Yesterday was a sunny day and the backyard dried out enough for me to mow. Mowing the lawn is a nice long walk in the backyard, but a lawn mower isn’t the best wildlife observation/ meditation tool. Our walk behind, gas powered push mower isn’t too bad, but it is a mower none the less.
Before the mower was started I saw my first cool lep (yeah that is the way cool kids say Lepidoptera): Danaus plexippus (the Monarch)! This individual was very fresh (recent ecdysis), and most likely of the migratory generation (as there is no hope of raising a brood before it gets cold here in TN). Danaus plexippus is a well-known insect migrant. There is something about seeing migrating animals: birds, insects, fish, etc in the process of migration that fills me with wonder and joy – it is an honor to vicariously share in the migration. Because this photo was taken on a pre-mow walk and Kelly reads the blog and will want to know where the Trifolium pratense is in the yard – this photo was taken near, but not in the yard. During mowing Limenitis archippus (the Viceroy) was in the yard and flying threateningly toward me when I passed near. These two butterflies are considered a classic example of mimicry. When I was a wee lad (late Pleistocene) the monarch was thought to taste bad/ be poisonous and the viceroy mimic was protected by resemblance. With all the scientific advancements since we discovered fire, we now know they both taste awful. This makes a lot more sense as the flight and behavior of these two species are very different and a predator could easily key into the different flight and snap up the tasty model. Because they are both nasty, I am certain most avian predators just use that old children’s rhyme: “Orange and black tastes nasty, Jack!” and avoid them both.
During the mowing there were a ton Hylephyla phyleus (fiery skipper). I do not know if this is a resident or if it recolonizes every year. I do know it eats my lawn, which is pretty awesome! It would be even cooler if it ate and controlled where the lawn encroaches the flower and vegetable beds, but it requires a sod (unsmiley face emoticon here). There were also some very worn Cupido comyntas (eastern tailed-blue) which feeds on the Trifolium repens (white clover) in the lawn. Both of these butterflies can use a non-native host, and have ridden the success of the host to very large populations in our area.
There were a couple of Junonia coenia (buckeye) basking in the yard. Our yard doesn’t have the correct food plants (yes, I have looked), but does offer good nectar sources for the adults. These are absolutely stunning butterflies. From the freshness of this individual, I am guessing that here in TN the adults can overwinter. I also saw Polygonia interrogationis by our shed, another butterfly that overwinters as an adult.
The star lep of the mow session was Cisseps fulvicollis (an eribid moth)! My original sighting was of the moth in flight crossing the backyard. The hindwings of this moth are a cool whitish color and I knew what it was instantly and realized that it was a Weakley County record. So I left the mower and began chasing the moth hoping to catch it in my hands. When we hit the fence, the moth flew through with ease – neither the dog or I have figured this one out… So I went back to mowing thinking about how cool it was to see C. fulvicollis. When the mowing was complete, I thought I would check out our native flower bed to see if C. fulvicollis was there (they are such flower pigs) – and sure enough it was!
There were a couple of species of microleps that I saw but did not attempt to photograph, identify, or capture them. I did collect a cool beetle: Epicauta pestifera (blister beetle), this was not only documentation the first time I had seen it in the yard, but also IPM for our vegetable garden.
So, now you have some idea of what it would be like to mow the yard with me, have learned a little about urban, fall butterflies in TN, and why it takes me so darn long to mow the lawn.