Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sap Drinkers

While walking through the woods yesterday, I kept noticing Mourning Cloak Butterflies hurrying through the trees. The Mourning Cloak overwinters as an adult and becomes active as soon as the temperatures begin to warm. It’s not considered rare, but I usually don’t encounter more than one individual at a time. At one point I encountered two Mourning Cloaks having a little chase around the base of a tree. As they gained altitude, a third joined the chase. When the chase concluded, all three came back to the tree. That’s when I noticed the Mourning Cloaks, along with several other insects, making a meal of Sugar Maple Sap.

The Mourning Cloaks are in really good shape considering they’ve spent the last few months squeezed into some crevice or behind a piece of loose bark. At least those hairy bodies give the appearance of a warm blanket capable of keeping out the winter chill.

During the winter, falling ice chunks and branches damage the small side branches of the Sugar Maples. When the sap begins to run in the spring, it runs from these cuts and provides a sugary meal for many types of insects and other wildlife. Slicing a maple branch to release the sap has long been a strategy used to attract butterflies.

The majority of the insect crowd was composed of flies. If a food source becomes available in the woods, I think the flies are always the first to arrive.

Eastern Commas were also in abundance at the sap flow. This species also overwinters as adults, so it’s not uncommon to see the wings with some damage or wear. Commas are very common at Blue Jay Barrens and are regularly encountered through the warm months of the year.

The Eastern Comma gets its name from the white, comma shaped mark on the outside of the hind wing. The very similar Question Mark has the white mark broken into two distinct parts. I rarely encounter Question Marks here. I think watching butterflies is a perfect activity for the first day of spring.

1 comment:

  1. Now I wish I had more Maples instead of Oak trees in the back 40! The 'Cloaks are out up here already, it just seems so early for us. I'm not complaining! Great pics!