Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pearl Crescents

Several days of rainy, cold weather has given way to blue, windy skies and highs in the upper 50s. This morning the water-logged forest was full of blooming sedges, violets and insects gorging on the bright yellow butterweed. I was followed on my slow hike through the water by a pearly crescent, a small brush-footed butterfly with a wingspan of 3-4 cm. Members of the brush-footed family (Nymphalidae)have small front legs that impede them from walking.

Pearl crescents have several "flights" a year, which means they breed and metamorphose several times a year. They generally breed between April and November in most of their range, but in the deep South, they breed year-round. Both caterpillars and butterflies can hibernate, emerging in the spring.

These small butterflies live throughout the eastern U.S.and west to Montana and Mexico in moist areas where their host plants, asters, are available. For a small insect, they can be rather territorial, bullying other butterflies away from the mud puddles that they use for mineral feeding. When pearl crescents rest, they keep their wings spread, which made photographing this female easier than photographing a swallowtail. Even though I can't remember having seen them before, pearl crescents are the most common butterflies throughout their range.

Several years ago, in a customary act of kindness, Doug bought me the definitive Butterflies of North America after he quietly listened to me complain all day about not knowing the butterflies of the Eunice prairie. So, after receiving the book, I set out to learn my butterflies. Sedges, grasses, hickories, composites--all superceded my butterfly education. I have checked the book's pictures a few times in the past 3 years to simply identify certain species, but I have not, by any means, learned my butterflies.

I've hired an entomologist to conduct a lepidoptera survey at the park this summer. When I'm not helping the turtle surveyor, I'll be netting moths and butterflies, making occurrence lists for the park's records. There will be no excuse not to crack the spine on my fancy butterfly book this summer.

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