On July 16th at 11 AM, 18 IBMN monitors braved the heat to traipse around Miller Woods near Gary, Indiana looking for the endangered karner blue. It had actually rained that morning, despite the drought covering the mid-west, and it was now quite steamy. But everyone was raring to go.
John Drake works for The Nature Conservancy of Indiana and was leading the tour. He headed us out into a beautiful savanna with lupine growing everywhere. Lupine is the larval host plant of the karner blue. It wasn’t very long before we started seeing butterflies. First we saw a silver-spotted skipper nectaring just off the trail. Then we caught a satyr and put it in a catch jar for everyone to take a look. At first glance, many of us thought we had an eyed brown, but we were in the wrong habitat. Since we were in a savanna, it had to be the Appalachian brown, which looks almost identical to the eyed brown, an open, sunny, wetland species. Then we spotted a blue butterfly, but it was not a karner, it was the spring azure, which has been having a phenomenal year. Along with the azure was another, smaller satyr, the little wood satyr. We spotted quite a few of both satyr species.
But just shortly down the path, we spotted our goal, a single karner blue. A closer look showed the orange stripe on the topside near the edge of the hindwing, indicating a female Karner. Since this is an endangered species, we did not net it, but most people got a pretty good look at it. The tail end of the group did not, but hoped for more sightings soon. It didn’t take long. We started seeing quite a few females on both sides of the trail, but no males close up.
Continuing on got us a lovely Edward’s hairstreak. These are very similar to banded hairstreaks, but close look showed the ovals on the forewings. It seems that these two species do not often share sites. If a site has banded’s, it rarely has Edward’s, and vice versa. It’s a good thing, because they are virtually impossible to tell apart on the wing, and they both hang out on oak trees. It was wonderful to see the Edward’s as this species is much more rare. Once we saw the first one, we started seeing a fairly good number in that one area.
Moving down the trail, we ran across a nice savanna duskywing, the mottled duskywing. It is easy to identify for a duskywing, due to the mottling on the wings. And near it was a third satyr species, the wood nymph. We did not see any pearly eyes, which was disappointing but not too surprising, as they have been having a very poor year. It would have been nice to round out the satyr family with one, but seeing the others was quite helpful for the beginners on the tour.
Then we finally hit an area with quite a few karners. We all got a good look at both male and female karners, and we even got to see a mating pair quite near the trail. This was a great photo opportunity for those of us with cameras. As several of us were following two males in flight, one was snagged out of the air by a robber fly! John informed us that robber flies and crab spiders are probably the two most common predators on the karners. I guess they don’t realize that these are endangered and shouldn’t be eaten!
We hit an area with some small wetland ponds near the trail. Between Doug and John, they caught three great skippers for us to study in catch jars, a crossline skipper, a dion skipper, and a northern broken dash.
We rounded out the day with a female spicebush swallowtail and a female black swallowtail. Doug also spotted several cool longhorn beetles, a new group of insects that he is learning, and a swamp milkweed leaf beetle.
Even with the heat and the humidity, it was a lovely day to be outside seeing all these different butterflies and sharing the experience with like-minded people. We ended the tour with a relaxing picnic by the parking lot and then headed off for air-conditioning!
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