What is it like to live with a butterfly for five days? And what good can it do?
Jennifer Bulava tells us here:
What is it like to live with a butterfly for five days? And what good can it do?
Jennifer Bulava tells us here:
Steve Glynn has been carefully monitoring a colony of sleepy oranges at Dix WMA, Cumberland County, since August, 2016, when he found and re-found two females and one male flying there over several days — and began wondering why they didn’t wander away.
Sleepy oranges are generally considered only a vagrant species in New Jersey, straying northward every few years from the southern states, and soon disappearing to die off somewhere in our incompatible climate.
With persistence, determination, and sharp-eyed observation, Steve has documented the species has been breeding in the Dix colony for at least the last two years — and is apparently now over-wintering there, far to the north of its expected year-round limits in the Carolinas.
Read Steve’s latest update on the colony here:
Beth Polvino has tracked and photographed the entire sequence of Brazilian skippers in her garden in North Cape May this year: from eggs to adults (still continuing).
Until this year the species was not known to breed in NJ. Thanks to Beth and other sharp observers (and a never-before-seen irruption), that story has changed this year!
Her account and photos are below:
The Brazilian Skipper is a butterfly that rarely strays north to NJ from its homeland in the southern US. Before 2018 the South Jersey Butterfly Sightings log had fewer than a dozen sightings recorded in the last ten years. Only once before had I seen the species in my garden in North Cape May — on August 14th and 15th in 2017.
It’s been a different story this year. One or two individuals were seen in Cape May in late May, at spots about two miles apart, and we have had many reports since, especially from the Cape May peninsula.
The first Brazilian I found in my yard this year appeared on August 10th — with the first caterpillars seen about a week later. I soon found eggs and was able to document the entire sequence from eggs to caterpillars to chrysalises to the successful eclosure of an adult on Sept 7, 2018.
Each caterpillar consumes a lot of Canna on its route to adulthood, and the species is considered a pest by many gardeners in the South.
— Beth Polvino
Beth originally posted this sequence on her own blog on September 7.
For events in her garden and other more recent reports of Brazilians in the week since, see our Sightings Log’s reports of the species here (up to September 17):
Beth’s own blog is here:
— Jack Connor
We now have two mind-boggling reports of a Brazilian skipper in Cape May this spring: the first by Sam Galick on the Cape May Point Hawkwatch Platform on Sunday, May 20; the second by Teresa Knipper in her garden in Cape May City yesterday, Sunday, May 27.
It was gloomy and wet through much of South Jersey yesterday, but Teresa reports that Cape May City did not get rain until late in the day. She found the skipper in mid-afternoon, a couple of hours before the rain, while walking in her yard with her grandson.
“At one point in the afternoon you could feel the winds shift so they came out of the south and a hot, humid day turned into cool and breezy. It was right after the winds shifted — about 3 PM – when an enormous skipper landed right in front of us! It had a very long and striped proboscis and [nectared in] the pink evening-primrose. Pretty nice for the first skipper of the year in the garden!”
Teresa’s yard is approximately two miles east of the Hawkwatch Platform, and seven days passed between Sam’s find and hers, but her garden visitor was likely the same individual Sam had seen earlier. It is hard to imagine a second individual appearing in the same general area in May, an apparently-unprecedented time of year. One spring stray from the deepest South is amazing enough!
A quick, unscientific review of Internet sites and some published sources suggests spring records of Brazilian skipper in the northeast (or anywhere else north of Georgia) are extremely few.
I have so far found no other spring records of the species in NJ, Delaware, or Pennsylvania.
We have fifteen reports of the species on our log, 2008-2017, but none earlier than mid-July.
There are a few old records from NJ listed with little detail by Art Shapiro in his Butterflies of the Delaware Valley (1966). He names three specimens coming from three sites (one from Salem in SAL, and the other two from CAM: Mt Ephraim and Camden city). He adds, “There are several records from Delaware and Cape May County, NJ,” but does not list them – or the dates. He lists August and September as the months when the species might be hoped for.
Gochfeld and Burger in their Butterflies Of New Jersey (1997) note Shapiro’s summary and add that the species “apparently bred on Long Island in 1911,” as reported by William P. Comstock in his Butterflies of New Jersey (published in 1940).
James Monroe and David Wright in their new and excellent Butterflies of Pennsylvania (2017) list two records for that state: one from 9-1-2012 in Northampton County and one older, undated record from Delaware County.
I surfed the Internet for spring records of the species north of the Gulf Coast states and came up with little to report. Bug Guide has only a dozen records of the species before July, and most are from Florida and Texas — with two from Alabama, and one each from Mississippi and Louisiana. BAMONA features the following map of reports with no spring records north of the Gulf Coast states (if I am reading the map correctly).
The single spring record of an adult north of the Gulf States that I’ve found so far is from North Carolina: the Butterflies of North Carolina database lists 21 reports of Brazilian skipper for the state with a single report before July. That is of an individual photographed at the Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh on May 30, 2012 by R. Stickney.
A couple of other interesting notes from the Internet.
According to the University of Florida Entomology & Nematology website:
“In southern Florida, [adult Brazilian skippers] are usually first noticed in May with a second generation of adults appearing in early June. It is not known how many generations per year occur in Florida but adults have been collected in all months of the year (Kimball 1965) and all larval stages have been collected in January. It is thought that Calpodes ethlius can only overwinter in the very southernmost region of Florida and must recolonize more northern regions each year (Moore 1928).”
That bit of information makes an intriguing connection with details from the Alabama Butterfly Atlas. That site reports, “The Brazilian Skipper is not common in Alabama, having been documented in only a few counties.” Scroll down the graph of occurrences at the link below. The atlas has compiled twenty-five reports for May, all along the coast (and none in June anywhere in the state), which suggests that those coastal flyers are likely first-brood wanderers from Florida – just as our Cape May visitor could be.
As many sources note, Brazilian skipper is a strong flyer: it has colonized the Galapagos Islands and has been recorded at Point Pelee, Ontario (September 21, 1991). A flight northbound for more than a thousand miles from the population centers in southern Florida to NJ seems extremely unlikely but not off-the-charts incredible.
Could this one occurrence foreshadow others to come later this year? Let’s hope so.
Most of our NJ observers who have managed to see the species in the state have noted that the species is an easy ID: the fast flight, the big body, the big head, the long Ocola-like forewings, the tell-tale spots on the underside of hindwings. Teresa’s photo below captures the pattern of white “hyaline” spots on the upper-side of the forewings, which also look distinctive.
Stay alert, everyone – and good luck in the field!
PS: If anyone knows of other spring records in the northeastern states, please pass along!
Thanks to Jack Miller and to Michael Gochfeld for their help in assembling this post.
Our South Jersey Butterfly Project log’s numbers so far this year seem good evidence of the simple truth that temperature affects butterfly activity – especially in early spring.
January and March were 1-2 degrees cooler than average state-wide, and April was much cooler than average (more than 3 degrees colder). Despite a very warm February, our SJBF team found far fewer butterflies than we usually do through the first four months of the year.
Our previous least-active spring was in the cool of 2015 when we compiled only 181 reports January through April. In 2018 our total for the four months is a mere 128, by far our fewest for January-April in our eleven years logging. We have twice compiled more than 128 reports in March alone, and we have compiled more than 128 reports in April alone in every one of our previous ten years.
From 2008-2017 we averaged ~86 reports in March (with a high of 272 in March 2012 and a low 0f 18 in March 2015) and we averaged ~243 in April (high of 352 in April 2017; a low of 163 in April 2015).
This year we compiled only 27 reports in March (tying for our 3rd-lowest total of our 11 years) and managed only 91 reports in April, a new record low for the month.
April 2018 was the 30th coldest April in New Jersey since 1895 (and the 13th coldest in the continental US over the same period). Rainfall during the month was also above average in the state.
Jack Miller cataloged the many FOY emergences that were generally late to very late.
Among the latest-ever first dates:
Our first report of Henry’s elfin was on April 11. Previous latest FOY: 4/9/14.
Our first falcate orange-tip flew on April 21. Previous latest FOY: 4/16/15.
Our first eastern tiger swallowtail was found on April 22. Previous latest FOY: 4/19/14.
Our first juniper hairstreak was found on April 26. Previous latest FOY: 4/23/11.
Our first frosted elfin flew on May 1. Previous latest FOY: 4/24/13.
Our first black swallowtail was found on May 2. Previous latest FOY: 4/30/15.
We had other late records and near-late records – and may have more to come as other FOYs finally appear.
One interesting question to contemplate:
Will the flights of single-brooded butterflies (elfins, orange-tips, and others) be shifted or shortened? In other words, will we establish some latest-ever late dates (as species extend their flight beyond the usual dates in response to their delayed starts) or will their flight periods simply be cut short, ending around the generally-expected late dates despite the slowed emergences?
Keep exploring and reporting, everyone!
You can read NJ Climatologist David Robinson’s analysis of April 2018 here:
Selected comments from his full write-up:
“If you think it has been a long time since New Jersey experienced as chilly an April as this past one, you are correct. With snow accumulating in a storm on the 2nd to snow showers on the 30th, one was hard pressed to find many days when pleasant spring conditions could be found. . . [Overall], it was the persistent chill that captured the most attention, with the green up of lawns and foliage, accompanied by the blossoming of spring flowers, delayed from normal by upwards of two weeks.
“Statewide, the April average temperature of 47.7° was 3.2° below the 1981–2010 mean (2.0° below the 1895–2017 mean). This ranks as the 28th coolest April since 1895 and the chilliest since 1982 (also 47.7°). . .
“April precipitation across NJ averaged 4.20”. This was 0.21” above the 1981–2010 mean (0.48” above the period-of-record mean). This was the 38th wettest April on record.”
I unplugged the heaters from the yard’s bird baths the other day.
Both were frozen solid this morning.
Needless to say, 2018 has been a late-starting butterfly year.
As of noon, today, April 11, SJBP observer/reporters have found only eight or nine species (depending on how we count the azures):
mourning cloak, question mark, eastern comma, spring azure, orange sulphur, blueberry azure, holly azure, cabbage white, and American snout.
Local weather forecasters are promising temperatures climbing into the 60s tomorrow, however, and — can it be true??– temperatures in the 70s over the weekend.
Which other species can we hope to see soon?
I looked back over ten years of first reports to calculate average early-emergence dates for the butterflies that usually appear by April 20th or so but haven’t yet been reported this year.
My calculations are rough and quick, and I wasn’t sure where to place clouded sulphur and red admiral in the sequence as some of our first reports were likely late flyers from the previous year. Both could appear soon. Please let me know if you note any other species missing — or see any errors.
Henry’s elfin: March 28 (average first report date). Has first emerged in March in five of our ten years — and before April 11 (today’s date) in all ten years. Latest first report: 4-9-14.
Eastern tailed-blue: April 2 (average first report date). Has first emerged in March in four of our ten years — and before April 11 in six of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-24-15.
Eastern pine elfin: April 5. Has first emerged in March in three of our ten years — and before April 11 in six of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-21-15.
American lady: April 5: Has first emerged in March twice in our ten years — and before April 11 in seven of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-15-15.
Falcate orange-tip: April 7. Has first emerged in March in two of our ten years — and before April 11 in six of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-16-15.
Juvenal’s duskywing: April 8. Has first emerged in March in two of our ten years — and before today’s date in four of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-17-09.
Frosted elfin: April 10. Has been first reported in March three times in our ten years — and before April 11 in four of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-24-13.
Eastern tiger swallowtail: April 11. Has first emerged in March once (3-31-16) — and before April 11 in four of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-19-14.
American copper: April 12. Has first emerged once in March (3-28-12) — and before April 11 in six of our ten years. Latest first report: 4-28-15.
Pearl crescent: April 15. Has first emerged once in March (3-19-12) — and before April 11 twice in our ten years. Latest first report: 4-30-15.
Black swallowtail: April 18. Has first emerged once in March (3-17-12) — and before April 11 three times in our log’s life. Latest first report: 4-30-15.
Wild indigo duskywing: April 18. Has first emerged once in March (3-30-12) — and twice before April 11. Latest first report: 4-29-17.
Horace’s duskywing: April 19. Has emerged once in March (3-23-12), the only time our first report came before April 11. Latest first report: 4-30-15.
Spicebush swallowtail: April 21. Has first emerged once in March (3-28-12) and twice in May. Latest first report: 5-7-09.
Sleepy duskywing: April 22. Has first emerged once in March (3-29-12) and before today’s date in two of our ten years. Latest first report: 5-7-09.
Keep exploring, everyone!
As of March 6, 2018, our “un-butterfly” weather continues. It has been so regularly cold, windy, rainy, icy, snowy, or all of the above that we have records for flying butterflies on only three days so far this year: Feb 20 (seven reports), Feb 27 (one report), and Feb 28 (two reports).
Maybe we can change the topic and take heart by reflecting on 2017.
Last year was a good one for us. Among other positive news:
On the darker side:
Here’s the spreadsheet for Early and Late Dates through 2017. Click the + button for easier viewing.
Also added here is the updated “55 Species You Can Find in South Jersey” checklist you can pass along to any birder, botanist, or beginning butterflyer you come upon to help get her or him started. We could use some younger observers especially.
Keep exploring, everyone!
As you make plans for this holiday season and you are trying to come up with a fresh idea, consider taking your family and friends out for a butterfly search. After all, in the past six years we have recorded six species in four years on Christmas (2011, 2014, 2015, and 2016) and four species in three years on New Year’s Eve (2011, 2015, and 2016).
If you have already made plans for these two holidays, you still might want to get out for a December look. Since our log began in 2008, we have reported 19 species in 256 observations in December.
The 19 species that have been reported over the years are cabbage white, clouded sulphur, orange sulphur, cloudless sulphur, sleepy orange, eastern tailed-blue, summer azure, blueberry azure, variegated fritillary, question mark, eastern comma, mourning cloak, American lady, painted lady, common buckeye, red admiral, monarch, fiery skipper and sachem. (This list could be pared down to 18 if the lone report of a summer azure on December 10, 2015 is changed to blueberry azure, which would make it consistent with the other three reports of blueberry azure that month.)
Cape May County is the December hot-spot. This makes sense in that not only is it our southernmost county, but it is also surrounded by the “big heater” as some Capers refer to the ocean and Delaware Bay, as the relative warmth of these waters moderates temperatures in fall and early winter. Even if you are not interested in traveling to the Jersey Cape, there is no need to despair: of our eight southern counties, only OCN has failed to report December flyers.
Some enthusiasts might find it surprising that temperature is not the only weather factor to consider in finding December butterflies. A day in the 50’s that is cloudy and has winds howling from the SW may not be as suitable for butterflies as a day in the 40’s or even upper 30’s that is clear and calm. Butterflies desire warmth, and windy days do not allow for warmth to accumulate in micro-climates like tufts of grass or sun-facing tree trunks and rocks. It also seems probable that the energy expenditure required to fly in strong winds creates a negative balance on the survival sheet.
Our late bugs can be found in both fields and woods. Generally speaking, species likely to be found in open fields include cabbages, sulphurs, buckeyes, American ladies, painted ladies, variegated fritillaries, and monarchs.
Species that are more likely to be found in wooded areas include commas, question marks, mourning cloaks and red admirals. However, don’t be surprised to find a cloudless sulphur in the woods or a red admiral basking on a parking lot dividing strip.
Finding butterflies that prefer wooded areas is fairly simple: go to a wooded area, preferably one with sandy roads and paths that collect and hold warmth, and simply walk and observe.
Open field butterflies are more complicated. The best open areas to search are fields that still have flowers, or in the case of orange and clouded sulphurs, fields that have grasses in 4-8” range. The best December fields are usually the products of late summer mowing. These fields that have been cut back are the most likely places to find last bloomers like mustards, dandelions, ground ivy and frost aster. All these blooms are highly attractive to butterflies. Corn fields that were harvested early often load up with a variety of weeds that can make them the most productive locations to walk. It is also worth keeping an eye out for gardens that still have blooms; even plants that we do not think of as butterfly favorites – Chrysanthemums, for example — attract late season species. My latest November sachems have all been found on this plant.
The current December is looking promising. On my outings on November 28th and 29th in CMY, I found at least one species at seven of the eleven locations I visited. One field offered up five species, and the total number of species for the two days was seven. On a first of December outing I found three species in one site, and after three days of observations this month, our observers have already reported butterflies in three counties (CMY, GLO, and BUR) and we have totaled four species so far – orange sulphur, anglewing sp. (likely a question mark), common buckeye, and monarch.
Will we reach 20 species for December species this year? There are a handful of species that could make a December showing. Species that have flown in late November include black swallowtail, pearl crescent, common checkered-skipper, Ocola skipper, and gray hairstreak. My favorite candidate for next on the list is a species I have seen in both November and January: the American snout.
Keep exploring and enjoying our winter species.
As many of you know, two of our most active veterans conducted Butterfly Big Years in 2017 — determined to spot as many species in the state as they could in one calendar year.
Congratulations to Steve Glynn and Jack Miller for their amazingly successful chases — and for sharing their stories here.
Just click below for their first-person accounts….and maybe start planning your own effort for 2018?
Steve Glynn has kindly offered to lead a field trip for our group to Dix Wildlife Management Area this Sunday, August 27, to search for sleepy oranges and other butterflies he and others have been finding at this site recently.
Steve suggests: “Let’s meet at the Dix WMA entrance at the corner of School House Road and Back Neck Road. The coordinates are: 39.373894, -75.307916
“We can meet at 9:30 am and explore the area at least until noon-time and perhaps search other spots for those wanting to go longer into the afternoon.”
If you plan to go, please contact him so that he knows to expect you and can plan the excursion with a sense of the number of participants in mind. Please email him at: OGColl at AOL dot com.
This excursion sounds like an exciting opportunity to see numbers of a species that has been generally considered only a stray to NJ. It is breeding in NJ now, at least at this site. “The colony is in full flight right now,” Steve reports.