Thursday, June 7, 2012

This isn't always news

There are two lookalike butterflies, The Painted Lady, and the American Lady. They are both medium-sized orange and black butterflies, very similar at a glance, but with a number of different details in their pattern that help to separate them. The most obvious is when the butterfly lands with its wings closed over its back. The American Lady shows two big eyespots.

Year in year out the American Lady is always a reasonably common butterfly. The same cannot be said for the Painted Lady. Sometimes it is super-abundant. I remember once walking about a quarter of a mile down the railroad tracks in front of my house and counting well over 100 Painted Ladies. I remember another time standing in one place and counting over 80. But this is balanced against other years when I have not seen a single one. They are known for making long (not very well understood) migration flights, and perhaps when I saw the big numbers I was witnessing something like that. But at the moment, at least here in north-east Arkansas, we are in the midst of a barren period. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a Painted Lady. Certainly not this year. I sort of remember seeing a single individual last year.

Up until now. I just went out to the front yard, and the "American Lady" visiting flowers did not look right, so I gave it a second look. And there it was: A Painted Lady. Its most obvious mark is that, when it is in the same position as the above picture, instead of two big eyes, it shows a number of small eyes.

Now the question is, is this the single Painted Lady I will see this year, or is this the first member of a major invasion?

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