Wildcat Hills

Jen and I made our second trip to the panhandle Sunday through Tuesday. Sunday we met Jon Nikkila and his son Bennett at Wildcat Hills SRA about 9:30 am MDT. After some scouting we settled on an area with an abundance of milkweeds and an occasional thistle in bloom. Right off the bat we netted a swallowtail to verify its identity. Upon determining it was a Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudatus) we released her to rejoin her compatriots. We spent another hour or two chasing various butterflies and ended up identifying Edwards’ and Aphrodite Fritillaries (Speyeria edwardsii and S. aphrodite). Driving the SRA’s roads we sighted a Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii). We then met up with Master Naturalist Colin Croft who led us into some of the SRA’s more remote areas where we found several Long Dash Skippers (Polites mystic). Upon our return Jen and I kicked back to enjoy the scenery and smell of the pines, watching a squall approach over the bluffs from the west until it reached us and ended our butterfly day.

Long Dash Skipper – A single flight of this skipper can be found from mid June to mid July. It frequents moist habitats in the northwestern half of the state. Larvae feed on a variety of grasses.

Two-tailed Swallowtail – This magnificent butterfly is found in the western half of the state where the larvae feed primarily on Chokecherry and Green Ash. The species overwinters as a pupa so emerging adults have been noted as early as mid April and as late as mid September. They closely resemble Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and often cannot be separated in the field. Close inspection of the yellow spots on the dorsal forewing margin can be used to separate them. They are rectangular in the Two-tailed Swallowtail and rounded in Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. As the name indicates the hindwing possesses two tails which may not be evident on worn individuals.

Edwards Fritillary – This handsome butterfly has been found in the panhandle and east along the Niobrara River to the Niobrara Valley Preserve. There is also a report from the loess hills in south central Nebraska. Larvae overwinter and then feed on violets the next spring. One generation of adults have been found as early as late May and until late September but numbers usually peak in June. In adults the color on the upperside is not as vibrantly bright as in Aphrodite Fitillaries and the ventral hindwing is almost entirely greenish with large silver spots.

Aphrodite Fritillary – Like other true fritillaries, larvae of this species feed on violets and there is one extended flight each year. Aphrodite Fritillaries used to turn up occasionally in eastern Nebraska but have not been found there since 1978 so they likely have been extirpated from the eastern half of the state. They can still be found in abundance in the pine woodlands of the panhandle.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral – This striking butterfly is found in woodland margins in the forested regions of the state’s panhandle. It’s range encompasses western North America and in Nebraska it was found as far east as the Niobrara Valley Preserve in Brown and Keya Paha counties. It has since relinquished that range and has not been seen there since 1995. In our area larvae likely feed on chokecherry almost exclusively.

All in all a fun day in the Wildcat Hills with good friends and five new “Big Year” finds!

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