Jul
17

Butterflies and Moths

Frankly, with the cool – thus far – and cloudy summer in Central Washington, I have not seen my normal bounty of butterflies and moths. On the other hand, several homeys have reported seeing various “flowers of the air” in the Yakima River Canyon, up on and around Table Mountain, and among the wildflowers around Gingko State Park. The perennial discussion of ‘what is butterfly and what is moth” was in the midst of a couple of those reports.

Which of us has not been fascinated by a brilliant flash of color landing on a plant nearby? Thus, the Watchable Wildlife Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association has revisited its list of suggested resources. Members continue to recommend certain books and field manuals, but have added a couple very rich and family-oriented web sites.

As we begin this discussion, let us first ponder the risky life of the butterfly or moth; if it does not drown, or break a wing in the wind or a rough landing, or get eaten by some bird or other predator, it may end up on the wrong end of some homeowner=s wish to get it off the screen door. Appreciation for the surviving “air flowers” begins with their striking patterns and colors, then morphs into identification.

Identification might start with adults, of course, and the time of activity. Most butterflies are diurnal (active during the day) and brightly colored. Butterfly bodies are generally slender and not especially pubescent (hairy). On the other hand, most adult moths are nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn/dusk). While some moths are brightly colored or have colorful wing “eyespots,” most have drab, bulky, quite pubescent bodies with cryptic wing patterns, helping them blend into surroundings.

The acid test for differentiation is the shape of the antennae. Except for one tropical group (not an issue here), all butterflies have simple antennae that end in a swelling or “club,” which may be very pronounced, or quite subtle. Moth antennae, on the other hand, will range in shape from simple points to a feather‑like appearance; none will have that clubbed tip.

Your personal study might start at www.butterfliesandmoths.org. This stunning site covers all of North America, including reports from in and around Paradise. The organization is aiming to collect, store, and share species information and occurrence data. (Your participation is requested – just take and submit photographs of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars.) This is a rich site, worth your exploration, with pictures, records of sightings, and natural histories.

While you’re online, check out the Washington butterfly Association – the WBA – at wabutterflyassoc.org for stunning videos and photos from across the planet and abundant info about these fascinating animals. Join the association, if you like, and get in on classes, the annual conference, and newsletter links to current butterfly news. Monthly meetings are held at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, at the Corbin Art Center in Spokane, and online through Zoom. Take yourself or your gang on one of the butterfly or moth events held around the state.

Once you’ve gone that far, you will likely be wanting a good guidebook. Start with the general “Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest.” Then get serious with one of Robert Michael Pyle’s books, such as his amazing “Butterflies of Cascadia.” If you are really lucky, you may find, online or in a local book shop, Michael’s early handbook, “Watching Washington Butterflies,” published through the Seattle Audubon Society in 1974. You will find others at your favorite bookstore or library.

As summer moves, you will find fewer and fewer butterflies and more caterpillars and pupae. Classifying caterpillars or pupae into their proper butterfly or moth categories is a great family challenge. In fact, there are few ways to tell them apart at the crawl-around stage. I have yet to find a really useful guide to pupae identification, although I still hear rumors of one coming. “Caterpillars of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands” (Jeffrey C. Miller’s terrific work) comes close, with a broad range of butterfly and moth caterpillars. I would certainly recommend that you check out the larval photos in Jim Kaufman’s AButterflies of North America.@ The book “Moths of North America,” by Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler will help you identify a particular specimen or its family. Online, the Bug Guide Group hosts meetings and field experiences across the country for most any bug or caterpillar imaginable. They have up-to-the-minute photos of butterflies and moths, along with info to help identify pupae and caterpillars of all sorts on their site at bugguide.net/node/view/151691.

You probably want to know that this coming week (7/20 through 7/28) is “National Moth Week 2019.” Moths are perhaps the most unheralded, yet highly effective, of our pollinators. There are several activities in Spokane and elsewhere around the Northwest. Find some amazing pictures and discussion at wabutterflyassoc.org/7-20-7-28-is-national-moth-week-2019/.

This is the season, the temperature, and the time. Check out woodlands, meadows and muddy areas. Wander streams and the River, and south facing snow-free areas in the high country.  Robert Michael Pyle would remind you to observe these amazing creatures slowly and cautiously.

Review your books and the web. Take the family or a friend. Go look. Get photos. Make a forever summer memory.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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