The Dance of Life

Butterflies have a little dance they do prior to mating (or sometimes prior to not mating).  It often includes shimmering, shaking, and flying around in circling chases.  I saw two silver-spotted skippers in the dance this morning.

They started in the Monarda.  Silver spotted skippers almost have a buzz when they fly.  If one flies past your ear you will hear it.  But flopping around in the weeds there was a definite noise–not quite a buzz, but definitely a rustle.

They flew for a short distance–a foot or so–within the vegetation.  They rustled for a few seconds, then flew some more.

Then the flew into a tree, out of range of my camera.  A few seconds later I saw them fly higher, into a different tree where I lost sight of them.

Other creatures were doing their own life dance.  I witnessed several species of dragonfly flying low over the backwater at Saylorville Reservoir.

This is an eastern amberwing.

Tiny frogs, smaller than the nail of my pinky finger were hopping on the mud and resting on the weeds.  This is a cricket frog.

Blue vervain seemed strangely devoid of pollinators.  Then the sun popped out from behind a cloud and several butterflies, like this common buckeye showed up.

This male fiery skipper shows the flame-like markings that give the butterfly its common name.

Life dances on.  If you are lucky you can witness it.

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Today’s Critters

Today was a beautiful day and I was able to spend a little time wandering around with my camera.  There were lots of cool insects out.

This viceroy was taking nectar from rattlesnake master.

An eastern tiger swallowtail was working the coneflowers.

This widow skimmer hung around the prairie, looking for small insects to eat.

An ambush bug caused the demise of a Delaware skipper.

This is a female eastern pondhawk.  The male is light blue and looks like a completely different species.

It was a nice day.  A great day to be outside with a camera.

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Reverse Zombies

Zombies in our movies and TV shows are unthinking creatures, predators on people.  They stumble around with no real focus and can suffer horrific damage.  If left to their own devices they will convert the whole world into more zombies.

It seems to me that aphids are sort of zombies in reverse.

Aphids live on plants.  They suck the plant juices, and reproduce.  Their reproduction is by parthenogenesis.  They can’t be bothered by sex, they just pop out live babies.

Left to their own devices they would cover every plant out there with aphids.

But there are a whole host of other creatures that prey on them.  The dark, dried out aphids are the result of a wasp that deposits an egg within the aphid.  The wasp larva eats the aphid from the inside.  The yellow worms are syrphid fly larva.  They crawl up to the aphids and start feeding.  The aphids suffer great damage but are unable to do anything except to continue to reproduce.

The results are more horrific from the aphid’s perspective than any zombie movie we could come up with.

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Recent Butterflies

Butterflies are less common this year than most.  Still, there are some good ones out there.

This is a summer azure, one of the two most common blue butterflies in Iowa.  You can tell the difference between them by how they fly–this one will fly high up into the trees.

From above these butterflies are a delightful light blue color.

This is the other very common one.  This is an eastern tailed-blue.  They are normally all over the place this time of year, but this year their numbers are way down.  Still, they can be found.

From above males of this species are dark blue and females are brown or gray.  These butterflies stay low–mostly at the level of tall weeds or below.

This is a silver-spotted skipper.

This is the same individual from a different angle and with different lighting.

Enjoy your summer.

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Failing at Butterflies (but working through it)

There is an old saying that a bad day fishing beats a good day at work.  The same is true about chasing butterflies.  Still, when you do something you love to do there are times it just does not work the way you want it to.

I had a long drive over the weekend, and I was seeing lots of plantings (and possibly some natural colonies) of butterfly milkweed along the roadways.  Butterfly milkweed is a butterfly magnet–you can usually find all kinds of butterflies visiting it in a prairie or savanna.  So I figured I would visit a prairie today and take photographs of the butterflies on the milkweed.

So I visited Medora Prairie in Warren  County in Iowa.  I saw lots of butterfly milkweed there, but none of it had butterflies on it.  I really only saw a couple of bees on it.  Maybe it is past its peak, or maybe I was just there at the wrong time of the day.

There weren’t huge numbers of butterflies, either.  There were quite a few common wood-nymphs, some buckeyes, American ladies, cabbage whites, pearl crescents, a single red-spotted purple, and a single little yellow.   I did also see a regal fritillary, but I was not able to get a photograph of it.

I took a lot of photos, but never really got one that I thought would be good.  It was hot and humid, and I had an overriding feeling of failure when I was done.  Yes, you can feel like a failure doing something you love to do.

I decided to go to an area about an hour to the south of there, called Slip Bluff Park.  This area is also good for butterflies.

When I got in my car, I noticed that I had a little visitor.

I photographed this little jumping spider, then let him loose.  Things were starting to look a little better.

I can walk to Slip Bluff Park from an interstate rest area on I-35.  If I wanted to drive into the park I would have to drive about ten or twelve miles more.

I saw this dusted skimmer along the dam.

Several places I saw pearl crescents in mating chases.  Often this involves three or four individuals, instead of just two.  The female is above, the male below.

As I was crossing the dam to go back home, I saw a small blue butterfly.  I was not going to try a photo, because I initially thought it was an eastern tailed-blue.  They are normally very common and I have plenty of good photos of the species.  But I saw that its wings were spread, and normally it is hard to get the bright blue upper wings, so I stalked it and started taking photos.

As I was photographing it, I realized that it was not an eastern tailed-blue.  It was a melissa blue.  This butterfly is rare in Iowa, especially in this part of the state.  This might possibly be a new record for the county.

So on a day that I felt like I was failing I did enjoy some success.  Not a bad day after all.


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Weekend Photos

We had great weather for people this weekend.  It was a little too windy and cool for butterfly photography, though.  Still, I did get some shots.

The milkweeds are still in bloom, and still drawing in butterflies like this gray copper.  Both the butterfly and the photographer had to fight the wind to get this photo.

Orange sulfurs are normally our most common butterfly, but their numbers are down this year.

This common buckeye was not too much affected by the wind when it landed on the short grass near the taller weeds.

This Nessus sphinx moth was perched on the flowers taking nectar.  Normally, I believe, they take nectar on the wing like a hummingbird would do.  It moved slowly but did not seem to be in trouble.  Maybe it landed here because of the wind.

At Lincoln Access near Saylorville Reservoir I found this familiar bluet damselfly.

I startled this bullfrog so that he jumped into the water.  Then he turned around and glared at me.

Just wandering around with my camera.

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Milkweed and Butterflies

We live along a gravel road, and on both sides there is plenty of common milkweed.

Common milkweed, like most milkweed species, can be quite fragrant at times and is attractive to many different pollinators.  I especially like it when I am chasing butterflies.

We know that milkweed is a caterpillar host plant for monarchs.  However, I like the way the plant attracts other butterflies.  With the flowers in sort of a loose ball, the butterflies are often found in unusual positions.

Red admirals are common but always colorful.

Small butterflies like this dun skipper can often be found on the blooms if you look closely.

Banded hairstreaks are small, only have one generation per year, and are only present as adults for about two weeks each year.  Therefore it is a special treat to find one.

This banded hairstreak was back lit, and sunlight was hitting the fringes on the edge of its wings.  I had never seen that before.

And, I found an Edward’s hairstreak.  I have seen and photographed them before this, but never this close to home.

If you have some common milkweed, take the time to examine it closely.  You might find some nice surprises.

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On Ripley Esker

One of my job duties requires me to go to Camp Ripley in Minnesota about every year.  We do an internal audit of our Environmental Management System, and since you cannot audit yourself (or the work you have done), we have an informal exchange.  I conduct the Minnesota internal audit, and someone from Minnesota conducts the Iowa audit.

I don’t travel well.  Even though the people I deal with are very professional, friendly, and helpful I still find myself dreading the trip.  I think it is because I spend too much time “stewing in my own juices” as my Dad used to say.  I like a certain amount of solitude, but when I am driving or sitting in a hotel room by myself I tend to over-worry about my problems.

Fortunately, about two miles east of Camp Ripley is a nice natural area that allowed me to get some major stress relief.  The area is called Ripley Esker State Natural Area.  I visited it all three evenings that I was up there.

Basically, an esker is a glacial feature–sand and gravel from internal streams of a melting glacier leave a ridge that may be several miles long.  The part that is preserved in Ripley is about three quarters of a mile long, and I would estimate it may be 30 or 40 feet high in places.  The esker itself is wooded (more like a savanna than a forest, though) but the surrounding area is prairie.

Butterflies were everywhere in the small oaks on the ridge.  That is a hobomok skipper to the right and a little wood satyr to the left.

This little wood satyr seems to be getting some kind of nourishment from a liquid on top of an oak leaf.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies.  I haven’t figured out what this one is yet.

I felt something crawling on my arm, and it turned out to be a tiny bright green beetle.  This weevil may be Polydrusus impressifrons.

This crab spider is waiting for its prey.

The arctic skipper was new to me.  This was the first one I have seen or photographed.

And on my way down I encountered this pair of hobomok skippers doing a little nuptial dance on the poison ivy.

If you are thinking of visiting the site, be aware that there are deer flies, mosquitoes, wood ticks, and some kind of little gnat that likes to fly near your eyes or into your nostrils.

But for me, the short time I was able to spend at Ripley Esker was very enjoyable.  I would highly recommend it.  It was great stress relief.

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Recent Butterflies

The last couple of days has been very hot with strong winds.  The winds make the butterflies less likely to fly around like they normally do.  When they do take to the wing they are obviously bothered by it.  They are also more difficult to photograph with the strong wind.

Still, they can be found and I have been able to take a few photos.  This is a cabbage white.

This is a meadow fritillary.

I saw a few fresh painted ladies today.

These least skippers landed on the leg of my shorts, making for an interesting photographic experience.

Nothing very rare, but all fun!

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Get ’em off, Get ’em off!

Dragonflies and damselflies can often be seen carrying a load of the parasitic larvae of water mites.  This damselfly (probably a familiar bluet) had an unusually large load.

It is thought that they do not kill the damsels, but that they do drain their resources.


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