"Why I prefer the field of science over any other is this one single fact: there is no final decision, but a process of constant discovery, discussion and leaning into the evidence that shifts as well. The questions mature as the answers compete."
- Scott Jackson-Ricketts

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Butterflies at Big Meadows

On Saturday, August 21, the Rivanna chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists hosted a butterfly walk. The outing was organized by John Holden and the hike leader was butterfly extraordinaire, Linda Marchman.
The group of 15+ walked along a gravel road on the west end of the meadows, giving us access to the meadow wildflowers and butterflies on both sides. Some species, notably the red admiral, were enjoying the minerals in the road. Thistle and white snakeroot were in full bloom, and dense patches of these plants provided the most variety.
We quickly exhausted the two hours allotted for this walk. The plan was to take the gravel drive to the woods, pass through a fern meadow forest, and take a meandering route through the heart of the Big Meadow to return to the parking lot. The butterflies had other plans for us!
A few hungry and thirsty die-hards did stick around to complete the hike. Two additional species were spotted, the common wood nymph and the gray comma (a really cool find!).

If you are interested in learning more about the habitats at Big Meadows, visit the links below. Big meadows has the greatest variety of rare plants in the Shenandoah National Park. In fact, it is host to the only existing Northern Blue Ridge Mafic Fen plant community.

The following is a list of butterflies observed today (a total of 22 species):

Spread-wing Skippers
Horace's duskywing, Erynnis horatius
Wild indigo duskywing, Erynnis baptisiae
Silver spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus
Common checkered-skipper, Pyrgus communis

Grass Skippers
Sachem skipper, Atalopedes campestris

Eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus
Black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes
Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus

Cabbage white, Pieris rapae

Orange sulphur, Colias eurytheme
Clouded sulphur, Colias philodice

Brush-footed longwings
Variegated fritillary, Euptoieta claudia
Great Spangled fritillary, Speyeria cybele
Meadow frittillary, Boloria bellona

Brush-footed Milkweed Butterflies
Monarch, Danaus plexippus

True Brushfoots
Pearl crescent, Phyciodes tharos
Red admiral, Vanessa atalanta
American lady, Vanessa virginiensis
Painted lady, Vanessa cardui
Gray Comma, Polygonia progne
Common buckeye, Junonia coenia

Satyrs and Wood-Nymphs
Common wood nymph, Cercyonis pegala

All photographs by Devin Floyd, unless otherwise noted.


Big Meadows Links:

Comprehensive report on vegetation in the Northern Mafic Fen:

Department of Conservation and Recreation's habitat description:

1 comment:

  1. Gray Comma is a good find, Devin. I like the inset of that little "sliver" of a comma, how it is hooked. We'll have to conjure up an eastern comma for comparison of these "comma" markings.

    BTW, it is possible in a few years that in the tidewater and eastern piedmont areas of VA that the White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus alba) may replace the Common Checkered Skipper; much further south in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida this change has already occurred, or is occurring. Nigh on impossible to tell these species apart from just field observation of live specimens. Hopefully this won't be an issue in the Blue Ridge, but even here it may some day be an identification concern. For now, I'll agree with "Common Checkered Skipper". If I see one in coastal SC, I will just write, Checkered-Skipper sp.