Fall’s Final Flutterings

Even in December, an assortment of butterflies graces the Texas landscape, taking advantage of our relative warmth and lingering nectar sources.

The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) shown above can be distinguished from Monarchs and Viceroys by the white spots on its hindwings and darker color. I recently found a dozen of these beauties flocking around the remnants of Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii ) in a Kerrville garden.

On the other hand, this Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) found a congenial resting spot alongside the Willow City Loop in Gillespie County. Its family, the Nymphalidae, contains butterflies called ‘brushfooted,’ due to the reduced size of their front legs. Seventy-three species of this largest butterfly family are found in Texas, including fritillaries, checker spots, crescents, American Painted Ladies, and Red Admirals.

At the Lost Maples State Natural Area, I got my first look at a somewhat amusing butterfly known as the American Snout (Libytheana carinenta).There’s no question how its name arose. The pronounced elongation of its mouth parts look very much like a snout; they remind me of an anteater.

The Snout’s larvae, pupae, and adults are quite dull, resembling partially opened leaves. When adults rest on twigs with their wings folded and their antennae and snout aligned toward the twig, they often resemble a dead leaf.

Hackberry trees serve as hosts for the American Snout; adults feed on a wide variety of flowers, and often can be found sipping water and minerals from mud.

American Snouts do migrate, but not in a traditional north to south direction. Instead, they move locally among patches of suitable habitat, particularly after rains produce fresh hackberry leaves. A 1976 study discovered the butterflies moving in three different directions east of I-35, with one flight reversing directions between morning and afternoon. Their migrations are fascinating; this article provides more complete details.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Tête-à-Tête

Two Gray Hairstreaks sipping nectar from antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
(click image for greater clarity and detail)

 

One of the most common butterflies on the North American continent, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) also ranges into Central and northern South America.

In their book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten describe hairstreaks as “fast-flying butterflies that dart about so quickly and erratically that they are extremely difficult to follow.”  I’ve certainly been frustrated by that behavior, but this pair, intent on sips of nectar, were more than willing to tolerate my presence.

Found on a milkweed-covered  hillside along the west prong of the Medina River, very near The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, these hairstreaks were accompanied by Buckeye, Sulphur, and American Painted Lady butterflies: all enjoying the abundance of late spring flowers, and perfect flying conditions.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Winging It

Female Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Having packed, moved, and unpacked, I’m left with piles of stuff to sort and store as well as a realization that, not having been out in the world for nearly three weeks, I have no idea what nature’s been up to.

Lacking current photos, I decided to wing it, and begin posting again with a few backward glances: this one, to last summer’s splendor at Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries.

Each of the seven cemeteries is rich in history, filled with traditional statuary and markers designating the resting places of notable individuals, but in two or three, seasonal wildflowers are allowed to flourish until they go to seed:  a display that calls to humans as much as it pleases the pollinators. Which flowers appear can vary; last year, Coreopsis and Gaillardia predominated.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Each year, as wingèd creatures of various sorts gather around the angels, it’s easy to imagine those concrete wings twitching a little — who wouldn’t want to join the butterflies, bees, and birds in a flight among the flowers?

 

Comments always are welcome.