This Morning Before the Rain…

I went on a prairie walk at Tipton Prairie in Greene County, Iowa.  The prairie was quite spectacular today.  The vegetation that is found there is quite rare.

This is a fiery skipper.

I think this flower fly is Toxomerus geminatus.

This is the common grass veneer moth, Crambus praefectellus.

Although there were plenty of rare plants, this is the not-so-rare sumac.

This pretty little green beetle is the adult stage of the eastern corn rootworm.

This is a gray hairstreak, Strymon melinus.

It is near the end of the season.  Most flowers were past their peaks and were setting seed or had already set seed.  Butterflies were present only in low numbers, and most were old and ragged.  Still, it was a pleasant day and a fun event.

Thanks to Mike Delaney and Tom Rosberg for putting it on.

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Hanging with the bad boys…

I went out to take some butterfly photos today and came across this butterfly at the edge of the parking lot.

This is a fiery skipper.  You make the bad jokes.

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Be Very Afraid…

Saturday I went to The Ledges State Park and chased some bugs.  I am happy to report that the canyon road was finally open and people were enjoying themselves immensely.

I saw a bug that was new to me, although I have seen photos of it:

This is a fly, although it looks and acts like a yellow jacket wasp.  It is called Spilomyia longicornis.  Not a whole lot is known about its life cycle, although it may live in holes in trees that contain water or moist debris.  Although you might be frightened by this insect, you need not be because it cannot bite or sting.  The black legs might even imitate the black antenna of the other insect.

This is a yellow jacket wasp.  It has a stinger and it can sting you.  And it usually brings its friends along to the party.

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Some Common Butterflies

I spent a little time today and on Tuesday taking photographs of butterflies.  I was not in any special habitat, and the butterflies I saw were pretty common.  Still, I had fun doing it.

This was a common buckeye.

This is a dainty sulfur.  I never quite get the photograph I want with these, but this does show the blue on the eye fairly well.

Fiery skippers are common this time of year.  Still, they are pretty little butterflies.

Silver-spotted skippers will soon be gone for the year.  This one was hanging out on the ironweed.


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Size in Butterflies

In “The Princess Bride” there was an encounter with “rodents of unusual size.”  Today I had an encounter with a butterfly of unusual size.

I have photographed a lot of butterflies over the past several years, and having done so I have a pretty good idea of how large each species “should” be.  Having said that, every time I look at someone’s butterfly collection I am surprised at how small the butterflies seem to be.  When chasing them in real life they seem much larger.

Along Saylorville Reservoir I came across a small patch of dogbane still in bloom.  This is unusual in itself because the plant normally is done blooming by the first week or two of July.  I saw this orange sulfur.  It was quite large–large enough that I thought at first it could be a cloudless sulfur.

We have had quite a bloom of painted ladies in Iowa lately, and this individual butterfly was slightly larger than any of them.  When it flew, it had bright orange on its upper surface.  This orange color is not unheard of but it was quite a bit more orange than I typically see.

So it was an unusually large, unusually dark orange sulfur.

Butterflies can sometimes show striking individual size variation–today I also noticed a number of common buckeyes which were smaller than normal.  I have seen eastern tailed-blue individuals, for example, that were about half the size of normal.  In the butterflies that have several generations per year, one generation might be smaller, on average, than a different generation.  They can also be colored significantly differently.

Speaking of size, this is one of Iowa’s smallest butterflies, the dainty sulfur.  This is not seen everywhere, but can be quite common where it is found.

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More Bugs from Yesterday and Today

Little yellow on smart weed.

Velvet ant investigating the nest of a ground dwelling bee or wasp.  Since it is wingless, it is a female.

Robber fly, female.  Efferia sp.?

Tawny-edged skipper on bergamot.  Often butterflies that look like this are in trouble–captured by ambush bugs or crab spiders.  This butterfly was not–instead, it had to push its head into the flower to get at the nectar.  It was dining at a table set for someone else.

This little guy is called the partridge bug, Scolops sulcipes.

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Weekend Critters

I was able to hit a couple of prairie areas this weekend and admire the creatures that live in them.


One thing the wordpress blogging site does when you insert a photograph is to insert a photo caption.  By default, the caption is a series of question marks which you replace with text.  Usually I just delete the caption, but in this case my photo is of a question mark butterfly, Polygonia interrogationis.  So the default caption is appropriate.

This was along a roadside at Waubonsie State Park in south western Iowa.

Chorus frogs are the first frogs we hear every year.  I have spent hours, unsuccessfully trying to get a photograph of one.  They are too sensitive to sneak up on, or perhaps I am not sneaky enough.  But this one was in the weeds where I could get a good look.

Mydas flies are very large flies–the ones we have in Iowa are slightly more than an inch long.  The group includes the world’s largest fly, which is about four inches long.  Not too much is known about them.  The adults do not live for very long, and the larva are thought to live in rotten wood.  Iowa has two species that we know about–this one is Mydas clavatus .

When they fly, they sound and look like large, angry wasps.  I was enchanted by the experience of having one fly near my head a few times.  But then, I knew it was a Mydas fly.

This widow skimmer was in a small prairie in Greene County.

This painted lady was in the same prairie.

I almost always see eastern amberwings in prairies.  I am always amazed by their beauty.

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More Time in the Prairie

I spent some time at Medora Prairie in Warren County today, photographing butterflies, getting my head on straight, and scratching my legs on the raspberries.

I got a good look at a little yellow as I went in.

These common wood nymphs were trying to become more common.  The flash distorts reality a little bit here–these butterflies appear to be almost completely black as they fly around in the grass.

There were regal fritillaries.  I chased them around a lot and took quite a few photos but never got quite close enough with an unobstructed view to get the picture I wanted.

Butterfly milkweed was abundant, as was black-eyed Susan.

The lead plant was in full bloom as well.

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Fourth of July Butterfly Irruption

We have had a strange combination of dry weather followed by very heavy rains here in Iowa.  We are also in the midst of an irruption (an extreme increase in the population size) of painted lady butterflies.  After the rains, the butterflies are attracted to the moisture that remains in the soil and on the gravel on roads.  So our gravel roads can be covered with butterflies.

I have seen both phenomena before, but I have not seen them come together in quite the way they did today.  I drove to Marietta Sand Prairie today and my car flushed up butterflies all along the way.  It was especially noticeable on the few miles of gravel roads that I drove, but there were even good numbers of butterflies sitting on the blacktop roads, attempting to get a little moisture from the surface.

This photo has eleven painted ladies and two red admirals.  There were plenty of places along my trip that had concentrations similar to this.

The purpose of my trip was to photograph butterflies, and I was not disappointed.

Gorgone checkerspots are considerably less common than painted ladies, but there were some at the prairie.  Like the other butterflies, they were attracted to the wet gravel.

The prairie was in bloom, and even though the painted ladies are quite common they are also quite beautiful.  I found myself taking many photos of them.

This butterfly is common the world over.

Other creatures were out, too.  This is a marsh fly, apparently in the genus Helophilus.

This is a white form female of the orange sulfur.

I only got a short look at this robber fly.  When I spooked him, he flew a few feet away and landed facing in my direction.  It sure seemed like he was watching me.

This question mark butterfly spent some time on a common milkweed.

With all the milkweed in bloom, I kept a sharp eye out for hairstreaks, which seem to love this flower.  Unfortunately, I only saw one, this banded hairstreak.  I was lucky enough to get several photos of it though.


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A Better Day for Butterflies

I have been a little disappointed this year with my butterfly photography.  To get good butterfly photographs you have to have a good habitat for them.  I moved this spring, and I have had a hard time finding some good places close to home.  I know some terrific habitats that are a long drive away, but have struggled a little bit finding some close-by places.

I went to Swede Point Park this morning–it is only about a ten minute drive away.  I have been there in the past, but was not under the impression that it was good butterfly habitat.  In fact, none were out this morning because it was cool and rainy, but I saw some good stands of common milkweed and dogbane.

This afternoon was a different story.  The sun came up and it got hot.  And I did find butterflies.

Red admirals were everywhere.  The common milkweed and the dogbane were loaded with them.

This American lady was on the dogbane.

Silver-spotted skippers will visit flowers in the conventional butterfly manner–walking around on top of the flower.  They will also land on the side of or underneath the flowers, and seem comfortable in any position.

The reconstructed prairie was full of blooming foxglove beardtongue.  This flower is not really a good butterfly flower.  It is pollinated mostly by bees, which have to force their way up into the flower to get the nectar.  I saw this silver-spotted skipper visit two different flowers, although it was obviously a difficult task for it.  With effort, the butterfly seemed to be getting rewarded.

This little wood satyr was near the wooded area, but would flit around in the grasses and poison ivy.

Paths were mowed through the prairie, and this meadow fritillary settled on a clover flower there.

A large stand of butterfly milkweed was fenced off and noted with a sign near the edge of the prairie.  Several great-spangled fritillaries were visiting the plant.

Flowers help a lot, but after a rain butterflies can often be found getting moisture and minerals from the wet ground, particularly along gravel roads.  This is a hackberry emperor.

The butterflies are out.  Now is a good time to see them.

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