It’s springtime! Right? Wherever you are I’m sure you’re looking out the window to glorious sunny days filled with warmth and butterflies. Unless, of course, you are most of my family or friends (Hi Erik!) looking out the window to several inches of snow and mercury in the single digits.
Actually, down here in the City of Angels, it’s been feeling like spring for about a month or so. I’ve been out in the field almost non-stop in recent weeks, and the butterflies are definitely out stretching their wings. Non-butterfliers may not realize it, but butterflies have seasons, just like fish and birds. Some butterflies are on the wing most of the year in southern California but quite a few are restricted to just a few months or even weeks of the year. Most of my favorites fall into this latter category, and happen to fly in the spring.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the UCLA La Kretz Field Station and was delighted to see the first Sara Orangetip, Anthocharis sara, of the year flitting around the yard. This delightful little species drifts by so quickly that most casual observers don’t have time to notice the lovely orange wingtips that give them their names. They fly by so quickly that they’re often, in fact, confused with moths.
Sara Orangetip has shown up at almost all of my 25 field study sites over the last 3 weeks. Today I revisited a sight that was among the first where Sara was flying and saw only a couple of individuals, meaning that this species is quickly coming to the end of its flight season. If the weather cooperates we may get a partial second brood of this gorgeous springtime bug. Anyone who is still flying today is frantically looking for a mate or for mustards to lay eggs on, before their offspring hibernate in the pupal stage.
I’m very disappointed, and slightly worried, not to have seen any Sonoran Blues (Philotes sonorensis) so far this year. This tiny but spectacular member of the Lycaenidae has a tight link to its larval host plant, members of the genus Dudleya. I’ve seen records that this animal is out and about elsewhere in the southwest, but so far none have shown themselves on my Santa Monicas surveys. The mountain range is experiencing a loss of Dudleya habitat due to fires, which may be impacting this butterfly as well. It would be great to have time to survey more comprehensively for this beautiful butterfly but for now I’ll have to hope for incidental sightings during regular survey days.
If there was any doubt at all about whether or not spring had arrived, today’s find put an end to that speculation. While surveying on the Mishe Mokwe trail I lucked onto the fist checkerspot of the season, the Gabb’s Checkerspot, Chlosyne gabbii.
This photo doesn’t do justice to this lovely and well-behaved animal. I say well-behaved because, like most checkerspots, they readily come to flowers, making them quite easy to observe (and chase. Ahem). I spent most of my PhD years chasing close cousins of this species, and several outings chasing this animal in particular. Seeing one never ceases to bring a smile to my face- I’ve been grinning since about 11:30 this morning knowing that it’s now checkerspot season.