(02-17-2011. Carter’s Mtn., NW facing woodland cove, 750 feet el.
Butterflies and Moths of North America sightings record).
Last week’s warmth nudged life into action, if only temporarily. A few insects buzzed about and the earliest wildflowers have begun to bloom (most of the early bloomers around town will be non-natives..see picture below for one that’s probably in your yard). I wonder if these early warm-weather teases play a strong role in natural selection. I wonder how those insects are getting along today, with temperatures below freezing and snow falling. Would not a whole generation of insects freeze annually this time of year?… with early warm stretches followed by cold spells? Surely these transitional periods are essential for regulating certain insect populations. And, surely some insects have adapted to the wild variations in our late winter/early spring weather patterns. I wonder how this has shaped life through time in Virginia and other areas with extreme seasonal changes?
Last week I saw my first ‘2011’ butterfly! Down on my knees, while tracking Hercules beetle larvae, an Eastern comma (Polygonia comma) landed on my shoulder. I think I heard it whisper, “spring will be here soon!….ready to chase butterflies?”. 4 of these butterflies made themselves visible during a 1.5 hour woodland hike! They were sipping sap from tree wounds. You see, not all butterflies go for flower nectar. In fact, this butterfly prefers rotting fruit and sap! Can you imagine how this dietary preference might come in handy in the winter (there are only a few flowers available right now, and they are nectar sources for early small insects like gnats, bees and flies). While it may be that early blooming wildflowers have an advantage by emerging early (they have very little competition for pollinators and their leaves have little competition for light), what do you think would be the advantage for a sap sipping butterfly? Does it have some way to protect itself against the cold? Are the predators fewer this time of year?
(This non-native species, common in urban yards, began blooming in C-ville on the 02-14-2011)