By Terry Morse
A year ago, I wrote in The Sandpiper about what an excellent summer it had been for “bugging,” the insect-fancier's equivalent of birding (“A Month Full of Bugs,” The Sandpiper vol. 13, no. 7, 26 July 1992). It started with the big invasion of Painted Lady butterflies in April. A few West Coast Ladies (distinguished by orange bars near the forewing tips, where Painted Ladies have white markings) circulated among the Painted Ladies, and I may have seen a Monarch butterfly moving along with the Painted Lady swarm. Swallowtail, sulphur, and white butterflies could all be seen on the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) nature trail, along with a variety of red, amber, and blue dragonflies. There were Lorquin's Admiral butterflies at Mike Miller Park, and an unidentified fritillary at Big Creek Reservoir. Absent at the reservoir were Red Admiral butterflies, which had been numerous in 1991 (though I didn't check as carefully for them in ’92).
To top it all off, there was my "Three Life-Insect Day," when I saw my first California Laurel Borer longhorn beetle, my first Western Widow dragonfly, and my first Walshingham’s Ctenucha moth.
The good news is that this year is shaping up to be another excellent one for insects. So far, I've enjoyed observing sand wasps excavating and maintaining their burrows on the lawn north of the Fish Disease Lab (NAL building) at HMSC (look for the 1/4"-3/4" wide oval burrow entrances there or elsewhere in exposed sandy soil not subject to heavy trampling), as well as swallowtails, Cabbage Whites, and dragonflies along the nature trail (no Painted Ladies yet this year).
Over the Fourth of July weekend, I watched a Lorquin’s Admiral at Mike Miller Park in South Beach repeatedly chase after passing dragonflies from its perch on an alder leaf. Robert Michael Pyle, in The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies,* reports that these Admirals will attack and harass gulls flying overhead. Their relatives, Red Admirals, are also notably aggressive.
On the Fourth, at Big Creek Reservoir in Newport, multitudes of Western Widow dragonflies patrolled for insects above the water and chased each other, the alternating black and white spots on their wings blurring into light and dark bands reminiscent of whirling airplane propellers. Swallowtails and Cabbage Whites coursed up and down the reservoir road, enjoying the variety of plant foods along the cutbanks. One Lorquin’s Admiral, the first I have seen outside of South Beach, flew by as I was photographing another butterfly, bone-white with heavy black markings on its wings, perched on a yarrow. About the right size, it reminded me of a faded swallowtail butterfly, minus the tails. This isn't surprising, because the Clodius Parnassian is in the swallowtail family, the Papilionidae. It's larvae feed on Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), an herb with nodding pink flowers and parsley-like leaves that grows in profusion on the cutbank above the middle section of the reservoir. The only other Clodius I've ever seen was dead in the parking lot of a restaurant in north Newport, presumably of natural causes, and not from the food.
Best of all, and the news I've been saving for last, is that the Walshingham’s Ctenucha moths are back along the HMSC nature trail. Strikingly beautiful close-up, at a distance their black wings, red head and red epaulets appear very wasp-like; they are believed to mimic wasps as a defensive adaptation. Mating pairs are difficult to disturb, so you can observe them in detail with a magnifying glass (probably not with a hand lens) or photograph them to your heart's content. They are very attractive, and worth a trip to the Marine Science Center to see (so far, I haven't noticed them anywhere else; please let me know if you do). Their caterpillars (yellowish-tan with many tufts of short white hair, up to 1" long) feed primarily on grasses.
It's early in the summer, so you've still got plenty of time to experience these insect wonders yourself. If you miss out on some though, you'll be able to see them second-hand at the annual Yaquina Birders and Naturalists members' slide show in the fall. Good bugging!
Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986). Chapter 7, "I, Clodius." (Clodius Parnassian)
The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre, by Jean-Henri Fabre (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991). Chapter 13, "The Bembex Wasp." (Sand Wasps, along with a variety of other interesting insects; a fascinating book)
A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, by Donald W. Stokes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1983). (A good, general, year-round guide to the study of insects)
© Terry Morse
Printed in: The Sandpiper, vol. 14, no. 6 (25 July 1993), pp. 1-2.
Revised: 17 May 2004