Harvesters Eclose

September 19, 2013 | Greg Dodge

The first chrysalis was nearing its due date, you can see the butterfly beneath the surface of the chrysalis (9/18/13).

The subjects of the two images at right are what greeted me as I anxiously inspected the alder this morning. I’d been out of the “office” for three days and was hoping to find both Harvester pupae intact.

The first chrysalis was indeed intact, but much darkened from when I last saw it several days ago. The darkening of the chrysalis is a sure sign that the butterfly within is soon to emerge. It’s actually transparent and what you see is the butterfly beneath the clear outer casing.

This chrysalis is empty. But, where was the butterfly?

I quickly checked the second pupa. It was open, the butterfly had already emerged, probably only minutes before I arrived on the scene. I briefly looked around for the butterfly, but couldn’t locate the little gossamer-wing.

In reality, I had expected that both butterflies would be long gone, emerged from their chrysalids and dispersed to find new aphid infested alders or beech trees on which to lay eggs. It had been two weeks to the day when I initially spotted one of the caterpillars begining to pupate on an alder leaf here in our Wetlands. Two weeks is a long time in the life of most butterflies.

Could they have been waiting for me to return, out of consideration for my desire to witness the event? Naw. The cooler temps of the previous couple of nights probably kept these two pupae from emerging sooner.

I did another unsuccessful search for the one butterfly that had emerged and then took a quick hike around the outdoor loop (walking tends to calm one’s nerves and helps with the thinking process). When I came back I saw it, the butterfly was on the ground, the pavement, in the dappled morning sunlight, only feet from the alder. Had it been there on the pavement all along? I could easily have stepped on the little bug earlier while I searched the alder branches.

The object of my obsession, a Harvester butterfly.

It was a cool morning, in the fifties, and this little lep was attempting to warm itself sufficiently to take flight.

A closer look.

I took a few (few dozen) photos of the butterfly, picked it up and moved it over into direct sunlight. By moving it, perhaps I could get it to open its wings for a shot at its upper surface (this species doesn’t often show the upper surface of its wings).

It worked! In less than a minute the butterfly began to move its wings, open them to catch the warm rays of the sun. I snapped off a few more shots, turned to look over my shoulder at something splashing in the water of the Wetlands, and as I turned back around, the butterfly was gone. But, I got what I wanted, photos of both the upper and lower surface of the butterfly’s wings. An excellent start to the day.

And here’s what they look like from above (9/18/13).

I just missed this emergence.

Now, I would wait for the other butterfly to emerge. I knew that it was going to be soon, sometime today, this morning. I took a look at the chrysalis, saw no apparent movement and decided to take a quick turn around the half mile loop that is our Outdoor Exhibit Area. When I returned, the butterfly was gone. A very quick emergence indeed.

It doesn’t take very long to walk a half mile, even if you’re prone to stop and look at every little insect, bird, or flower along the way. This butterfly must have been as anxious to get out of its pupal casing as I was to see it happen. Twenty or thirty minutes is what I would expect for the entire process, maybe longer due to the chill of the morning. But, I miscalculated.

I probably spent too much time looking through the Partridge Pea in Catch the Wind for a Cloudless Sulphur chrysalis, or watching the Large Milkweed Bugs on the Butterfly Weed next to the Bungee Jump, or trying to identify that warbler I saw working its way through the caterpillars on a willow tree just off the boardwalk (Magnolia Warbler). Whatever the reason, I had missed the emergence.

I do, however, consider myself fortunate to have seen and to have photographed what I did manage to see and photograph. I’d waited weeks for it to happen. Patience or obsession, whatever it was, paid off.

Now, what’s next?

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