Thursday, June 7, 2018

Goatweed Leafwing

Goatweed leafwing - now you see it...... you don't - Paul Prappas
One of my favorite butterflies is the goatweed leafwing, aka goatweed emperor, Anaea andria.  It overwinters as the adult form, hiding under loose bark or other shelters, emerging on the occasional 50 degree winter day to fly around, startling a hiker with its bright orange wings.  Follow it until it lands and it  disappears, folding up its wings to look like all the other dead leaves.  That is the same strategy that a cottontail rabbit uses, flashing its white tail until the freeze pose with its tail tucked out of sight, just another brown thing in the brown winter woods.
"Gee whiz, it really smelled dead!" -  Chris Barnhart
The adult butterfly doesn't visit flowers but gets its nutrition from decaying fruit and animal droppings.  It does make exceptions for blossoms such as Ptelia trifoliata and the pawpaw pictured above.  These flowers are usually pollinated by flies and beetles, attracted by their odor of dead animals!

Building a frass chain - Chris Barnhart
Chris Barnhart introduced me to the caterpillars.  This includes building rigid frass chains that they can climb onto for protection away from the leaf.  (Frass = insect poop to those of us perpetual 5th graders.) 

I was going to write about the goatweed's life-cycle until Chris sent me his link to his incredible photographic essay.  It shows all the stages such as their rolled-leaf shelters including a video of a caterpillar backing into one like a semi-truck at a mall.  Go straight to this link.

Visit the Bill Roston Butterfly House at  the Springfield Botanical Gardens where you may get to see one of these offspring on the wing.