Other Butterfly Migrations
Monitoring Insect Migration in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Contributed by Clyde T. Kessler
Insect migration fascinates me very much. Most of the answers about this
amazing phenomenon are still hidden. Mostly I have questions. I know that
Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) migrate in Europe, Asia & North America.
They have been mentioned this year as being seen near Trondheim, Norway
above the Arctic Circle.
Red Admirals and Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui, also with Eurasian, and
N. American distribution) are famous migrants, sometimes in great numbers.
We actually see more American Ladies (Vanessa virginensis) than Painted
Ladies. Both are difficult to tell apart in flight unless you get ideal
viewing conditions. I never see the Vanessa species in large numbers at
our site. Same for Common Buckeyes, and for the anglewings Eastern Comma
& Question Mark, and the Mourning Cloak. These last three migrate,
and also overwinter in adult form.
The Eastern Comma & Question Mark are also hard to distinguish in
flight. Sometimes I get lucky and get to see all the markings well enough,
most of the time no. Other species I see migrate are the sulphurs: Cloudless
Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow. They seem to be more coastal
(along the eastern U.S.) than in the Appalachian Mountains where we monitor
migration). This year we are watching the movement of one or two species
of hairstreaks which flash a wonderful blue hue at us when they fly by.
The only one we have identified (because it stopped for a moment) was
a Red-banded Hairstreak. I figure these hairstreaks are either Red-banded
or White-M Hairstreaks.
Where do all these butterflies head? I see them fly southwest in late
summer and in fall along the Blue Ridge. I see them fly north east in
the spring. I don't know where they go. I have read that sometimes there
are small roosts of Red Admirals atop trees. I have never seen this. Sure
would like to witness this. We also see four species of dragonflies commonly
migrating, sometimes in large numbers: common green darner, wandering
glider, twelve-spotted skimmer, & black saddlebags. We have seen a
small number of a few other species.
I think that when people are watching for monarchs to migrate by, they
have a great opportunity to see perhaps a few other species heading southward
too. I enjoy watching the hawks, the swallows, the ruby-throated hummingbirds,
and warblers hurrying by. Sometimes a tanager or a Baltimore Oriole will
go by, or a Red-headed Woodpecker. And in August and September in mid
to late October, I see several species of butterflies and dragonflies
all heading south.
A professor once told me that even if all you see one day is three crows
in a field and you write that information down and share it with other
people, someone some day will be glad that you recorded that information.
We need to record our sightings and share them with people, because what
we witness of migration and share with others might be a small, but important
clue about the lives of the animals we see.
These 12 moth and butterfly species have been sighted,
in addition to four species of dragonflies!
Contributed by Clyde T. Kessler, Fall, 2000