Riveredge Re-Member December Promotion!

Get outdoors and explore during this winter and beyond with a membership to Riveredge Nature Center! Enjoy 10 miles of trails on 379 acres of gorgeous wild habitat to explore any day you wish all year round. Additionally, Riveredge members receive discounts on programs, early registration for Summer Camp, access to member-only events, and more.

Become a Riveredge Nature Center member (or renew your current membership) by the end of the year and * BONUS * keep warm while exploring all winter long with your choice of a FREE Riveredge stocking cap or neck gaiter! Additionally, anyone who purchases an All Access Riveredge membership will receive a $10 coupon toward purchases of $25 or more in the Riveredge Nature Store! Happy Holidays indeed!

If you’d like to ensure that you receive your Riveredge swag by Christmas, please join by December 15th to allow time for processing and shipping.

Giving Tuesday Update: THANK YOU Riveredge Community!

Dear Riveredge Community,

 

Wow. I have to tell you, this morning I feel a combination of gratitude and astonishment that is hard to put into words.

For Giving Tuesday, we created an initial goal of fundraising $5,000. Then based on your commitment, your leadership, we felt emboldened to double that goal to $10,000. Well…you completely surpassed that benchmark, and you’ve successfully tripled the Riveredge Giving Tuesday fundraising goal and reached a grand total of MORE THAN $15,000! 

This year has been a challenge for Riveredge, just as it has been for everyone. I can’t tell you how much this means to the Riveredge staff to have you in our corner. We’re so excited to begin maximizing these funds to improve our programs and experiences for students and families, and to increase our efforts to restore the land.

Just as we’ve welcomed families to learn and explore across these trails, invited school field trip groups and homeschoolers to embrace this outdoor learning laboratory, and empowered local educators through our Scientist in Residence program – you’ve responded with that same commitment to community.

THANK YOU for being a part of Riveredge, and for supporting the growth that radiates from this vital 379-acre community asset. When it matters most, you’ve come together and offered more support than we even imagined.

From all of us at Riveredge, a heartfelt THANK YOU!

Keep Smiling and Get Outside!

 

Jessica Jens
Riveredge Executive Director

Bug o’the Week – Morning Glory Prominent Moth

Howdy, BugFans,

As she cruises through her moth books trying to identify what she’s photographed, the BugLady sees pictures of AMAZING caterpillars – not drab brown or grass-green caterpillars, but caterpillars that eschew camouflage in favor of some pretty gaudy togs (she has a Caterpillar Wish List that may require a Caterpillar Road Trip).  For example:

The Imperial moth https://bugguide.net/node/view/7718;

The venomous Crown Slug https://bugguide.net/node/view/1434824/bgimage;

The astounding Hickory horned Devil https://bugguide.net/node/view/1550971/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1757001/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1757013/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1757026/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/992138/bgimage;

The Faithful Beauty https://bugguide.net/node/view/6266;

The Curve-lined Owlet https://bugguide.net/node/view/862030/bgimage;

The Fawn Sphinx https://bugguide.net/node/view/1785681/bgimage;

The Paddle Dagger https://bugguide.net/node/view/1825/bgimage; and

The Bravo https://bugguide.net/node/view/1895198/bgimage.

Some brightly-patterned caterpillars advertise their toxicity, but others blend in because their color patches break up the outline of their body.

She thought she had checked off one of the caterpillars on her list this summer.  It was head-high and moving smartly up a tree trunk at the Bog when she saw it, and her preliminary (and secondary) ID was a Unicorn moth caterpillar.  Then she checked other genus members and changed her mind (and is hoping that she dodged a “publish in haste; repent at leisure” moment).  It’s (probably) the closely-related Morning-glory Prominent (Schizura ipomoeae) (Ipomoea is the genus of morning-glory).  Unicorn caterpillars lack the striped head and that extra hump on mid-abdomen that the Morning-glory Prominent has, and the hairs on their abdomen are shorter.  Here’s a better shot of the Morning-glory https://bugguide.net/node/view/1292330/bgimage, and here’s the Unicorn https://bugguide.net/node/view/1446998.

No road trip is needed for the Morning Glory Prominent – it lives in deciduous woodlands across the US and southern Canada.  One reference called it “common,” and it well may be, but both caterpillar and adult are awesomely camouflaged.

There are eight species in the genus Schizura in North America north of the Rio Grande.  They’re in the family Notodontidae (the Prominent moths), a family that, according to Wagner in Caterpillars of Eastern North America “includes many of the most handsome and behaviorally interesting caterpillars in the temperate zone.”

Notodontid/Prominent caterpillars are pretty cool.  They’re big, with large heads, and some sport a variety of lumps and spines and decorations on their sometimes-whimsically-shaped bodies.  You can find them perched on leaves in the daytime.  Maybe.  A “work-around” practiced by some Notodontid caterpillars involves girdling a tree stem and spreading liquid on the cuts; substances in the liquid depress a plant’s usual chemical defenses to grazing.

Caterpillars in the genus Schizura have a gland that produces a mixture of formic and acetic acids along with “lipophilic” (fat-loving) compounds.  This concoction is delivered as a spray that the caterpillar can direct with accuracy up to six inches away.  The gland is located right behind the head, and the spray comes through a slit in the “neck” (though some sources said it was in one of the humps).  In his write-up about the Unicorn caterpillar in Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods, Sogaard says that these glands may be so large that they “can occupy a tenth of the caterpillar’s volume,” and the BugLady assumes the Morning-glory Prominent is similar.  The lipophilic compounds help the liquid to spread on and penetrate the victim’s exoskeleton/skin (it can raise a painful blister on humans).

Adult Morning-glory Prominents have wingspans of 1 ¾” and they’re somewhat variable in color http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8005.  A rolled-up posture https://bugguide.net/node/view/404222/bgimage makes them look like broken twigs.

According to bugguide.net, caterpillars of the Morning-glory Prominent “feed on the leaves of beech, birch, elm, maple, oak, rose [including apple trees], and other woody plants; probably not on morning-glory.”  Which is probably why it has alternative names like False Unicorn Caterpillar and Checkered-fringe Prominent.  They are gregarious as young caterpillars and loners later – the young caterpillars feed on the leaf’s under-surface, skeletonizing it; and the older stages eat inward from the leaf edge, carving a half-circle out of the edge and curling into it, looking like a damaged leaf https://bugguide.net/node/view/1615595/bgimage.  They overwinter in suspended animation as pre-pupae, ready to pupate in spring.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

The Uncommon Beauty of the Oak Opening

I must admit, when I first encountered an Oak Opening, I had a hard time initially wrapping my brain around what was unique about the habitat. I looked up and could recognize that it contained oak trees, standing high in their far-reaching, craggy-branched splendor. “Ok, they’re oak trees,” I shrugged. Then one day it dawned on me: an Oak Opening possesses a vast amount of open space compared with what I understood a forest to look like.

A great distance of space can exist between trees, sometimes 100-feet from one another. This is why these habitats are also known as “Oak Openings,” and is the name for this one-acre area at Riveredge Nature Center overlooking the Milwaukee River. This portion of the property also boasts uniquely untilled original soil and a rarely seen guild of native plants. But what else is unique about Oak Openings?

The Oak Opening, as the name suggests, is a surprisingly open forest.

Oak Openings have become incredibly rare

The numbers of Oak Savanna (a somewhat similar habitat with less tree density than an oak opening) previously standing and currently in existence are staggering. Of the 5.5 million acres that once existed, according to the Natural Heritage Inventory, less than 500 acres exist that had plant assemblage similar to the original Oak Savannas. Similar to savannas, Oak Openings are one of the rarest and most threatened habitats in the world. Summarily, many of the plant and animal species that flourished in these systems have perished, or their populations have taken hits as they struggled to find other, less suitable habitats.

Autumn Oak leaves in the sun at Riveredge

Pre-settlement, wildfires and fires set by Native Americans took place across the US throughout the year, burning off smaller trees and invigorating understory plant seeds to sprout. Oaks have thick bark and a deep taproot, which equips them uniquely to tolerate fires more than other woody species. After a fire the only plants that stood throughout the charred landscape were oak trees, such as Bur Oak.

What happened to Oak Openings?

Prior to settlement, about half of Wisconsin was covered in Oak ecosystems (such as oak woodland, oak savanna, oak opening). When settlers moved west into this territory, these oak ecosystems appeared, and proved to be ideal areas for farmland and more readily cleared than a dense forest. Many of the soils were rich in nutrients after centuries of plants and animals had built up the soil. The removal of indigenous peoples, their customs, and traditional ecological knowledge, as well as the removal of fire fuel continuity by turning over original ground with the plow, worked to suppress fires that had been previously afforded greater affect on the landscape.

The Riveredge Maple Sugarbush, across Highway Y from the Oak Opening.

Oak trees provided ideal building material for houses and barns, and if any was left over it became firewood. Millions of linear board feet would be shipped to become furniture, tool handles, and flooring throughout cities such as Milwaukee. While the wood lasted, logging was a bustling business in Wisconsin.

In areas of Oak Savannas that still stood, without fire management or grazing by wild or domesticated animals, smaller trees would begin to grow up between oaks, competing for sunlight and rain. Invasive species such as Buckthorn would begin to fill in areas that were previously the domain of native plants that grow more slowly. When we picture a forest, this, comparably more cluttered, landscape is likely what we imagine.

Today, an oak opening gives the same reprieve from a forest’s overstory as it always has; however, it now represents some of the best of what many areas have lost. For ecologists, oak openings and other similar rare habitats now act as living libraries of species and their interconnected assemblages, to reconstruct in our restoration efforts.

This summer, experience Wisconsin’s natural heritage by visiting the Oak Opening at Riveredge Nature Center, and continue visiting throughout the seasons. This location is also one of our most picturesque locations from which to view the Milwaukee River. In this now uncommon location, you can experience the tranquility that can only be found within trees that live for hundreds of years.

Overlooking the Milwaukee River from the Oak Opening at Riveredge Nature Center.

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Heal All

In Bloom

Bullhead Lily
Bladderwort
Prairie Phlox
Canada Anemone
Fragrant White Water Lily
Spiderwort
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Prairie Golden Aster
Yarrow
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Avens
Poke Milkweed
Harebell
Heal All
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
False Sunflower
Enchanter’s Nightshade
Wild Leek
Fringed Loosestrife
Marsh Phlox
Butterfly Weed
Pretty Bedstraw
Indian Hemp
Common Milkweed
Downy Wood Mint

Yarrow

Flowers in Bud

Grey Headed Coneflower
Rosinweed
Spotted Joe Pye Weed
Stinging Nettle
Common Boneset
Purple Prairie Clover
Compass Plant
Gayfeather

Hidden Summer Gems to Explore at Riveredge

With 379 acres and 10 miles of trails, Riveredge Nature Center has so many ever-changing beautiful places to see and experience throughout the year. Here are a few of our favorite summer places to explore.

Prehistoric Fern Fantasy Land

Step back into the time of the dinosaurs and experience the ferns lining the trail near the Milwaukee River. They grow so dense in early summer that it can play tricks on the eyes; so plentiful that the tessellated greenscape can appear surreal. Rather than flowers and seeds, ferns reproduce by sending out spores. Early in the season they unfurl fronds in a shape known as “fiddleheads.” Later in the season, ferns dry and senesce to look like brown fossils standing out of the earth, testaments to both an earlier time and an earlier season.

Flowers and Insects in the Summertime Prairie

Summer is that time when the prairie really sings, both figuratively and literally. A menagerie of insects and birds flit, buzz, and hover from bloom to branch. From the yellow explosion of Coreopsis, to the wispy scarlet of Prairie Smoke, and the feathery pinks of Queen of the Prairie, a stunning cascade blooms throughout the warm months.

  Larsen Climbing Rocks

What could be more natural to a Riveredge Kid than climbing? The Larsen Climbing Rocks are the perfect place for kids of every age to explore, practice gross motor skills and balance, Conveniently located just past the Yurts, a good rock crawl is the perfect start to any trail jaunt.

The Calm of Riveredge Creek

Many people might not know, but portions of Riveredge Nature Center are a designated State Natural Area, which denotes a high quality habitat. Riveredge Creek winds through this section. Intersections where the trail crosses Riveredge Creek are perfect locations to feel the cool shade beneath cedars and immerse in the tranquil sounds of a burbling creek while listening to the calls and wing flaps of nearby birds.

Visit Riveredge today to discover your favorite spots!

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Spiderwort can be seen throughout Riveredge prairies.

In Bloom

Stoneseed
Bullhead Lily
Blue Flag Iris
Bladderwort
Canada Anemone
Angelica
Tall Meadow Rue
Fragrant White Water Lily
Spiderwort
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
Hairy Beardtongue
Blue Wild Indigo
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Yarrow
Prairie Golden Aster
Bluets
Alumroot
Common Cinquefoil
Cow Parsnip
Large Flowered Beardtongue
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Northern Bedstraw
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Avens
Poke Milkweed
Harebell
Heal All
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
Wild Four O’Clock

Pale Purple Coneflower

Flower in Bud

Wild Leek

November 2, 2020 Covid-19 Update

Monday, November 2, 2020

Beginning Monday, November 2 – November 27, the Riveredge Visitor’s Center and Nature Store will be open only on Saturdays from 9:00am – 4:00pm or by appointment.

All regularly scheduled programming still takes place; program attendees will meet outdoors in the specific location where the Riveredge staff member directs you to meet. In the interest of everyone’s safety, anyone entering any building at Riveredge will be asked to wear a mask for the time being.

The Riveredge Nature Store is still available for shopping online, including holiday shopping and currently including fresh produce from The Riveredge Farm. Any purchases are welcome to be picked up curbside by appointment.

Trails remain open every day from dawn to dusk! Exploration and adventure don’t need a schedule!

 

 

 

 

Friday, May 15 2020

 

Dear Community,

Spring is feeling more like summer right now, and the beauty of Riveredge is really starting to grow. If you haven’t been out to Riveredge recently, now is the perfect time to come! Our little family has created a new habit of hiking most days together. Sometimes it’s a short hike near our home, and other days we venture farther away. Our pup loves to hike with us too, so we’ve found great use in the list of dog appropriate trails put together by Riveredge. We also cherish our time on the Riveredge trails (pup free) and have used those journeys to help our dog get reaccustomed to the days when we won’t all be home 24/7.

Visitor’s Center to Return to Regular Hours on Monday, June 15

I’m excited to announce that plans are underway to reopen the Visitor’s Center on Monday, June 15. Visitor’s Center hours are 8:30am – 4:30am Monday – Friday and 9:00am – 4:00pm on Saturday. As shown in the picture above we are asking that anyone entering the Visitor’s Center wear a facial covering and adhere to standard social distancing protocols. Additionally, entrance and exit will be one-way, so please exit either out the back porch door, or through the west door past the restrooms.

We are currently finalizing our “Reopening Plan for Riveredge,” working to acquire all needed supplies, and training our staff on the details of the plan. Rest assured that we are following recommendations by county, state, and national health authorities in relation to public spaces, group programming, and outdoor recreation. We are confident that our plans will greatly reduce risk due to virus transmission at Riveredge and allow all of us to return to full, yet modified, operations. To allow full transparency, we will place a list of our modifications and precautions on our website in the coming week.

 

In-Person Programming to Resume

We are excited to announce that small group nature programs will resume after May 26! We are confident that our plans for providing fun, educational programs at Riveredge not only follow, but exceed, recommendations set forth by the health authorities. A brand new, social distancing friendly Frog Fest is returning on Sunday, June 7! Summer programming will soon be listed on our online calendar. Please check it frequently as more and more programs will be listed as modifications for those programs are finalized.

Going forward, for the foreseeable future, participants must pre-register for ALL programs, including free programs and guided hikes. No day-of registrations will be allowed.

When you do come to a program, please read the details carefully. Some programs (like Frog Fest) also direct you to a sign-up genius to claim an arrival time for your family/group. All programs will have a designated arrival location at Riveredge. The utilization of our dispersed “home bases” allows excellent social distancing and the elimination of congregating groups.  Along with our 379 acres and 10 miles of trails, we will be using our River Outpost, Sugarbush House, Visitor’s Center, and Yurt Village for programming home bases this year. A new Farm upgrade will be completed this fall, adding yet another dispersed learning home base to our list.

 

SUMMER CAMP!

I’m so very happy to announce that our ever popular “Nature Journeys” summer day camp program will return for the summer of 2020! After what seems like months of ambiguity and anxiety, we can now announce that our summer camp program has been modified to not only meet, but exceed, the recommendations by local and national health agencies. We have also closely followed the recommendations of the American Camping Association to inform this decision. Lots of details will be sent to currently registered camp families early next week. We do still have some spots available for summer camp 2020, and we are now accepting additional registrations on our summer camp page.

For those families who have a young person signed up for the uber popular Boundary Waters backcountry trip – a final determination has not yet been made about the status of this trip. We are optimistic, but we do have some additional facts and options to determine. You will be contacted next week regarding options and details for this incredible summer opportunity for your youth.

 

Virtual Programming

We also know that, for a variety of reasons, some individuals and families are not yet comfortable returning to in-person activities.  We plan to continue to provide our fun, and educational, Riveredge Virtual Naturalist videos throughout the summer as well as our popular Tea & Topics with Riveredge Zoom programs through June. We are looking into ways to provide a virtual summer camp option in August.  We know everyone’s situation is different.  At Riveredge, everyone is welcome, and we are enthusiastic about providing experiences that connect all of us with the natural world.

 

With Great Gratitude

Thank you to all of you for your gracious understanding, patience, and support over this time of great uncertainty. We have been humbled by the emails of support, stories of joy brought to you by the Riveredge land, and smiling faces hiking the trails. This is yet another time when the Riveredge Family shines brightly. We are all so excited to return and see each other in person (we appreciate Zoom, but, WOW, we miss seeing all of  you)!

We know that things will not be the same as they once were. Our utmost concern is the health and safety of YOU, all of our learners and visitors, our volunteers, and our staff. We’ll take precautions at Riveredge for months to come to minimize risk of virus transmission. We also know that time in nature is healing for our minds and bodies. We know that our youngest Riveredge Family members need each other and a summer of catching frogs.  And, we know that the Riveredge Family will look out for each other and work together to keep us all healthy.

Now, get on outside and enjoy the summer-like weather that has FINALLY arrived!

Keep Smiling!

 

Jessica Jens

Riveredge Executive Director
Riverdge Kid Since 2013

Welcome to The New River Outpost!

 

The River Outpost opens Friday, September 20!

The River Outpost provides an educational and support facility near the bank of the Milwaukee River, as well as a Watershed Interactive Table to support water quality citizen science efforts, the Lake Sturgeon restoration project, and educational programs for youth and adults. The goal of this exciting, new space is to serve as a watershed education hub for the Milwaukee River through education, river interaction experiences, and restoring Lake Sturgeon to local waterways.

Vital Community Partners

Students of The Riveredge School explore along the Milwaukee River.

The River Outpost was made possible by significant generous gifts from both West Bend Mutual Insurance Company and the Fund For Lake Michigan, as well as other generous community donors. Riveredge is fortunate to partner with community partners that value watershed education and protecting our local resources, including the Milwaukee River, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. These partners appreciate the impact of human land and water use on the ecosystems we all share.

River Outpost Celebration

To celebrate the opening of The River Outpost, Riveredge Nature Center is hosting a Community Celebration on Friday, September 20 from 4:00pm – 7:00pm, featuring a classic Wisconsin Friday Night Perch Fry (tickets for perch fry or baked cod dinners must be purchased in advance) and a live performance from Polka Fusion. Guests can explore the new facility, discover water critters in the Milwaukee River and through microscopes in the classroom, experience the watershed interactive technology table, sculpt artwork alongside the resident River Outpost artist Sally Duback, wander the Milwaukee River trails, and more. 

The River Outpost will be a hub for Milwaukee River and water quality education for all ages.

Additionally, everyone in attendance can meet the young Lake Sturgeon being raised in the Sturgeon Trailer that will be released into Lake Michigan during Sturgeon Fest on Saturday, September 28 at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee. 

The River Outpost Location

Comprising 379 acres of wild Wisconsin, Riveredge has been working to increase its educational impacts with facilities that are usable in all four seasons, while identifying building sites that won’t negatively affect habitat. The River Outpost is located in a previously disturbed building site near the Milwaukee River, providing optimum proximity for guest experience without impacting existing flora and fauna.

Bug o’the Week – Fiery Skipper Butterfly

Greetings, BugFans,

The Fiery Skipper is one of a pair of distinctive skippers that was featured in a BOTW in 2013 (https://uwm.edu/field-station/fiery-and-common-checkered-skippers-family-hesperiidae/).  It’s an uncommon migrant to Wisconsin, but the BugLady saw 11 Fiery Skippers decorating the vervain flowers at Waubedonia Park recently, and they seem to be having a good year statewide, so she decided they deserve a more complete biography.

Skippers, so-named for their rapid, bouncy flight, are butterflies that the Field Guide to Butterflies of North America refers to as a “group of mostly small and confusing creatures” (the majority of skippers are either brown and orange or orange and brown).  They are not moths, but they are often called “moth-like” because they are big-eyed, hairy, and chunky.  Their short-wings have to work extra hard to propel them through the air (at speeds up to 20 mph, according to one source).  Skippers have sometimes been called a transition group between butterflies and moths, but a genetic work-up places them squarely in the Superfamily Papilionoidea along with Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Red-spotted Purples and the rest.  Their antennae are different than a moth’s – ending with an elongate, hooked knob.

They are not moths, and the BugLady is dismayed when someone who should know better, like the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, says in a publication about lawn pests that “Fiery skipper adults resemble butterflies and…..”  Or when an article in the Journal of the Acadian Entomological Society in 2012 says “The Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus Drury, 1773) … is a medium-sized skipper … commonly found on both American continents. Moths typically fly from early September to late October” [emphasis, the BugLady].

Here’s a nicely illustrated “how-to” (though the BugLady was dismayed to learn that there are skippers in Australia, too) https://australianbutterflies.com/whats-difference-butterflies-skippers-moths/.

Fiery Skippers are in the skipper family Hesperiidae and the subfamily Hesperiinae, the Grass skippers (because their larvae eat various kinds of grass).  Grass skippers often sit with their front wings spread partly open and their hind wings a little less so.  Kentucky bluegrass is among the grasses on the Fiery Skipper caterpillar’s menu, and it’s considered a pest species in some areas because of the patches of dead, brown grass where caterpillars feed.  Caterpillars live on grass blades that they fold/roll lengthwise and web into a shelter.  Several sources pointed out that these shelters lie horizontally, close to the ground, below the blade of a lawn mower.  They pupate on the ground, and the adults emerge with only one thing on their mind – females immediately start scoping out good habitat for their eggs, and males sit on the tops of grasses watching for them.  Most reproductive activity takes place within their first few days as adults.  Here’s a nice set of pictures of their life cycle https://bugguide.net/node/view/452219/bgimage.

There is a lot of variation within the species; females’ wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/233966/bgimage are more patterned than males’ https://bugguide.net/node/view/1720496/bgimage, and females can be notably un-fiery https://bugguide.net/node/view/126346/bgimage.

Sometimes, when the BugLady is collecting information for a BOTW, her subject lets her know what story it wants her to tell.  In the case of the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), the story seems to be about where it lives.  Not in the short term – day-to-day it’s found in sunny, open spaces, often gardens, with flowers to nectar on and grass nearby for the larvae, from Canada to Argentina (with gaps in the Great Plains, Rockies, and Great Basin).  But this is a largely southern-to-tropical butterfly that none-the-less migrates from the southern/resident portions of its range to the northern US and into Canada in varying numbers from year to year.

And that’s a relatively new phenomenon.  According to the Massachusetts Butterfly site (whose data encompass 200+ years), the first Fiery Skippers were recorded in that state in 1940 (Rhode Island in 1911, Canadian Maritime Provinces in 1947).  In Butterflies of Wisconsin (1970), Ebner tells us that the earliest state records here were in 1952 and 1957.  He notes that the specimens “were rather fresh, perhaps being introduced here by stragglers that ventured into Wisconsin earlier during the same summers and layed [sic] their eggs.

In the south, around the Gulf of Mexico and in the desert southwest, they breed most of the year.  The butterflies that arrive here in early summer probably produce one brood that lives through the summer, but it’s too cold here for their caterpillars to survive the winter.  It’s possible that patterns connected to climate change are enhancing the weather that supports the Fiery Skipper’s tendency to travel, and it’s probable that the regions where caterpillars of this exquisite butterfly can overwinter will extend north.

A resource that the BugLady regularly checks includes a section on economic impact in its species information.  Fiery Skippers were given a plus for benefitting local economies via eco-tourism.  Butterfly fans in northern states may travel to Fiery Skipper sites in big years – indeed, the Massachusetts Butterfly folks initially scheduled field trips to the most reliable sites for the skipper.

Nota Bene: one of the hits that came up as the BugLady researched the Fiery Skipper was a range map on the Moth Photographer Group’s site at Mississippi State http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/large_map.php?hodges=4013.  She thought it might be another one of those skipper/moth deals, but it turns out that the group posts range maps for butterflies, just as they do for moths, but not pictures.  Good resource.

And this, by the BugLady’s count, is (drum roll) BOTW #550!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/