Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Butterflies and Other Insects

On a walk through Oak Canyon last week I found so many new plants and new butterflies to identify, that it has kept me busy for several days. The frustrating thing is that for several of the butterflies, there were two, sometimes three species so similar that only dissection would be able to tell them apart. And we don't do that. We just take photos.

Mournful Duskywing, Erynnis tristis, likes oaks and there are plenty of oaks at Oak Canyon. After careful examination of this one, I eliminated Funereal Duskywing because mine doesn't have any pale patches above the white fringe.

This is a Mormon Metalmark, but whether it's Apodemia mormo mormo or Apodemia mormo virgulti I can't tell. This butterfly lays its eggs on Buckwheat but the one in the photo is nectaring on a Sweet Bush, Bebbia juncea. You can see his proboscis going down into the flower.

Vivid Dancer, Argia vivida, (California? Aztec?) mating. Anyway, the male is the pretty blue one. You have to look closely to see the female. Getting this shot was tough because the wind was blowing and I didn't want to disturb them. As it is, they flew off still hooked together (like Monarchs?) before I could really get a good focus on them. Interestingly, the nymphs of these damselflies will live through the winter in the muck at the bottom of the year-round running stream at the canyon.

Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides, nectaring also. Similar species include the Umber Skipper and Rural Skipper. I don't think it is the Rural, so it's either Woodland or Umber. What's a skipper anyway? The name comes from their skipping flight patterns. Skippers generally have larger bodies and are not as colorful as true butterflies, but they do have clubbed antennae, unlike moths. And the club can have a hook at the end. The Duskywing above is also a skipper. Fred Heath in his Introduction to Southern California Butterflies says that skippers are very difficult to identify. He likens them to the "empids" in the bird world, all those confusing little flycatchers. Well, that makes me feel a little better. I still have trouble with the empids after 18 years of birdwatching.

Lorquin's Admiral, Limenitis lorquini, likes Willows, although here you see it on an oak. This one I am sure of. The only other butterfly it resembles on top (dorsal) is totally different underneath (ventral). That is the California Sister. Luckily, I got a good shot of the underneath.

But I have learned that to get really good photos of butterflies, I will need some more equipment to go with my macro lens. In order to stop the motion and increase the depth of field, I need to use a flash. I'll have to look into it, although I wonder what the Dancers would have done if a flash had suddenly gone off in the middle of things.

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