Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Commas and cloaks

Adult Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
What: It's been a busy couple of weeks wrapping up my semester at CCV and starting to wrap up at Crow's Path for the Spring. Today I did find a cormorant skull, that I'll post photos of in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy these photos of an eastern comma and a mourning cloak. They're among our first butterflies to emerge in the spring. Now with the prolonged warm weather and appearance of more and more flowers (how about all that celandine along the bike path, marigold along mucky drainages, and gorgeous and subtle green flowers of striped maple?) there are many more adult butterflies and moths appearing.

Overwintered adult mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Ecological notes: While out in Centennial Woods a couple of weeks ago I was watching a couple dozen or so mourning cloaks flitting around. Occasionally they'd come into another's territory and they'd spiral whimsically up into the sky together. It was elegant and graceful and then the awkward comma would get all huffy and jump into the mix. At first it seemed confused, like it didn't know that the mourning cloaks weren't possible mates. But then it seemed more like it was getting angry that the mourning cloaks were in its breeding area and was just trying to chase them away. The tiny drama was endearing in that condescending, anthropomorphic kind of way.

Both species breed in the spring, and this is the only time of year this territorial behavior is observed. Apparently my theory of defending breeding areas has largely been dispelled in recent years according to a local entomologist, but it seemed the easiest and most obvious explanation. More appealing than, "the commas get confused and can't tell the mourning cloaks from a female comma").

Where: Centennial Woods

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