Snout Butterflies in Spiny Hackberry 050710

A Pair of Snout Butterflies in a Desert Hackberry Shrub

Quotation MarksThe Common or American Snout butterfly (Libytheana carinenta) is most easily recognizable by its pronounced labial palpus, which are both olfactory and gustatory organs of the butterfly mouth, and resemble, as the name suggests, a snout. This unusual butterfly is quite common, particularly in the southern regions of the U.S., as well as northern Mexico, but has also been known to migrate as northward as Canada. The snout is classified within its own sub-family, Lytheandae (containing only approximately eight species) that is part of the Nymphanidae (or Brush-footed category), because the larvae lack the spines and horns of most Nymphalidae, and the pupae lack the dorsal bumps of most Nymphalinae. At different times, and by different entomologists, snouts have been classified into 12 species, three genera and ten species, and divided between the Libythea and Libytheana species in a configuration of either seven and five, or nine and four respectively. Currently, there appear to be several subspecies of L. carinenta (including, bachmanii, larvata, mexicana and motya) ranging from Argentina to Canada, but it remains controversial as to where exactly to classify these inauspicious butterflies. If you would like to learn more about the specific anatomical reasons for these classifications, check out this post at the University of Houston. For a more complete history and taxonomy of butterflies, I recommend this article from Citizendia.

My research into this stunning little creature was frustratingly conflicted when it came to taxonomy and identification of the pair I photographed, but what we do know is that the adult butterflies remain relatively near the host food plant for their young. In the Sonoran desert, that is most commonly the Desert or Spiny Hackberry (another difficult taxonomy because of the subspecies and multiple nicknames). Their wingspan is approximately 1 3/8 – 2 inches (3.5 – 5 cm), and they flutter on those tiny wings around 30 cm from the ground in a characteristic bouncy zigzag pattern as they search for landing spots. They appear to be quite hardy, as their habitat varies between tropical savannas, deserts, swamps, forests, canyons, grasslands, marshy meadows, thorn scrub woodlands, and ponds. The snouts meet, mate and ovideposit on the underside of the leaves of the hackberry shrub, where the larvae will hatch, eat and pupate. Once in their adult phase (which from hatching can take as little as 12 days, although 15 to 17 days is more typical), they are almost exclusively nectar feeders, and have been spotted sipping upon: acanthas, aster, cowbane, chrysanthemum, dogbane, dogwood, globe amaranth, goldenrod, knapweed, lantana, madeira vine, milkweed, sumac, sweet pepperbush, thistle and verbena, among others. (Kawahara & Dirig, 2006) They may also seek out vertebrate perspiration, ground water, juice from fruit, urine and aphid secretions.

A fascinating facet of snout reproduction is not so much that the number of generations per year vary between two and four, depending on climate and host plant availability, but that the generations following the first generation of each year often mature faster from egg to adult. Also, it is generally the full-grown fifth instar larva that pupates, but if a generation is hatched late in the year, or if the food source is uncharacteristically scarce, a fourth or even third instar larva may pupate.
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Written on September 13th, 2011 , 5th Day Photography, Latest Tweets, Learn More

Turkey Vulture Symmetrical Tree 060910

“When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

Quotation MarksI love the way these three (sex undetermined, as turkey vultures are sexually monomorphic) Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura (Cleansing breeze)) arranged themselves so symmetrically along this branch. I love even more the matching hyper-alert expressions on all three faces. Strangely, at least to me, I found turkey vultures to be flighty and skittish. Thus, even as I inched closer for a better frame at an excruciatingly slow pace, they still gave me a paranoid glare, although they stand two-and-a-half feet tall with a wingspan of six feet (big enough to intimidate me). It was several minutes between steps to keep them comfortable and willing to remain perched, but only for a few minutes while they warmed to flight-readiness, rather like the older generation diesel engines. (Warning: brief (I hope) mechanical digression) In diesel engines, glow plugs warm up the cylinders, and by proximity, the engine block, preventing thermal diffusion, so when compression is applied, ignition of the fuel occurs, and, thus, combustion. You see, diesel engines have no spark plugs, but instead rely on spontaneous combustion. When the rising of the piston creates enough compression to the air in the cylinder, the temperature rises rapidly, at which point the fuel mist is injected, as the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, and it combusts automatically. Therefore, the initial temperature of the engine block and cylinders is crucial, and can facilitate or inhibit ignition.

Now, you may have witnessed turkey vultures perched with their wings spread in what is called the Heraldic Pose (or “Horaltic Pose” (I won’t diverge from the narrative again, but for you etymology fans, see more discussion below)), which is conjectured to have multiple purposes. Scientists suspect that vultures air their wings to dry them, to bake off ectoparasites, or to ameliorate the variance between their internal, and the ambient, temperature. It’s thought that this thermoregulation is necessary in the morning, because turkey vultures lower their internal temperature overnight as an energy-conserving technique, and need to rewarm the engine before take-off, just like a…diesel engine! Huh. So the sun is the ultimate glow plug. Cool! Read the rest of this entry »

Written on April 5th, 2011 , 5th Day Photography, Latest Tweets, Learn More
Wild Turkey Hen Amidst Yellow Flowers 022711

Glorious Wild Turkey Hen

Quotation MarksThis Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) hen, obviously aware of the camera, and wanting to make the most of her photo op, cunningly posed amidst this beautiful bush of yellow flowers as she preened. To my consternation, it is easy to find a plethora of tom photos, and although I acknowledge that the toms are indeed impressive, the hens are quite stunning, too, if one only looks closely. Just admire the beautiful rufous and black filigree motif on her tail feathers, the delicate tawny fringe on her back feathers, and the hint of iridescence on her wings. She may be designed for camouflage, but she is stunning in her subtler way.

Now you may have long wondered why a Native North American is named for a distant Eurasian country; I know I have, and here is what I’ve learned. Unfortunately, the origins, as well as, the origins of the origins, are typically etymologically imprecise, and there are multiple theories. The first theory is predicated upon the mercantile trade routes in the 1500s when Constantinople was a major source for all things Asian, African and American imported into Europe. Lacking the Internet, and the instant access to every fact one could ever want to know (and sometimes never want to know), our progenitors were less than precise when labeling exotic products from parts unknown, and perhaps parts unconceived. Thus, when this indigenous American was imported through the port at Constantinople, the Britons dubbed it a “Turkey coq,” and that name, albeit foreshortened, followed the unsuspecting fowl right back to its origins here in North America. This lackadaisical habit seems to have been pervasive, as they commonly referred to flour from India as “Turkey flour,” rugs from Persia as “Turkey rugs,” and carpet bags from Hungary as “Turkey bags.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written on March 30th, 2011 , 5th Day Photography, Latest Tweets, Learn More

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On the 5th Day Photography – Revealing God's nature in the Sonoran Desert

Nature Photography and Stories from the Sonoran Desert