June 08, 2022
I got another invader on my porch over the weekend when a butterfly came and joined the moth I wrote of earlier. This was again located in the upper corner of the screened porch. After I researched the two species I began to wonder if they were not there to take advantage of the bramble (Rubus trifidus) that was not only thriving on the outside of the porch but had pushed its way through the top of the screen into the porch itself. The plant has not only flowered but has produced the red berries that draw the birds and insects that feed on the nectar and fruit. I had chosen to leave this “weed” in the flower bed for this purpose, and I hoped it was accomplishing this goal. One of the interesting aspects of this butterfly was the crescent shaped markings that surrounded the ends of the hindwings.
When I looked online, I found the pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos) is a North American butterfly found throughout the US except the west coast, and throughout Mexico and parts of southern Canada. Its habitat is open areas such as pastures, road edges, vacant lots, fields, and open pine woods. The wing pattern of the adult pearl crescent varies, but all have orange wings with black borders with fine black markings. The common name comes from a crescent-shaped, light-colored spot surrounded by a darker patch on the outer edge of the hindwing. The first pair of legs are short, hairy-looking, and useless for walking. The wingspan is from 1–1½ inches (21 to 34 mm). Adults find nectar from a great variety of flowers including dogbane, swamp milkweed, shepherd’s needle, asters, and winter cress. The species has several broods throughout the year, from April to November in the north and throughout the year in the deep south and Mexico. The eggs are laid in small batches on the underside of the leaves of the aster species (family Asteraceae). Larvae are brownish black with light dots, yellow lateral stripes, yellowish-brown spines, and a black head with a pale spot in front. Larvae that occur in late season hibernate until transforming into the adult butterfly the following spring.
While the pearl crescent is one of the most common and widespread butterflies in the eastern US, it is one of the hardest to identify with certainty because of the similarity to the northern and the tawny crescents. The northern crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) was only separated from the pearl crescent in the last 25 years, and the distribution maps where the two overlap are suspect. The females are very hard to distinguished in the field and it is best to check the males to determine whether the species is present. While the male is like the female, the hind wing is more open and has a distinctive dark patch in the middle of the hindwing margin. Tawny crescent (Phyciodes batesii) males and females are like the female pearl and northern crescents but are slightly darker because of the larger amounts of black markings. The male of the tawny species is uniformly colored on the hindwing, with little or no darker spot near the middle wing margin as in the pearl and northern crescents. The range is perhaps the best marker, as the tawny is found in Canada and the western US, but only occurs in the high mountains of North Carolina and Georgia in the East. The northern crescent ranges from the Yukon Territory southeast across lower Canada to Newfoundland, and south into the US along the Rockies to Arizona and New Mexico, and along the Appalachians to Virginia. Being in Arkansas, it is safe to say my sighting was the pearl crescent.
THOUGHTS: Animal species like the crescents form and differentiate when breeding populations are separated by environmental factors and distance. This may happen relatively fast as between the pearl and northern crescents, or it may occur over millennia. Sapiens (modern humans) are said to have come from the Eden-like environment of the African Rift Valley. From there they spread across Africa, into Europe, and Asia. Finally, they took the boat or land bridge that brought them to Australia, the Americas, and Oceania. Over time and distance humans began to developpe different traits and these have been used to distinguish races, yet we are all one species. Humans like to think it is our intelligence that sets us apart. Perhaps we should act like it. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.