Sunday, July 14, 2013

Turtle and Crayfish Refugees & Recent Butterfly Wars

Painted Turtles were common refugees following recent flooding
Following the floods of June and early July, some of our nature trails were transformed into streams and a few were even began to be used as avenues by wetland denizens. Most often I was finding turtles –most of which had presumably been dredged out of their lairs by rushing flood waters.
A painted Turtle swimming in the pond after its release
A Crayfish was a most unexpected traveler on the foot trail
The most interesting refugee was a large Crayfish that I noticed purposefully trotting down the trail. It was heading away from the traditional streambed, so I scooped it up and carried over to one of the ponds. I had previously done this with a half-dozen turtles and so I expected no intrigue.  I thought that it might be nice to video the Crayfish release –just a simple shot of it walking into the pond, but we both got more than we bargained for when a large Green Frog hopped out of the grass, intercepted and engulfed the crustacean in its gaping mouth!
Walking a few short feet to the pond - expecting no trouble
A Green Frog comes out of nowhere at nabs the Crayfish!
After the frog lets it go, the Crayfish, unharmed, settles into its new home
All 3 of us were surprised, including the Frog, who upon seeing me, immediately relinquished his prize and dove back into the water. The Crayfish, looking no worse for the experience, quickly sought refuge beneath a submerged bed of algae. Somebody got their money's worth from their suit of armor today!
A Banded Hairstreak - ready for battle
The rival Banded Hairstreak 
I've witnessed several pitched battles between butterflies in the past week. So much for the idea of butterflies as symbols of peace and coexistence. In fact many butterfly species can be quite combative.  
The Acadian Hairstreak has been uncommon at the Preserve in recent years
Most often male butterflies fight over territory and access to females. That was the motivation behind a battle between two male Banded Hairstreak Butterflies. It was a remarkable contest –2 nickel-sized butterflies chasing and colliding with each other for bouts lasting at least several minutes. I wondered how these minute insects could imbibe enough nutrients in order to allow such a sustained energy output, but they managed it. The next day, what I presumed were the same pair were at it again. Noteworthy is the fact that I saw neither contestant feed while I observed them on both days.

The Common Woodnymph Butterfly is well camouflaged on my camera bag
The purpose for the fight was to allow the victor exclusive rights to the territory --and the right to proposition any female that happens by. After his rival had vacated the area, the champion hairstreak seemed to briefly turn his attention to me. And yes he did try to drive me out of the territory, but fortunately for me, after a few minutes, I just merged with the terrain and became like an oddly shaped snag.
One of 3 Northern Pearlyeye Butterflies - just itching for a fight
A few meters away on the same trail, 3 Northern Pearlyeye Butterflies were fighting it out for possession of another prime piece of real estate. These guys are generally weaker fliers than the hairstreaks, and they did take more frequent rests. But their breaks were short, and soon all 3 were at it again. Since the Pearlyeyes are larger butterflies, it was much easier to follow all of the action in their little war.
Silver-spotted Skipper - the largest skipper in our region
The Little Glassywing is one of the "3 Witches"
We have 3 species of tiny dark skipper butterflies that are difficult to identify without getting a very close look at their wings, and since the 2 that were fighting it the meadow were a constant blur, I had little hope of getting a solid ID. These similar species are sometimes referred to as the “3 Little Witches” and they include the Dun Skipper, Little Glassywing and Northern Broken-Dash.
The Dun Skipper is most often the darkest of the 3
With wing shapes that resemble fighter jets, these diminutive insects can attain relatively impressive speeds; indeed, there is no lackadaisical fluttering around with these guys. As you might imagine, it’s hard to clock the speed of a darting insect that changes direction so frequently, but some estimates have them reaching around 30 MPH.
Eastern tailed Blue Butterflies have been more common lately
The skipper battle that I was watching was much more of a high speed chase, than a fight and I didn’t perceive any physical clashing. They would each alight briefly on meadow plants, but not long enough for me to positively identify them – perhaps tomorrow.
Baltimore Checkerspot Butterflies are starting to fly in the wet meadows 

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