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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!
Red Admirals Mourning Cloak
Painted Ladies Cloudless Sulphur
American Ladies Sleepy Orange
Common Buckeye Little Yellow
Question Mark White-M Hairstreaks (possible)
Eastern Comma  Red-banded Hairstreak


Contributed by Clyde T. Kessler, Fall, 2000

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