Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Welcome Back!

After traveling home yesterday from a short vacation in Richmond , I was eager to to get out to Wildwood with my camera. Actually, I'm usually eager to get out to Wildwood even when I've been at home! 
I began my walk in the Park at the Eighth Avenue entrance. The cell tower is up there and it's easy to make a quick check of what's happening in that open area. 
I soon began snapping photos of flowers and butterflies and bugs. One little brown butterfly gently fluttered by, stopped to rest in the grass, and allowed me to get close enough to take several shots. I did not recognize the species, and I wanted to get home to get a closer look at its image in my computer.
After dinner, I began my search. I soon realized that I had found an extremely rare critter that had made its home in Wildwood for at least eighteen years according to Clyde Kessler, who also confirmed my identification. These insects are also extremely local within their range. He had told me to be on the lookout for them, but we had not seen any at all last summer. We feared that aggressive spraying under the power lines might have harmed the insect or its habitat.What a joy to discover that our friends had only taken a year's vacation. Even a Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis) knows that Wildwood is a wonderful place!

The Northern Metalmark likes limestone and dolomite so the Elbrook Formation of Wildwood is a perfect place for the lovely creature's habitat. It loves to nectar on Butterflyweed but will be satisfied with Rosinweed, Oxeye Daisy, Mountain Mints, and such. For laying eggs and feeding larvae they need Ragworts (Packera) - particularly Round-leaf Ragwort (P. obovata) and Prairie Ragwort (P. plattensis). 
These plants grow in the Wildwood. 
Take a close look at the photo above. Can you see how the Metalmark got its name? Clyde says that when the sunlight catches their wings just right, the markings look to him like embossed silver threaded into the wings. They almost always land and perch with their wings open and flat so that getting a photo or even a look at their underwing is not easy. The mostly dark pattern allows them to be camouflaged and hidden from predators. They are reasonably calm when perched, so I was able to get my camera close and on the ground when one was perched on a low limestone rock and got the photos below of the light colored underwing as it slowly lifted itself on its four long back legs. Notice the two very short front legs - this is a characteristic of the male of this species. Females have two long front legs as well as four long back legs.

Now you can get a glimpse of the metal marks that give the butterfly its name. How about those compound eyes! Many insects use those as an excuse to dart away when a human puts a camera in their face. Love that calm...I snapped several shots and then wished that the critter would fold its wings up. It did raise them a bit, enough for me to feel successful with getting several views.


Metalmarks enjoy open glades, road cuts, power line cuts (without spray!), all with limestone soils. In most areas there is only one brood flying from mid June to mid July.
We must take care to guard the habitat of these small jewels and do all that is possible to ensure that they always find a comfortable and inviting home in Radford.
Welcome back to Wildwood, gentle friends!