Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nash Prairie Fritillaries and Phaon Crescent

Flamboyant Passion-flower Blossom, Passiflora incarnata.

As we were departing Nash Prairie, someone noticed Passion-flower, Passiflora incarnata,  blooming on a barbed-wire fence near our truck. On the Passion-flower leaves there were the dramatic caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary.   Scott, my fellow Master Naturalist, held back the leaves so I could snap a picture.  Back in the truck,  we started to drive away,  when Aaron, the Project Director, spotted an unfamiliar butterfly.  We all jumped out of the vehicle to look and identify.   Thank goodness for digital cameras:  it is much easier to examine a critter from a picture, back at home, after a shower, with all the field guide books handy.  I decided that the mystery butterfly was a Varigated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia.  The Varigated Fritillary also uses Passion-flower as a larval host! If anyone has a different identification for it, please let me know!

Before coming to the Nash Prairie, I had not seen a tiny Phaon Crescent, Phyciodes phaon.  I grow a lot of its larval host plant, Frog Fruit, Phyla, as a ground cover at my house.

Larva of Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, munching on Passionflower leaves

Plump, glossy, purple and orange striped caterpillar of Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Passionflower leaves
Varigated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, nectaring on Brazilian Vervain

Another view: Varigated Fritillary nectaring on Brazilian Vervain
Phaon Crescent nectaring on Frog Fruit.  Frog Fruit is also its larval host
Another view: Phaon Crescent, Phyciodes phaon, nectaring on Frog Fruit

Nash Prairie

Halloween Pennant, Celithemis eponina, at Nash Prairie, June 2012

Nash Prairie Trip 06/24/2012
Imagine the Texas coastal landscape back in the time before Europeans arrived with plows and cattle.  That is the Nash Prairie Preserve today - a sparkling remnant of the Coastal Tallgrass Prairie that once swept from Corpus Christi, TX to Lafayette, LA.   This precious habitat is home to ancient, rare and previously-thought-to-be-extinct plants, along with their accompanying communities of insects and animals.  The Nash Prairie Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is an indispensable resource for seeds which are used in prairie restoration projects.

This was my first visit to the Nash Prairie. I was part of a seed-collecting team that departed from the Texas City Prairie Preserve.  On this hot June morning, the Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium was spectacular in full bloom; if the Nash Prairie were a giant cookie then the Rattlesnake Master was the white sugar coating the top!  What a marvelous sight.  Purple Liatris streaked throughout along with sprinkles of yellow Rosinweed.  Pimple Mounds, covered with yellow Coneflowers, stood out in brilliant relief.

Meadow Larks, Quail, Dicksisssels, and Red-winged Blackbirds sang while we gathered seeds of Prairie Parsley and Rosinweed.  Scores of the whimsically named Halloween Pennant Dragonflies skipped and gamboled over the tops of the grasses.  Butterflies, snails, and teal-green beetles – at every step there was another marvel and more to learn!
Rattlesnake Master blooming on Nash Prairie, June 2012

Snails in the Rattlesnake Master
Snail on Rattlesnake Master, Nash Prairie.
Empty Black Swallowtail Chrysalis on Rattlesnake Master

Rosinweed, Silphium

Coneflower, Rudbeckia texana, with Funereal Duskywing

Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera

Gorgeous Golden-Headed Weevil, Compsus auricephalus, on Rattlesnake Master
Pretty Pink Inchworm on Rattlesnake Master

Nash Prairie, blooming Rattlesnake Master and Liatris, June 2012