A special message from your local Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis).
Hey you! Yes, you. I pray you’re paying attention to what’s flying around out there, otherwise it’ll all pass you by.
This summer’s hot humid breezes from the south have not only carried swarms of dragonflies into the lower Susquehanna valley, but butterflies too.
So check out these extravagant visitors from south of the Mason-Dixon Line—before my appetite gets the better of me.
In some years, the Sachem, a vagrant from the south, can become the most frequently observed orange skipper in the Susquehanna valley, far outnumbering faltering populations of resident species around lawns, gardens, meadows, and roadsides. 2020 appears to be one of those years.
The Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) sometimes strays north along the lower Susquehanna River in late summer. This one was photographed recently at Conewago Falls.
The Cloudless Sulphur is a large fast-flying brilliant yellow butterfly. Here in the Susquehanna valley, it is usually seen singly, though colonizers will breed in patches of Partridge Pea, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa), and Maryland Senna (Senna marilandica). Cloudless Sulphurs are really widespread this year. In areas where intensive farming practices are in use, your chances of seeing one of these wandering around right now might be just as good as your chances of seeing one of the diminished flights of the resident Clouded Sulphurs (Colias philodice) and Orange Sulphurs (Colias eurytheme).
The Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) is the least conspicuous of the stray butterflies shown here. This beauty was photographed several days ago along the edge of an oak forest in northern Lancaster County, PA.
There you have it. Get out there and have a look around. These species won’t be active much longer. In just a matter of weeks, our migratory butterflies, including Monarchs, will be heading south and our visiting strays will either follow their lead or risk succumbing to frosty weather.
For more photographs of butterflies, be sure to click the “Butterflies” tab at the top of the page. We’re adding more as we get them.
With autumn coming to a close, let’s have a look at some of the fascinating insects (and a spider) that put on a show during some mild afternoons in the late months of 2019.
Bush Katydids (Scudderia species) are found in brushy habitats and along rural roadsides. Their green summer color fades to brown, maroon, and gold to match the autumn foliage where they hide. Bush katydids often remain active until a hard freeze finally does them in.
The Eastern Buck Moth (Hemileuca maia) is fuzzy, appearing to wear a warm coat for its autumn expeditions. Adults emerge in October and may fly as late as December. Females deposit their eggs on the twigs of Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia), Blackjack Oak (Q. marilandica), or Chestnut Oak (Q. montana), trees that, in our region, seem most favorable for the moth’s use when growing on burned barrens and mountain slopes. The spiny caterpillars are known to feed only on the foliage of these few trees. In the lower Susquehanna valley, the Eastern Buck Moth is rare because its specialized habitat is in short supply, and it’s all Smokey The Bear’s fault.
The Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) wanders north from the Atlantic Coastal Plain into the Susquehanna valley each summer. In some years they become the most numerous small orange butterfly of all, particularly around home gardens. The larvae will feed on Crabgrass (Digitaria species), but have not found success overwintering this far north. By November, adults begin to look pretty drab.
From 1978 through 1982, the Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was introduced into the eastern states by the United States Department of Agriculture. It has become a nuisance in many areas where it swarms, sometimes bites, and often overwinters in large smelly masses within homes and other warm buildings. As you may have guessed, it’s possibly displacing some of the less aggressive native lady beetle species.
On a chilly afternoon, a sun-warmed Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) pounced and dispatched this sluggish worker Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) that was trying to gather pollen from a late-season Purple Coneflower bloom. This spider is bold indeed.
Under bridges, inside bird nest boxes, and sometimes beneath porches, the female Pipe Organ Mud Dauber (Trypoxylon politum), a predatory wasp, builds these elaborate nests composed of long rows (pipes) of nursery cells. Into each cell one or more paralyzed spiders is deposited along with one of the female’s eggs. When hatched, each larva will feed upon the paralyzed spider(s) inside its cell, then pupate. The pupae overwinter, then emerge from their cells as adults during the following spring. In the autumn, males often stand guard at an entrance to the nest to prevent parasitic species, including some flies (look at the fifth pipe from the right), from laying eggs on the pupae. These wasps are not aggressive toward humans.
A Black-and-yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) observes a neighboring nest of Common Paper Wasps (Polistes exclamans). The Common Paper Wasp, a species also known as the Guinea Paper Wasp, is a native of the southern United States. It is currently expanding its range into the lower Susquehanna valley from the Atlantic Coastal Plain. These two wasp species and the Pipe Organ Mud Dauber are known to regularly coexist. All three will take advantage of man-made structures for their nest sites. People using the picnic tables beneath this pavilion roof never noticed the hundreds of docile wasps above.
Those moody Eastern Yellowjackets (Vespula maculifrons) can get very temperamental during warm autumn days. These wasps may appear to have no enemies, but away from areas impacted by man’s everyday activities, they do. The Robber Fly (Promachus species) hunts like a flycatcher or other woodland bird, waiting on a perch along the forest’s edge for prey to pass by, then ambushing it, yellowjackets included.
The invasive Spotted Lanternfly, a native of eastern Asia, continues to spread destruction. It established itself throughout much of the east side of the lower Susquehanna River during the summer and fall of 2019. Their route of travel across the farmlands of the region intersects with plenty of vineyards to obliterate and few, if any, natural enemies. Expect them to begin colonizing the west shore en masse during 2020.
In 2020, plan to roll a few Spotted Lanternflies over, enjoy the view, and wait for the crimson tide to pass. With any luck, they’ll peak in a year or two.
Eaton, Eric R., and Kenn Kaufman. 2007.
Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, NY.