More Marine Blues

Since our last post on Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) a week ago observers have come through with sightings from eight additional new counties. Diane Miller found them on alfalfa in Boone and Madison counties, Joanne Langabee and Holly Hoffreiter recorded the species while doing a butterfly survey at Homestead National Monument east of Beatrice in Gage County. Sarah Bailey and Deb & Scott Miller observed them in their yards in Aurora (Hamilton County) as did Melissa Pohl in Seward County. After picking up Junk Jaunt treasures Saturday in Cairo for Jennifer (the better half) I spent a pleasurable afternoon driving the back roads of Howard, Merrick and Nance Counties where Marine Blues were present on alfalfa when it could be found in bloom. Many thanks to all contributors!!

Seward Co record L. marina, Seward County, 9/18/2022, photo by Melissa Pohl

While Marine Blues have now been found in over half of Nebraska’s counties, large blocks of counties remain where intrepid explorers can document new finds. Get ’em now before the cold weather shuts the season down and contact us at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com

More Marine Blues

While most other butterflies have passed their peak numbers, the same cannot be said for Marine Blues. This past weekend five observers reported Marine Blues from six counties where they had not been previously reported. Colin Croft found one in Banner County in the far southern reaches of Wildcat Hills SRA. Jonathan Nikkila found them at Davis Creek campground in Valley County and the Scotia Chalk Mine in Greeley County on aster and goldenrod. Neil and Jen Dankert ventured south across the Platte River and found them on alfalfa in Phelps and Kearney Counties while Diane Miller found them in Platte County (also on alfalfa).

For many years this was a rare to uncommon butterfly in Nebraska. But this year and last they have become almost common. They are permanent residents farther south but are breeding (on various legumes) strays in our area. Time will tell if these population surges are a passing occurrence or if they are going to be regularly common here in late summers.

There is still time to find more county records for this species before colder temps shut insect life down for the year. They are likely more numerous in more southerly counties but could be found anywhere in Nebraska. Look for small blues with a wavy pattern on their ventral hind wings. Check the map below to see what counties still need records. Let us know what you find at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com

Marine Blue, Kearney, Buffalo County, photo by Jonathan Nikkila

Zabulon Skipper found in Saunders County

This skipper is most abundant in the southeastern United States with Nebraska records being at the northwestern most edge of its range. So it is always a treat to find them in Nebraska where it goes unreported most years. The Nebraska Natural Heritage Program has this species listed as S2, indicating that they consider it to be imperiled our state. Joanne Langabee has been seeing an occasional Zabulon Skipper for the past couple of weeks in the Omaha area where it had been found numerous times over the past 100+ years. But on August 23 Lori Tomes found a male Zabulon Skipper, Lon (formerly Poanes) zabulon, in Saunders County where it had not previously been reported. Saunders is the 17th county where this butterfly has been found with the majority (13) of them being in the eastern edge of the state, the other four being York, Hall, Buffalo and Furnas Counties. It has been found several times in Buffalo County with sightings being decades apart. Doug Long also found one in Holbrook (Furmas County) in 2004.

Zabulon Skipper, Saunders Co., NE 8/23/2022, Lori Tomes
Zabulon Skipper, Saunders Co., NE 8/23/2022, Lori Tomes

Thanks to Lori for sharing her finding and pics. This year appears to be one of the few and far between opportunities to observe/report this butterfly. It prefers moister open woodlands and woodland borders. Your chances of seeing this butterfly increase the farther east you are but records into the southcentral areas of the state means observers should be aware in other areas as well. If you you sight one (or more) let us know at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com.

30 New Moths recorded in Nebraska plus a Rare Sphinx Moth found in Hall County

In June and July this summer Crane Meadows staff, Mark Brogie (one of our resident moth experts) and numerous volunteers (with funding from Nebraska Game and Parks) surveyed for moths at several locations on Crane Trust property which is located south of the Alda I-80 interchange. A brief description of their work can be found at Blog Posts : News & Events : Crane Trust : Marvelous Moths!. Results of their research were made public at a Conservation Nebraska gathering Tuesday (August 9) night at the Crane Trust center south of Alda. There we found that, in that short time span, over 200 different moths species were found including 12 species that had not previously been reported from the state. A complete listing of their finds (along with illustrations) can be found at https://www.inaturalist.org/people/cranetrust and hitting the “observations” tab.

In addition, Erinnyis ello, a “tropical” sphinx moth, was found during the study. While, as a stray and not environmentally significant, it is certainly a “curiosity”, with Hall County being the fifth county from which it has been recorded, the others being Buffalo, Cass, Morrill and Lancaster.

Between the Crane Trust’s new records, 2021’s new records and additional recent Mark Brogie finds, nearly 30 species have been added to the newly updated downloadable moths of Nebraska spreadsheet which includes multiple links to maps and illustrations. In addition a “Common Names” column has been added to hopefully make the spreadsheet more user friendly. This being said a great many of the 1414 species do not have a “common name” or have multiple common names. It is what it is. The link to the downloadable spreadsheet can be found after clicking the “Nebraska Butterfly and Moth Species” tab on this sites homepage.

Some Good Reading

Some good reading came out recently that might merit a few minutes of your time. The first appeared in the July 31 (Sunday) Omaha World Herald and deals with gardening for pollinators and Monarch butterflies in particular as a conservation group recently listed them as endangered.

https://omaha.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/in-the-garden-fight-isnt-over-to-help-monarchs-and-heres-how-to-do-it/article_dcc3f590-0ddc-11ed-b666-3b7bee54ef2a.html

Nebraska Game and Parks file photo

The August/September issue of Nebraskaland magazine has a nice article (The Butterfly Explorers) about Joanne Langabee and Holly Hofreiter and their weekly butterfly counts at Fontenelle Forest and Lauritzen Gardens which they have doing for six years.

Not to be outdone the July/August issue of NebraskaLife has a pollinator article (Nebraska’s Parade of Pollinators).

All three articles are well written with great photography. Recommended Reading!!

Marine Blue found in Scotts Bluff County

On July 19 Colin Croft was exploring Buffalo Creek Wildlife Management Area in southern Scotts Bluff County when he came across a Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) which hadn’t previously been found in Scotts Bluff County. Marine Blues stray to our area from their southern home range and breed continuously (feeding on various legumes) once arriving so they should be available for viewing until the first freeze. For whatever reason most records are from the western half of the state but they should be found in eastern Nebraska as well So be alert for their presence and contact us at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com if you find one in a county where they have yet to be recorded (see distribution map below).

Marine Blue, Buffalo Creek SWMA, Scotts Bluff Co., 19 July 2022, photo by Colin Croft

Colin also encountered several late flying Dione (aka Great Gray) Coppers (Tharsalea dione) which had been previously reported as a 4H record but without complete data. Dione Coppers normally fly for several weeks beginning in late June so these were at the late end of their flight period.

Dione Copper, Buffalo Creek SWMA, Scotts Bluff Co., 19 July 2022, photo by Colin Croft

In other news – evidently a female Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae) found the Baptisia plant in my prairie garden earlier this summer as there are a half dozen of her fresh looking offspring in my backyard. Several weeks ago there were three Marine Blues hanging out there with one laying eggs on a Canada Milkvetch. I saw another two days ago, possibly one of her offspring. Or another stray. Either way it pays to plant hostplants.

Another California Tortoiseshell

Once three California Tortoiseshells were found in Sioux County on July 11 it seemed likely more sightings would follow. This has proved out as another has been sighted by Marie Smith at her residence in Gering (Scotts Bluff Co.). She reports that one has been in her yard for three days. What a treat! Colin Croft remarked that if he were a butterfly he wouldn’t leave their yard either. Sounds like their plantings are paying dividends.

Nymphalis californica, Gering, Scotts Bluff Co., circa July 15 2022, photo by Marie Smith

This is the fifth record of this butterfly in the state and the third Nebraska county where this butterfly has been found. This brings Scotts Bluff county’s species total to 86, the eighth highest in the state. Observers should be alert for additional sighting, especially in western portions of the state.

Invasion of the California Tortoiseshells

How to follow up with the first Mulberry Wing Skipper photographed in Nebraska? Colin Croft was kind enough to share his experience from July 11.

With a relatively milder day forecast for Monday July 11th, I headed off north into Sioux
County from Scottsbluff/Gering to check up on my little quarter section of pasture about
15 miles southeast of Harrison. On the way, as I usually try to do, I swung into Agate
Fossil Beds National Historic Site (River Road exit east off Highway 29) to check for
butterflies, bees and anything else that might present itself. In my experience, that first ½ mile stretch east of Highway 29—including the adjacent roadsides of Highway29—can be very productive when any of the native species are in bloom. I was pleased to see that much of the milkweed (mainly A. speciosa) was well into bloom, as was plenty of wild licorice and a few other pollinator-attractive species. I quickly spotted a Monarch and a Regal Fritillary (both my first of this season…seems late!), and then an Anise Swallowtail that persisted long enough for me to get some decent photos. A Mourning Cloak zipped by too quick for me to grab a photo as I pushed into the brushy lower areas on the north side of River Road. This wasn’t marsh-suffering of the kind Neil and Jonathan recently endured for their Mulberry Wing Skipper, but the occasional nettle had me wishing I had brought a change of long pants!

I was working closer to a bumblebee to try to add to Bumble Bee Watch, when I saw a
butterfly light on a milkweed bloom to my left. Wings closed it looked like a comma, but
when partially open the coloration had me thinking Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (not
uncommon in this area). Well identification could come later, now was the time to get
some decent photographs, which the butterfly happily obliged! In fact, it flitted around
me for several minutes, reminding me of some of the commas and Hackberry Emperors
that always seem so “friendly” or at least curious compared to other species. I didn’t
have a lot of time to spend at Agate since I had a few other spots to visit and things to
do on the pasture, but I stuck around long enough to see a couple of Ruddy Coppers, a
Delaware Skipper and some wood nymphs. The butterfly action was a bit slow to the
north at my pasture, except for several Regal Fritillaries I flushed while walking about
checking for invasive thistles. As in previous years, all of the Regals I flushed came out
of thicker/taller (1-2’) patches of still-green grasses; any management practice that
intentionally leaves at least some of these taller grass patches ungrazed, uncut, etc.
would seem to benefit the Regals, at least in this neck of the woods. My pasture has
been intentionally ungrazed for several years, so several of these taller grass patches
are available on some of the swales on the property.


When I got home and had the chance to inspect my photos more closely, I discovered
that I had been treated to an unusual “traveler”—a California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis
californica).

Nymphalis californica, Agate Fossil Beds area, Sioux Co., NE, July 11, 2022, photo by Colin Croft
Nymphalis californica, Agate Fossil Beds area, Sioux Co., NE, July 11, 2022, photo by Colin Croft

Maybe Neil can weigh in with some additional information on this species,
but from my brief research, this species is “prone to long-range flights, sometimes in
large numbers, and may wind up far from regular breeding ranges” (Kaufman, Field
Guide to Butterflies of North America). A BugGuide contributor noted that one had been
spotted in Vermont (see some observation records in the US here)! The only other
Nebraska sighting I could find was a historical sighting in Dodge County. Maybe this is an irruption year for this species such that some other Nebraskans can see one. Colin Croft

Editors Note: This does appear to be an “irruption year”! Steve Spomer and Matt Brust each captured a California Tortoiseshell at Gilbert-Baker SWMA on the same day (July 11). So following up a first ever pic of a Mulberry Wing Skipper in NE is a first ever pic of a California Tortoise Shell in NE. We’re on a roll! Apparently this year presents a unique opportunity to sight this unusual (for NE) species. So keep an eye out for this butterfly that only rarely strays into the state (your chances will likely improve farther west in the state). Neil

Anise Swallowtail, Agate Fossil Beds area, Sioux Co. NE, 7/11/2022, photo by Colin Croft

Nebraska’s Rarest Butterfly – Mulberry Wing Skipper Photographed

Back in 2001 I was prowling Boone County’s back roads looking for county records. I had already had some success in Nance County along the Loup River south of Fullerton but Boone County was proving to be more difficult. Then I happened upon a marsh on Beaver Valley Road west of Petersburg. It was a butterfly nirvana. Milkweeds blooming along the road were covered with butterflies, mostly skippers. Normally rare Broad-winged Skippers were abundant along with several skippers I did not recognize. I netted one unknown skipper and took it home to pin it up and id it. After passing it around to persons more knowledgeable than myself it was verified as being a Mulberry Wing Skipper, which I then donated to the UNL museum.

The Mulberry Wing Skipper had been mentioned in Barber’s 1894 paper (A List of Nebraska Butterflies, Nebraska Academy of Sciences) as having been found in Dodge County by E. A. Dodge. But no specimen could be located and after having not been found in the state for over 100 years that record was suspect. So it was a pleasant surprise to re-discover it.

I’ve stopped by that Beaver Creek Marsh periodically over the last 20 years, more often than not observing a few in the road ditches. Fast forward to this year when Jonathan Nikkila and I made a side trip on the way to the Niobrara Valley Preserve butterfly count to see if we could find one to pose for a photograph.

We arrived shortly after noon and parked in the shade of the only tree on the road. It was sunny with temps in the upper 80s and the milkweeds were blooming so we thought it shouldn’t be to difficult to find some skippers on flowers if they were there. We were wrong. There was nothing on the milkweeds. Walking the road to check the ditches we got fleeting glimpses of a few Broad-winged and Mulberry Wing Skippers, both flying through rather than over the vegetation, rarely pausing to perch and then only briefly. Clearly this was not going to be as easy as we had hoped. Jonathan donned his knee high boots and waded into the ditch. After about an hour and after stepping into a hole deeper than his boots Jonathan finally got a picture. He was not satisfied with it but looked good to me. So I proudly present to you the first picture of a Mulberry Wing skipper ever taken in Nebraska.

Mulberry Wing Skipper, Beaver Creek marsh, Boone County NE, 5 July 2022, photo by Jonathan Nikkila

Beaver Valley Road/Mulberry Wing habitat
Mulberry Wing habitat along Beaver Valley Road

In North America the Mulberry Wing Skipper is found in the northern United States from the Atlantic coast west to the extreme eastern edges of the Dakotas and Nebraska. The Boone County location likely represents the western most population in North America and remains the only known population in Nebraska. As these skippers were found strictly by chance there is a possibility that this skipper might be found at other wetlands in northeastern Nebraska. While exploring marshes in Nebraska in July might not turn out to be a pleasant experience (heat/humidity/biting insects/wet feet) it might be worthwhile checking marshes/wetlands in your area. Mulberry Wings and other endemic marsh species (Broad-winged, Two Spotted, Dion, Black Dash Skippers, Regal Fritillary and Eyed Brown butterflies) can all be found in marsh habitats for the next couple of weeks. If you find any of the aforementioned species or have any other pictures you’d like to share for possible inclusion into our photo gallery let us known at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com.

Thanks for your time and interest! Neil Dankert

Niobrara Valley Preserve 2022 Butterfly Count

On July 6 seven intrepid observers set out on the Niobrara Valley Preserve’s 34th annual butterfly count. Conditions were incredibly dry (perhaps accounting for the lower overall numbers observed) but we were able to record 28 species and 161 individual butterflies. These totals fell roughly in line with averages for the last 10 years (26.8 species and 188 individuals). Of the 28 species counted, one was a Nebraska Natural Heritage Program (NENHP) Tier 1 species (Regal Fritillary) and another nine were Tier 2 species. NENHP listed species accounted for nearly one third of the species counted. This illustrates the importance of the habitats protected on the Preserve. An additional Tier 1 sighting of a Whitney’s Underwing Moth occurred the night before at lights set up by Neil and Jonathan. The high point of the count was finding multiple (ok only two) Two-Spotted Skippers, one being at a new locality. This uncommon marsh skipper rarely strays far from its niche habitat and has now been found at three locations at the Preserve. Thanks to the count participants – Brandon Cobb, Emma Greenlee, Ashley Oblander, Eric Behrens, Chris Helzer (all from TNC), Jonathan Nikkila and to Amanda Hefner who facilitated logistics for the count.

Two Spotted Skipper, Niobrara Valley Preserve, July 6 2022, photo by Jonathan Nikkila

Butterflies found on the 2022 count were (NENHP listed species are boldfaced): Silver Spotted Skipper – 2 Common Sootywing – 2 Tawny Edged Skipper – 6 Peck’s Skipper – 1 Crossline Skipper – 4 Long Dash – 2 Northern Broken Dash – 9 Little Glassywing – 5 Delaware Skipper – 4 Dun Skipper – 2 Two Spotted Skipper – 2 Giant Swallowtail – 1 Cabbage White – 1 Orange Sulpher – 6 Acadian Hairstreak – 1 Coral Hairstreak – 2 Melissa Blue – 1 Great Spangled Fritillary – 15 Regal Fritillary – 16 Viceroy – 3 Red Admiral – 1 Eastern Comma – 1 Buckeye – 1 Silvery Checkerspot – 1 Pearl Crescent – 2 Eyed Brown – 2 Little Wood Satyr – 10 Common Wood Nymph – 59

Eyed Brown, Niobrara Valley Preserve, July 6 2022, photo by Jonathan Nikkila

Regal Fritillary, Niobrara Valley Preserve, July 6 2022, photo by Jonathan Nikkila

Thirty four years is a long time to maintain a count. This would not have been possible without all the volunteer observers who have pitched in over the years and the staff (past and present) at the Preserve. Many thanks to all involved!!

Neil Dankert