LEPS &ODES: Overwintering azures emerge this spring
I closed my last column, published Feb. 9, by mentioning the recent cold snap of -45 degrees. That had been the coldest temp I'd recorded in 22 years. Back then, the arrival of spring, if ever(!), seemed in the distant future.
Though snow piles remained deep, sunny skies on March 21 nudged the temperature above 50 degrees for the first time this year.
Believe it or not, that prompted the first butterfly activity I witnessed in 2019. Not fresh 2019 ones, but veterans from 2018 that had overwintered.
I'm talking about Compton Tortoiseshells that had snugged into siding of a cabin before it was plastic-wrapped in late October by its owner.
On March 21, nine had literally developed "cabin fever" from the positive, greenhouse effect the plastic provided.
Once released from their plastic "prison," they shot into the sky after taking only a few minutes to rehydrate on damp soil. (Due to overnight temps still below freezing, they would have needed to shelter in unheated structures, wood piles or crevices of tree bark.)
Three weeks later, the first overwintering Mourning Cloaks began flying on April 16. Comptons and Mourning Cloaks are members of a half-dozen local butterfly species that briefly appear as adults in summer, spend many months inactive (hibernating, so to speak) before flying again in late winter/early spring the next year.
Given that I recorded winter 2018-19 as the fifth coldest (average daily temp of 17 degrees) and second snowiest (over 86 inches), I'm somewhat surprised that I saw any overwintering butterflies.
Azures of spring
"The first Spring Azure of the season never fails to gladden the heart, for it is a sure sign that the long period of cold and torpor is over, and that life is again beginning to renew itself." I'm quoting Alexander B. Klots from his "Eastern Butterflies."
Spring, for me, arrived May 7 when I saw 21 of these small, blue butterflies.
Since Klots' guide was published in 1951, the world of azures has become quite complicated. Since then multiple azure species have been identified. As I write this, more are being considered for species status.
What I saw and photographed on May 7 some experts call Northern Azures (Celastrina lucia). A more southern form is the Spring Azure (C. ladon).
Adding to the confusion is that both of these azures come in three forms, one of which, is called "lucia." "Marginata" is the most common; "violacea" is the rarest form.
Whatever you call these azures, I'm sure you'll agree with Klots that they will "gladden the heart" as they brighten our early spring days after a very-long winter!
Cool temps and cloudy skies have certainly put a damper on fresh 2019 butterflies emerging. So far, I've only seen azures and three elfin species (Hoary, Brown and Eastern Pine).
Hopefully, that will really change today (May 25) when we conduct our Nevis spring count. Around this time in 2017, we identified 23 species; 21 last year. So lots of catching up for the butterflies! Given that much-needed rain we've been getting this week, things could really be popping!