Thursday, 29 December 2016

Goatweed Leafwing butterfly - A First Canadian Record

This is virtually an identical article to the one I submitted to the recent edition of Toronto Entymological Association's newsjournal called Ontario Insects and Essex County Field Naturalists' Club newsletter called The Egret. Enjoy!

October 29, 2016, marked a very significant milestone in my naturalist career... When I went out that morning, I had no idea that I would find the first record of the butterfly species Goatweed Leafwing (Anaeas andria) for Canada!

My first view of the Goatweed Leafwing at Point Pelee. Wow!
I was walking alone around lunch time in the Red Cedar savannah habitat of Sparrow Field near The Tip of Point Pelee National Park, only about 15 minutes after my friends and I parted ways for the afternoon. While studying the various insects that were nectaring on some of the remaining goldenrod (Solidago) and knapweed (Centaurea) flowers, I noticed an interestingly shaped orange and brown butterfly flying erratically. It eventually landed, revealing itself as unlike any butterfly I had seen before. This was a great rush, as I know my local butterflies quite well and therefore knew this had to be something pretty rare. I managed to fire off a quick photo of its open wings just before it flushed, landed, and flushed again. It landed on some vines in a dead tree a few metres off the ground, and had I not seen it land it would probably have never been refound! It sat between grape leaves for about an hour with closed wings no matter how close we stood under the tree, which I hear is rather unusual for this species.

This is the Goatweed Leafwing with its wings closed. An aptly named species!
After making a few phone calls, a number of my nearby friends arrived in a hurry to see the mystery butterfly. Luckily Steve Pike was able to help me identify it with his mountain of experience with wildlife south of here. It eventually opened its wings to gather some energy from the sun then made another short flight, landing between some vegetation and dead leaves at the edge of the beach. At this point it was pretty apparent that this individual was rather exhausted as it barely held itself upright in the subtle breeze. We all left in the early afternoon, taking careful note of its location, but were unable to refind it for Bob Curry later in the afternoon after an extensive search. That was the last confirmed sighting of this wayward visitor.

The gorgeous view we enjoyed while the Goatweed Leafwing tried to warm up in the slight sunlight.
Although this is an unprecedented find in Canada, this southwestern stray was certainly bound to be found here eventually. The BAMONA (Butterflies and Moths of North America) database lists 16 records of this species within 500km of Point Pelee, the closest by far being a record from Washtenaw County, Michigan, only ~150km away. It also lists at least 19 records further north than Point Pelee, all being west of here. This species is known to feed on Goatweed (Capraria biflora), Texas Croton (Croton texensis), and Prairie Tea (Croton monanthogynus) – the latter two found in localized patches in nearby states. The night and morning before my find delivered pretty strong southwest winds of 17-37km/h, likely leading this butterfly across Lake Erie and into Point Pelee.
As if the Goatweed Leafwing was not enough, as my friend Jeremy Hatt arrived I spotted a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae), also somewhat rare to Canada! Needless to say it was quite the afternoon at Point Pelee. Dan Greenham and I went on to find two to three individuals of this species on November 18, absolutely destroying the previous late record for Canada!

This is another Cloudless Sulphur we found at Point Pelee on November 18 - record late for Canada!
I was of course feeling the spirit of one of my best friends, the late Alan Wormington, that day as he was incredibly talented and renowned for finding rare butterflies and moths in this area. To add to this feeling, the next day (October 30, 2016) I stumbled upon an online posting of finding of the ABA's (American Birding Area) third ever record of Amazon Kingfisher at Zacate Creek in Laredo, Texas. What is the significance and/or relevance of this find to this post? Well this Amazon Kingfisher was found in the exact same place that Alan found the first ever ABA sighting of this species in January 2010! I should add that Alan was notorious for making the drive between Texas and here in record time, and the timing is about right on for him to have made it from Point Pelee yesterday to Laredo today. We'll be reminded of Alan time and time again through our sightings. Alan taught me to always persist, to be honest, to be hard on myself, and to be proud of what I know and do. I, along with so many friends, am so proud to do my best to carry on his legacy.

Keep hiking and searching, and searching, and searching, and you never know what you may stumble upon!

Jeremy Bensette

1 comment:

  1. Excellent account of your find. Glad I was there that day to share the experience! One of those times I was in the right place at the right time.