Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 12, 2010

Red Admirable & the Blue-green Badwing

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:49 pm

The Mourning Cloak butterflies have finally yielded their trail guarding rights over to the Red Admirals in my corner of the woods. As revealed by a recent trail walk, the Red Admirals are now patrolling the same trail stretches previously patrolled by their larger purple cousins(see below and here). Like the Cloaks, the males are intercepting everything that moves in the hopes that it is either a female or a rival male “fly.” The Admirals are quicker fliers than their predecessors, however. They take to the air with the slightest of provocation and snap their black & red wings audibly as they flit past your head. When at rest, these critters fold up their colorful wings and blend into the background with their mottled underwings (see here).

When two of these flighty butters meet in mid trail, they circle about each other and spiral upward at the point of contact. This is the contested border line. The rival pair will continue the engagement until reaching the level of the lower branches – at which point one or the other breaks the confrontation off and they flit back down to their respective territories. It is not clear how they determine the result since they don’t appear to actually make contact with each other. Overall, the fight flight is more of a smack talking series of “Oh Yeah?” “Yeah!” “Says who?” “Me” “You and what army?”… The whole thing is performed like a scene from West Side Story. Both are looking to meet a girl named Maria.

You could say that this type of fighting is admirable in its civility. In fact, bringing this term into the conversation reminds me of the name of this species. Contrary to what you might think, the name of the Red Admiral is not naval in origin. It is not even rank oriented. It is shortness-of-phrase oriented. This is another one of those butterflies which are distributed globally over North America and Eurasia. In England, where it was first described, it was originally called the Red “Admirable” butterfly due to its striking appearance. Apparently American folks got tired of saying “admirable” and reduced the name by a syllable to “admiral”.   Either name is fitting for this stately take-charge species, but the original name certainly has a better ring to it. Remember, the more syllables a word has the more important it is.

I also encountered another much smaller representative of the lepidopteran (that would be 5 syllables) clan while weaving past the battling admirables on my walk. This fellow, a beautiful blue-green moth with yellow eyes, was not defending anything in particular (see below and here). He was too small to fight (only 1 inch wingspan), but he exuded an air of defiance none-the-less.  For one thing, his distinctive perching pose was upright as opposed to horizontal – almost like an insect version of bipedalism (yes I know that was a meaningless phrase, but bipedalism has five syllables and therefore I felt it was a useful word in this case). Those eyes and tucked back antennae added to his look.

This diminutive fellow (hey that’s six syllables combined!) didn’t linger in the morning sun for long and soon fluttered back into the undergrowth. I didn’t identify this one until I later consulted my Peterson Field Guide to North American and found him to be a representative of the species Dyspteris abortivaria – known to all frustrated lepidoterists as the Bad Wing Moth. Now, there’s a name with only three short syllables and a story.

Bad wings are members of the familiar group of inchworm moths whose larva have long sticklike bodies. This type feeds on grape leaves as a child moth.  As an adult they exhibit an oddly matched pair of wings in which the hind wings are far smaller than the forewings.  Entomologists have long found it difficult to properly pin this species down in their collections. Because of the disparity in the wing sizes, it is near impossible to get the hind wings to lie properly on the mounting board – thus the name “Bad wing Moth.”

In retrospect, I can see why this little moth projected the attitude it did. He was saying “go ahead, just try to pin me down.  Hey, bub, better bring that army along if youse is going to take me on.” That is an admirable sentiment to be found in one so small.

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