Friday, September 27, 2013

Taking a Closer Look in Nature

The other day I was conducting waterfowl surveys at Stratford point and I started stumbling upon a lot of interesting insects. This time of year when you can look at a field with blooming goldenrod, take the time to do so. At Stratford Point, Seaside Goldenrood (Solidago sempervirens) is in full bloom, attracting a plethora of butterflies and other insects. Some are there to pollinate and eat while others have different agendas.  

The first thing I noticed was all the butterflies – a lot of different species were around that day.  First I saw a Monarch (Danaus plexippus), a seemingly common sighting any other year than this. Since I have seen very few this year, even at coastal locations, I decided to observe it and try to get some close-ups. Some of you may know that this species is poisonous and doesn’t taste very good to predators due to the fact they omit cardenolide aglycones from their system. Many people think they only feed on Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), but this is only true of the caterpillars. The adults are much less selective in the plants they are able to obtain their liquid diet from. That's why they can be found at a lot of coastal locations, where they take advantage of the wide variety of nectaring plants.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

After I looked at the Monarch for a bit I took notice of the Clouded Sulphurs (Colias philodice) and Orange sulphurs (Colias eurytheme). Both are beautiful species that have a wide range of colors and vibrancy this time of year. You should also keep your eyes peeled for the rarer Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae).

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
My next finds were my favorite, and the kind you really need to take time to look for.  There are a lot of bees and hornets now in the fields as well nectaring on flowers. As I was carefully scanning the field I noticed something that seemed a bit different. A species of fly exhibiting amazing mimicry of a Yellow Jacket (Vespula sp.) or perhaps a paper wasp species (Polistes sp.). It was doing a wonderful job of fitting in so as not to stand out for a predator to feed on it. You can see that even down to its eyes, its pattern mimics the pattern and coloration of its mimic copy.

Syrphid Flie sp. (Spilomyia longicornis)

My next find was somewhat of a surprise. I believe it has not been recorded often in Connecticut as it is mostly a southern species.  The Eastern Leaf-footed bug's (Leptoglossus phyllopus) strategy is to blend in and look inconspicuous while it sucks juices from nectar producing plants.

Eastern Leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus)

As I was wrapping up my surveys and getting ready to head in I spotted one last nice but fairly common sighting at this time of year, a female Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

I only spent an hour and half or so looking around and was able to find a lot of great things. I encourage you to look and see what you can find hiding in your local field or even in your own back yard. If you find anything interesting or want help identifying something, we would love to hear about it, so feel free to email us. Thanks for reading and happy hunting.

Sean Graesser
Conservation Technician

Photo by Sean Graesser/ Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society.

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