Tag Archives: Butterflies

New Dragonfly & New Moth at Tillman Road

A last-minute change of plans took us back to our old stamping ground in Western New York State at the weekend, so I grabbed a couple of hours to re-visit the Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area, at Clarence.  The WMA is described by the NYS DEC as “a wet lowland with an emergent marsh, open water, grassy fields, a deciduous swamp and hardwood forest.”

A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly
A male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly

Tillman’s greatest appeal to me, over the last 12-or-so years that I have been a regular visitor, is that one never knows quite what will be found on any visit and ‘drawing a blank’ is rare.

Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail
Carolina Saddlebags, rear view to show wing detail

This time, I turned up two new insect species I had never before  seen or photographed:  a male Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly  (Tramea Carolina), and what – to the best of my very limited ability with moths – I believe to be a White Spring moth (Lomographa vestaliata).  The latter sat motionless on a leaf, to the extent that I wrongly presumed that it would be some sort of ‘bird dropping moth’ but the former was on high-speed patrol along the margin of a pond and settled only briefly, each time, before doing another lap of its territory.

I believe this to be a White Spring moth
I believe this to be a White Spring moth

I’ve been very careful in identifying the dragonfly because it is very similar, in both appearance and range, to the Red Saddlebags (T. onusta) but I’m fairly confident I’ve got it right… However, as is always the case on my blogs, if anyone recognizes that I’ve made a mistake please do add a    comment below to put me right, and I will correct any error.

The various species of ‘saddlebags’ dragonflies get their name from the dark patches on the inner section of their wings, and when seen – usually in silhouette – from below, this creates an outline that looks like what the name says.

A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg
A Red Admiral butterfly, laying an egg

Up where we were, close to Lake Ontario, the Carolina is fairly close to the northern limit of its range, which is over the border in southern Ontario province. Even in this part of New York State, it is further north than its usual breeding range.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

 

My other insect of the day was a rather worn-looking Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atlanta) which – to my surprise – was laying eggs in low, rough vegetation where I could see no trace of any of the future caterpillars’ necessary food plants.  Does a first-brood adult lay eggs randomly around an area in the hope that at least some of their offspring will find suitable food after the plants all grow?  Or was this one operating by smell (chemical sensing) and by that means actually knew the right places to leave eggs?

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow

As for the other photographs, well I’m always a sucker for violets and I’m not going to walk past a ‘posing’ Tree Swallow, either!

Two new butterfly species discovered in eastern USA!

Butterflies are probably the best-loved insects. As such, they are relatively well studied, especially in the United States. Eastern parts of the country are explored most thoroughly. The earliest eastern US butterfly species were described by the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus himself, over 250 years ago. For the last two and a half centuries, naturalists have been cataloguing the species diversity of eastern butterflies, and every nook and cranny has been searched. Some even say that we have learned everything there is to know about taxonomy of these butterflies.

Intricate satyr (A) and Carolina satyr (B) are very similar in wing patterns despite being more evolutionarily distant from each other, but south Texas satyr (C) is distinguished by smaller eye spots and wavier lines, yet is much closer related to Carolina
Intricate satyr (A) and Carolina satyr (B) are very similar in wing patterns despite being more evolutionarily distant from each other, but south Texas satyr (C) is distinguished by smaller eye spots and wavier lines, yet is much closer related to Carolina

The discovery of a new eastern USA butterfly species is indeed very rare nowadays. It is even more remarkable that Texas researchers discovered not just one but two new species at once. ‘It was completely unexpected’, said Dr. Grishin. ‘We were studying genetics of these butterflies and noticed something very odd. Butterflies looked indistinguishable, were flying together at the same place on the same day, but their DNA molecules were very different from each other. We thought there was some kind of mistake in our experiments.’

But there was no mistake. Segments of DNA sequences obtained from these butterflies, clustered in two groups. While wing patterns in the two groups were indeed very similar, inspection of genitalia revealed profound differences. Males and females from one cluster had larger and paler genitalia, and males and females from the other cluster possessed smaller and darker genitalia, among other numerous distinctions. It became clear that the researchers were dealing with two species, which were not even very closely related to each other, just very similar in wing patterns. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

One of these species is a well-known Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius), discovered two centuries ago, in 1793: a small brown butterfly, just over an inch in wingspan, with eyespots along the edge of wings. It is one of the most common eastern US butterflies and a usual denizen of shaded, wooded areas, hence the name. The other species was new. It was named the “Intricate Satyr” (Hermeuptychia intricata) for ‘the difficulty in recognizing this very distinct species and its intricate ventral wing patterns’, Cong & Grishin write. Initially discovered in Brazos Bend State Park in East Texas, Intricate Satyr is widely distributed all over eastern USA in several states, including Florida and South Carolina. One discovery leads to another. Being curious about genetic makeup of these Satyrs, Cong & Grishin decided to investigate DNA sequences and genitalia of Satyr populations from South Texas. And it immediately paid off. These populations turned out to be another new species, named “South Texas Satyr” (Hermeuptychia hermybius). Interestingly, South Texas Satyr is a close relative of Carolina Satyr, but Intricate Satyr is rather distant from either of them.

This begs a question about how many more new species of eastern butterflies remain to be discovered and currently hide behind their colourful wings? Nobody really knows, but it is clear that nothing can be further from truth than a statement that there is not much new to be learned about North American butterflies.

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Journal Reference:

Qian Cong, Nick Grishin, (2014). A new Hermeuptychia (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae) is sympatric and synchronic with H. sosybius in southeast US coastal plains, while another new Hermeuptychia species – not hermes – inhabits south Texas and northeas. ZooKeys, 2014; 379: 43 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.379.6394

This news is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0)

Britain’s Farmland Butterflies Bounce Back from Low Numbers

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley - Tim Melling - Butterfly Conservation
     Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley – Tim Melling – Butterfly Conservation

Farmland butterflies have flourished thanks to last year’s hot summer, the charity Butterfly Conservation says.

The annual Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) recorded almost double the number of insects compared with the previous year.

Long, sunny periods provided perfect breeding conditions for some of the UK’s brightest species, it suggested.

But experts warned the mild winter could reverse the insects’ fortunes if they emerged too early for spring.

The survey has been run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology [BTO] and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology since 2009….

Read the full, very interesting article from the BBC, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/26242496

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Eddie’s comment:  This is excellent news!  For the past few years, there has been a dismaying scenario of butterfly numbers falling, throughout Britain.  This has largely been attributed to inappropriately long periods of cold and/or wet weather, so it is nice to see that a warmer, drier summer brought numbers back up, perhaps to a larger extent than one might have dared hope.

As for the excellent photograph by Tim Melling, some experts say that the European Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is actually the same species as North America’s “Milbert’s Tortoiseshell” (Aglais milberti).*

The other two North American tortoiseshells (‘California’ and ‘Compton’) are in a different genus — Nymphalis — the same as the Mourning Cloak.

* National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies