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Butterfly Lightning

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The best thing about being a generalist is that you can amuse yourself anywhere. If there isn't a bird to watch nearby, there are bound to be plants and insects. 

And January butterflies are fabulous. January butterflies!! I'll take 'em!!

Here's an eastern pgymy-blue  Brephidium isophthalma. This bug is the size of my ring fingernail. Pygmy is the word. But it's not blue, not even close. Brown and orangeish above. But oh what a train of tiny jewels on the hind underwing. I'm sure they'd be stunning if I could only see them closer.

If you want to know how I figured out that the white flower I was seeing everywhere on damp roadsides near salt/brackish marsh is Bidens pilosa, Spanish needles, I Googled "white composite flower Florida" and went through a kazillion photos until I found it. Yay Google. Yay me. Yay Spanish needles! The butterflies were all over it, all the time.

I wish I knew what makes the hieroglyphs on a pygmy-blue's wing. Or whom. 

A boffo big gator on Biolab Road. I love the name of the road. It reminds me of happy college days. Biolab Road runs behind the dune, through the marsh that backs the barrier beach of Canaveral National Seashore. It is chock fulla wading birds and gators.

There is one bend in the road that had a dozen gators this warm sunny day. We knew to look for them there, because the same was true even on a cold sunny day four years ago, the last time Liam and I beheld gators. Liam spotted every single gator we saw on this trip. 

 Great southern white, Ascia monuste. Best said with a slow Virginia drawl. Say it: "Gret Suthrun whaat." (thanks, John Acorn.)  Enjoying Spanish needles again, they are.  My Kaufman butterfly guide says antennal clubs usually pale blue-green...yep! Who knew? Until now?

 Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae. These vivid beauties take fritillary orange and add a dash of chile.  Za-zing! And they're everywhere, mingling with the gret suthrun whaats. To me, they look like a frit crossed with a heliconian (see below).

This one puzzled me. There are lots of yellows in the Deep South that we don't have up to home.
I had to look it up. Turns out to be a  Barred Yellow, (winter form), Eurema daira.

This little beauty was flitting through longleaf pine forest at Tosohatchee NWR, a huge complex of wooded pine swamp and riverine forest and prairie that is crawling with great wildlife and birds.
 I was lucky enough to lead a morning's trip there for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
You can see a peek of the clear sulfur-yellow of this barred yellow's forewing in this shot.

White peacock Anartia jatrophae. Hard to photograph and catch the subtle iridescent baby blue that suffuses its wings.

Still wondering about this skipper. Waiting to hear from Swarovski rep, photographer, birder and digiscoper extraordinaire Clay Taylor, who helped me with a lot of my ID's. Clay was one of the people who turned me on to butterflies back in the early 1980's, in Connecticut. 

Salt marsh skipper, Panoquina panoquin (below).  Distinguished by its elongated narrow wings, which make it a panoquin amongst the skippers. I need to find out the derivation of that word. I like it. Hang tight...dang it! Can't find the derivation. Kinda sounds Greek. Help, somebody?

And Wheatley kicks in with: "Panoquin was the name of a Narragansett who aided in the
attack on Lancaster in February, 1675, purchasing Mrs. Rowlandson of the Narragansett who captured her at that time. 

Whaa? Don't know what all the people purchasing is about, but Wheats points out that several skippers are named for Native Americans: Sachem, Ocala, Hobomok, Delaware...except for those named for Greeks: Horace's, Juvenal's, genus Erynnis...Awesome. Thanks my friend.

More Panoquinas, all salt marsh skippers:

That long white window on the hindwing is a great field mark.

Zebra longwing Heliconius charithonia. I will never forget seeing my first zebra longwing on a visit back to where I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, in the mid 1980's. It must've been a late fall stray northward, but I didn't know that. All I knew was that I saw a vision of tropical loveliness floating on shallow wingbeats through a powerline cut in a pine forest along the James River. I had no idea what it was or even how to find out, but it burned itself into my brain--how could it not?  Now I know. I smile every time I see a heliconian, first because they're beautiful and second because when I see heliconians I am usually in the tropics, and I'm smiling nonstop anyway. But I also think back to that day, when a bolt of lepidopteran lightning struck me in the Virginia pinewoods.

I am so grateful for the Google. Now I can almost always find out what it is I've seen. I can put names to things. And that is the greatest luxury and most nourishing food for a curious Science Chimp. Even if it takes years to do it, the most delicious thing for me is to learn.

Lesser scaup, or bluebill. Liam asked me what the ducks with the blue bills were and I replied, "Bluebills."
Hunter names are often better than birder names.

I know it's a lesser scaup because of the purple sheen on its peaked head, the small size and the heavy vermiculation barring its grayish back and sides. Greater scaup have green-glossed rounded heads, a broader bill with larger black "nail" on the end, and almost pure white backs and sides. And they don't tend to hang out in these marshes back of dunes. I see a LOT more lesser scaup in my peregrinations than greaters.

 Common Buckeye Junonia coenia. I was looking for mangrove buckeyes but failed to find any. This butterfly makes this Buckeye feel at home. We have oodles of 'em in autumn. Florida's winter ones are much less colorful than ours.

Do you have oodles of us?

No, sir, we don't, and I'm very glad to see one of you on almost every lamppost on every bridge. Blown away, in fact, and reeling. It is a fine world we live in, where ospreys are as common as gulls. That speaks well for the fish, and for the bay, and for the people of Florida.


You got me ALL excited until you said Florida. I was all set to be totally amazed that butterflies are now occurring in Ohio in winter.

But I do enjoy seeing butterflies and bees throughout the winter.

Sure is nice to see all these butterflies in winter. There are a few eking out a living here on the north coast, but nothing like what you saw in Florida. Wow! Alligators and ospreys too!

Amazing...just like a wallop of Vitamin C!

I still get excited to see osprey on every pole while crossing a bridge, in some places with the occasional bald eagle interspersed. Might be your unknown skipper is a sachem skipper (Atalopedes campestris). :)

Posted by Gail Spratley February 8, 2015 at 10:04 AM

Thanks Gail! I kind of like Sachem for this one. Makes me realize how very much I come to depend on knowing who flies when, a reference point that is of course hopelessly scrambled, at least for me, in FL. We have Sachems up home in Sept. and Oct.

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