Monday, August 24, 2015

Military Might = Butterfly Flight?

In this case, definitely yes!

For quite a while, we have wanted to make it to Fort Indiantown Gap's butterfly tours.  They do them two weekends in July, and that's it.  Fort Indiantown Gap is Pennsylvania's large Army & National Guard training facility.  You get the impression that all manner of things happen here, and they probably do.

But here's the deal.  They put on an excellent show.  There were 5-6 naturalists traveling with the probably close to 200 citizens who came to tour.  Specialists in butterflies, plants, birds, and more.  At the beginning, a pavilion had a lot of mounted winged creatures and skulls.  Here are some mounts of what we were about to go find live in the field.

For example, above are a few of the swallowtail type of butterfly, and also the fritillaries and sulphurs.  Below is a skull that I have to believe belonged to a heron of some sort.  

I have to say, I thought perhaps two dozen people would be on this tour.  But I was wrong.  The guides told us they expect 150-200 people per day.  And this was definitely the military.  All 100 cars or so were lined up in precision order, and given instructions on how to leave the site and proceed to the firing range that is home to the butterflies.  Here's the starting line :)

Now, we saw many butterflies this day.  But the star attraction is the Regal Fritillary, a butterfly known in only a few places in Pennsylvania, if not just this one location.  But Fort Indiantown Gap and the Regal Fritillary have a complex history, one that I'll share in the next post. 

Before we arrived, the main concern was ... would we really see a Regal Fritillary?  Or would it be a long shot?  Well, we didn't have to worry.  There were scads, and even without the high numbers, the naturalists were out to find one for us to see up close:

Here you go, the Regal Fritillary, in all of its glory.  In case you haven't noticed, these guys have been the banner on my Facebook page for a while.

The other common fritillaries in the area are the Great Spangled Fritillary and the Aphrodite, both of which have an even orange wash on both fore and hind wings.  The Regal Fritillary's hind wings are a deep black, making it stand out from the fritillaries and also the Monarch.

The big question, of course, is why the Regal Fritillary chooses a firing range as its home.  But more on that later ...

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