First Record of Giant Swallowtail in Garfield County and the Beginning (maybe) of the late Summer Southern Invasion

On July 30 René McMullen sent a picture of a swallowtail butterfly she took in Garfield County to her nephew (and my friend) Jon Nikkila. Jon correctly identified it as a Giant Swallowtail (Heraclides cresphontes). Upon checking the records it was discovered that this butterfly had not yet been recorded from that county. Jon noted that his aunt is not someone who knows a lot about butterflies, but knew of his interest in them and so sent him the picture. It ends up that citizen scientists don’t always have to do the footwork. Simply letting their interests be known helps them become a go-to person for their friends and relatives. So don’t keep your interests and talents a secret. Enthusiasm is contagious. Science (as well as your friends and neighbors) are counting on you.

With the addition of Garfield County this butterfly has now been found in 52 Nebraska counties.

Also of note are the recent sightings of Sleepy Oranges (Abaeis nicippe) and Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) in central Nebraska.

Hopefully the sighting of these southern strays portends an interesting late summer for Nebraska butterfly enthusiasts. Stay alert and let us know of anything you find interesting or possible county records at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. Records of butterflies found (and not found) for all 93 counties can be requested at that e-mail as well

Master Naturalist Class finds a Sweetheart

Sweetheart Underwing Moth that is. July 23 I had an opportunity to blacklight with the latest class of NE Master Naturalists at Cedar Point Biological Station (which is located below Lake McConaughy in Keith County). Our lights attracted insects belonging to 37 insect Families from 11 Orders (sorry for the taxonomy jargon). Among our more interesting finds were a Sweetheart Underwing Moth (Catacola amatrix), a Jaguar Flower Moth (Schinia jaguarina), multiple Owlflies, 10 Lined Scarab Beetles (Polyphylla decemlineata) and Pygotid flies.

Sweetheart Underwing – photo by Mark Brogie, Creighton, Knox Co, 9-2-2019

Larvae of the Sweetheart Underwing feed on cottonwood tree leaves. Most records of adults are from August and September.

Jaguar Flower Moth – photo by Babs and Loren Padelford, Chadron State Park, Dawes County, 7-17-2015

Flower Moths are so named because of the habit of laying eggs on or near flowers, upon which the larvae then feed. Most Flower Moth species are host specific, feeding on a narrow group of plants. The Jaguar Flower Moth’s larvae are reported to feed on Psoralea sp. (scurfpeas). Adults are found near prairie areas (with scurfpeas) from May to October with numbers peaking in July.

Owlflies are a seldom observed group of insects related to antlions. Both adults and larvae are predacious. Larvae differ from ant lion larvae in that they do not dig pits but instead lie in ambush on the soil surface waiting for prey to come within striking distance.

A couple of other interesting insects that were attracted to our lights were 10 Lined Scarab Beetles and their nemesis, Pygotid flies. The 10 Lined Scarabs are colorful beetles that have the ability to produce an audible hiss when handled or disturbed. Larvae feed on tree roots and may take several years to mature and emerge. Adults feed on plants but are generally less destructive than larvae. Newly emerged females release a pheromone which males detect and follow by using sensory organs their specialized antennae.

Pygotid flies are nocturnal flies that parasitize scarab beetles. In the dark of night they intercept the scarabs in mid flight and lay an egg in between the beetles abdominal segments. Once the egg hatches the larvae burrows into the beetle and begin to feed on their live prey. At some point the beetle dies, the fly maggot finishes it’s feast, pupates and emerges as an adult to resume hunting scarab beetles. There is peril at every turn if you’re an insect.

Congratulations to the class of 2021 Master Naturalists!!

Two More County Records and a Tier 1 Moth Sighting

Jen Corman contributed two county records – a Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus) from Bassett in Rock County this June 27 and a Queen (Danaus gilippus) from Knox County from back in July (9th) of 2018. The Banded Hairstreak is a NENHP Tier 2 species. And then the Bloomfield Scout Troop improvised a light trap with a lantern and white pickup to lure in a Whitney’s Underwing (Catacola whitneyi), a NENHP Tier 1 species, at the Cub Creek Recreation Area in Keya Paha County. Under the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program a species is ranked as a Tier 1 species if they are globally most at risk of extinction and a Tier 2 species if they are rare or imperiled in Nebraska.

Three more county records!!

On July 5 Colin Croft found a Least Skipper in a moist valley in the Wildcat Hills in Scotts Bluff County, a county where it had not previously been reported. Then three days later Jon Nikkila sighted a couple more Least Skippers at North Loup State Recreation Area in Howard County (again previously unreported) while we were scouting wetland habitats. On that same outing I spotted a Regal Fritillary flying across Highway 281 just west of Greeley near Spring Creek in Greeley County, one of the few counties still without a Regal record. These three new county records bring our total for the state this year to 10. Thanks to everyone for reporting their sightings!!

For a range map of any individual species or a list of butterflies found (or not found) in a particular county contact nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com.

2021 Niobrara Valley Preserve Butterfly Count

On July 1 eight intrepid observers took advantage of perfect weather to participate in the Niobrara Valley Preserve’s annual butterfly count. They found 254 total butterflies belonging to 36 species. The Great Spangled Fritillary was the most common butterfly with 65 tallied. Four Nebraska Natural Heritage Program Tier 1 (globally most at risk of extinction) species were found (denoted by bold and italics typeface) as well as an additional eight Tier 2 (rare or imperiled in Nebraska) species (denoted by bold typeface). The count broke down as follows: Silver Spotted Skippers – 15, Checkered Skipper – 2, Common Sootywing – 1, Least Skipper – 2, Tawny Edged Skipper – 6, Crossline Skipper – 6, Long Dash Skipper– 12, Northern Broken Dash – 7, Little Glassywing – 5, Delaware Skipper – 4, Two Spotted Skipper – 1, Dun Skipper – 3, Giant Swallowtail – 3, Cabbage White – 5, Orange Sulphur – 4, Coral Hairstreak – 2, Acadica Hairstreak – 2, Banded Hairstreak – 6, Gray Hairstreak – 1, Eastern Tailed Blue – 3, Variegated Fritillary – 1, Great Spangled Fritillary – 65, Regal Fritillary – 14, Gorgone Checkerspot – 1, Question Mark – 1, Eastern Comma – 3, Mourning Cloak – 3, Red Admiral – 6, Buckeye – 1, Red Spotted Purple – 2, Viceroy – 9, Northern Pearly Eye – 1, Eyed Brown – 2, Little Wood Satyr – 32, Wood Nymph – 24, and Monarch – 3.

Little Glassywing – photo by J Nikkila
Female Two Spotted Skipper – photo by J Nikkila
Count participants search a wet meadow adjacent to the Niobrara River

Thanks to this years crew (my wife Jen, Jon Nikkila, Jen Corman, Teresa Bammerlin, Chris Helzer, and the two Conservancy fellows Sarah Lueder and Kate Nootenboom) the 36 species found was the best species total since 1999. This years count is barely over and I’m already looking forward to next years!

Black Witch – Something You Don’t See Every Day

Late last month I received word of a Black Witch sighting in Keya Paha County. On June 20 Teresa Bammerlin discovered an unexpected visitor at her residence which she found to be a Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata). This large moth is a breeding resident in the southern United States and from there southward to as far as Argentina. In Nebraska it is a curiosity as an extremely large stray, rivaling silkworm moths in size. It shows up in Nebraska on an irregular basis, being unreported most years. In it’s home range larvae feed on mostly on various legumes, including Acacia, Kentucky Coffetree and Mesquite. In some cultures this moth is associated with various folklores, most involving ill health or death. Teresa’s find was in amazingly good shape considering the distance it had traveled. Thanks to Teresa and Jen Corman for relaying the information and moth to me.

Black Witch – photo by Teresa Bammerlin

Thanks again to Teresa for sharing her amazing find. For any information on Nebraska Lepidoptera or to send news and/or pics of any butterflies and moths you find interesting contact nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com

Hops Azure (Celastrina humulus) found in NE

Dr. Matthew Brust of Chadron State College recently observed and photographed an Azure laying eggs on Hops (Humulus sp.) in a canyon south of Chadron. These photos proved to be the link that documented the presence of the Hops Azure (Celastrina humulus) in Nebraska. Additional research is needed to determine how widespread it is in western NE. Congratulations Dr. Brust!!

Celastrina humulus – photograph by Dr. Matthew Brust

New County Record – Lupine Blue found in Phelps County

Several weeks ago I took a short walk around Jones Federal Waterfowl Production Area (just southwest of Holdrege) and thought it might be good Regal Fritillary habitat. Today my wife (Jen), sister (Peggy) and two friends (Pat and Diane Miller) went back there to see if that was actually the case. While we did finally see two regal fritillaries (who were not at all interested in nectaring or posing for pictures) the surprise find of the day was finding three Lupine Blues (previously known as Acmon Blues) which had not previously been found in Phelps County. While we also found a smattering of other common species, Great Gray Coppers were bordering on abundant. An updated distribution map is illustrated below.

This butterfly typically inhabits mixed to shortgrass prairies in the western half of the state and larvae feed on buckwheats (Eriogonum sp), lupines or other legumes. This discovery is somewhat unusual in that it was found in what (to my mind) would be considered a tall grass prairie. It’s larval hostplant at this location is unknown. Adults have been found in the state from late May to late August, indicating at least two broods.

New subspecies described from Nebraska – Lon (Poanes) taxiles albimaculatus

In the latest “Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society” Steve Spomer (recently retired from UNL) has described a new subspecies of the Taxiles Skipper – Lon taxiles albimaculatus. For those of you struggling to keep up with the latest taxonomy Lon has replaced Poanes for some members of the genus, taxiles included. The type locality (see Jan 2, 2021 post for type locality discussion) for this new subspecies is Coffee Park, located in Sowbelly Canyon northeast of Harrison in Sioux County. This subspecies is differentiated from other populations with most females ventral hindwing prominently spotted (hence the ssp. name albimaculatus) and in most males the spot above the stigma on the dorsal forewing is obvious.

In Nebraska the species (subspecies) has been found from the Pine Ridge area eastward as far as the Niobrara Valley Preserve in Brown and Keya Paha Counties (where it represents the easternmost records in the country). This skipper flies once a year for several weeks in July, preferring moist woodlands, often near creeks or seeps. Larvae have been found/reared on various grasses.

William Lewis Carpenter – Nebraska’s First Lepidopterist

While perhaps not the first lepidopterist, the earliest known listing of butterflies in Nebraska comes from W. L. Carpenter way back in 1880. Mr. Carpenter was born in Dunkirk New York in 1844 and served first in the US Navy and later the Army during the Civil War. After the war the Army reassigned him to expeditions into the present day Dakotas and Montana where he assisted in geologic surveys, scientific collections and observations. One of his later outposts was as an officer of the Department of the Platte: “First Lieut. W. L. Carpenter, Ninth Infantry, Company B, Fort Niobrara.” In 1880 from Fort Niobrara (near present day Valentine in Cherry County) he provided the first published listing of butterflies in Nebraska. “List of Species of Butterflies Received From Fort Niobrara, Nebraska” in the journal The Canadian Entomologist. There he listed 26 butterflies he had encountered there. After digging through the 140 year old taxonomy I think this is an accurate account of what he found:

Checkered White, Orange Sulfur or Alfalfa Butterfly, Dainty Sulfur, Great Spangled, Aphrodite and Variegated Fritillaries, Silvery Checkerspot, Pearl Crescent, Question Mark, Eastern Comma, Gray Comma, Wedidemeyer’s Admiral, Hackberry Emperor, Northern Pearly Eye, Wood Nymph, Little Wood Satyr, Striped and Banded Hairstreaks, Eastern Tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Southern Cloudywing, Zabulon, Crossline, Sachem, Checkered and Silver Spotted Skippers. All this of course being without benefit of mechanized transportation.

Mr. Carpenter passed away in 1898 back in his home state of New York. He and his wife are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Read more about his illustrious career here.

Cherry County presently has 89 butterfly species recorded from within it’s boundaries.