Painted Crescents by the Dozens!

This past Saturday (August 14) Jon Nikkila and I drove the back roads of the loess hills south of North Platte in search of Baird’s Swallowtails. We found none which, unless there is a late discovery makes this the second consecutive year without a Baird’s sighting. During our travels we decided to check out Wapiti State Wildlife Management Area in Lincoln County. Getting there is an adventure, crossing private land on a two track “road”, opening (and closing) several gates before encountering “the hill”. I suppose once upon a time the road was level with the landscape but over the decades it has eroded to the point where the road is 10-12 feet lower than the surrounding hill and the road is now also the ditch. Which can lead to some interesting navigation around deep washouts after a good rain. That was not the case this year as a dry spell had reduced the road surface to six inches of clay powder (I got to use 4 wheel drive).

Somewhere in the process of opening and closing gates we noticed an unusual number of crescent butterflies on the Rocky Mountain Beeplant growing along the road. On closer inspection we found them to be Painted Crescents (Phyciodes picta).

We found scores of them in a 50 yard stretch of road. Getting four Painted Crescents in one photograph has to be some kind of record – great job Jon!

Painted Crescents were probably never common in Nebraska which is on the northeastern edge of their range. Painted Crescent Phyciodes picta (W.H. Edwards, 1865) | Butterflies and Moths of North America. Here they have been found in the more arid western and southwestern portions of the state. There are several broods each year, with larvae feeding on asters and strangely, on an exotic, bindweed, as well. There was no bindweed in the immediate vicinity of this colony.

This butterfly was named described/named by William Henry Edwards, a noted lepidopterist of the late 1800s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Henry_Edwards) from specimens he received from another noted entomologist of his time, a Mr. James Ridings. Mr. Ridings collected these specimens from the North Platte vicinity , which became the type locality (see Jan 2 post for a type locality discussion). Mr. Edwards uses (Melitea) as the genus in his description. Melitea has since been incorporated into Phyciodes giving us the current taxonomy Phyciodes picta.

To my knowledge this latest sighting might represent the largest number of Painted Crescents ever found at one locality in Nebraska. They should be there until the end of the season. If you have a life list going and have not yet recorded this species this is a unique opportunity to do so.

Every day is an adventure – you never know what you might encounter!

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