A Short Tale of a Different Long-Tail

White-striped Longtail (Chioides albofasciatus)

Recently, I offered three views of a Long-tailed Skipper with a beautiful blue, furry body. At the time, I mentioned that I’d first seen a Long-tailed Skipper at Bastrop State park in October, and I’d wondered whether they frequented my area. When I posted the photos of my local skippers (Urbanus proteus), I’d assumed the answer was ‘yes.’ As it turns out, the answer was both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

Looking again at my images from Bastrop, I found that the skipper I’d photographed at Bastrop State Park didn’t have the same patches on the underside of its wings. Instead, a long, silver-white band ran from the leading edge of its wing to the base of its tail. When I shared its image with Wally Jones, a Floridian and birder whose Our Natural Places blog is one of my favorites, he suggested that I’d found a White-Striped Longtail (Chioides albofasciatus). 

After comparing photos with those published on Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA), I had to agree. A common, widely distributed skipper, the White-striped Longtail has a limited range in the United States, but it’s regularly recorded in Texas, and can be quite common in late summer and fall.

The lesson? A long tail alone does not a long-tailed skipper make. As luck would have it, I discovered two long-tailed skipper species this fall: not one.

That ‘other’ Long-tailed Skipper ~ Urbanus proteus

Comments always are welcome.

One Skipper, Three Views

To be honest, I’m sure this isn’t ‘one skipper.’ ‘One species’ would be a more accurate title, since on December 24, Long-tailed Skippers (Urbanus proteus) were abundant at the nearby Dudney Nature Center.

I’d first seen a Long-tailed Skipper at Bastrop State park in October, and wondered at the time whether they frequented my area. On this day at least, the answer was ‘yes,’ and I was pleased to capture some of the details that had evaded me at Bastrop: particularly, their lovely blue accents and at least a bit of the split in their tails.

In their book Butterflies of Houston, John and Gloria Tveten note that pristine examples of this skipper can be hard to find, since lizards and birds often relieve them of their long tails, but in this case no damage was apparent.

Sometimes called ‘bean rollers,’ Long-tailed Skippers utilize members of the bean family as host plants; newly hatched caterpillars roll themselves into leaves for protection as they develop. Adults feed on a variety of plants, including Lantana, Bougainvillea, and various Bidens species.

In late December, these still-blooming stems of Porterweed provided nectar. A native Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) can be found in south Florida, but many local butterfly gardens include Porterweed cultivars because of the flowers’ attractiveness to butterflies and other insects.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Putting the Metal to the Petals

These gorgeous metallic sweat bees (tribe Augochlorini) were only two of dozens buzzing about a thick colony of smartweed (Persicaria pensylvanica) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on September 19.

Bees in this tribe are brilliantly colored, ranging from gold-flecked green to pure green to various shades of blue-green.  Some may be copper-colored, or even an unusual metallic-pink; all are easily noticed despite their small size.

Some sweat bees build nests in soil or, less commonly, in rotted wood.  Occasionally they act cooperatively, constructing nests that share a common entrance and that are protected by a guard bee.

The yearly life cycle of certain species is split into spring and summer phases.  In spring, they construct an underground nest and provision it for the new generation. After the young emerge, males leave the nest while the females remain, readying the nest for a second brood.

Given the number of bees swarming around the smartweed, I wondered if I might have been witnessing the emergence of a second, late summer brood. Whatever the reason for so many bees, an unexpected absence of mosquitoes allowed me to linger at the pond’s edge, appreciating these little jewels.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Different Form of Cloudlessness

With Tropical Storm Nicholas wandering off to the northeast, rain turned to drizzle and the wind began to lay, but no more than a tiny patch of blue decorated our afternoon sky. Two hundred miles to the west, lovely blue after-storm skies were beginning to appear, but, in southeast Texas, clouds were the order of the day.

On the other hand, I had a different sort of cloudlessness to enjoy, having discovered this Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) near the beach on Sunday. I almost always see this butterfly in flight, but this one had chosen to pause and sip nectar from a deeply shaded Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), said to be one of its favorite flowers.

As autumn approaches, I sometimes see dozens of these butterflies in a single afternoon as they migrate back into the area. One of our most common butterflies, their colors range from an eye-catching lemon yellow to a darker yellow or white; in this instance, I suspect the wings may appear a bit green because of the foliage surrounding the insect.

They do make a nice substitute for an uncloudy day.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sipping Summer’s Sweetness

Despite the inevitable heat and humidity, August has its rewards. Here, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail ( (Papilio glaucus) visits Sweet Pepperbush, or Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia): a deciduous shrub native to swampy woodlands, wet marshes, and stream banks.

Although found along the coast from Maine to Florida, and west into Texas, Summersweet’s native presence here is limited to a few counties in the area of the Big Thicket, where this photo was taken.

At first, I assumed I’d found a Black Swallowtail visiting the flowers, but I soon learned those butterflies have yellow spots on their bodies, while Tiger Swallowtails exhibit yellow streaks along each side of the thorax and abdomen. The existence of dark morphs like this one among the Tigers can make things even more confusing, but the sight of one is immensely enjoyable.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Note: Two readers have suggested that this little beauty actually is a Palamedes Swallowtail  (Papilio palamedes). I never had heard of that one, so I never considered it as a possibility. The Palamedes is common in Florida, so I’m interested to see what my Florida readers say. Some revision of the post may be necessary!