Surprise in the Juniper

I got my air gun cleaned this morning so I could spray latex on the juniper branches.  I thinned latex with ammonia and water to the point where it looked like milk, poured it in the air gun, and started spraying.  Half way through I noticed a fluttering moth or butterfly up at the light in the spray booth.  I stopped spraying and grabbed a plastic container and caught a BUTTERFLY!  We collected these branches in the middle of January.  What’s a butterfly doing coming out of the juniper now?

What is so cool about working in a natural history museum is that I am able to run right over to someone who knows more than anyone would care to know about anything having to do with natural history.  In this case, I ran to Larry Gall, an entomologist with a specialty in butterflies.  Larry took a quick look and said, “Oh, that’s Polygonia c-album and it is one of the few butterflies that hibernate whole, as an adult, not in a cocoon.  I asked Larry what’s a Polygonia c-album and he said, “it’s known commonly as an Eastern Comma.”

Eastern Comma, wings outstretched

E. Comma, wings up (note small comma on lower wing)

Larry thought it was too active-beating itself up on the side of the container, so he walked over to the refrigerator and stuck it in.     After maybe a minute or minute and a half with the butterfly slightly chilled and a lot more serene, Larry lifted it out of the container between his fingers.  He showed me and two students the little silver comma on the inside of the wings.  He showed us all 6 legs (2 are reduced and hidden in the front), he unrolled its 3/4″ proboscis with an insect pin.  Then to demonstrate the clinginess of the feet, he stuck it on each of our noses!   Sure enough, he grabbed right on.

Larry suggested I take it outside and put it on an evergreen tree or something with a shaggy bark so it can climb into a crevice and overwinter until spring.  I took it over to the President’s house-he has lots of evergreens bordering Whitney Ave and let it climb out onto a tree.  I must say, for all the abuse it took, it looked no worse for wear.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Preparing the Foreground

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