Today we checked out Cornell University's botanic garden in Ithaca, New York for the first time and ended up collected a several new butterflies.
Yesterday, we hiked around Beebe Lake, which is right next to and should lead to the Cornell botanic garden, but we never actually made it there because it was late and we were tired. This afternoon, we set out again, taking to the road instead of the Beebe trail, which is a much more efficient route.
Our first impression of the garden was that there were tons and tons of good butterfly nectar flowers. When we first stepped inside to walk around, we were greeted immediately by a large black swallowtail sucking from bunches of pink flowers under a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Our first thought was a black form female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) (the tulip tree was reassuring) or possibly a black swallowtail (P. polyxenes asterius). However, neither of those sound likely because P. glaucus is early season univoltine (possibly second partial) in upstate New York and we cannot find any egg or larvae of P. polyxenes despite the presence of numerous species of host plants (some exotics in an edible state). Spicebush swallowtail (P. troilus) never even crossed our mind at the time not just because it is a species that we have never had any experience dealing with in the past and know very little about, but also because we have yet to find any host plants around (even in the garden). It was not until we caught it with a laundry bag and got a close look at it that we realized that it was indeed P. troilus—and a surprisingly fresh and plump female at that.
It has very wide and rounded fore- and hindwings with white and gray spots (not yellow) that are surprisingly large (no smaller than your typical western tiger [Papilio rutulus]) because we have always been under the impression that P. troilus is a small species. Unlike tigers, there is very little blue except on the back of the hindwings and there are two very distinct rows of orange spots there instead of one. The ovipositar is white, which coincidentally or not, corresponds with the color of the eggs. The head shape is also sort of strange. . . unexplainably.
Inside the garden, there are a lot of butterfly bushes (Buddleja) that were covered in butterflies from skippers (mostly silver-spotted [Epargyreus clarus] and some least [Ancyloxypha numitor]), some monarchs (Danaus plexippus) (we see these often in the urban areas too, so evidently they are quite common), and--to our great surprise--giant swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes). There were at least three of these humongous butterflies sucking from the butterfly bushes that we tried pouncing on several times with the laundry bag before catching a very fat female. We were surprised because we expected the giants to be quite rare up here in the Northern range and because, like the P. troilus, we could not find any host plants growing wildly anywhere. Rue (Ruta graveolens) and hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata) are supposedly at the garden, but we could not find the rue and the hop tree is in a completely different section, far from the butterflies we saw. The only thing we could find at the garden were two potted Citrus, but they were in bad shape and did not have any egg or larvae on them.
After we got home and took a closer look at our catch, we measured a whopping ~130 mm, making it larger than any butterfly we have ever seen except two-tailed (P. multicaudata) (it is larger than any P. cresphontes or rumiko we have obtained from pupae). The ovipositar is orange, which again corresponds with the color of the eggs.
In the same area as the giants, we found white admirals (Limenitis arthemis arthemis), which is something brand new to us. From a distance, the things have a strong resemblance to the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) (and the other mimics) and because of its large size, we almost mistook it for another P. troilus when we first saw them. We snagged one as it was sucking and it too turned out to be plump female. These are supposed to eat Prunus spp. and willow (Salix). There is very little Prunus around here (none in the garden), and none of it is native cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica or serotina) which should be preferred; the only willows are a few Salix nigra on the edge of Beebe Lake. For now, yet another mystery. . .
Around 5 '0 clock, it started to rain a bit and the butterflies scurried away, so we headed home. It was certainly too late to start trying to get them to lay eggs. And, as mentioned before, a major issue is that we don't really have good (if any at all) host plants for them and, even if we did have access to them, it would have to be cuttings. On top of that, the laundry bag would make a very meager setup. We will definitely need to check the garden again soon or explore elsewhere to try to gather the host plants and to collect more butterflies to increase our chances of getting eggs. For now we are keeping the butterflies locked up in darkness and feeding them honey that we quickly purchased at the convenience store.
Ithaca, New York
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations and experiences with various insects (primarily Lepidoptera) around the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, starting from the time we moved here in 2017. As this is a personal blog, we try to keep collections/rearings for university research and course work to a minimum, and mainly focus on just the species we catch and raise for our own fun and interest. Posts prior to this time can be viewed at Timeline 2012-2017: Albany, California, though there is occasionally some crossover when we have returned home during breaks or reared stock derived from home (see Albany, California Updates).
July 2020 (1)
August 2019 (2)
July 2019 (35)
June 2019 (46)
May 2019 (20)
March 2019 (1)
January 2019 (1)
September 2018 (1)*
August 2018 (9)*
July 2018 (11)*
June 2018 (22*)
May 2018 (18)*
April 2018 (2)*
January 2018 (6)
December 2017 (5)
November 2017 (1)
October 2017 (5)
September 2017 (26)
August 2017 (19)
*Currently, a significant portion of 2018 posts are missing. The notes/photos for this time period are saved on our personal files but the posts were never built due to a busy schedule that year. We are still actively building these posts when we have the time.
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
Battus philenor hirsuta
Liminitis arthemis arthemis
Limenitis arthemis astyanax
Papilio polyxenes asterius
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Albany, California Updates