Thursday, August 28, 2014

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes
The giant swallowtail can be found from Central America up through the southern portions of Canada. While adults may be present year round far south, generally there are two generations per year. This large butterfly has an average wing span of 10 to 16 cm (4 to 6 in) with females on average being slightly larger. Host plants for the caterpillars are trees and herbs within the citrus family including common rue, prickly ash, and hoptree. The adults feed on the nectar of a variety of plants including lantana, azalea, goldenrod, Japanese honeysuckle, and swamp milkweed.

A few additionally images of this newly emerged beauty can be found on this Google+ post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Turk's Cap

Turk's Cap, Malvaviscus drummondii
Turk's cap is a spreading shrub that averages about 1 m (3 ft) in height, but can reach 3 m (9 ft) with red flowers with overlapping petals in summer and fall. It is native along the southern portions of the United States into Mexico, and it can also be found in the West Indies, and Cuba. Turk's cap most often grows along streams, edges of woods, and on limestone slopes in the wild.

One of the flower color variants of Turk's Cap that can be found.
It is an extremely tolerant plant that can grow in full shade and full sun alike, thrive in wet or dry soil, and survive in alkaline or acidic soil. It also has a high heat tolerance, resistance to popular pesticides, and has very few pests issues. Hummingbirds and butterflies are drawn to the nectar, and humans are sometimes drawn to the fruit, flowers, and young leaves of which are all edible.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae
Although mentioned before, the Gulf fritillary is not a true fritillary butterfly, and is not closely related to fritillaries. Whereas most fritillaries belong to either the Speyeria genus or Bolloria genus, the Gulf fritillary is the only member of the Agraulis genus. The are common in the southern portions of North America.

Gulf fritillary drinking nectar.

Gulf fritillary butterflies are often found in open habitats such as fields, parks, and open woodlands, and begin to migrate southward during late summer and throughout fall. There are multiple generations each year, and in warmer habitats, the adults will overwinter. Passionflower vines are a host plant to the caterpillars while the adults feed on the nectar of a number of other plants including lantana and cordias.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Butterfly Hatching

Danaus spp. hatching from chrysalis.
A pupa is the intermediate stage between larvae and adult in a number of species. For butterflies, the term chrysalis is used for butterflies while the silk casing for a moth is called a cocoon. A successful hatching from the pupae by a butterfly depends on a number of factors. Two of these factors are keeping out of direct sunlight and ideal humidity, with some variation per species. Another factor is the position of the pupae. If it isn't upside down, the hatching insect may either damage the wings or be unable to escape and will die. The wings must then dry correctly or they will be permanently crippled.

This animated photo comes from my earlier posting to Google+. I do not recommend holding a chrysalis or cocoon while something is trying to emerge. In this case, the chrysalis fell, and before I had time to re-pin it, the butterfly tried to emerge. I knew what to expect and what to do. After it was free, I let this butterfly grip a nearby stick in the shade to allow it to dry.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mason Wasp: Zethus

Zethus spinipes on Passion flower, Passiflora incarnata (previous feeding).
Within the potter wasp subfamily Eumeninae is the genus Zethus of which there are at least six species in North America, but with at least 189 recognized species in the Western Hemisphere, mainly in the tropics of Central America and South America. They can be found from summer until early autumn in the east and south. The adults feed on nectar of various flowers including passion flowers. While it varies for each species, many Zethus either build nests from vegetable matter and resin or use abandoned insect burrows. There is still little known of Zethus, but it is argued that they should provisionally be considered beneficial.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Complete Metamorphosis

Adult Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, emerging from a chrysalis.
Metamorphosis is a Greek word meaning transformation or change in shape. It is a process used by the majority of insects, and as insects are the largest group within the animal kingdom, the majority of all animals. There are two types of metamorphosis: incomplete and complete. In incomplete metamorphosis, the young, called nymphs, often look similar to the adult form, but without the wings. In complete metamorphosis, the young, called larva, not only look different, but have a different food preference as well. Therefore, one advantage of complete metamorphosis is the removal of resource competition.

Various stages of emerging Queen butterflies, Danaus gilippus.
The complete metamorphosis of a butterfly is an intensive process. It begins with the caterpillar surrounding itself in a chrysalis or cocoon. Once encased, the caterpillar then releases digestive enzymes which dissolve all of its tissues into a liquid soup. While it seems a mess, highly organized cells known as imaginal discs survive the process. There are discs for each adult body part. Within the protein-rich soup, rapid cell division begins as directed by the imaginal discs. The thought that everything is completely reorganized within the pupa is mostly true, but some systems, such as the tracheal system, are complete almost from the very beginning. Either way, by the end of a couple of weeks, species dependent, from within the chrysalis or cocoon soup emerges a complete (if wet) butterfly.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia
The common buckeye gets its common name for the conspicuous target-shaped eyespots on its wings. It is one of the most distinctive of the North American butterflies. They have a large range from Mexico to Canada, California to North Carolina, and includes Bermuda, Cuba, and the Isle of Pines. While there are two to three broods each year from May to October, they occur throughout the year far south and are most often found in open areas such as fields, meadows, and coastal dunes. In late fall, an adult coloration called rosa appears with a red under-hindwing. Host plants for the larvae include false foxglove, plantain, toadflax, and twinflower while the adults love nectar from peppermint, gumweed, chickory, and aster. Mass migrations are common towards the end of summer.