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.

Four More County Records for NE

On June 2 Steve Spomer stopped at the Brainard Cemetery in Butler County and found (among a few other things) Silver Spotted Skippers and a Hobomok Skipper, both of which had not been previously reported from Butler county. Then Friday June 4 Jen and I met Pat and Diane Miller at the Scotia Chalk Mine in Greeley County to look for said Silver Spotted Skippers. While there I saw a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail which to my surprise ended up being a county record. We ended up not finding Silver Spotted Skippers there or in Valley County, but Diane finally located one at a wayside area a couple miles east of Burwell in Garfield County where it was a county record as well. Peck’s Skippers were common there but had been found in Garfield County previously. Those four records along with the Saline County Peck’s Skipper (see the May 25 post) bring our Nebraska 2021 year to date county record total to five. The updated maps follow. To learn more about these butterflies follow the link below the maps.

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Epargyreus-clarus

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Poanes-hobomok

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-glaucus

Once again, to request a list of butterflies found (or not yet found) from any of Nebraska’s 93 counties reach out to nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com. To submit what you believe to be a new record for a county send a picture and full data (date, location and observer) to the same email. Once again the records designated as 4H records are probably valid but the data for those records never reached me.

New record for Saline County: Peck’s Skipper – Polites peckius

Saturday (May 22) Jen and I went to Lincoln to buy more plants (Statewide Arboretum and Midwest Natives). Although the weather was not ideal (mostly cloudy with a stiff wind out of the south) for butterfly hunting we decided to do a little exploring and take a road less traveled (not Interstate 80) home. Driving west on state highway 41 in Saline County we went past a sign alerting us to the presence of a Willard Meyer Recreation Area. It wasn’t on my DeLorme map so we made a u-turn and went back to check it out. It ends up that it is an NRD development (Swan Lake). We got out and explored one area and drove around and scouted out a few others. There is an interesting mix of habitats ranging from marshy creek bottoms to upland prairies. While hardly anything was blooming and the weather was mostly unfavorable we were able to find Silver Spotted, Common Checkered, Tawny Edged and Peck’s Skippers, Alfalfa Butterflies, Eastern Tailed Blues, and a Summer Azure. Of these Peck’s Skipper had not previously been recorded from Saline County. And the first sightings of Pack’s and Tawny Edged Skippers for 2021. The area is definitely worth a return trip in a month when the weather is more favorable and there are more things blooming.

Peck’s Skipper, The Nature Conservancy’s Caveny Tract – Platte River Prairies, Nebraska, 6/2/20, photo by Chris Helzer
York and Adams Counties are 4H records with incomplete data

This skipper flies in multiple broods and should be found in every county in the state, mainly around, but not exclusive to, wetlands. Larvae feed on Switchgrasses (Panicum sp.). County record opportunities abound! Report any sightings/photos of counties lacking records to nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com

While last year’s Big Year project was fun I almost exclusively went to places I had been to in the past. I did miss the exploring aspect that I usually engage in while traveling. So while this year is going to be more devoted to exploration some part of me obligates me keep a running species total for the year. So 2021’s year to date total is 21 species.

Megathymus yuccae – Yucca Giant Skipper

If you’ve followed me through my big year effort last year this might be a little deja vu from one of my first posts last year. But this year I found a neat video link about this critter from Dr. Andrew Warren at the University of Florida. One neat side note (for me) – Dr. Warren is from Denver and I met him on a chance encounter back in 1991 on M Mountain outside of Golden when we were both looking for Nais Metalmark butterflies (Apodemis nais). He was still in high school at that time, young and full of energy. Even then you could tell that he was not your average novice. Anyway it’s an awesome video, entertaining and full of information. So here’s the link – enjoy!

I wonder if all those collection drawers between the east and west coast specimens were all Yucca Giant Skippers? Wow!

In Nebraska this interesting skipper was a rather recent discovery (in the mid 1980s), probably due to it’s early flight period, the rarity of adults and the desolate appearance of it’s habitat at that time of year. Unless you were looking specifically for this butterfly you would probably not give their habitat a second look as you drove by in early May. Once we were alerted to it’s presence and knew what to look for we were able to find it at a number of locations in western and southwestern Nebraska. Oddly it has yet to be found in the sandhills region although yuccas are common to abundant there.

These skippers should be flying right now (late April – mid May). Finding adults takes a little luck and perseverance. If you go looking keep in mind that these are rare insects so finding them makes for a special day. The tents are somewhat easier to find but still finding one in an hour at an established population is about average. We’ve found tents at Harlan County Reservoir (Harlan Co.), Ash Hollow State Historical Park (Garden Co.) and Box Elder State Wildlife Management Area (Lincoln Co.) in the past. So go check out your local yucca patch. If you don’t find them you may see a few other spring oddities (Silvery Blues Glaucopsyche lygdamus or Olympia Marblewings Euchloe olympia) instead. If you have any questions, see one of these skippers anywhere or take any interesting butterfly pics we’d love to hear from you at nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com

Hunt for Henry’s Elfin Larval Hostplants

What a strange spring (but what does a “normal” spring look like). Once in a while a nice “butterfly day” followed by another week of cold weather. I guess it’s been several weeks ago Jen and I made our annual spring pilgrimage to Harlan County Reservoir to kick off butterfly season. We were met there by Jonathan Nikkila and Dr. Bryan Drew from UNK. Of course the season was a little behind and the only nectar sources were plum blossoms. The temps were only in the 60s but it was sunny and if you stayed on the south side of the trees out of the north wind there were a few butterflies out. We ended up finding around 10 Henry’s Elfins, 1 Juniper Hairstreak, 1 Grey Hairstreak, 1 Anglewing, 1 Tiger Swallowtail, 1 Olympia Marblewing,  1 Dainty Sulfur,  a couple of Red Admirals, Cabbages and Alfalfas, and about a half dozen Baptisia Duskywings in a couple of hours. That was the most Henry’s Elfins I’d ever seen there. And many miles from their southeastern Nebraska larval hostplant, Redbud trees.

I kind of let that pass until Steve Spomer motivated me into writing by reporting he found an elfin at Nine Mile Prairie last week with not a redbud tree in sight. So what are the larvae eating? The butterfly is not known to travel far so it has to be a local host. And if it’s not Redbud, then what is it and where else might it be found. In addition to being a spring flier, it is small, drab and easily overlooked. So it is likely much more widespread than reported. Keep your eyes out for the next couple of weeks for this curious little butterfly and let us know if you see one (nebraskabutterflies@gmail.com). Of the shrubs/small trees listed as larval hostplants in literature, a Prunus species (wild plum or chokecherry) seems most likely in Nebraska. Be alert for this dime sized butterfly in the vicinity of woody shrubs or small trees, on the sunny side of shelterbelts, and on nearby flowers.

Hesperia leonardus pawnee Dodge 1874 Another butterfly described from NE

This is probably one of my favorite group of butterflies (skippers actually). Members of the genus Hesperia are native prairie specialists. Finding any of them today is to rediscover habitat roughly unchanged from what white settlers first encountered when entering our area in the early 1800s. They are the insect equivalents of the American Bison. There are three subspecies of Hesperia leonardus. The nominate subspecies (leonardus) is found in the eastern United States and has a distinct band on the ventral hindwing. Subspecies montana is largely restricted to the Rocky Mountain populations. Subspecies pawnee was described by Dodge in 1874 with the type locality (see Jan 2 post for a type locality discussion) being “Glencoe, Nebraska, upon high rolling prairie (Dodge County)”. While the ventral hindwing of subspecies pawnee is immaculate (largely unicolored and devoid of markings) specimens intermediate with leonardus, with a small degree of maculation, are not uncommon in Nebraska. The species is strongly dimorphic with males displaying a distinct black stigma and females lacking that and being more mottled. The type specimens are thought to be held at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass & Ohio State University.

This skipper inhabits native prairies and flies in a single brood from late August into early September. Larvae feed on various prairie grasses including bluestem and gramma grasses. Windlass Hill at Ash Hollow State Historical Park is a great location to find this skipper as well as Hesperia colorado, another prairie specialist. Traveling eastward this skipper becomes much rarer as prairie habitats degrade/disappear.

Hesperia leonardus pawnee thumbnails (butterfliesofamerica.com)

Butterflies with Type Localities in Nebraska: Lycaena rubidus longi K. Johnson and Balogh, 1977

Pardon my neglect in putting out new material. I’ve been learning some new mapping software to make new distribution maps for Nebraska’s 200+ species (the last ones for the state were put out in 2004/05). I’ve also been comparing notes with Steve Spomer to synchronize our data. So hopefully it will all be worth it. There is a new distribution map for this butterfly a little later in this post. Any comments/suggestions are welcome.

This butterfly (Lycaena rubidus – the Ruddy Copper) inhabits the western half of the United States but is largely absent from New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. Eastward it can be found into western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska. In a lengthy review of the species in 1977 Johnson and Balogh described a new subspecies (Lycaena rubidus longi K. Johnson & Balogh, 1977) from Nebraska, again with the type locality being “the region north of Harrison” in Sioux county. A holotype (single type specimen) is housed at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity in Gainesville (University of Florida). This area north of Harrison is also the type locality for Pahaska Skippers (Jan 8 post) and Bernadetta Checkerspots (Feb 23 post). See the Jan 2 post for the type locality discussion.

Lycaena rubidus longi thumbnails (butterfliesofamerica.com)

There is one generation of Ruddy Coppers annually, generally lasting a couple of weeks with numbers peaking in mid June. As with all coppers, larvae feed on docks (Rumex species), with this butterfly showing a preference for winged dock aka wild begonia (Rumex venosus) which is widely distributed in western Nebraska.