Month Full of Bugs
by Terry Morse
Chalk it up to the unusually mild winter or to my increasing awareness of the six-legged, but this has been a banner year for insect watching. It started with the invasion of Painted Lady butterflies, many of them quite bedraggled, on April 24th. By mid-June their caterpillars, black and bristle-haired with fine yellow markings, were emerging in large numbers on the lupines around the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC). Around June18th, the next generation of butterflies emerged, their orange, black, and white markings crisp and bright. Now the adults are relatively scarce again, and we wonder whether there will be another generation this year. There is certainly enough time.
Anise Swallowtails have been fairly common as well. I only observed one all last summer, but have been seeing small numbers on a regular basis this year. Hiking in the woods of South Beach on June 14th, I saw several Lorquin's Admirals, a dark butterfly with orange forewing tips and a broad white band on each wing. Cabbage Whites and a few lemon yellow sulphurs are regular along the HMSC Nature Trail now. Dragonflies are more common at the Center than they were last year, impulsively darting to and fro. On July 12th at Big Creek Reservoir in Newport, I recorded Painted Ladies, swallowtails, whites, and sulphurs in low numbers, plus an orange fritillary with delicate black crescent markings above and silver spots on the underwings (possibly an Atlantis Fritillary), along with a handful of dragonflies. I saw no Red Admiral butterflies, but it may be too early in the season for them. (I first observed Red Admirals on September 1st last year; I don't visit the Reservoir often enough to be sure they weren't there earlier.)
Without question, June 22nd was my most spectacular insect day this summer. It was a sunny 71°, the wind from the WNW gusting to 19 mph, when I hit the HMSC Nature Trail just before 2:00 pm. I passed a West Coast Lady, a sulphur, and a white butterfly near the start of the trail. About ⅔ of the way along the trail, three swallowtails chased each other above the lupines like autumn leaves swirled by a wind. A little further on, I saw my first Western Widow (Libellula forensis), a large blue dragonfly with alternating black and white spots along its wings that fuse into bands of light and dark when it flies. Identifying it on the wing is easy. After a brief nap in the sun, I looked up and saw what appeared to be a large, black-winged wasp with head and epaulets of fire-engine red resting on a Scotch Broom on the far side of the trail. Its body was metallic blue. Through binoculars, I discovered that it was actually a Walsingham’s Ctenucha moth (Ctenucha rubroscapus). Still present along the Nature Trail (as of July 20th), these wasp mimics are worth looking for.
I thought that seeing the Western Widow and the Walsingham’s Ctenucha had capped a rather excellent day, but the insect world was not through with me yet. Crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge on my way home from work, I encountered a California Laurel Borer (Rosalia funebris), a 1½ inch long black-and-white banded Longhorn Beetle (so-called because of their exceptionally long antennae), seeking refuge from the wind in the lee of a girder. It reminded me of a Koshare, a Hopi Indian clown Kachina.
Thus ended my “Three Life-Insect Day.” What other surprises will this summer bring?
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, by Pyle
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, by Milne and Milne
A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico, by Borror and White*
A Field Guide to the Beetles of North America, by White*
A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, by Stokes (Little, Brown, 1983)
Insect Life and Insect Natural History, by Frost (Dover, 1959)
* Peterson's Field Guide Series
© Terry Morse
Printed in The Sandpiper, vol. 13, no. 7 (26 July 1992), pp. 1-2. Revised 17 May 2004.