Bullets and Butterflies

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

Summer camp has been ruling my work life in the last few weeks, and has kept me from blogging too much lately, but I wanted to catch you up on a recent adult trip to Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation.  Sheila Vincent and I led this trip a few weeks ago into the usually restricted areas of the base.  We were not alone, as close to 100 other people decided they would take this guided trip into the base to see the extremely rare Regal Fritillary butterfly.

The Regal Fritillary exists in the mid-west and was once fairly common in the northeast, but its range has retracted east of the Mississippi River, leaving this lone colony at Fort Indiantown Gap.

Finally, a Regal Fritillary got close and stayed still long enough for a photo!
Finally, a Regal Fritillary got close and stayed still long enough for a photo!

We saw about 30 Regal Fritillary, and they were actually one of the most common butterflies in the meadows we visited, but they were not the only attraction.  Several participants in my group were interested in seeing an Aphrodite Fritillary as well, but picking them out among the much more common Great Spangled Fritillary is impossible.  Luckily, a staff member with a net captured one and called us over for “in the hand” looks. 

On this Aprhodite Fritillary, the light stripe on the outer part of the hindwing has a little brown that creeps into it.  The Great Spangled Fritillary's stripe is all cream colored.  Now I know why it is impossible to identify between these two species without capturing one!
On this Aprhodite Fritillary, the light stripe on the outer part of the hindwing has a little brown that creeps into it. The Great Spangled Fritillary's stripe is all cream colored. Now I know why it is impossible to identify between these two species without capturing one!

There were other butterflies in the extensive wildflower meadows of Fort Indiantown Gap, but the numbers were lower than in previous years and included:  2 Delaware Skipper, 1 Black Swallowtail, a few Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, about 20 Clouded Sulphur, 1 Coral Hairstreak, a few Eastern Tailed Blue, 8 Monarch, 75 Great Spangled Fritillary, 30 Regal Fritillary, one Aphrodite Fritillary, 3 Pearl Crescent, 2 Red-spotted Purple, 2 Viceroy, and 2 Common Wood-nymph. 

Yes, we had to take a 2-hour drive to see a Delaware Skipper!
Yes, we had to take a 2-hour drive to see a Delaware Skipper!

Finally, my favorite part of the trip involved bullets, not butterflies.  The pilots practicing their skills flying A-10 fighter jets decided to show off for us, flying right overhead, banking and making multiple passes.  With each pass, the pilots fired their guns at 70 rounds per second.  In the distance, we saw the smoke rising from their intended target.  Impressive!

The A-10 jets could have taken us all out in one pass!  Thank god we were on their side.
The A-10 jets could have taken us all out in one pass! Thank god we were on their side.

Upcoming programs with the Delaware Nature Society: Butterflies for Grownups – Aug 1; Full Moon Walk at Abbott’s Mill – Aug 6; Dragon Run Full Moon Canoeing – Aug 6; Hike and Happy Hour at Newark’s Cooch-Dayett Mill – Aug 14; Sweet Corn for Every Season – Aug 16; Bird Migration on Delaware Bay – Aug 22; Garrett Island National Wildlife Refuge – Aug 29; Bird Banding at Bucktoe Creek Preserve – Aug 29; August Yoga at Coverdale Farm and Ashland Nature Center.  See www.delawarenaturesociety.org for details.

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