insects

Wildlife Wednesday: Recent Butterfly Sightings at the Nature Center

Wildlife Wednesday: Recent Butterfly Sightings at the Nature Center

Springtime is a great time to see butterflies at the Nature Discovery Center. You may see one fluttering through the forest, visiting our wildflower gardens around the Henshaw House, or flitting from flower to flower in the Pocket Prairie. In this week’s Wildlife Wednesday, we’ll have a look at few species of butterfly that have appeared over the last few weeks.

Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae, above photo) are one of our most common butterflies in the park. Not actually related to other fritillaries, these butterflies are actually a kind of longwing or Heliconian butterfly. While the adults will feed on nectar from a variety of flower species, the larvae (caterpillars) will only feed on passionvines (Passiflora spp., Left photo). Passionvine leaves are toxic, and in turn the caterpillars are toxic, as are the adults. The bright orange and black coloration acts as a warning. Gulf Fritillaries have a wingspan of about 3.5 inches.

Another common species of butterfly in this park is the large black Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus), which can often be seen flying in an undulating manner through the forested sections of the park, but is really common all over. These large black butterflies have a 4 inch wingspan, and often fly close to the ground. The larvae feed on plants in the Laurel family, like Sweetbay, Red Bay, Spicebush, and non-native Camphor trees.

A butterfly that is not so common in the park, but that recently made an appearance is the gorgeous little Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus). We saw one feeding on white clover flowers near the Pocket Prairie a few days ago. These blue and brown butterflies have long projections on the hindwings, which look like 2 tails. They lay their eggs, and the larvae feed on plants in the legume family, like wild peas, wisteria, beans, and various others.

Thanks for joining us for another Wildlife Wednesday! Come out to the park soon, and see if you can spot some of these butterflies in the wild.

See you soon,

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

photos: Gulf Fritillary and Passionflower by Eric Duran; Spicebush swallowtail by Greg Hume | Flickr; Long-tailed Skipper by John Flannery | Flickr

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Wildlife Wednesday: The Skippers

Wildlife Wednesday:  The Skippers

Spring brings butterflies back to the park, and the Skippers (family Hesperiidae) are one of the first groups to show up. These small butterflies are named for the fast darting manner in which they fly, as if they’re skipping around from flower to flower. There are over 3,500 spp. of skipper around the world, and a couple of dozen of those species are found in the Houston area. Many of the skippers look remarkably similar to each other, and can often be very difficult to identify. Many of the species are also rather drab, being various shades of brown, and can be misidentified as moths (but they are of course diurnal, and have the clubs at the tip of the antennae, which are indicative of butterflies).

Here are a few of the skippers that are found here at the Nature Discovery Center:

Fiery Skippers (Hylephila phyleus) are one of the more common species found here, visiting our wildflower gardens, wildflowers on the front lawn, and the Pocket Prairie. The males are a bit showier, with bright orange and dark brown on the wings (pictured left and top), and the females are a light yellowy brown with brown spots. The tiny greenish caterpillars feed on a variety of grasses, including Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass. You may notice that this skipper keeps its forewings and hindwings separated at a right angle, with the forewings held up, when it’s resting. This is a small butterfly, measuring only about 1 in long.

 

The White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) is easy to tell apart from most other skippers with its white and dark gray/black checkered pattern. There is however, another checkered skipper that is very similar to this species, the Tropical Checkered Skipper, which is also found in our area. They visit a wide variety of small flowers close to the ground, and their caterpillars feed on a variety of small mallow/hibiscus species, like Sida. They may attain a wingspan of up to 3.8 cm in width.

 

Juvenal’s Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) is one of 2 species of Duskywing (dark colored skippers that keep their wings open and flattened when on a perch), found in our park. The other is the very similar Horace’s Duskywing, though there are many other species of Duskywing across the country. The caterpillars of these skippers feed on oak leaves. They are similar in size to the Checkered skippers, ~3.8 cm wingspan. Duskywings can make themselves rather conspicuous with their darting, climbing, and diving flight patterns, and their habit of sunning out in flat open meadows in plain sight.

We hope you enjoyed our profile of a few skipper butterflies common to our park. Come out and walk around our wildflower gardens, Prairie Wetlands, and  Pocket Prairie, the next time you get the chance, and see if you can spot these delightful little insects.

 

Thanks so much, and see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

 

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