Photo by Harvey Tomlinson, Belleplain State Forest, 3-19-11
Goodness, what a pretty shot of a significant find! Harvey Tomlinson found this Henry’s elfin (Callophrys henrici) on a trail at Belleplain where the species is sometimes common in April, but not in mid-March.
This is a new early date for the species for our SJBF Log — even earlier than last year’s surprising first sighting on 3/25/10.
Photo by Will Kerling, Cape May Point, 3-19-11
Will Kerling’s cool, up-close photo of the bird-bitten questionmark in hiding and the number of reports and percentages that we’ve had so far of our two local Polygonia species sparked some thoughts:
1. Are the two species having as good a start to the year as it seems?
2. Is it unusual for eastern commas to outnumber q-marks as they have so far?
3. Do our log counts from fall 2010 for these two species parallel our log counts so far in spring 2011?
The answers seem to be (1) apparently yes, (2) probably not, and (3) definitely not.
As most observers know, the questionmarks (Polygonia interrogationis) and eastern commas (P. comma) that we see in March are 7-8 months old, having spent most of their adult lives (since August/September/October) hiding in leaf piles, behind bark, and elsewhere out of direct cold. These two species and mourning cloak over-winter as adults and emerge in late winter/early spring, looking for mates and surviving on sap, dung, and other such sources — and generally ignoring any of the very few flowers open at this time of year. The two Polygonia species also migrate, although those movements are not as obvious as monarch, buckeye, or red admiral flights (and what percentage leaves NJ seems unclear).
Has 2011 started well for them? Most observers thought 2010 was a good year for them and our numbers are even a little higher for 2011.
As of March 20 last year we had recorded 40 observations of 64 individual Polygonia (q-mark, comma, and anglewing, sp.)
As of March 20, 2011, we have 41 observations and 101 individuals.
The sample size is small, of course, and may simply reflect better weather and more observer effort.
Still, it’s interesting that eastern comma has outnumbered q-mark in all three of our last three early seasons (up to March 20). In fact, commas have outnumbered q’marks and anglewings, sp. combined in the early season of all three years:
40 of the 64 individuals seen by 3/20/10 were identified P. comma, as have been 63 of our 101 Polygonia seen so far this year.
If we assume that approximately half of all “anglewing, sp” are eastern commas, then that species represents at least 75% of the early Polygonia. (My own guess is that more than half of the “anglewing, spuh” IDs are commas, because it seems tougher to confirm the absence of the extra “dash” on the forewing above on the comma than to see it on the q-mark.)
Two years ago, March 20 2009, we were at the beginning of a low year for butterflies that now seems foreshadowed by our low March counts at the time. We had only 10 observations totaling just 17 individual Polygonia by March 20th. Thirteen of those 17 were eastern commas.
Ok, here’s the puzzle. Why do we see so many more q-marks in late summer and fall just before both species retreat into hiding or migrate away? Wouldn’t most of you agree that q-marks are more numerous than commas in most fall seasons in South Jersey?
Using mid-August as a cut-off for the fall/spring brood, I added all observations and all individuals from then to the end of the 2010 butterfly year:
Question mark (P. interrogationis) records from 8/13/10 until end of year (November, 2010):
Observations/reports = 145; total individuals = 373
Eastern comma (P. comma) observations same period = 58
Total individuals =82
Anglewing sp. (Polygonia) observations = 8
Total individuals = 11
Even if we assume that each of those fall anglewing sp was an eastern comma, the balance has been completely reversed. Question marks made up 80% of all our fall Polygonia individuals counted (373/466) but so far this spring make up only a quarter of our emergences (~25/101).
So, where are the q’marks now? Are they still in hiding, because they emerge later than commas? Have they migrated away and not yet returned? Do a higher percentage of q-marks migrate?
It will be interesting to see when this spring the total of all q-marks we have recorded once again tops the number of commas (assuming that will happen). And we should be watching for migratory activity. Observers near the coast might be alert to this (do q-marks cross the Bay on a northward flight?)
Or, is there some other explanation for the shifting percentages?
Comments, thoughts from anyone out there would be fun to read.
In the meantime, keep exploring and logging in your observations! Keep at it!
Celastrina lucia, Mannheim Avenue 3/17/11 in “lucia” form (= ~24% of all C. lucia individuals)
Thanks to some lovely sunshine (and the luck of the Irish?), butterflies are flying now, as of March 17th.
Temperatures climbed into the 60s & 70s yesterday, and we logged more species and more individuals in one afternoon than had been reported all year. Questionmarks, eastern commas, and mourning cloaks were reported in several sites in Cape May, Cumberland, and Atlantic Counties (and an anglewing, sp. from Gloucester Co.) And we added two new species for the year: one Cape May observer spotted our first cabbage white, and four different sets of observers in three different counties found blueberry azures, Celastrina lucia (a.k.a. C. ladon lucia).
You can go to our log (“Here’s Our 2011 Log”) for the specifics.
The earliest azures generally appear in mid-March — as they have again this year — and are presumed (by most of us) to be blueberry azures. What was once considered a single species, the spring azure, is now widely recognized as several sibling species. At least four of them occur in our area: blueberry azure, holly azure, Edward’s azure, and summer azure.
The last, C. neglecta, flies later in the season (usually) and is the one member of the group that goes through multiple broods in a single year, with the last brood still flying into late September and even October. The summer azure seems to shows the lightest underwings, and all in all, seems generally the easiest of the complex to ID.
The three other species fly only in spring and are tough to tell apart by sight or even in photographs, especially because different morphs are possible within each population.
Blueberry azures, C. lucia, are the first to fly, but show much variation in the patterns of dark on undersides of wings. The individual above was the darkest of the individuals we saw on Mannheim Ave (Atlantic County) yesterday. That little patch in the hindwing led us to call it a “lucia” morph.
Below are two differently-colored individuals seen flying nearby. Here’s one that represents the majority pattern yesterday, apparently the “marginata” form, having the dark trailing edge but not a real “patch” in hindwing.
Celastrina lucia, Mannheim Avenue 3/17/11 in “marginata” form (= ~74% of all lucia individuals)
And here’s the lightest individual. It lacks both the dark trailing edge and the discal “patch.” This seems to qualify it as a “violacea” form [correct ?]. Seen a few weeks from now this could make a challenging ID: yes, it’s an spring azure, but which one?
Celastrina lucia, Mannheim Avenue 3/17/11 in “violacea” form (= ~2% of all lucia individuals)
Gochfeld & Burger have an excellent discussion of the spring azure complex (including details of other sibling species in North Jersey) in their Butterflies Of New Jersey, pages 165-172, where they note how the work of David Wright & Harry Pavulaan over 20+ years has sharpened our understanding of the azure complex.
Finally, here’s a link to the Wright & Pavulaan’s original 1999 description of the holly azure, Celastrina idella, naming that species. Their article summarizes how spring azures have been variously understood and includes some very helpful photos and maps. If you are serious about learning how to ID azures, studying this article is a must.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Welcome to our new b/log — where I am hoping to provide a friendlier link to our SJ Butterfly Log on Google. To start us off, here’s my report of the 2010 season based on our data from last year — written for The Pearly Eye, the annual publication of the North Jersey Butterfly Club.
S.J. Butterflies in 2010: The Year Of The Buckeye?
Our third year of gathering butterfly sightings on a shared Google spreadsheet drew approximately 60 observers who contributed more than 13,400 butterfly observations. We found 93 species in the state’s southern eight counties (Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Atlantic, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May), and most observers seemed to agree that 2010 was an excellent year for butterflies. Many participants noted it was the best season in a long time, and a few of us might even have claimed it was “the best I can remember” if anyone listening would trust our shaky memories.
In order of frequency, our most reported species were cabbage white (900+ reports of 6000+ individuals) monarch (800+ reports of 13,000+ individuals — but see note below), red admiral (800+ reports), sachem (700+ reports), common buckeye (~700 reports), eastern tiger swallowtail (600+ reports), American lady (500+ reports), orange sulphur (450+ reports), spicebush swallowtail (~450 reports), and eastern tailed blue (~450 reports).
Both red admiral and common buckeye numbers seemed notably up from recent years. Red admirals were our most reliable species, recorded on 148 of the 155 days between April 29th and October 1. Buckeyes flew in numbers throughout the year and were often spectacularly abundant from early September into mid-October. Migrating buckeyes out-numbered monarchs along the coastline (and elsewhere) on a number of occasions with single observers recording triple-digit totals on many days. The two peak days for buckeyes may have been 9/22 and 10/18, when single observers (Stephen Mason at Cape May State Park and Will Kerling at Avalon) estimated more than a thousand individuals had passed by them.
September 19th brought an enormous flight of monarchs through Cape May Point, guesstimated as 100,000 individuals by some witnesses. Unfortunately, none of them entered their estimations on our log.
At the other end of the spectrum were the rarities, including more than a dozen species recorded on three occasions or fewer: bronze copper, Edwards’ hairstreak, northern oak hairstreak, meadow fritillary, Georgia satyr, clouded skipper, European skipper (3 reports, 10 individuals of a surprisingly uncommon species in South Jersey), mulberry wing, Dion skipper, dusted skipper, common roadside skipper, and the three southern strays noted below.
Despite the scarcity of Ocola skippers (only 2 records), the fall flight of southern species was a good one, at least in Cape May County, and included sleepy orange (8 reports, 7/27-11/22), long-tailed skipper (2 reports on 9/18, possibly the same individual), fiery skipper (100+ reports, 7/24-11/17), Brazilian skipper (1 record, 8/28), and daily multiple counts of little yellow (7/22-10/31), including two days (9/11 and 9/18) of triple-digit totals at Cape May Point State Park.
Four species recorded in 2009 went unreported in 2010: giant swallowtail, Edward’s azure, black dash, and most troubling perhaps, Leonard’s skipper, which was not found even in its one reliable colony at the Mannumuskin River Preserve.
The last adult butterflies reported were two red admirals, seen separately by Bill Schuhl and Tom Reed in Cape May County on 11/29.
Thanks to all observers for their diligence, alertness, and carefully-entered reports. A special shout-out goes to Will Kerling and Dave Amadio, who inspired and led our group with many thousands of entries.
For a spreadsheet summary of all species recorded, early and late dates, and a few notes, go to PDF Summary 2010 & 2009.