At the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, in Florida’s Panhandle, who did we meet? Just as you’d hope, there was this Phaon Crescent butterfly. As soon as I saw those sweet cream colored bands on its fresh forewings, I knew this little beaut was a Phaon. The clincher was the abundance of its hostplant, Fogfruit, growing low on the trailside, close to the marshy, swampy Big Bend wetland.
What springs to mind, when this rock ‘n roller reminds of this happy sighting? The Big Bopper’s cannot be forgotten Hello Baby, You Know What I Like . . .
It’s fun to see such, and be obliged to determine, in a nanosecond, if you’ve met a Pearl Crescent, or a Phaon Crescent or a Texan Crescent or maybe, just maybe a Cuban Crescent butterfly. After all, it was the Florida Panhandle, and any or all might, just might be flying.
I’ve lived in New York City and I’ve worked in the heart of it, Manhattan. Before 9:00 A.M., at lunch time, and after 5 P.M. the sidewalks are packed with tens of thousand of people. Before 9:00 in the morning and after 5 in the afternoon, the subways too are packed, moving hundreds of thousands of folks each and every minute. Examining this image of a Crescent butterfly, I was reminded that when I was back in New York, everyone looked different to me. That was helpful when I taught, when I managed real estate and when I served in the New York National Guard.
This tiny little Crescent butterfly chose to stop and rest in front of me, on the nature trail at Rock Hawk Effigy and Trails in Eatonton, Georgia. Named for the rock formation that was revered by ancient Native Americans, the trail takes you through mixed woods, in the Piedmont region of central Georgia.
When I compare this with the images and descriptions in field guides, that’s when Crescent craziness challenges. We’re in the Deep South, so that creamy yellow forewing band on each wing suggests Phaon Crescent. Other upper wing patterns, and the orange club tip of the antennae remind that Pearl Crescents can vary widely in appearance. I want to say that this is a Phaon, but my cautious side says female, Pearl.
Didn’t have such dilemmas in the Big Apple. Could always tell one person from the next. Butterflies vex, offering a wide spectrum of nuanced color, pattern and detail variations.
I know to give alot of room, when identifying Crescents in the field. Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes Tharos) vary from individual to individual, and can give you fits, because some are so variable, enough to tempt you to think that you have found a unique one.
Have a look at this female. She was nectaring in the reserve meadow at the Jamestown Audubon Center in Jamestown, New York. It’s those mid-forewing bands that triggered my curiosity. Yellower than I’ve ever seen, they reminded me of Phaon crescents, though I know that they fly hundreds of miles south of Western New York.
Some of the mystery slipped away after referring to Cech and Tudor’s Butterflies of the East Coast. They caution: “Female mid-FW [forewing] band often slightly yellow-toned (but less so than in Phaon [crescent]).”
When I turn the page in Butterflies of the East Coast, our girl starts looking a bit like a female Tawny Crescent, at least to me. Well Jamestown was once their range, but Cech and Tudor sadly note that Tawnys have disappeared from western New York post-1970’s.
So there you have it, Crescents are very handsome butterflies, but one must allow for a great deal of variation, and it’s a whole lot easier if you are well-schooled in identifying these winged beauties.
No, not 5 minutes. You’ve got . . . 5 seconds. There in almost a blink of the eye, you set yourself down on your knee (my left) and check your aperture and shutter speed, via your built-in light meter. Look up. Good it’s still there.
Fast. Focus for eyes, abdomen, antennae, are you positioned correctly, with lens and butterfly properly aligned? A cloud comes from Huh? and reduces the available light. Readjust shutter speed. Still there, yes, Thank Y-u.
Lightning quick thought. Do I have the wings? Are the 4 wings focused? It is a butterfly, and you want all who see your image to think: What a beautiful butterfly. What kind is he? It’s almost always “he.” Save that bubbling question for another time.
The wings of butterflies are all exquisite. All of them. How do I know? I see them in real-time, usually from a distance of 18 inches to 24 inches from my lens. Who amongst us have viewed magnificent jewelry at Christies New York and Sotheby’s New York’s pre-sale exhibitions of magnificent jewelry? I have, many times. The wings of butterflies must give the craftspeople of Cartiers, David Webb, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc. fits, because they have never outdone H-s craftsmanship.
If the wings don’t sing to you and I, then the image didn’t deliver. It’s the wings, for butterflies. This Pearl Crescent flew in Raccoon Creek State Park, 37 miles west of Pittsburgh.
Each day we learn more about animals. Dogs, we are now told, think. Cats do too. Those of us who spend considerable time amongst butterflies often wonder, do they, can they think? Problem solve? Do they flee because of instinct, or do they decide when and if to go?
Butterflies certainly might, if they can reason at all, exasperate, because we lavish so much attention upon Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Coral hairstreaks, Giant Swallowtails, and pay little or no attention to the likes of this stunner, a shmeksy female Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes Tharos). She was warming up her wings on a sunny August morning along a trail in Doak Field, Raccoon Creek State Park, on the western side of Pennsylvania.
If she thinks, then she must puzzle over why she sets there, very attractively lounging on a verdant leaf, while anyone who goes by asks, ‘Hey, have you seen any Monarchs yet this morning?’