Thursday, August 23, 2007

American Snout

Some butterflies, particularly skippers, can be tough to identify. The American Snout, Libytheana carinenta, is not one of them. Anyone could identify this distinctive species. In fact, when spotted for the first time, a common exclamation is "Look at the nose on that butterfly" or something to that effect.

I helped lead a group of people around Cedar Bog last weekend, and we had the good fortune to come across a snout. Or, more accurately, it came across us.

Maybe it was attracted to the flowers on one of our participant's shirt. Probably not, though - like some other butterflies that use Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, as a host plant, snouts can be pugnacious. This one boldly confronted the group, landing on various people and permitting close inspection of one of our stranger butterflies.

The undersides of the wings are not very showy, resembling dead leaves, but the palps (snout) is very distinctive. There's nothing like it.

The upper wings are quite showy, if you are fortunate enough to catch a snout with wings open. I took this photo last November in Texas. Butterfliers in Ohio get rather excited about finding American Snouts, as they are fairly uncommon and almost exclusively confined to glaciated regions of Ohio. Their host plant, hackberry, is a tree of alkaline soils so it is most common where limestone is near the surface such as at Cedar Bog.

One's perspective of the American Snout will be radically different in the southwest. There, it can be abundant beyond belief, sometimes staging enormous migrations. This photo is of Lisa Casamatta walking through a field near Falcon Dam in south Texas last November. Although hard to see in the photo, every little dark fleck is a snout. There must have been many thousands in that small area, and all told, in my week in the Rio Grande Valley, I may have seen a million or more. Way too many to even begin to estimate accurately. There were so many snouts in south Texas last year that I even so Sanderlings pursuing and eating them on Gulf of Mexico beaches!

So, sometimes rarity is all a matter of regional perspective.

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