Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard
The Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has been growing and maturing under the watchful eye and loving labor of the Friends of Hagerman’s volunteers. Every Wednesday morning a dedicated group gathers to weed, plant, trim, and transplant, and together they have created a welcoming haven for resident and transient butterflies. It’s also a peaceful place just to sit and enjoy or to search out species to add to your butterfly life list. Yes, butterfly watchers are just as fanatical as birders in seeking out new species. Photographers are also loving the opportunity for getting great close-ups of the many different butterflies.
|Mallow Scrub-hairstreak: smaller and browner than common |
Gray Hairstreak and has dark spots circled in white
near the leading edge of the hindwing.
During the month of October, 44 species of butterflies were seen and documented at the refuge and most of those visited the butterfly garden. Of the 44, five were new county records according to the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) project, a group of volunteer naturalists who keep and maintain reference data relating to all Lepidoptera. To put that number in perspective, only 73 species of butterflies have ever been seen in Grayson County.
|Ceraunus Blue: tiny, gray under and lavender above (in flight), |
no tail, lines on forewing and hindwing are widely bordered in white
So how do we identify and submit a new county record? I’m sure you’ve played the game “Can you spot the differences?” That’s exactly what it’s like trying to locate and identify new butterfly species for our county.
|Tawny-edged skipper: dark brown skipper with gold or tawny |
orange leading edges; above has white spots on forewing and
tawny orange patch in the center of the hindwing
Each butterfly species has a unique size, color, pattern, and behavior that are well documented. They range from as small as a shirt button to as large as a saucer. Many have similar coloring with only slight pattern differences. Identifying them requires a very close look. Photographing the butterfly from every angle is critical to proving the identification. A good field guide will help you narrow down the options and zero in on the correct ID.
|Brazilian Skipper: very large skipper with brown wings and |
3-4 white spots on hindwing - flies only early morning and
near dusk; in flight, it looks similar to a bumblebee
Using your pictures of the butterfly, first, try to determine which family group the butterfly is in. Is it tiny and triangular? It’s probably a Hairstreak or a Blue. Is it all or mostly white or yellow? Check the Whites and Sulphurs family. Next, look at the size and compare it to a butterfly you know. Is it smaller or larger? Look at the predominant color and then the pattern of lines and spots on the side of the wings the butterfly shows you. Some will keep their wings folded and you will only see the bottom of their wings, while others will open fully to show you the beauty on top of their wings. Don’t forget to check the color or pattern on the butterfly’s body and the shape and color of the antennae – those can provide clues as well.
|Dorantes Longtail: a dark skipper with a long brown tail and heavily patterned |
under wing with a broad brown line that is not smoothly continuous, especially on the forewing
Once you’ve narrowed it down and think you have a good ID, go to www.butterfliesandmoths.org. It’s easy to create a profile and log in. Click on “Get Involved” and follow the link to submit a sighting. The online submission form will ask you the date you saw the butterfly, what you think it might be, and allow you to upload a photo or two. It will also ask you to be specific about where you saw the butterfly. If you type “Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge” in the Search Address window, the map will zoom in on the butterfly garden. Finally, select United States for Region and then Texas and Grayson County from the lists. Click on Save and an email will be sent to you thanking you for the submission. Usually you will get a follow-up email in a few days with the reviewer’s confirmed identification.
Keep your eyes open and you may find the next county record in our Butterfly Garden!