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Monday, August 18, 2014

A new butterfly species for NBNC!

Washington County's first Wild Indigo Duskywing!
On August 6, while making a phone call on the front porch of the NBNC offices, Chip noticed a small, dark insect fluttering around the driveway. He immediately recognized it as one of the duskywing butterflies, and after running to grab coworkers and camera, it was confirmed to be a Wild Indigo Duskywing… not just a new butterfly for the Nature Center, but a new species for Washington County!

Since an extensive butterfly survey was completed in Vermont in 2007, this is the fourth new species to be added to the Washington County checklist. Wild Indigo Duskywing may be new to central Vermont, but it was not unexpected. The native host plants of this species, Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) and Lupine (Lupinus perennis), formerly restricted the range of this species to southern New England. But in recent years, the Wild Indigo Duskywing has colonized the introduced species Crown Vetch (Securigera varia). Using this new host plant, the species has been expanding its range northward.

West Virginia White
photo by Tom Murray (bugguide.net)
While the Wild Indigo Duskywing seems to have benefited from an introduced plant species, many other butterfly species have suffered. One example is the West Virginia White. This species, active in early spring, uses toothwort as its sole host plant. But in places where the invasive Garlic-mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has been introduced, West Virginia Whites don’t recognize the foreign plant, and lay their eggs on Garlic-mustard rather than toothwort. The caterpillars, unable to feed on garlic-mustard, eventually starve.

Since the initial sighting nearly two weeks ago, Wild Indigo Duskywing has been seen on the property several more times. It seems that this species may be a new permanent resident of North Branch Nature Center. Keep an eye out for this nondescript butterfly in fields and meadows throughout central Vermont and submit your observations to help document the continuing expansion of its range.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NBNC's First Praying Mantis!

A summer camper shows off his find
It isn't too unusual for us to add a new insect species to our list for the property, but it isn't every day that we add a whole new order!

Summer campers at NBNC found a praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) this week, a first for us and still somewhat rare this far north. They are not a native species, but are certainly an impressive one to see and an exciting one to find!

Wasp Mantidfly
Only one species of praying mantis is found in Vermont, but others (including native species) can be found further south (Florida has 11 mantid species!). The similar-looking Wasp Mantidfly, also present in Vermont, may be confused for a praying mantis but is more closely related to a lacewing than a praying mantis (their raptorial front legs give them a ‘praying’ posture).

With global climate change causing milder winters, it is possible that praying mantis will become more common around NBNC, but for now, this can be considered a pretty unusual find!