Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ Red Admiral

When I wrote about the Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, in my first Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2011, I was bemoaning the fact that I had never seen this 'admirable' butterfly in my gardens. Well, from year to year, we never know how things might be. 

This past spring of 2012 I delighted in oodles of the brightly, patterned butterflies floating about like living ornaments, lit up by the sun, lighting and feeding all over the weeping crabapple just outside our little painting studio. Red Admirals were nectaring on the lilacs too. Proof that these members of the Brushfooted family do enjoy a sweet sip of flower nectar along with tree sap, when they are not focused on the more fermented yucky taste of rotten fruit or excrement, including that of birds . . . who eat butterflies . . . hmmm. 

Like their cousins, Painted Ladies, the Red Admirals live worldwide. 

In Massachusetts one might see admirals 'on the wing' from May through early September. They will choose a habitat near a wettish wooded area and must enjoy the several seasonal springs in our forest. 

Stinging nettles, false nettle and wood nettle along with hops will suffice for the caterpillars, who secure themselves within various leaves and munch through instars . . . finally folding a leaf over themselves to become a chrysalis. These butterflies will fly south for the winter months. Massachusetts sightings noting hundreds of Red Admirals moving west have been recorded along with other United States and European enthusiast reporting seeing "enormous numbers" . . . records go back for over a hundred years.

The migrating admirals admire the May gardens and do their best to flee when a bird's beak slashes their lovely kaftans. May is a time for parenting birds to forage for nestlings and they become discerning hunters making Flower Hill Farm a dangerous place for butterflies in any stage of growth.

The Red Admiral above appears to be enjoying a deep sip for his antennae is dipping down. Yummy.

We can all help out research by reporting migrating Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies to the Iowa State University research site. It would be great to learn more about their migrations.

I was overjoyed to sight this Red Admiral in Venice during my 2012 November visit. The dot just beyond my shadowy head is the little guy. You might think . . . what a terrible photo . . . why share that? I agree but must say before one passes judgement . . . this is a 'Venetian' Red Admiral. It was a thrill and still is when I see these images.

Near full golden moon rising above the ridge of Walnut Hill. 

It seems like this March full moon should be a Full Snow Moon continued but in fact it is the Worm Moon according to some Native Americans. Beneath the snowy fields the ground may be thawing and the earthworms are stirring which is great news to the woodcocks. Some call this March full moon Full Sap Moon and it is certain that our neighbors are burning sap in their sugar shacks, so that tells us that tree sap is running. Whatever one calls this moon it can always be call beautiful as it spins around our planet. Birds are singing at sunrise . . . they must know that spring is nearly here, though when I look out the window it seems faraway.

I cope by continuing to play with bright cheery colors from last years wildlife. 

More butterflies were sighted in the gardens in 2012 and I look forward to sharing them with you in upcoming installments of Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ American Lady and Painted Lady

 The American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis and Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui  add a twinkle to any bloom they land on. Though plants and their flowers have a unique beauty of their own, the animation butterflies add is pure magic . . . not to mention their importance as pollinators.

When seeing these brightly painted butterflies in the gardens, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. Both American Lady and Painted Lady adults will go for a diverse range of nectar sources. Their appearances are more akin than their lifestyles which vary in caterpillar food choices, distribution and overwintering tendencies.

Painted Lady on Eupatorium purpureum commonly known as Joe-Pye weed. 

The Painted Lady is more worldly than the American Lady and can be found in most sun-drenched open habitats throughout the world. This slightly larger and more vibrant butterfly in its larva stage shares a taste for composites with the American Lady but also enjoys a variety of mallows and other plants. Pearly Everlasting is a favorite of both caterpillars. 

Wings fully opened, a Painted Lady reveals more clues to her identity, while the mysterious little beetle companion mirrors orange and white hues. 

The Painted Lady is a migrant butterfly not being able to overwinter here in New England, where the American Lady is hardier and hibernates as an adult butterfly or in a chrysalis stage. 

A discerning eye can pick out the signs that shout American Lady above, while Painted Lady below.

Painted Lady above and American Lady below.

Note the solid black dots along the bottom of both upper side hindwings in the Painted Lady, where as the American Lady dons marks more similar to eyespots on its upper hindwings. I find the tiny white dots on the orange of the forewings of the American Lady a helpful hint too. There are many other differences but once these clues are fixed in our memories they stand out clearly in defining the butterflies.

An American Lady nectaring on an Erigeron speciosus conveniently reveals the above mentioned marks, as well as, the important two large eyespots on her underside hindwing. The Painted Lady below wears four smaller eyespots on her underside hindwing. When the wings are folded this is a definitive telling in identifying these two ladies. The American Lady is also a bit smaller than the Painted Lady.

The American Lady has two larger eyespots while the Painted Lady sports four smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwings. I will be looking for caterpillars of the American Lady on Edelweiss when I visit nurseries this spring and look forward to welcoming these two beauties back to Flower Hill Farm gardens and fields in the upcoming months.

Meanwhile back in real time . . . first day of spring time . . . March roars with winter's last grip.

Bob does not look too happy wearing his snow bib and wild white hair with snow cotton in his ears. 
He does not wish to hear anymore of winter now that the Spring Equinox is here.

Snow fell incessantly throughout the last day of winter. 

It is inspiring to have beautifully painted butterflies, sighted in last years gardens and fields, fluttering around in layers of memory within the mind, especially on a day when our calendars announce spring and all we New Englanders can see are landscapes that speak starkly-white winter wonderlands. Snow had nearly melted into a waking earth before the last eight inches of fresh stuff fell and even tiny snowdrops had pushed their green stems up, but, alas, they will have to go back to sleep for awhile yet. 

Happy Spring Equinox! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ Question Mark

The Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis, seems to bring about many questions in regards to identification, especially in distinguishing these anglewings from their cousins Eastern Commas. I have yet to sight an Eastern Comma but was delighted to capture this Question Mark in the gardens last summer. The dash on the upper wing above a circle is a mark to look for. Thanks go out to Greg, Sue and Joe of the Massachusetts Butterfly Group for helping to identify this butterfly. I had identified it last year for a post here by visiting my favorite butterfly site Massachusetts Butterfly Club, but still had doubts.

These leaf-like members of the Brushfooted family of butterflies are migrants, but some may well hibernate as adults here in Massachusetts. Sleepy butterflies may appear from wood and leafy piles or from behind nooks and crannies within bark in the spring when tree sap begins to flow, for Question Marks prefer sap and rotting fruit to the nectar of flowers. They are comfortable clinging to tree trunks and may even be sighted about carrion.

The author spotted this Question Mark in the north field and since it looks so fresh, believes it may have emerged here from a larva state. This amazing Massachusetts butterfly site mentions that elms, hops, nettles, hackberry and even bittersweet are possible hosts plants. At least there is something positive about the invasive bittersweet . . . that is a constant chore to maintain . . . more to obliterate. I will be looking carefully for Question Mark butterfly eggs in future.

This sighting happened in late August of 2012, which would make it one of a second brood and I am guessing that it may have migrated further south in early September. There is no way of knowing, but if it stayed around here too long the Catbirds most likely would have made a meal of it. Question Marks are on wing here in Massachusetts from as early as April through possibly October. 

I hope to see many Question Marks flying about the gardens and fields this year. The two photos of the open winged Question Marks above were captured May 20, 2012. 

Deciduous forest edges and open fields are a preferred habitat and along with those requirements we also offer many apple trees here at Flower Hill Farm . . . so there is always some rotting fruit to supplement sap and nectar.

A pictorial overview of Butterflies of 2012 so far. These were all firsts for this nearly novice lepidopterist.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ American Copper

The teeny tiny American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) packs a sizable palette for one so small.   I was happy to find this little butterfly sunning in the south field back in May of 2012. Its wingspan is only 7/8 x 1 1/8 . . . a delicate, miniature, ephemeral painting belonging to the Gossamer-wings family . . . offering distinctive marks and textures that one can identify but never own. However, photos and happy memories are filed, of a late may day, walking in the south field along side a fragile, yet plentiful living jewel. 

We might pause before pulling out all of the invasive Sheep Sorrels or Curly Dock of the Rumex family growing in our gardens and meadows. I am sure to examine plants carefully before composting them in hopes of finding eggs or caterpillars of this lively and vibrant butterfly. Stands of sorrel are left to grow along the south field paths . . .  in honor of American Coppers.

The American Copper butterflies are on the wing or in varying stages of metamorphosis from mid May through the middle of September. They overwinter here in their chrysalis stage or as the Massachusetts Butterfly Club's great website mentions ~ in half grown Larva state.

It stimulates the imagination, to consider life waiting beneath heavy blankets of snow now filling our Western Massachusetts gardens, fields and forest . . . and as far as the eye can see, lightly coating every twig and tree. Hemerocallis sleep within a deep frost . . . waiting to feel alive again.
Color will run riot in just a couple of months, but for now, just outside our windows and doors the dawning sun paints the sky, clouds and mist ethereal hues of lavender and pink.

March continues to hold fast to winter's quiet and cold beauty. 
Bluebirds are patiently guarding their house, while the Mount Holyoke Range sits shrouded in pink mist. 

Spring seems content to stay away for now . . . I shall have to visit 'early spring' at the Lyman Conservatory on the Smith College campus just fifteen minutes away down in the neighboring town of Northampton, where visitors can inhale an elixir of hyacinths and other flowering bulbs of their Spring Bulb Show.

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