Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 22, 2014: AHHP Butterfly Survey

 Gray Copper. 6/20/14 (Tyler Harms)

Summer has officially started, not that anyone needed a reminder with the warm weather we’ve experienced over the past week. However, although we may not always enjoy the sweltering hot days, the insects certainly do. I’ve seen a marked increase in insect activity on my visits to Ada Hayden Heritage Park over the last week and below I share photos of some of my recent butterfly sightings.

Upon a visit last Friday (6/20), I observed several Gray Coppers throughout the park. As you can see in the photo (top), these butterflies are grayish blue overall with several black spots below and an orange margin on the hindwing (the wing near the back of the insect’s body). If you look closely, its name becomes obvious by the hint of copper on the wing surface. These butterflies are quick fliers and often only offer a flash of gray to the eye when on the wing, but if you can track them in flight they will often land and allow excellent views. I photographed this individual obtaining minerals from wet gravel on the upland trail. Gray Coppers can be seen throughout June and July, but I suggest visiting the park now as they are abundant along the trails.

Below is a Painted Lady I photographed near Pond B on my visit on May 22. Sometimes known as the “Thistle Butterfly” for the adults’ preference of thistle flowers as a nectar source, the Painted Lady is found all over the world. Although not shown in my below photo, their upper-wing surface displays a pretty combination of orange, brown, and black with white spots. On the under-wing surface, the Painted Lady displays four “eyespots” (see in the photo). These eyespots are a great characteristic for identifying this species because a cousin to the Painted Lady, the American Painted Lady (I’ve also seen American Painted Ladies at the park this year), is very similar but has only two eyespots on the under-wing surface. Look for Painted Ladies throughout the summer in open areas around the park, but the best time to look for them is July-August.

Painted Lady. 6/20/14 (Tyler Harms)

One of my favorite butterflies, the Mourning Cloak (below), can be regularly found along the bluff on the north side of the south lake. Simple yet beautiful, the Mourning Cloak is brown-black overall with a maroon iridescence and a yellow border on the wing margins. This yellow margin is very visible and makes it easy to identify this butterfly in flight. The Mourning Cloak is one of the few butterfly species that overwinters in Iowa as adults, making them one of the first butterflies to be seen in spring. The Mourning Cloak is also unique in that it only occasionally will feed on nectar; it most often feeds on rotting fruit or tree sap. Mourning Cloaks can be seen until frost in forested areas of the park.

 Mourning Cloak. 6/20/14 (Tyler Harms)

Let’s finish this post with a vibrant and highly visible butterfly that is a treat to observe floating by, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Although I did not photograph this individual at the park, I’ve seen several on my recent visits. As its name implies, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is a large, yellow butterfly with black tiger-like stripes on the upper-wing surface. They are about the size of the well-known Monarch butterfly. A close-up view of this beauty allows one to observe the long tail-like projections of the hindwing which also contributes to its name. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails can be seen in open areas near trees throughout the park.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  6/20/14 (Tyler Harms)

As we embark on the summer season, keep a look out for the invertebrate beauties. I’ve observed more than 20 species of butterflies at the park this year and I hope to see many more before frost. Butterflies come in all shapes, sizes and colors and can be quite fun to see on a walk or bike through the park. So keep a look out for our invertebrate beauties and feel free to email me (tyharms AT gmail.com) with any observations or questions!

Tyler Harms

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