Saturday, August 6, 2011

Emma Peel as a Butterfly

Tiger Swallowtails are more beautiful, but when I spot a small, dark butterfly, I run for the camera! Small, dark butterflies include some of the most challenging identifications in our area, including the duskywings.

Jeffrey Glassberg, in Butterflies Through Binoculars; The East,  has the best quotation for this family in the spread-wing skipper butterfly group. He references a mysterious, unpublished text, The Rites of an Ancient Aurelian, by an anonymous author:
…and rising up like a dark cloud—the duskywings spread across the land, sowing confusion and dissension about butterfliers, the instrument of Erinnyes revenge.

Duskywing butterflies are tough to tell apart, but my task was somewhat limited by date and range for the butterfly in the photo above. I ruled out Juvenal's Duskywing, since it is only seen in spring in Missouri, and this fellow arrived on July 25. There is no dark band in the middle of the hind wing, so that eliminates Mottled Duskywing. Markings aren't right for Wild Indigo Duskywing, and in our area, we're too far south for Columbine and Persius; too far north for Zarucco and Funeral—though all 4 of these duskywings have occured here.
That leaves us with Horace's Duskywing—in this case, a male. However, I won't be offended if you find fault with my identification. Please leave your criticism in the comments!

I was lucky enough to have females in my yard this summer too, on July 11 and again on July 26. The female Horace's on July 26 was nectaring on one of the plants we love to hate, anglepod or climbing milkweed (Cynanchum laeve), which I wrote about in an earlier post.

What's up with the names of these butterflies? They must have been named by a classics scholar. Horace, Juvenal, and Persius were poets of ancient Rome.

Horace is most famous for the phrase, "Carpe diem!"—Seize the day! Juvenal's best known phrases include "A sound mind in a sound body," and—my favorite—"rare bird." Persius coined another great aphorism "Out of the frying pan, into the fire!" Though some sources suggest that all duskywings are named for Roman poets, I believe only these three are, though Columbine is a character in Medieval Commedia dell'Arte. The genus name, Erynnis, however is a reference to the three ancient Greek goddesses. The Erinyes, known to the Romans as "the Furies," punished criminals, especially murderers and those who were rude to his mother—Orestes, for example.

Emma Peel

The Erinyes are often depicted in black robes with short skirts, wearing boots, and carrying a whip—a bit like Emma Peel in The Avengers. A pretty intense name for an innocent little butterfly, don't you think?

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  1. Nice! I ran into some cloudywing skippers in Georgia last spring and had fun trying to figure out which species they were.

  2. Nice post!

    The little butterflies are often the hardest to identify! When I open up the guidebook and see 4 pages or more of virtually identical butterflies, I put down the book and find something else to do with the next hour or so. ;-)

  3. Hey Rebecca! Cloudywings are another challenging group of dark butterflies. We have the same 3 as Georgia: Northern, Southern, and Confused Cloudywing. The confusion, of course, is with the observer.

  4. Hi Alan! You're right--they usually look identical. If it weren't for digital cameras I'd have no hope of sorting them out.

  5. Swallowtails are about all we have around here. Not sure why...a little variety couldn't hurt!

  6. Neat butterfly but it was Emma Peel's photo at the end of your post that really caught my eye. I remember, from my TV watching days years ago, that she was one of my favourite characters. Nice trip down memory lane.

  7. @Mike: Variety does make butterfly watching fun, which is why I might ignore a gorgeous Tiger Swallowtail to chase a little brown skipper. But you might get Persius Duskywing or even Dreamy Duskywing in your neighborhood.

    @Nicole: Identifying any insect is a challenge I think, but somehow ID-ing Korean insects seems the most challenging/frustrating. Thanks for the tip about the Project Noah site!

    @Ontario Wanderer: The Avengers was a very cool show. Emma had it all--style, adventure, and attitude!

  8. Dear Anne, this post is very entertaining! Well done! Emma Peel, nice memories of my childhood watching the series...

  9. Thanks for the wonderful compliment, NiceArtLife! It's interesting how many names/TV shows derive from ancient myths.