Richard A Leussler – Nebraska’s Greatest Lepidopoterist and Hesperia pahaska

It is of interest that while Richard A Leussler was/is perhaps Nebraska’s most noted Lepidopterist, that was not his vocation. While I was unable to find out much about his early years he was evidently born in St Louis in 1866 and came to Nebraska in 1902 as an executive in the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company which ceased operations in 1955. His work also took him into leadership jobs with steel and bridgework companies. He passed away in Omaha on August 22, 1943.

But he is perhaps most well known for his work as an amateur lepidopterist. During his time in Nebraska he published nine scientific papers (the most notable being a statewide compilation published in 1938 which listed 159 species) and described one new species and four new subspecies. His collection of 3476 specimens is now housed at Ohio State University. Mr. Leussler made numerous trips across the state which would likely have been quite an adventure with the state of roads at that time.

The new species Mr. Leussler described from the state is Hesperia pahaska (Leussler, 1938). In 1938 in the Entomological News he wrote: “On the high plains of the canyon region in Sioux County, Nebr., there flies a skipper which has passed under various names but which differs from all named forms. An examination of the genitalia indicates that it is distinct. I propose for it the name pahaska, the name the Sioux Indians bestowed upon Col. Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) who killed Chief Yellow Hand in single combat in War Bonnet Canyon, upon the rim of which this skipper flies. “Pahaska” in the Sioux language means “White Chief”.”

So this is a butterfly first discovered and described in Nebraska with “the high plains of the canyon region in Sioux County, Nebr.” being its type locality. The type specimens are in the Triplehorn invertibrate collection at Ohio State University. Today War Bonnet Canyon is on private land and to my knowledge has not been visited recently. Of late the Pahaska Skipper has been difficult to locate in the Pine Ridge area. I did manage to find one in Kimball county south of Interstate 80 mm1 last year (see June 26 2020 post). It flies once a year from late May into July. It’s larvae feed on short to mixed grass prairie grasses.

Additional specimens can be viewed by utilizing the following link.

Hesperia p pahaska thumbnails (butterfliesofamerica.com)

Fun With Taxonomy/Nebraska’s Type Localities

Hopefully this post finds everyone healthy and well. So we made it to 2021 but it’s still not butterfly season. So to pass the time (and as time permits) I’ll try to put together some interesting tidbits on Nebraska butterflies and the people who have worked with them to share with you. I hope you enjoy them.

Back in the day (1700s) Carl Linnaeus came up with binomial nomenclature to name living organisms. This consisted of giving every type of living thing a genus and species name with the genus being a group of related organisms and the species being specific to one life form. Kind of like your name except your last name would come first. From there scientists started naming every living thing they found.

A complete binomial name includes the author (scientist naming the organism) and the date he named it following the binomial name. For instance the Monarch butterfly was named by Linnaeus in 1758. He called it Papilio plexippus. Later taxonomists changed the genus name to Danaus. Taxonomic rules (and there are a lot of them) require the author and date be placed in parenthesis if the genus name has changed from the original. So today the Monarch is known as Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758).

Now that most butterflies have been named lepidopterists are getting restless and amusing themselves naming subspecies which may (or may not) have observable differences from the type specimens. Some scientists have been going down to the molecular level and finding previously undiscovered ancestral links and changing some long used genus names. This distresses me greatly. Its like if someone you’ve known your whole life changes their name!!

Type specimens and Type Localities – In a separate but related topic, for every new species described the scientist has one (a holotype), or a set of (syntypes) specimens on which they based their description. These are referred to as type specimens and are typically preserved in museums or institutions of higher learning. The location where the type specimens were collected then became the type locality.

There is often a story behind a name. One I find fascinating (OK I’m weird) is Speyeria carolae (dos Passos and Grey, 1942). The butterfly was named after Carole Lombard who died in a plane crash near the type locality just outside of Las Vegas on Jan 16, 1942 (google that story). The butterfly was named later that same year from a type locality near the crash site and was originally named as a subspecies of the Coronis Fritillary Argynnis coronis carolae. The genus was later changed to Speyeria (so the authors and date were placed in parenthesis) and then later the subspecies elevated to full species status. So we end up with Speyeria carolae (dos Passos and Grey, 1942). The area (Red Rock Canyon) is a rugged mountainous park just west of Las Vegas. Someday I will go to Vegas in early summer when it flies and go look for it. Who will believe I’m going to Vegas to hunt for butterflies?

Other scientists name a butterfly after a person. One is Papilio joanae J. Heitzman, 1973 (The Ozark Swallowtail) that was named after the author’s wife Joan. Talk about raising the bar!! Or a more humorous one – the subspecies Chlosyne nycteis pastoron Pellham, 2008 (type locality in North Carolina) was named for Pastor Ron Gatrelle who is a noted amateur lepidopterist in southeast United States.

Still others have named species/subspecies for geographic features where the type locality is located. The subspecies Papilio indra panamintensis J. Emmel, 1982 is named for the Panamint Mountains in Death Valley, the type locality for this subspecies and Boloria selene sabulocollis Kohler, 1977 where sabulocollis is Latin for sand hills.

Other names come from Greek mythology such as the Aphrodite Fritillary – Speyeria aphrodite (Fabricius, 1787) named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love or Indian chiefs like the Mulberry Wing Poanes massasoit (Scudder, 1864) named for Massasoit, a Wampanoag Indian chief who was hospitable to the Plymouth colony.

If you’ve read this far you must be curious as to where this is going. There are two species and eight subspecies of butterflies have type localities in Nebraska. I thought it might be interesting to look at these and some of the scientists who named them. As this is to many to cover all at once I’ll sprinkle them in from time to time.

Happy New Year!!!

102 species – Season Recap

So I guess with snow and temps in the teens that butterfly season is officially over. Despite late season trips to the North Loup, Niobrara and Republican Rivers I’ve been stuck on 102 species since just before Labor Day. So 102 species it is. That exceeds what I expected thanks in large part to my wife Jennifer, Jon Nikkila (along with his sons Bennet and Henry) and Pat and Dianne Miller all of whom aided/abetted my effort. Many eyes proved to be better than my two. I would not have reached 102 species without them. I will take credit for selecting the sites. Some of them I discovered myself but once again many of them were handed down to me from previous collectors. So thanks to them (to numerous to mention) as well.

Over the course of the year I encountered 7 butterflies listed as Tier 1 species by the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program along with another 38 Tier 2 species. Once again, see the June 14 post for a brief summary of the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program. The Tier 1 species are denoted by bold type below while the Tier 2 species are italicized. I also ended up finding four county records in 2020, these being Hobomok Skipper (Lincoln Co), Ruddy Copper (Garden Co), Snout Butterfly (Franklin Co) and Queen (Garden Co). One of the downsides of the “Big Year” was that I did very little exploring – mostly just revisiting sites where I’d found butterflies before. I haven’t yet decided on next year’s project but it will almost certainly involve more exploring.

The list below denotes where I made the first sighting of each of the 102 species in 2020. Many species were sighted multiple times, but are only listed in the locality where I first found them. Thus the locations I visited earlier in the year will have more species found there. So a lower number of species at a location does not necessarily indicate a less desirable habitat but more likely that there were fewer butterfly species “available” to be found.

Box Elder SWMA (April 11, May 3, May 20, July 5) – 12 species: Common Sootywing, Crossline Skipper, Hobomok Skipper, Dusted Skipper, Yucca Giant Skipper, Black Swallowtail, Olympia Marble, Clouded Sulfur, Gray Hairstreak, Silvery Blue, Variegated Fritillary, Gorgone Checkerspot

Elm Creek (home)/Sandy Channel SRA – 10 species: Common Checkered Skipper, Sachem, Cabbage Butterfly, Alfalfa Butterfly, Cloudless Sulfur, Sleepy Orange, Reakirt’s Blue, Question Mark, Painted Lady, Monarch

Monroe Canyon/Pant’s Butte (May 28, June 25, July 26) – 10 species: Afranius Duskywing, Anise Swallowtail, Indra Swallowtail, Checkered White, Arrowhead Blue, Melissa Blue, Icarioides Blue, Anicia Checkerspot, Ochre Ringlet, Varuna Arctic

Four Mile Creek, Kinter’s Ford and Prairie Knoll SWMAs (June 19, July 1) – 10 species: Delaware Skipper, Byssus Skipper, Dun Skipper, Dione Copper, Coral Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Snout, Great Spangled Fritillary, Regal Fritillary, Silvery Checkerspot

Indian Cave State Park – (April 26) 9 species: Silver Spotted Skipper, Roadside Skipper, Zebra Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Henry’s Elfin, Spring Azure, Eastern Tailed Blue, Red Admiral, Goatweed Butterfly

Niobrara Valley Preserve (June 1, July 15, July 26, August 31) – 7 species: Northern Cloudywing, Ottoe Skipper, Tawny-edged Skipper, Northern Broken Dash Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Little Yellow, Little Wood Satyr

Fontenelle Forest (June 19, July 1) – 6 species: Hickory Hairstreak, Eastern Comma, Red-spotted Purple, Hackberry Butterfly, Tawny Emperor, Northern Pearly Eye

Wildcat Hills (June 24) – 5 species: Long Dash Skipper, Two-tailed Swallowtail, Aphrodite Fritillary, Edward’s Fritillary, Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Lewellen/Oshkosh wetlands (June 13) – 4 species: Bronze Copper, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Buckeye, Queen

Ash Hollow SHP (June 13, August 22) – 4 species: Western Branded Skipper, Pawnee Skipper, Dainty Sulfur, Marine Blue

Harlan County Reservoir, Cedar Point area (May 5) – 4 species: Wild Indigo Duskywing, Juniper Hairstreak, Pearly Crescent, American Painted Lady

I-80, mm1 exit (June 26) – 3 species: Uncas Skipper, Pahaska Skipper, Western Green Hairstreak

Crescent Lake area (June 13) – 3 species: Ruddy Copper, Mourning Cloak, Viceroy

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Victoria Springs area (June 28) – 3 species: Acadian Hairstreak, Eyed Brown, Common Wood Nymph

TNC property (Speidell Tract) nr Alda (June 7) – 2 species: Peck’s Skipper, Summer Azure

Beaver Creek Marsh (July 9) – 2 species: Mulberry Wing Skipper, Broad-winged Skipper

Cedar River headwaters (July 9) – 2 species: Little (American) Copper, Purplish Copper

Macon Lakes WPA (July 4) – 1 species: Arogos Skipper

Road ditch north of Worms (July 3) – 1 species: Silver Bordered Fritillary

Loch Linda SWMA (June7) – 1 species: Least Skipper

Soldier Creek Wilderness (June 25)- 1 species: Taxiles Skipper

Table Rock SWMA (July 1) – 1 species: Grey Comma

Mahoney State Park (Aug 24) – 1 species: Fiery Skipper

Niobrara Valley Preserve, late summer – no new species but great day anyway

Last September 3 Jen and I met with Chris Helzer and his fellows at the NVP to look for Pawnee Skippers which we found. In addition we found one Lupine Blue and several Horace’s Duskywings. The latter two species had eluded me so far this year so Saturday I made a trip up to the Preserve to try to locate them for my Big Year effort. Thankfully a “cold” front moved through Friday and knocked the temps back about 10 to 15 degrees. With a cooler than normal morning I left a little later than normal and arrived there about noon. First stop was the hill where we had located Pawnee Skippers and the Lupine Blue last year. As is the case in much of Nebraska the plants were starting to show the effects of the heat and lack of rain. The gravely hill doesn’t look like much but its amazing how life holds on there. Once at the hilltop I found some Liatris in bloom and sure enough there were the Pawnee Skippers (Hesperia leonardus pawnee) – albeit only a few.

A lot of the Liatris in the area was yet to bloom so that probably made spotting a little tougher. This is the same hilltop where we found the male Ottoe Skipper (Hesperia ottoe) in July (the first sighting in Nebraska in 8 years). The larvae of both skippers feed on native grasses including little bluestem. What a hardscrabble existence! I’m always happy to find any of the skippers in the genus Hesperia. True native prairie specialists, they survive in some harsh looking environments and finding them always gives me hope that all is not lost. Unfortunately while finding skippers I was unable to locate any Lupine Blues.

The next stop was Middle Creek where I’d noticed a few Purple Loosestrife blooming by the culvert. They were covered with scores of cabbage whites while a thistle in the creekbed had attracted some regal and great spangled fritillaries. The fritillaries were females coming out of a mid summer period of inactivity to refuel before laying eggs from which larvae will hatch and overwinter. But no Lupine Blues or Horace’s Duskywings there either.

So I moved on to what last year was a thistle and purple loosestrife patch east of the HQ area where I had seen several Horace’s Duskywings last year. TNC had managed to knock the thistle population back to near zero but Purple Loosestrife was still abundant. There I found Eastern Tailed Blues and Tawny Edged Skippers to be abundant as well as some Checkered Skippers, Silver Spotted Skippers and Gray Hairstreaks. But the best find of the day was sighting a few Silver Bordered Fritillaries which had also been there the year before. But still no Horace’s Duskywings.

My last option was a leg of the hiking trail from the Fairfield Creek Road that ran along a spring fed rivulet back into the oak woodland. Along that small stream there were several thistles and some Joe Pye Weed in bloom on which there were several Giant Swallowtails. An anglewing (Polygonia sp) was also in the area as well as a few Monarchs.

Having exhausted my best options on the Preserve I headed back south with some time to kill. So I took a new road less traveled from Brewster to Milburn to Gates to Broken Bow, stopping to take a pic of the lone building remaining in Milburn – the Milburn Hall (1911) (note the outhouse in the lower right).

So while I was disappointed not to have found any new species for the big year it was a great day for a drive and some hiking around – sunny, temps topping out in the mid 80s with less wind than normal. I got to see Pawnee Skippers, Silver Bordered Fritillaries and Giant Swallowtails which doesn’t happen every day. I’m still at 102 species for the year with my options dwindling. But a great day anyway!

Continue sending your photos to NebraskaButterflies@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to get them posted on our images page. Thanks for your time and interest!!

Fiery Skipper

Monday (Aug 24) afternoon I traveled east to Mahoney State Park where I teamed up with my friend and fellow Lepidoptera enthusiast Jim Reiser and met with a group of charming ladies interested in butterflies. As is the case in most of the state the area needed some rain and it was toasty (mid-upper 90s) with the usual Nebraska “breeze”. But we soldiered on and had a nice discussion followed up with a brief walk to id some butterflies that had braved the heat as well. All things considered we saw quite a few species in a short period of time, among them being a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) which had been reported in the eastern part of the state for the past several weeks but had not yet made it’s way to my yard in central Nebraska or areas to the west that I had been checking. So add the Fiery Skipper to my “Big Year” species list making it the 102nd.

Fiery Skipper – In recent years this southern species has become a somewhat common late summer stray into the state from its permanent range which extends north into the southern United States. It’s larvae feed on various common grasses including crabgrass (Digitaria sp.) and it likely breeds in the state as time permits but does not survive our winters. As a stray it may show up anywhere there is nectar but is most common in the southeastern counties. The skipper is named for the brightly colored hindwings of the male. The female is more subdued in coloration.

One addendum to the Western Branded skipper (Aug 23) post – This skipper is a NENHP Tier 2 species (see June 14 post for program details).

Pawnee and Western Branded Skippers – Big Year Species 100 and 101

This past Saturday (Aug 22) Jonathan Nikkila and I made a late summer trip (an annual for me, Jon’s first) to Ash Hollow State Historical Park at the west end of Lake McConaughy in Garden County to look for skippers and swallowtail larvae. There was a high haze all day which the evening weather said was smoke from the Colorado forest fires. We started out looking on gayfeather (Liatris sp.) flowers on a west facing slope near the visitor’s center about 9:30 am MDT with temps around 70 degrees F. There wasn’t much activity there so we crossed the highway to Windlass Hill which had some east facing slopes in hopes that that area would be a little more productive. We had hiked about 2/3 the way up the hill on the appointed path (so as to have an unobstructed view of any rattlesnakes we might intrude upon) without any action there either. I was beginning to get the sense of deja vu from my trip into the loess hills south of North Platte two days prior when I was shut out. Then the butterfly gods snapped their fingers and all of a sudden there were skippers everywhere. The first one we got a “good, but not that good” look at I think was a Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan) but we captured the next and determined it to be a Pawnee Skipper (Hesperia leonardus pawnee) which was quickly followed by several others. After hiking the rest of the way to the top of the hill (and crossing a depression in the hilltop caused by the ruts of wagons following the Oregon trail) we started back down and encountered a Western Branded Skipper (Hesperia colorado ssp). All told we probably saw over 20 Pawnee Skippers but only 1 or 2 Western Branded Skippers which is normal for that area.

Pawnee Skipper – Three subspecies of this skipper inhabit eastern North America west into Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. All fly in late summer and in Nebraska the subspecies (H. l. pawnee) is found mainly in undisturbed prairies in the western half of the state. Larvae feed on various prairie grasses including little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius) and Gramma grasses (Bouteloua sp.). Males and females are dimorphic (different in appearance) dorsally. The ventral hindwing may range from uniformly gold to having a faint band of spots. Adults are fond of gayfeather (Liatris sp) flowers.

Western Branded Skipper – Twelve subspecies of this skipper inhabit the western United States including three (colorado, ochracea and oroplata) from Colorado. Which subspecies our populations fall into concerns me not a whit. Heck, maybe even another new subspecies – why not. The point being it is quite variable across its range (which taxonomists love). The species ranges east into the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas. In Nebraska it has been found westward from from the Niobrara Valley Preserve (Keya Paha and Brown counties) in the north to Dundy county in the southwest and flies in a single brood in late summer. Larvae feed on various grasses including needlegrasses (Stipa sp.) and bluestems (Andrpogon sp.). As with the the other Hesperia species the sexes are dimorphic. This skipper is a NENHP Tier 2 species (see June 14 post).

Clio Tiger Moth – While stalking skippers to photograph Jon noticed an interesting tiger moth I’d never seen before. We think it’s a Clio Tiger moth (Ectypia clio). It’s primarily southwestern (US) in distribution and its larvae (which are black) feed on milkweeds. In Nebraska it is restricted to the panhandle region.

Another reason for my annual trips to Ash Hollow is to check on the size and abundance of Two tailed Swallowtail larvae which feed on chokecherry and ash, both of which are abundant in the area. If they are large and numerous I take a few home to rear. This year I looked for about an hour in the morning and found only one small one. It would have taken two to three weeks and several molts to get it to the pupal stage. A lot can go wrong in that time under my care (or lack thereof) so I left him to his fend for himself. In their early stages (instars) the larvae resemble bird droppings. Note the “silk” pad the larvae spins on the leaf to give itself something to hold onto when the wind blows.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park is one of several places in Nebraska where the ruts of wagons following the Oregon Trail are still visible. This is where they dropped down into the North Platte River valley to follow it west to near Casper, Wyoming. For more information on the park visit the Nebraska Game and Parks website http://outdoornebraska.gov/ashhollow/

So after nearly a month being stuck on 99 Nebraska Big Year species I finally cracked 100 species (101 YTD), something I thought this spring would be a really good year. The adventure continues with my new goal being 105 species.

Continue sending your photos to NebraskaButterflies@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to get them posted on our images page. Thanks for your time and interest!!

White-M Hairstreak

Joanne Langabee and her friend Holly have been doing weekly butterfly surveys at Fonenelle Forest and Lauritzen Gardens for a few years now (three and five years respectively). In doing so they have observed the comings and goings of quite a number of species and gotten a handle on when and where a particular species might be found. But last week at Fontenelle Forest they encountered something entirely new to them – a White M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m album). It is a beautiful little butterfly named for the white M (or W depending on your perspective) on the ventral hindwing. The upperside is a brilliant iridescent dark blue bordered by black. One striking butterfly!!

White-M Hairstreak – Larvae of this hairstreak feed on oaks. Its distribution is eastern North America and Nebraska would be on the extreme western edge of its range. In Nebraska it had been recorded only once before (1 Aug 2012), also at Fontenelle Forest. This first record was considered a stray but with a second record (in mint condition) from the same location we might now have to consider the possibility that it is a breeding (but rare) resident. If this is the case that might mean much of eastern Nebraska could possibly be breeding habitat. It has been reported to have as many as three generations in areas as far north as Nebraska so if it is indeed a breeding resident there may be spring, mid and late summer flights. As mentioned earlier to date has only been found in Sarpy County but might be expected in southeastern counties as well.

So if you live in southeast Nebraska (or anywhere for that matter) enjoy your time outdoors and be observant – you never know what you might find. As for myself I received my Monarch tags a couple of days ago and am looking forward to the migration. I’m also waiting for a Fiery Skipper to show up in my yard to get me to 100 species for the year. Yesterday Jen and I ventured out into the loess hills south of North Platte where we visited Box Elder and Wapiti SWMAs hoping to find Baird’s Swallowtails and Pawnee Skippers. Wapiti is a really cool out of the way place – getting there is half the fun (about 10 miles south of Fort McPherson National Cemetery). Be prepared to open and close some cattle gates!! We ended up finding neither butterfly but hopefully may find them on a trip to Ash Hollow SHP tomorrow along with Colorado Skippers. Also hoping to find third generation Horaces Duskywings yet and maybe Bordered Patches if they make a late season push into Nebraska before the season winds down. You never know what might turn up. Keep sending your pics to NebraskaButterflies@gmail.com

Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda vol 1

I’ve been describing “Big Year” butterflies as I found them but the lull while waiting for the late summer fliers affords me an opportunity to cover a few things I thought I would find earlier this summer but for a variety of reason’s did not.

Strecker’s Giant SkipperMegathymus streckeri

In Nebraska this large skipper flies from late May to mid June in the sand hills. Like it’s smaller cousin the Yucca Giant Skipper (see April 21 post) its larvae feed on the roots of yucca plants. Adults do not feed, instead living on nutrients stored from the larval stage. It is rarely encountered but that is likely due to its habitat which at first glance might not appear worth hiking out into. I had hoped to find it where it was formerly common in the vicinity of Crescent Lake in Garden County (see June 13 post) but a fire there (prescribed?) had all but eliminated yucca from the area. Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (Cherry County) now probably offers the best chance of viewing this species.

Western Pine Elfin Callophyrs eryphon

I missed finding this butterfly on my spring trip to Gilbert-Baker SWMA (Sioux County) back in May (see May 28 post) but Jon Nikkila and Mat Brust found and photographed it at the same location several days later. Bad luck, karma or whatever. Larvae of this species feed on pines with adults flying in a single spring generation. In Nebraska it can be found in the panhandle’s pine forests and along the Niobrara River east into Keya Paha county where adults frequent flowers near their hosts.

Shasta BluePlebejus shasta

This butterfly inhabits rocky escarpments in the panhandle where it flies once a year from late May – mid June. Larvae feed on various legumes but mainly Astragalus species. I had hoped to find this butterfly on several panhandle trips to Gilbert-Baker (May 28 and June 25 posts), the Wildcat Hills (June 24 post) and Mile Marker 1 (June 26 post) but came up empty on each occasion.

Range of Shasta Blue in Nebraska

This spring in my head I had Strecker’s Giant Skipper as pretty much a sure thing and Western Pine Elfins and Shasta Blues as 50/50. But that’s not how it turned out – win some, lose some. “Big Year” species total ytd remains at 99.

Let’s Tag Some Monarchs

Welcome to all the new viewers. Ideally the World Herald article would have been earlier in the year as it has generated a lot of traffic.

As you can see I’m at 99 species for the year so a lot has happened already. June and July are when most of Nebraska’s butterflies that have a short flight period fly but there remain a half dozen or so late summer fliers to encounter. Plus whatever southern strays might show up in late summer. So there is still work to be done.

While June and July were hectic (a fun hectic) looking at the calendar I am somewhat dismayed to see July ending. But that also means the Monarch migration is drawing near. Last year I joined some Audubon staff members to tag some migrating Monarchs in early September. It was so much fun I ordered 25 tags of my own and got them used up by the end of September. The project is by monarchwatch.com and works like this. You purchase the tagging kit (25 tags for $15 or 50 tags for $20) from monarchwatch.com. You can also purchase nets there for those of you who don’t already have a butterfly net (or 6). You get instructions on how/where to tag the butterflies and how to input the information to send back to monarchwatch. The odds of one of your 25-50 butterflies being found are about the same as your odds of winning the lottery. But it does happen and its a great educational activity. Monarchwatch has observers (like you and I) on the migration routes and also has locals hired in the winter roosting areas to look for Monarchs with tags. You do have to check their website periodically to see if any of “your” butterflies have been found. I went 0/25 last year which is exactly what I expected but it was fun to participate anyway. So if that sounds interesting to you the time is short to get your order for tags in to be ready for the fall migration in about a month.

While I have no new “Big Year” species to report since my last post there has been quite a bit of activity in my yard and around the state. I’ve seen an interesting mix of butterflies in our yard the last several days including Eastern Tiger, Giant and Black Swallowtails, a Comma, Snout and Sleepy Oranges (grandchildren of the butterflies that arrived in May). Several readers have shared some excellent photos I’d like to share with you as well. We’re in the process of getting these photos into our images page so please be patient and keep sending those pics. Thanks for your interest and participation!!

100 (almost) !!

Last Sunday (July 19) I was out in the yard here at home and noticed a larger than usual whiteish butterfly hanging around our Sennae. After sneaking up on it (if you can imagine that) to get a better view I found it to be an albinic Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). I suspect it was a female so I will be on the lookout for larvae on that plant and its other preferred host Partridge Pea which I have growing elsewhere in the yard. A great “Big Year” addition without having to travel to far. YTD total = 98.

Hearing of Bates Crescent and Indra Swallowtail sightings in the Pine Ridge and still hoping to find marsh and Little Glassywing Skippers at the Niobrara Valley Preserve Jen and I embarked on another road trip Tuesday night.

After an overnight stay in Scottsbluff Wednesday morning we made our way up to Gilbert-Baker State Wildlife Management Area north of Harrison to look for the crescent. Beebalm (Monarda sp) and hairy verbena (Verbena stricta) were in full bloom and while searching for the elusive crescent we encountered quite a few fritillaries, mostly Aphrodite but with one Regal and several others that looked darker than the rest. Thinking they were possibly Coronis Fritillaries I took one specimen to examine in closer detail back home. We also encountered several second generation Afranius Duskywings (Erynnis afranius – see May 28 post) as well as a few other common species. After several hours there searching for Bate’s without success we headed to Pant’s Butte – a reliable Indra Swallowtail locale. After selecting a spot on high ground a safe distance from the precipice (my safety coordinator was along) I began surveying the landscape below. The usual Nebraska wind (a little more than desired) was at my back and suddenly I was ambushed from behind by the Indra Swallowtail (Papilio indra) I’d been searching for. Over the ledge he went leaving me to wonder what must that be like. But not wondering hard enough to take up hang gliding off of cliffs. With no more prospects for the day and a drive to Valentine left on the agenda we concluded the day’s butterfly hunt with one, maybe two additional species – YTD total 99, maybe 100 if Coronis pans out!!

At the Niobrara River we resumed our search for skippers. Jonathan and Bennett Nikkila had taken pictures of a couple of Little Glassywing Skippers there back on July 11 and I still harbored hopes of finding Dion and Two Spotted Skippers at a marshy location there. Upon our arrival we scouted out a marsh and had a brief (3 seconds?) encounter with a sootywing. The habitat and its appearance didn’t seem right for the Common Sootywing and I’m about 60% sure it was a Scalloped (Staphylus hayhurstii). But 60% is not 100% so no counting that. To bad as I hadn’t seen one of those in years. We ended up not finding any of the desired skippers but did see several Giant Swallowtails from a resident population centered around Prickly Ash (their larval hostplant) which is locally abundant there. Oh, and lots of ticks – an occupational hazard. So with no new species for the day (but some good scenery and exercise) we turned on the A/C and headed into the south wind to home.

Cloudless Sulphur – This large sulphur strays into Nebraska from permanent gulf coast populations in varying numbers nearly every year, usually in the later stages of the summer. It has been most often found in the southern portions of the state, particularly in the southeast where it’s preferred larval hostplants Partridge Pea and Wild Sennae (Cassia fasciculata and C. marilandica) are established. Being a migrant it may show up anywhere.

Indra Swallowtail – In Nebraska this butterfly can been found in spring and midsummer flying in the steep canyon lands of Sioux and Banner counties where its larvae feed on Threadleaf Musineon (Musineon tenuifolium) which grows out of rocky ledges and nearly vertical slopes. Western Nebraska is at the extreme eastern edge of this species range.

While certainly not the prettiest butterfly (my opinion) this swallowtail has a devoted cult following, probably due to its rarity and the difficulty in accessing the extreme environments it calls home. Some of those include the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, both of which fall almost entirely within National Park boundaries where no collecting is allowed. This has led to a black market for these butterflies. An interesting article (The Great Butterfly Bust) on this sordid trade appeared in the March-April 1996 issue of Audubon magazine.

Upon my arrival back home I was able to spend a little more time examining my “Coronis Fritillary” and decided I wasn’t comfortable with that determination so for the time being I guess it’s a darker than usual Aphrodite. So rather than getting to 100 the YTD total is 99.

Thanks to Cathy, Elizabeth, James and Ann for their input/photos – very much appreciated.

A little housekeeping – in Saturday’s World Herald article a Tawny Edged Skipper was identified as a Tawny Emperor. Jon and I do know the difference – a mix up somewhere. That’s something I always check in published material. Funny how easy that can happen!