Butterflies Galore!

I have long felt that the most wondrously beautiful structures in nature that most of us have been exposed to are the petals of a wildflower, the feathers of a bird and the wings of a butterfly.  Last week as I drove down my road on Naked Mountain on my way to a Labor Day weekend trip to the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, I was mesmerized by the action of dozens of butterflies, and other pollinators, as they “worked” the blooms under the power line cut.   I stopped the car and took a series of photographs as they flitted all around me looking for the most nectar-filled blooms.  Sometimes two butterflies would land on one flower and peacefully consume nectar together, while at other times they chased each other relentlessly in a competitive flurry.

Other pollinators were at work as well.  I watched a bumble bee chase off a beautiful big yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, forcing it to fly on down the road to hunt for another flower patch.  I photographed a beautiful iridescent blue bee with yellow striped body gathering nectar; it is pictured below.   Does anyone know what species this is and if it is native or not?   


Upper Left: Eastern Tailed-Blue on Tick Trefoil (? variety); Upper Right: Female dark morph Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on dried Queen Anne’s Lace; Lower Left: Great Spangled Fritillary on Field Thistle; Lower Right: Unknown bee species on Hoary’s Mountain Mint

The Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor), a native thistle plant, seemed especially attractive to a number of species, including a couple of American Goldfinches who use the silky down from the plant to line their nests and dine on the seeds which are its favorite food.  

Another favorite plant seemed to be Hoary’s Mountain Mint  (Pycnanthemum incanum).  At least three kinds of mountain mint grow on Naked Mountain.  Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum terefolium) and the rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum), occur along with Hoary’s in the low elevation outcrop barrens. The barrens are studded with 100 year old Eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana), the host species for the Olive-sided, also called Juniper, Hairstreak.  I once took Dick and Mary Smythe, butterfly experts that conduct annual butterfly counts at the nearby Wintergreen Resort, down to the barrens the first week in July to see what they would find.  They were surprised at the high numbers of Juniper Hairstreaks that were busily nectaring on all three species of mountain mint.  Juniper Hairstreaks are not rare, but they are among the very few butterflies displaying beautiful green coloration on their wings.  Dick said he had never seen so many in one location.  You can see photos of Juniper Hairstreaks here.

You can learn more about butterflies here.

After spending a good 45 minutes photographing the butterflies, I tore myself away.  Alas, I could not spend any more time with these gorgeous, energetic creatures.  Human demands required my attention. 

9/9/12 — Here is the photo of the Double-banded Scoliid Wasp that Gary Fleming mentions in his comment. 

Double-banded Scoliid wasp; photo by Gary Fleming


7 thoughts on “Butterflies Galore!

  1. Nice photos Marcia — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bee like that before?!?! Where did you go in Ohio — my Mom lives in Avon Lake, Ohio (a town on Lake Erie!) – have we discussed this before?

  2. That is a wasp called the Double-banded Scoliid (Scolia bicincta). Scoliid refers to the particular family – the Scoliidae. They are widely distributed in the Southeast and are commonly found on flowers. They particularly like Mountain Mint. You can learn more about this species at http://bugguide.net/node/view/4336

    Hi Marcia – I’m an ecology professor at Lynchburg College. My areas of research expertise are with birds and insects. Dan Miles suggested I inquire about arranging a time when I could come up to visit the Naked Mountain Preserve. I’d love to see the place – it sounds like an idyllic retreat!

  3. Hi Marcia – I enjoy your blog very much, and think it’s a great way to share the beauty and biology of Naked Mountain. The colorful Scoliid wasp was also common on my property in Fluvanna County during July and August. Here it nectars on yet another species of mountain-mint, Pycnanthemum muticum.

    • Thanks so much, Gary. I have posted your beautiful photo of the Scoliid wasp on the blog. It is so cool that the photos show the wasps in two completely different locations in Virginia in the same position nectaring on the same plant, but a different subspecies!

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