Butterflies, Dragons, Tent Dwellers, a Forester, and a Tiger

Fragile Forktails continue to emerge from the Wetlands (see Fragile Forktail, Explore the Wild Journal, March 16-31, 2009), although I’m now seeing females as well as males. Among the other odes observed during the first half of April were Common Green Darner, Swamp Darner, Common Baskettail, and Common Whitetail.

Butterflies seen this period were Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, Olive Hairstreak (4/9), Eastern Tailed-blue (4/3), Mourning Cloak (4/3), Silver-spotted Skipper (4/9), and Juvenal’s Duskywing.

Now bivouacked on at least two Black Cherry Trees around the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop are Eastern Tent Caterpillars. One encampment is on a cherry next to the service road near the main entrance to Catch the Wind. The other is near the entrance to Explore the Wild on the back side of the loop. The caterpillars’ white, silken tents are still in the early stages of development. Although the leaves of the cherries are just beginning to sprout, these communal caterpillars are poised to assault.

Tent caterpillars prefer cherry leaves but will eat the leaves of other trees after defoliating their host tree, which is often the case. However, the caterpillars have little choice in what they’ll munch on for their first meal. It’s the adult female, a small nondescript brown moth, that makes that decision for them. She’s the one who seeks out and lays the mass of some 150-350 eggs on the twigs of the cherry tree. Soon after hatching, the caterpillars begin to erect the “tents” for which they are so well known. The caterpillars crawl out to the leaves, chow down, then scurry back to the safety of the tent to rest and digest, adding to the tents as they go.

A day-flying moth caught my eye as it rapidly flew by, investigating several small flowering plants along the way, at the Wetlands Overlook near the Lemur House on the 10th of the month. It was an Eight-spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata), a small black moth with two white spots on each of its four wings (8 spots). Both the common and Latin names refer to the number of wing spots on this moth. The larvae feed on Virginia Creeper and plants in the grape family.

gd_4_1_09sstb1The first Six-spotted Tiger Beetle of the season showed itself on the 5th of April. As expected, it was seen on the boulders that line the path between Catch the Wind and Explore the Wild on the back side of the loop. These brilliant green beetles are very common and can be seen on just about any path, road, or open area in or near woodlands throughout our area. The adults are creatures of spring and are difficult to locate after June, so look for them now.

gd_4_1_09sstb2The name Six-spotted Tiger Beetle comes from the fact that there are 3 white spots on each forewing (elytra) of the beetle (see image at left). Two forewings x three spots on each wing equals six spots. The Latin name (Cinindela sexgutata) also refers to the spots although the number of spots can vary from two to six. They have white mandibles and a white upper “lip” (labrum).

The tiger part of the name comes from the fact that they are swift and efficient predators. They move quickly and pounce on smaller insects, making short work of the unfortunate prey with their large pincing mandibles.

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