Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Late Autumn Insects

It's a bit counter-intuitive perhaps, but my favorite time to look for insects is in late fall.  I'm still very much new to field entomology, so my experiences are largely limited to easier-to-identify groups like Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and Lepidoptera (butterflies right now -- I'm scared of learning moths).

I haven't quite put my finger on exactly why I find late season insects so fascinating, but I suspect it's largely to do with the seeming absurdity that some of these things can survive nighttime frosts and even daytime snow.  For the record, it's snowed at least twice here in Laramie so far this fall, nightly temperatures have been hovering in the low 40s lately, and we've had a handful of nights dip below freezing.  I also find it interesting to contemplate the possibility that, within my lifetime, I could easily witness changes in the phenology of these insects as climate change progresses.  I think as humans who are accustomed to thinking on very immediate time scales, there's a tendency for us to develop a static view of the world.  Indeed, I think this is likely to be at least partially responsible for the disturbingly low acceptance of the evidence for phenomena like evolution and climate change.  I increasingly find myself seeking out and cherishing experiences that remind me how dynamic the world really is, and insects in this context seem so well-suited for such a shaking up of perspective.   But anyway, here are a few species I've had fun with recently.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) on 9/13 from Cheyenne.  The most recent individual I've seen was on 10/4.
Common Checkered Skipper (Pygrus communis) on a chilly morning (9/23).  I've seen quite a few since, including one today!

Today was a surprisingly warm and sunny day and, as such, butterflies were out in decent numbers.  I managed to find 6 species throughout the day, including three Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui), one Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice), one Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), one Comma species (not sure which exactly), one Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti), and one Common Checkered Skipper.

One of three Painted Ladies from today.  Interestingly, these and a Clouded Sulphur were getting viciously attacked and even dislodged by a large group of bees.

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