Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking a wild guess...

Recently, as part of my quest to identify as many of the winged visitors to our spaces as I could, I visited the website for Butterflies and Moths of North America "collecting and sharing data about Lepidoptera".
Sachem skipper/Atalopedes campestris
Aside from the many beautiful images provided as an aid to identification, they also provide a search engine that can be refined down to the county you live in. Once the proper selections are entered, you are provided with what I have come to regard as "My List of The Usual Suspects".

The website's (slightly) more scientific approach characterizes it thusly: "The BAMONA database currently includes verified sighting records for 173 butterfly species from this region."
Common Checkered Skipper/Pyrgus communis
Take a moment to think about that.  One hundred and seventy three species. Just for Travis County.  And that is "only" the butterflies.  Once I saw the length of that list I didn't have the heart to determine how many moths are on record.

One hundred, seventy-three.  Reader, that's a whole lot of butterflies.

Not that it works this way, but if I did manage to spot a different species and correctly identify one every single day?  If I started the day I am writing this post (Saturday May 3rd), I wouldn't hit the end of the list until Wednesday, October 22nd.
Clouded Sulphur/Colias philodice
Naturally once I printed out the list (three and one half pages, single spaced) I began to put a mark by the butterflies I'd sighted and made a reasonable identification for.  I'd been paying more attention this year than usual and had developed this vague notion, pre-list-printing, that I'd seen most of what Travis County had to offer, butterfly wise.

Juniper Hairstreak/Callophrys gryneus.  Host plant is Juniperus ashei aka Texas Cedar trees.
Clearly, I'm not even close.  My current tally?  A paltry eighteen twenty species.  
Twenty.  Twenty out of one hundred seventy three.  

Ignoring for the moment the daunting prospect of a solid one hundred fifty species yet to see, photograph and identify, having the list on hand is a boon. As a starting point, it highlights the vast numbers of local flyers we support when we utilize native plants.  
Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus) on Maypop vine.
Eggs on Maypop leaf.
Some of our native butterflies only visit one particular plant while others are more catholic in their tastes.  Regardless, they have all evolved to co-exist with native plants species.  It stands to reason the more of those we have growing in our spaces, the easier it is for them to not only survive but flourish in numbers.  And who doesn't want that!

Hackberry Emperor/Asterocampa celtis.  The host plant for this one is...you guessed it! Hackberry trees.
Beyond that, when it comes to identification, it has been incredibly helpful to narrow a search down to species that are already known to frequent our area. There are more "brown with orange and white spots" butterflies than you'd guess flying around out there if you are including every single species in the world.
Common Buckeye/Junonia coenia
The ability to rule out species that don't live (or migrate through) Travis County saves an awful lot of time.  It certainly helps to limit my choices when the images I'm using for comparison only don't exactly match up spot for spot with some specimen I've blurrily captured with my camera.

This teeny tiny specimen is resting in the pomegranate.  Honestly, I have no idea what this is  - not even sure if it is a butterfly or a moth!
Twenty species identified and counting...  This could easily become a life long pursuit.  But that's OK - as long term projects go this one's a winner. I'm already totally smitten with the subject matter.


Tina said...

A lifetime of learning--not such a bad thing, especially considering the subject. Wow! One hundred and seventy-three. I had no idea. I'm impressed with your fortitude and ambition. Looking forward to seeing more of your photos and learning about what's here--and it's a great deal, apparently.

Debra said...

Once again: grats on the super photos. wow. I can see your body of work collecting into a nice tabletop book perhaps. It is turning into a nice internet resource for me at any rate. Thanks for documenting all these critters.

And thanks for the link. I like bug guide but find it a little tricky to navigate so I am always looking for alternatives.

I don't want to diminish your feelings but 173 actually kinda sorta sounds like a small number. As you say, at one a day you could know them all before the year was out. AND you might even really know if you discovered something new fluttering by.

20 seems like a great base to work on. That is approximately 17 more than me for example. hahaha

TexasDeb said...

Tina: I'm already finder fewer "new" (to me) visitors out back. I think it will take the transition to a different group of plants in bloom (already underway) to bring in a next wave. I appreciate the encouragement!

TexasDeb said...

Debra: A tabletop book! I love how ambitious you are in your thinking. And thank you as well for your regular visits and encouragement here. I am grateful.

The bug guide has been helpful when I already had some idea of what I was seeing. I find it offers a staggering amount of information when the choices aren't already narrowed. I was trying to figure out what type dragonfly I saw the other day and gave up after looking at approximately 114 pages of images. (I didn't find it.)

I don't expect to see all 173 species here in our small space... but that won't stop me from looking.

Cat said...

You're going to become my 'go to' for id questions. I've no ability to hang on to all the names of all our visitors. I seem to manage the few that I see regularly but the infrequent visitors, not so much. Your sleuthing skills are really quite good!

It's an interesting thought to ponder how many types of visitors we have to our gardens. For instance, although not insect related, there is something trampling my flower bed out front. I was assessing the damage to my one little phlox that is trying valiantly to cling to life. The black eyed susans have new damage...ugh. I'd like a night vision camera! Yes, that's it! Or maybe just a late night sleuthing expedition of my own? At any rate, it's always fun to wonder. Have a great day, Deb.

TexasDeb said...

Cat: I know what you mean about having to become a sleuth. I'd associated all trampling damage to deer overnighting but I've got some of it in the back yard and I'm quite sure they don't get in back there. Raccoons are active at night, not bedding down - armadillos, maybe? I'm with you - night vision cameras may be our only answer!