Of Ignorance and Affirmation (Part 1: Ignorance)

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

August 31, 2012

I think it says something good about my strength character that I have not given up on trying to identify Skippers. For those of you who are not cognoscenti of insignificant, mostly drab, and very hard-to-differentiate-one-from-another butterflies, Skippers are those insignficant, mostly drab little dabs of brown and orange, sometimes black, that flop around in the low grass and nectar on wildflowers along woods edges and roadsides. They are members of the family Hesperiidae.[1]  According to the Dr. David Wright’s current Atlas of Pennsylvania Butterflies, there are some 55 species that might be seen in our state.[2]  I can safely identify three.

This isn’t one of them.

Unidentified Skipper, probably Peck's

Unidentified Skipper, probably Peck’s

I am guessing that it is a Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius) based on the two large connected spots at the base of the underside of the hind wing and the yellow “finger” of color that juts rearward.  Don’t bet on it though, I’m usually wrong about Skippers.

Close up of under wing of Skipper

When photographing Skippers for identification purpose, it is best to get a shot like this that shows the under wing and then get another, straight-down shot that shows the upper wing surfaces. While I was maneuvering to get that second shot, the Skipper disappeared. They are very good at that. I didn’t get the shot, but I did almost step on some Gentian blooming beside the trail.

Bottled Gentian, probably Gentiana clausa.

Bottled Gentian, either Gentiana clausa or G. andrewsii.

Oh, joy, something else I probably can’t identify.

There are three members of the Gentian family in the area that look something like this. One, the Soapwort Gentian (Gentiana saponaria), is generally lighter blue than this. The other two are the Bottle Gentians (Gentiana andrewsii and Gentiana clausa), which are differentiated by the shape of the calyx (little leafy thing at the base of the flower—pointy, longer than wide in andrewsii, roundish, wider than long in clausa) and details of the whitish fringe between the blue petals.

What, you can’t see any whitish fringe? That’s because you have to pick one and smoosh it, which I did.

Membrane between the lobes of a Bottled Gentian flower.

Close up of flattened flower tip, Gentiana spp.

And I’m still not sure, but I think it is G. clausa.

But wait! Here is an Aster—but not an Aster.

Aster, probably White Wood Aster

Probably White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata)

Apparently the Aster family got busted up in a botanical frenzy; we used to have some forty different members of the genus Aster, but now we only have one, and it is not a native. The rest have been spread into six different genera.[3]

My character does not extend to sorting out Asters (or the closely related Goldenrods). Still, based on the leaves, I think this is probably White Wood Aster, which used to be Aster divaricatus but is now Eurybia divaricata (or sometimes divaricatus).[4]

And here is a beautiful blue Lobelia!

Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Lobelia, probably Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

We have nine Lobelias. One is red, one is aquatic, and one is low and creeping. So, this could be one of six. They are told apart by technical details of the individual flowers—technical details that my photographs do not clearly show, I fear. But here is hope; my Peterson Field Guide to the Wildflowers says that Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is “striped with white on 3 lower lobes and on belly of corolla.”[5]

Close up of Lobelia flower

Great Lobelia it is. If it’s good enough for R.T. Peterson, it’s good enough for me.

Of course, at this point, I only knew that I did not know much. I wouldn’t figure any of this out until I got home.

Next week, Part 2: Affirmation. Watch this space.

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  1. Hesperiid apparently means “of Italy.”  I don’t know why. []
  2. For those unfamiliar with his work, Dr. Wright’s atlas is as useful as it is comprehensive. It is also freely available on line at http://leplog.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/atlas_pa_bflies-11th-ed-2012.pdf [Accessed 30 Aug 2012] []
  3. Ann Fowler Rhoades and Timothy A. Block. The Plants of Pennsylvania: An Illustrated Manual
    2nd Edition, (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2007); p. 910. For those few who want to know, the genera are Doellingeria, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oclemena, Sericocarpus, and Symphyotrichum. []
  4. See how handy those scientific names are? []
  5. Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny. A Field Guide to Wildflowers : Northeastern and North-Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) , (Houghton Mifflin, NY, 1986), 316. Emphasis in the original []

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