New to the state – Ocola Skipper

This past week Steve Spomer sent me some pictures of a skipper one of his up and coming young protégés, Jonathan Xing caught in his yard in Lincoln late last summer. When Jonathan had described it to Steve over the phone Steve had thought it was probably a Eufala Skipper. But after finally seeing it in person he was in agreement with Jonathan who had already ided it as an Ocola Skipper. After circulating to photos to several experts who encounter it more frequently than we Nebraskans everyone is in agreement that it is indeed an Ocola Skipper (Panoquina ocola)

The Ocola skipper is a tropical species, being a permanent resident from South America north into the Gulf States. From there is occasionally strays northward, most frequently along the east coast. The next nearest record from our area is from the Wichita, Kansas area on Oct 21, 2015 after several days of strong south winds. Jonathan caught his skipper on August 5, 2020. Larvae of this skipper feed on several tropical wetland grasses, none of which occur in NE so this species would be a non-breeding stray in our area. Congratulations Jonathan on recording a new state record!!

Monarch Tagging Time

Where did the summer go? Suddenly it’s August and time to consider doing some citizen science and tag migrating Monarchs. Monarchwatch.org (a University of Kansas outreach program) is the sponsoring organization. Check out their website for full details, but briefly – you order the kit containing labels and instructions on the tagging procedure. You tag the Monarchs and enter your tagging data on a spreadsheet that you send back to them. They produce a listing of tagged monarch butterflies recovered on their southward migration and overwintering sites. You can check that list to see if any of your tagged butterflies have been sighted/found. Costs are $15 for 25 tags, $20 for 50 tags or $30 for 100. The tags are good for this season only. Last year I had 50 tags and got them all used in an afternoon in an alfalfa patch after we recruited the nieces to round up the monarchs. It’s a great participation project to educate budding naturalists. Migration peaks vary from year to year but in recent years south central Nebraska’s peak has been early-mid September.

Distribution Map Updates – Part 2

Here are the remaining seven maps for butterflies with six or fewer counties needed to complete their “clean sweep” of all 93 counties. If you happen to be traveling through or have relatives in any of these counties there is an opportunity to get your/their name in the record book (see Garfield County post from four days ago). Send a photo of your butterfly along with date and locality to nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. Pics need not be restricted to the species listed below.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service is in the process of gathering data to study the possible listing of the Regal Fritillary as a threatened species. They have records for Burt, Cuming, Wayne and Box Butte counties that I don’t, leaving just Thurston and Hooker counties without records. They are looking for “current” records which by their definition are from the year 2000 or later. If you have records later than 2000 for any of the counties shaded in orange you can submit them to brooke_stansberry@fws.gov. If possible they would like data for the record (Latitude, Longitude, State, County, Date, and Source).

Distribution Map Updates – Part 1

I just finished updating the distribution maps for all 215 butterfly species that have been recorded from Nebraska. Six butterflies have been recorded from all 93 counties – Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta), Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui), Monarchs (Danaus plexippus), Common Wood Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala), Orange Sulphurs (Colias eurytheme) and Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae).

Another 14 species have a half dozen or fewer counties where they are as yet unreported. It’s not so late in the season that we can’t make a dent in some of those.

I’ll post the other seven in the next couple of days. If your heading to any of the counties lacking records (Boone and Wayne have two opportunities each) keep an eye out for these butterflies. If you find any let us know at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. Happy hunting!!

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