Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Word on the Recent Flooding and Then: Hairstreak Deception Display and the Eight-spot Forester

One of the preserve's brooks transformed into a raging torrent
The day I'm writing this, our region is experiencing a flood of historic proportions. A single storm dumped over 3 inches of rain on an area that was already super-saturated by previous heavy rains. Local flood damage is considerable and at the nature preserve, many of the trails and access roads have been damaged. So far our main beaver dam is still holding, but it is undergoing great stress from streams swollen beyond what they had ever been in living memory.
Many of the preserve's footbridges were washed away
A couple of years ago, a less extreme event was referred to as our one hundred year flood. So I guess this must be our 200 year flood!? I'm sure to devote a blog post to this significant event soon, but for now it's back to the regularly scheduled post:
Spring Azure Butterfly
Last month it looked as though we were starting to have a good butterfly season, but then a turn in the weather (toward the extremely wet side) would seem to have effectively suppressed their numbers. Fortunately the season is still young and there remains time for their numbers to bounce back. 2 butterfly species that emerged this week were the Eyed Brown and the Striped Hairstreak. At the preserve, the Eyed Brown is common in only one wet meadow where that butterfly’s main food plants sedges, grow plentifully. They are medium-sized butterflies and they are weak fliers –never flying very high over the vegetation and frequently stopping to perch.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The Eyed Brown Butterfly only breeds in one wetland on the property
The Striped Hairstreak is one of 5 species of hairstreak that we have cataloged on the property. All of these species are small and easy to overlook. The Striped Hairstreak that I came upon today was feeding on nectar from Indian Hemp flowers, which have themselves only now just begun to bloom.
A Striped Hairstreak Butterfly on Indian Hemp flowers
A close up on the Hickory Hairstreak's false eye and antennae 
I'm not sure if it was on account of my presence or the presence of a bee on an adjacent flower, but the hairstreak was in full defense mode. With its wings kept closed over its back (a standard posture for a hairstreak butterfly) the insect was alternately lifting one hindwing and then the other, thus making  the hair-like projections at the base of its tail go up and down. It is surmised that the hairstreak does this in order to deceive would-be-predators into believing that the hair-like projections are the moving antennae of a more formidable insect.
Striped Hairstreak on Common Milkweed flowers
Mourning Cloak Butterflies are starting to show up just lately
The eye spots, which are also located at the base of the hairstreak’s hindwing, assist in creating the illusion that the creature’s tail is actually its head. Since predators (usually birds) most often target what they perceive to be a insect’s head – in the case of the hairstreak, instead of issuing a fatal blow, they end up with merely a mouth full of tail, and the hairstreak can usually slip away. With only a chunk missing from its hind-wing, the butterfly would be alive and quite probably still flight worthy.
The Eight-Spotted Forester Moth on a Ninebark Bush
2 foresters face-off on the same flower
The first Eight-spotted Forester Moths were found visiting our incredible Ninebark bushes. These day-flying moths are medium sized, black and have 4 large pale yellow spots on their forewings and 4 large white spots on their hindwings. They also have distinctive orange scaly projections on their legs. The caterpillars of this species are quite colorful - they are white and orange with many black bands and black spots. The larva feed on wild grape and Virginia Creeper - 2 plant species that we have plenty of.
The White Admiral is becoming more common in recent days
A pair of White Admirals spend some quality time on animal droppings
A picture destined not to be included in any butterfly calendar
White Admiral Butterflies are on the move just lately –though nothing remotely like influx of Red Admirals that we all experienced in the spring of 2012. I've been seeing White Admirals primarily following the roadways, which is an inherently dangerous behavior that results in many of them ending up as road-kill. Most of us think of beautiful butterflies nectaring on equally beautiful flowers, but in fact they will also readily drink from muddy puddles or even lick rocks on occasion. Not infrequently I'll discover them happily imbibing moisture (or presumably something of value) from animal droppings. It doesn't always make for the prettiest pictures, but it is interesting!

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