This small butterfly with dark brown wings and yellow spots is the Arctic Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). I saw it a few days ago on a warm, sunny, and humid afternoon on June 12. It was resting on a blade of grass in a sunny opening in an encroaching forest. Although the Arctic Skipper is widely distributed and ranked a G5 or “globally secure” there is only one record that I could find of it from Carlton County and it is historical but there was no information about when or where it was seen or who saw it.
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Hesperiidae (Skippers)
Subfamily Heteropterinae (Intermediate Skippers)
Genus/species Carterocephalus palaemon
The upper wing surface is dark brown to almost black with roughly rectangular yellow spots. Below they are like the color of a deer fawn and marked with black-rimmed yellow spots. Wingspread is 2.5 to 3.2 cm.
A circumboreal species found in North America from Alaska to Canada’s Atlantic coast and south to California and Pennsylvania. Not truly an Arctic species.
Larval Host Plants
Larvae of Carterocephalus palaemon eat grasses. In California purple reedgrass (Calamagrostis purpurascens) is reported as a larval host. In some European countries, brome (Bromus spp.) are preferred larval hosts. Purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) has been reported as a larval host in Scotland. Purple reedgrass is rare in Minnesota and purple moor-grass does not grow here. There are bromes both native and introduced in the state as well as the native Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). It is likely that Carterocephalus palaemon larvae feed on other grass species besides the few mentioned in the literature.
I saw this butterfly yesterday while working in my garden spreading old hay around rhubarb and currant bushes. It had probably just emerged from its chrysalis earlier in the morning and was finishing up drying its wings. The butterfly is the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) a species native to North America and occurs in Canada from the Northwest Territories south to Alberta and then east to the Atlantic seaboard. In the US it can be found from North Dakota to Maine.
The green larva with a single white or pale yellow lateral line and small black spots feed on members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), such as rock cress (Arabis spp., Boechera spp., and Draba spp.), cuckoo flower and bittercress(Cardamine spp.), and toothwort (Dentaria spp.). There are usually two or three generations a summer with the last generation overwintering as a chrysalis.
Adult Mustard White Butterflies come in a spring and summer forms. The one in the photo is the spring form. Summer forms have less dark shading on the wing upper surfaces and the lower surface veins are also less dark. Adults feed on nectar usually from mustard family plants.
Previously Mustard White Butterfly was considered to be in the species Pieris napi, a European species commonly called the Green-veined White. They are regarded as distinct enough to be classed as separate species although some authorities consider the North American P. oleracae to be a subspecies of P. napi (synonym Artogeia napi) calling it Pieris napi subsp. oleracea. P. oleracae differs from P. napi by having chalky white upper wings while P. napi has dark spots and dark margins on the upper wings. Another difference is the tolerance of P. napi for garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which is toxic to the larvae of P. oleraceae and thus a serious concern for the species survival where this plant occurs in North America to which it is not native.
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Pieridae (Whites, Sulphurs, Yellows)
Subfamily Pierinae (Whites)
Tribe Pierini (Cabbage Whites, Checkered Whites, Albatrosses)
Genus/species: Pieris oleracea
I’ve been going through my photos of moths from last summer and fall while the snow here slowly melts, comes back again, and then melts some more. As I go through my files of moth photos I am beginning to realize that there may be several hundred moth species in my township. At last count (March 30) I have 147 identified to species and another 175 unidentified species for a total of 322 species. That is a little bit over my original estimate of 300 species in my township. I am going to have to revise that number upwards a bit. The current estimate of moth species in the state of Minnesota where I live is placed at 1,503 so there may be another 300 or more species on top of what I have found.
Digital photos of the unidentified moths are kept in folders named Crambids (23 subfolders, some shown above), Micro-moths (35 subfolders, some shown above), Darts and Prominents (50 subfolders), Tussock Moths (6 subfolders), and many as just “Moth” (55 subfolders) for those in the Geometridae or moths I can’t place in any group. I think I may break that one up into “Geometrids” and “Others”.
There are still many more photos to sort through and the next group to be separated are the Plume Moths (Pterophoridae). This is an interesting group of moths that look like some sort of fixed-wing aircraft. There are three Plume Moths species subfolders (see below) but more might be added later. Moth caterpillars and cocoons also have their own folder called “Unknown Caterpillars” with just three species left until I find more this summer.
Now that I have some of the moths separated and each in its own folder I can begin tackling identification in a more systematic way. Of course no single field guide or website will have all the species possibly present in a geographic region but by getting these photo specimens identified to family or better yet to genus I can narrow my search efforts and maybe hit upon the answer. Right now I am working on the Crambidae or Crambid Moths commonly known as Grass Veneers and Snout Moths. A few days ago the unidentified Crambid files had 29 unknowns. Now it is down to 23 unknowns after confirming three species (Crambus bidens, C. agitatellus, and Chrysoteuchia topiarius) and tentatively identifying three more (Crambus pascuella, C. perlella, and Microcrambus elegans). It is progress.
Warm weather is still in the future it seems but when it does get here and the ice and snow start to melt I will be out in the woods and fields looking for moths and other things that are waking up after a long and sometimes cold winter.
Many insects have evolved false eyes or “eyespots” on different parts of their bodies presumably to deter predators. The butterfly shown above is the Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon formerly known by Lethe anthedon) and has many “eyes” on its underwings. But why so many and what might they be for? Eyespots are thought have at least two effects on potential predators. One is to frighten them off especially if the eyespots are suddenly displayed and resemble those of a more dangerous predator. Another is to direct the attention of the potential predator towards the spots which it then attacks. The second idea might be the case for the eyespots on the Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly. The eyespots may function as a decoy away from the head prompting a predator to strike this non-vital area instead only to get a mouthful of dry scales. Wing damage patterns have been cited as evidence for this. But why attack the eyes at all? And how are eyes a decoy away from the head anyway? Wouldn’t the eyes see the predator coming and alert the prey? It would make more sense to sneak up from behind or below out of the vision field. Further, the eyespots on the Northern Pearly-eye, which are thin yellow circles surrounding a larger darker circle with a small white fleck, are not very good imitations of mammal or bird eyes like these on the Emperor Moth. Maybe the damaged wings on seen on some Northern Pearly-eye and other butterflies with similar eyespots were not made by a confused predator but by one who attacked too quickly and missed getting the whole butterfly in its mouth. Another proposed idea is that these are signalling devices to attract mates or intimidate competitors of the same species although I’m sure how this could be tested. It could be the things we call eyespots are not mimicking eyes at all.
Description, Range, Life History of the Northern Pearly-eye
The Northern Pearly-eye is one of three similar looking species in the genus Enodia, one of two genera separated from Lethe, the other being Satyrodes, found in North America. It extends further north and west in its range than the other species but overlaps with Satyrodes eurydice and S. appalachia in the Great Lakes Region and Appalachians and E. portlandia and E. creola along its southern margins.
Northern Pearly-eye is a medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of 45 to 53 mm. It is a soft purplish-brown on both the upper and lower wings which have somewhat scalloped margins. The eyespots usually have a roundish white pupil in the center. The last eyespot on the underside of the hindwing has two pupils or more often is formed from two eyespots that are merging into what looks like the number “8”.
The easiest feature to separate Northern Pearly-eye from the other Enodia and Satyrodes species in field are the club-shaped tips on the antennae. These are black in E. anthedon but yellowish in S. eurydice and S. appalachia, orange in E. portlandia, and yellow-orange with or without a black basal band in E. creola. Eyespots on the underwings of S. eurydice and S. appalachia are ringed with a white outer circle. The second eyespot on the underside of the forewing of E. anthedon is much smaller than the rest which helps to distinguish it further from S. appalachia. Eyespots of E. portlandia and E. creola, both species of the southeastern US, are usually surrounded by a diffuse white band or circles although this is not always well defined.
Larvae (slightly fuzzy, green with a pair of red-tipped “horns” at each end, and with longitudinal yellow stripes) of Northern Pearly-eye feed on grasses such as short-husk grass (Brachyelytrum erectum) which grows in mesic to moist forests and bottle brush grass (Elymus hystrix) and false melic grass (Schizachne purpurascens) which grow in mesic forests and clearings. Eggs are laid individually on the host plant. After hatching the larvae feed up until the third or fourth instar after which they hibernate appearing the following spring when they resume feeding and growing. Further south in its range there are two generations per summer so it is only the second brood that overwinters. Adult Northern Pearly-eyes feed on dung, carrion, and sap from aspen and birch. One of the few butterflies that inhabit forests, look for Northern Pearly-eyes in moist to mesic forests either in small openings or along edges near marshes and streams. The peak flight season is in July and August over the northernmost part of its range but begins in June further south.
Class Insecta – Insects
Order Lepidoptera – (Butterflies, Skippers, and Moths)
Superfamily – Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Nymphalidae – (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Subfamily Satyrinae – (Satyrs, Morphos and Owls)
Tribe Satyrini – (Alpines, Arctics, Nymphs and Satyrs)
Genus and species – Enodia anthedon (Northern Pearly-eye)
The genus Lethe, to which Enodia and Satyrodes once belonged, is now generally considered to include only Old World species. All are in the Tribe Satyrini.
Eyespots and predation
Field experiments on the effectiveness of ‘eyespots’ as predator deterrents. Martin Stevens, Elinor Hopkins, William Hinde, Amabel Adcock, Yvonne Cononnolly, Tom Troscianko, and Innes C. Cuthill. Animal Behaviour, 2007, 74, 1215-1227
Predator mimicry, not conspicuousness, explains the efficacy of butterfly eyespots. Sebastiano De Bona, Janne K. Valkonen, Andre´s Lo´pez-Sepulcre and Johanna Mappes. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.0202
The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Martin Stevens. Biological Reviews (2005), 80, pp. 1–16
Descriptions and information on life cycle and ecology
Discovered at Last: Lethe creola (Nymphalidae:Satyrinae) is a Resident of Florida. John V. Calhoun, Patrick R. Leary, Bill Berthet, and Andrew D. Waren. Southern Lepidopterists’ News Volume 37 No.2 (2015), 81-87.
Species Lethe anthedon – Northern Pearly-eye – Hodges#4568.1 at BugGuide
The Butterflies of Canada. Ross Layberry, Peter Hall, Don Lafontaine. December 15, 1998. University of Toronto Press
Higher level phylogeny of Satyrinae butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) based on DNA sequence data. Carlos Peña, Niklas Wahlberg, Elisabet Weingartner, llasa Kodandaramaiah, Sören Nylin, André V.L. Freitas, Andrew V.Z. Brower. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40 (2006) 29–49