly variable in coloration, ranging from beige or yellow to dark red-brown or nearly black.” The very long hairs are key to ID. Here’s an example from Staten Island. Another from Prospect Park.Insert exclamation point. This is the Redhumped Caterpillar (Schizura concinna). Nothing else looks like it in these parts. The raised rear end is a defensive posture, one of a number of which-end-is-which caterpillar strategies . Such flamboyant patterns (check out Wagner’s book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, for an excellent guide to the amazing world of caterpillars) are warnings. Or fake-outs. This specimen was found on the same property as the Yellow Bear.

The King is Dead

A freshly dispatched Monarch (Danaus plexippus).Cause of death unknown. But the head was missing.While we were surveying the corpse, a European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula) showed up to browse in the facial cavity. These wasps chew up insect bits to feed their young. The mostly orange antenna of P. dominula are a good identification short cut. I made a short film of the wasp dragging the corpse. The next day the four wings of the butterfly were still there, but separated.

This Monarch, by the way, was a male. In the top photo, you can see the spot-like thickening of the ribs in the hindwing.

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If your brain isn’t eaten by wasps, you may want to take a look at this revelatory review of a new book about how economists and their plutocratic funders have used race since the Civil Rights era (and before, going back to Calhoun’s defense of property — i.e. slavery — above all against the forces of democracy).


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