Butterfly Porn

Here is a hill-topping male Papilio zeliacon, or Anise swallowtail.  This butterfly is widespread in the western Pacific states and is probably much more common than it once was.  After the introduction of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and subsequent escape from horticulture, the anise swallowtail took hold as a common California butterfly.  Perhaps before this plant overtook our roadsides the zelicaon may have been restricted to the Sierra foothills, now you can find it across gardens in all of California.  Although, things seem to be reversing themselves in southern CA where this butterfly is disappearing from urban areas.  Recent introduction of the gypsy moth to the Ventura/LA areas has initiated insecticide spraying regimes – not to mention the appearance of an invasive parasitic Tachinidae that loves larger leps.  Out on the east coast this parasitic fly and heavy spraying has extirpated the Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis) from much of it’s range, leaving it endangered in most of New England.

For those who don’t know, hill-topping behavior is a butterfly “king of the mountain” of sorts.  A number of butterfly species (among other insects and possibly some moths) will regularly patrol the highest peaks in mate seeking behavior.  Some authors consider this as lekking behavior, however “anthro”pomorphizing butterflies with other animal behavior is easy to do.  Males seem to compete for the best position on the highest peak, of which females frequent the most.  Back in my home state of Illinois “peaks” or even hills are far and few in-between.  Instead, butterflies use railroad paths or even houses.

I photographed this butterfly in spring in San Francisco during the 16th annual SF Butterfly count.  After 5 hours of hiking McLaren Park my group tallied a staggering twelve species.  Across all of San Francisco proper the count was a record breaking 24!  OK, not that impressive and probably staggeringly depressing when you consider how many species we know that were lost…let alone what were aren’t even aware of.  As a fond memory, here is a Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus xerces) that is held here in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences.  The label reads “March 20 1932, San Francisco”.

2010 SF Butterfly count

Papilio rutulus – Western Tiger

Papilio zelicaon – Anise Swallowtail

Battus philenor - Pipevine swallowtail

Pieris rapae – Cabbage white

Euchloe ausonides - Large Marble

Colias eurytheme - Orange Sulphur

Strymon melinus – Gray Hairstreak

Celastrina echo - Echo Blue

Plebejus acmon – Acmon Blue

Agraulis vanillae - Gulf Fritillary

Phyciodes pulchella – Field Crescent

Phyciodes mylitta – Mylitta Crescent

Euphydryas chalcedona - Variable Checkerspot

Nymphalis californica - California Tortoiseshell

Vanessa virginiensis - American Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui - Painted Lady

Vanessa annabella - West Coast Lady

Vanessa atalanta – Red Admiral

Junonia coenia - Buckeye

Coenonympha tullia california - California Common Ringlet

Pygrus communis – Common Checkered Skipper

Hylephilia phyleus - Fiery Skipper

Polites sabuleti - Sandhill Skipper

Poanes melane – Umber Skipper

Total: 24 species, 775 individuals

5 comments to Butterfly Porn

  • Bob Abela

    Glad to see the butteryfly count is still going. And it’s posts like this one that sends me back in time.

    As a kid and native San Franciscan, my friends and I did many day hikes around places like Ft. Funsten, Pine Lake, and Lake Merced, or along Brotherhood Way and behind Lowell High School before these areas were fully developed. But even during the 70’s, I remember the number of butterfly species was not many. The Anise Swallowtail was fairly common, even then.

    The Xerces Blue was already long gone but, as kids, we did wonder if it were possible a small population lingered on, somehow overlooked and unnoticed…we never found it :(

    Would be curious to see what species were recently counted and compare with what I can remember. Will have to check it out over at the NABA website. Cheers!

    • Just updated with a list – meant to do that right away!

      I spent last summer in Santa Barbara backcountry with a distant hope of finding the extinct unsilvered fritillary (atossa). I bet you can guess how that ended.

      • Bob Abela

        Thanks for updating. Noted that NABA only offers listings for a fee. Considering these are compiled by volunteer efforts, not sure I agree. Anyhow, I note the absence of the Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa (which I presume is still around). And now the presence of the Gulf Fritallary. Otherwise, yes, a very familiar list.

  • […] blues – if the invasive species can be controlled – it won’t go the way of the Xerces. Relocated female – Twin Peaks […]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>