Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Category: butterflies

Not Waking But Dying

I came home from taking my daughter to school and barely noticed a black V on the gravel in the parking lot. But I managed to avoid running over it, and on closer look it turned out to be a monarch butterfly, presumably waiting for the sun to warm her/himself enough to fly. I supposed it could as likely have been dying, but I preferred to hold hope that it would soon be joining millions of other monarchs on their long journey to Mexico. Meantime, I took advantage of its torpor to get down on the ground near it, close enough for some photos.

Then I stood up, hesitant to leave a helpless creature where it was liable to be run over by a vehicle. I went over the possibilities in my mind . . . It was Friday, so I wasn’t expecting a garbage truck. Kevin was already gone to work. Caretaker Steve’s vehicles were present, and he doesn’t usually get out in the mornings. The butterfly was probably safe. As I stood there thinking over the possibilities, the sun broke over the roof of my house, and the slanting light was perfect for some more shots.

By the time I was done, the sun was shining fully on my little friend. It still hadn’t moved, other than to open and close its wings a few times, and turn to get the sun at a better angle. I went inside for a while, making a mental note to come back out in an hour or so to make sure it got away.

But the butterfly was still there when I came back late in the morning, its wings open and immobile, legs curled inward. This one didn’t make the journey; it wasn’t waking, but dying.

 

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Monarchs On the Move

Driving on KS highway 177 this afternoon, I saw twenty-two monarch butterflies heading south, as well as half a dozen or more little flyers that passed too fast for me to be sure they were monarchs. There’s only one time I see that many flying south: fall migration.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen more monarchs this year than last. While their numbers are plummeting throughout North America, here in Chase County, native milkweeds are still abundant, so we know monarchs who hatch and live here can find plenty of their host flower.

I’ve never gotten a good shot of a monarch, so here’s a cat picture.

Kevin and Wildfire

Lepidoptera, and Their Cousins

We’ve had spring rains this year, which means that it’s turning out to be a good year for butterflies. They deserve it, after the last two years of extreme heat and drought. In my last post about butterflies, I showed the three I see most commonly; the American lady, the pearl crescent, and the buckeye. I have since confirmed the white lepidopteran shown in that post to be a cabbage white, Pieris rapae.

Since then, I’ve caught a good photo of the other white butterfly who visits the flower garden. This one is similar to the cabbage white, and related, but not altogether the same; that is, the checkered white, Pontia protidice.

The American lady has a cousin who resembles her, whose common name is the red admiral. They are both Vanessas: the lady is Vanessa virginiensis; the admiral is Vanessa atalanta.

When the spectacular great spangled fritillary, Speyeria cybele, drops in, she’s usually pleased to show off her lovely silver spots.

But I’ve had the most difficulty identifying her cousin, who is much more shy of the camera. I barely get an aim, much less focus, before she’s off to some other bloom, leaving me, far more often than not, with nothing more than a picture of a flower. After perusing at length my antique Nature Library Volume 6, Butterflies, I finally found a picture that matched the bits of wing I managed to get into some of my photos; and learned that the variegated fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, takes her Genus name from the Greek word meaning “easily scared.”

None of these lepidopterans are particularly unusual, or remarkable, as butterflies go; they’re just little bits of the daily miracle that is life here in the Flint Hills, Kansas, on this lush and living planet, Earth.

Spotted in the Flint Hills in the Last Week

This year for the fourth time I spent mid-May commuting to White Memorial Camp, north of Council Grove. It’s a bit of a drive, but mostly on National Scenic Byway, KS 177. The remainder is gravel, through pastures to the end of a little peninsula surrounded by Council Grove lake. I go there for a job, which is to massage the attendees of Kelley Hunt and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s wonderful Brave Voice songwriting workshop and retreat. It’s a beautiful group whom I love to work with. The bonus is that this remote drive has incredible diversity of wildlife, particularly birds. So every year I am equally excited to do this job as to get there and back. Here’s a list of the many species I saw, most without even getting out of the car.

Butterfly milkweed, not yet blooming.
Wild blue indigo, in luscious bloom.
Cobaea beardtongue, plentiful this year.
Daisy fleabane, blooming rather early, I believe.
Lots of Arkansas rose.

several scissor-tailed flycatchers
one turkey
dozens of turkey vultures
one nighthawk
lots of killdeer
brown-headed cowbirds
meadowlarks
Franklins gulls
barn swallows
kingbirds
one indigo bunting, which thoughtfully landed in a tree in easy view. I actually stopped the car for this one.
redwing blackbirds
upland sandpipers

rat snake
yellow-bellied racer
five-lined skink
The last two reptiles were here at the motel, but I love them so much I didn’t want to leave them off the list.

Since I was a child I’ve wanted to see a zebra swallowtail butterfly, but never did, until this week.

And mustn’t forget — this one doesn’t belong on my list because I didn’t personally see it, but several of the musicians saw a mountain lion, and got pictures. Don’t tell Fish and Wildlife, they still don’t want to admit that mountain lions are in Kansas.

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