Recent Travels: Butterflies and Moths

by Carl Strang

Though singing insects are my main research focus, I enjoy studying other critters as well. Here is a gallery of recently encountered butterflies and moths.

Not all travel has been out of county. Here is the first eastern comma I have found at St. James Farm Forest Preserve.

Not all travel has been out of county. Here is the first eastern comma I have found at St. James Farm Forest Preserve.

One day I encountered several hackberry emperors at SJF. Here is the usual underwing view they provide.

One day I encountered several hackberry emperors at SJF. Here is the usual underwing view they provide.

Another individual spread its wings in the sun.

Another individual spread its wings in the sun.

LeConte’s haploas are tiger moths that occur in the St. James Farm forests.

LeConte’s haploas are tiger moths that occur in the St. James Farm forests.

Here is another, providing a sense of this species’ variability.

Here is another, providing a sense of this species’ variability.

The UV light at Goose Pond brought in some moths. This one was familiar, a large lace border.

The UV light at Goose Pond brought in some moths. This one was familiar, a large lace border.

A few painted lichen moths also were drawn to the light. For some reason I was unable to get a sharp photo.

A few painted lichen moths also were drawn to the light. For some reason I was unable to get a sharp photo.

Despite much poring over of references, I was unable to identify this moth.

Despite much poring over of references, I was unable to identify this moth.

Mayslake Lepidoptera!

by Carl Strang

I added the exclamation point in the title to fill a gap left by our punctuational butterflies. Eastern commas are usually fairly common at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

This recent example shows the source of the butterfly’s name: a contrasting silver or white mark on the underside of the wing is reminiscent of a comma.

This recent example shows the source of the butterfly’s name: a contrasting silver or white mark on the underside of the wing is reminiscent of a comma.

The week before, I thought that one of the comma’s less frequent relatives appeared.

There seems to be a separation here, a curved line plus a dot.

There seems to be a separation here, a curved line plus a dot.

Later I had to conclude that this was a question mark wannabe, a comma with a disruption in its namesake line. This was made clear by the upper wing pattern.

The pattern of black spots on the forewing is that of an eastern comma.

The pattern of black spots on the forewing is that of an eastern comma.

There have been appearances by two different moths in the same genus, and no ambiguity in this case.

This was a LeConte’s haploa on June 9. Note the gaps in the dark lines at the corners of the wings.

This was a LeConte’s haploa on June 9. Note the gaps in the dark lines at the corners of the wings.

Ten days later a reversed haploa appeared. The dark lines are connected.

Ten days later a reversed haploa appeared. The dark lines are connected.

These are tiger moths that commonly emerge this time of year, and I continue to see individuals of both species at Mayslake. The haploa caterpillars generally feed on a wide variety of plants, but I have no information on their local diet range.

Another common moth is the large lace border, one of the geometrid or inchworm moths.

Not a big moth, contrary to the name, wingspan perhaps an inch.

Not a big moth, contrary to the name, wingspan perhaps an inch.

Again, the relative abundance of this species probably is tied to its broad dietary range, which includes plants in several families.

Spring Time

by Carl Strang

It’s spring, and it’s time, time to shift into the new season. There are signs in abundance.

Downy woodpeckers have been getting feisty.

On Tuesday I saw Mayslake Forest Preserve’s first butterfly of the season.

An eastern comma, one of the butterflies that hibernate in the adult form.

Yesterday I set out the amphibian traps in the stream corridor marsh. It seems doubtful there are any salamanders to catch, but other interesting things turned up last season, and I’m willing to try again.

It’s important to make sure part of the trap is out of the water, for the benefit of air breathers that may get caught.

I also have begun to break out of my routine preserve monitoring routes. I am sure that after 3 years I am getting diminishing returns from them. Yesterday provided a case in point.

I have walked the trail past this big cottonwood (40 inches in diameter) many times, but yesterday I made my way through the brush on its backside, and saw this scar.

A close look revealed an interesting story.

Years ago, beavers had the ambition of chewing down the big tree. Their gnawing girdled it half way around before they gave up, or left.

In the first of the two photos you can see how large the area is where the tree has grown back over the scar. This is the largest such overgrowth I have seen, apart from lightning scars. Those are not as deep as this, however. This is a good example of how much of this preserve’s story I still have to learn.

September Invertebrates

by Carl Strang

The last days of September brought a couple butterflies to Mayslake Forest Preserve that I hadn’t seen in a while. One, an American painted lady, was an addition to the preserve insect list.

The other was the first eastern comma I have seen there this fall.

One day last week as I passed along the north savanna ridge top I heard a particularly loud tree cricket song coming from a Drummond’s aster beside the path, and was able to catch the singer.

Interpreting the antenna spots proved to be tricky in this, the best photo I got before releasing the insect. I had to conclude, though, that this was a black-horned or Forbes’s tree cricket, perhaps the palest I have seen. The only dark pigmentation was in his antennae and a brown double line down the underside of his abdomen.

Early in the month I had photographed this big orb-weaver on that same ridge top.

When I checked my references I found that there were at least a couple species that fit this ventral color pattern. I looked several times in subsequent days, but did not find the spider again to check her dorsal surface.

Early Insects

by Carl Strang

Large insects are beginning to appear at Mayslake Forest Preserve. For some weeks I have been seeing mourning cloaks, which overwintered as adults.

Mourning Cloak b

The above photo I took at Fullersburg last year. Another butterfly that overwinters as an adult is the eastern comma. This one at Mayslake apparently had a close call, probably with a bird. Note the missing section from the left hind wing.

Eastern comma b

There have been some orange sulfurs, which overwintered in the pupal stage.

Orange sulfur b

Their close relatives the cabbage whites have been common all over the preserve. Earlier  I celebrated the arrival of the first common green darner dragonflies, migrants from the South. The first locally emerging dragonfly I saw was this male common whitetail at Mayslake last week.

Common whitetail immature male b

He is recognizable to species and gender by his wing pattern, but he has newly emerged and so still has the immature coloration on his abdomen. The first mature Mayslake damselflies were eastern forktails.

Eastern forktail male b

The above photo of a mature male is from a few years ago, I believe at Songbird Slough, but this is our most common and widely distributed damselfly.

I have not had good luck photographing bumblebee queens this spring. Bombus impatiens has been common, and I saw one Bombus fervidus near the friary on May 22, at the same honeysuckle bush that hosted two of these:

Carpenter bee 2b

This is the large carpenter bee Xylocopa virginica.

The first monarch butterfly arrived at Mayslake this week.

Monarch 2009 1b

This individual is too clean to have made the trip all the way to Mexico and back. It is an offspring of those that wintered down there, made part of the journey back north, and laid their eggs on milkweed plants they found in the southwestern U.S. I shake my head in amazement at the instincts that guide these insects, with their pinhead brains, through journeys last made by their great grandparents.

%d bloggers like this: