Speaking of Nature: Sunshine on a cloudy day: The rain isn’t preventing the pearl crescent butterfly from living its life

  • Caught in a patch of rare sunlight, this male pearl crescent shows a little extra color that is not normally seen in this species. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON

For the Recorder
Published: 7/16/2023 10:46:26 AM
Modified: 7/16/2023 10:45:56 AM

With all of the news ricocheting around in our heads, I’m not sure if anyone has the RAM to allow us to remember back as far as last year, but that’s what journals are for. Why bother remembering something when you can write it down? Then all you have to do is flip through the pages of your journals and find detailed accounts of who, what, when, where and how. Even though we are busy and stretched to our limits sometimes, we just need the slightest nudge to activate the sleepy synapses in our brains that will allow memories to come flooding back to us.

So, with this in mind, I present you with an interesting factoid from July of 2022. It just wouldn’t rain.

Remember the days when we looked at the sky and wondered when it might rain? The page for July 31 in my 2022 journal has a simple little notation on it, which reads as follows: “2.14 inches rain for month.”

This year we received more than that in the first week of July and there are no signs that the rain is going to stop. Oh how times can change.

For me, the most noticeable effect of all of this rain is a touch of cabin fever. I am two weeks into my two-month unpaid furlough and I just want to go out and play. Instead, I am stuck inside and watching nature through rain-covered windows. Yet, despite the fact that I am largely sidelined, it is important to remember that outdoor life goes on one way or another. Sunny or cloudy, damp or dry, the plants and animals have no choice but to keep going as best they can.

This is made ever so clear on those rare and wonderful days when there is a splash of sunlight on the damp landscape. Last week, during a beautifully sunny break, I leapt at the chance to go outside and found evidence that the calendar of Nature is being diligently adhered to. My evidence? I crossed paths with a beautiful little butterfly called a pear crescent (Phyciodestharos).

This is a small butterfly with a wingspan that is just over an inch wide. The adults will seek out food (nectar) from a wide variety of flowers, but this requires that the flowers of many species of plants are allowed to escape the blades of our mowers long enough to bloom. Thus, if you cut back on your mowing a little you may increase your chances of seeing one of these beautiful July gems a lot.

The pearl crescent is a species that exhibits sexual dimorphism (different colors for the different sexes), but in general it can be described as a “little orange butterfly.” There is also a great deal of variation among individuals, but these are variations on a theme, which generally conforms to a predictable pattern on the wings. The individuals in my yard tend to have a dark margin around the outer edges of the forewings and the hindwings. Then, just inside this dark border, there is a row of spots that extends most of the way around the hindwing margin.

Males tend to be more orange than females. The individual in today’s photo is definitely a male because of the orange that is visible on his abdomen. A female pearl crescent would show about 50% more brown on her wings, and her abdomen would also be brown. However, that pesky variability can lead to some interesting divergent colors.

Anyone looking at today’s photo will notice that there is a quite a bit of “blue” to be seen on a butterfly that is advertised as an “orange” butterfly. Well, this is a delightful product of that rare moment of sunshine that allowed me to go outside in the first place. Butterflies are insects and their exoskeletons are made of a material called “chitin.” This is similar to the material that makes up your fingernails, but not exactly the same. Anyway, the chitin exoskeleton can be very hard and butterflies often have little “hairs” covering their bodies. In the proper light, these hairs can sometimes refract light.

So, in this photo (which just happened to be captured in light at the perfect angle) we see the hairs on the top of the butterfly’s thorax (the body segment just behind the head) refracting the light into a beautiful blue-green color. The dark margins of the wings are also showing hints of this same blue-green color for the same reasons. This little black-and-orange butterfly is gleaming in the sunlight; resplendent in his Lilliputian loveliness.

At the end of every column I try to come up with some comment that might inspire you to put down the phone, turn off the screens and go outside. This year, the soggy weather is going to make that a little more difficult for me, but I shall give it a try nonetheless.

The pearly crescent, tiny though it may be, has a large presence across the landscape. The species is basically present throughout the summer and early autumn, but now is its “high season.” The rain isn’t preventing this little butterfly from living its life and I hope that you take a moment to see if you can find one where you live. Look for them in the flowery, unmowed margins of fields and “waste places.” If you see one, then I guarantee you will feel a smile spreading across your face.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 26 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy