A painted lady butterfly

Painted ladies spied in Bar Harbor

You just never know when Mother Nature’s going to surprise you with something interesting. In front of one of my favorite small stores in Bar Harbor this week, I saw in their flower garden numerous painted lady butterflies sitting on the flowers. It was a feast for the eyes and would have made photographers very happy. The colorful butterflies were oblivious to humans, and it was special to see them at such close range and so tame. This butterfly can be recognized by the white crescent at the front edge of the wing. The other “ladies” (the red admiral and the buckeye) have orange crescents.

These brush-footed butterflies are in the genus Vanessa if you decide to look them up. Individual painted ladies can fly more than 600 miles, and you sometimes find them out over the sea where you least expect them. Large numbers have at times been seen migrating into Maine.

The red admiral butterflies in the “ladies” group establish territories and vigorously defend them. They will attack annoying birds and might even chase a person they find invading their space. In expressing their annoyance, they fly over to you and flutter nearby. Once it has expressed its opinion of your presence, it flies back to its perch.

If you are wandering along Cottage Street in Bar Harbor, check all the little flower gardens in front of the stores. Painted ladies do not really make a migration. After they have bred, most die when cold weather approaches. New migrants appear the next year. Painted ladies are found in the south throughout the year, but in Maine, you usually only see them from March through October, and maybe the early part of November.

An interesting insect landed on my arm as we were having a picnic on Cranberry Island last week. It looked quite fierce, but I recognized it as an ichneumon wasp – not the kind of a wasp that stings. The creature has a very long ovipositor curled up over its body. It looks fearsome, but females use this for laying their eggs in some other creature’s cocoon or body. It looks like stinger, but it is not.

Ichneumons are solitary insects, and their larvae feed on or in another insect until it dies. Ichneumons are closely related to ants and bees. Most of them are slender and not brightly colored. If you are comfortable with the use of a computer, visit bugguide.net. It is very helpful in identifying any strange insect you may find some day. Various members of this interesting group of insects are used commercially as biological agents in controlling horticultural pests such as beetles and flies.

Garter snakes are busy eating slugs in your garden, so let them be. They are harmless snakes, as are all snakes living on this island. Their eating habits make them good neighbors. Always spare that snake. The garter snake has managed to live close to people because they are very secretive and prolific. They are very adept at hiding, and they may have as many as 50 young a year (born alive) to make up for a high mortality rate. These snakes themselves like to eat earthworms, toads, frogs, small fishes and slugs. They normally get to be about three feet long and they enjoy taking sun baths. Their body pattern and coloring may vary from location to location. Even city dwellers find garter snakes in their vacant lots and parks.

August woods have been quieter, but still, we often hear red-eyed vireos, song sparrows and wood peewees singing. The lovely call of the hermit thrush is a favorite of mine. At my pond, a kingfisher loudly declares its success or failure in fishing. If there are any hairy caterpillars to be found anywhere, the scarlet tanagers living with us in the summer will find them. Asters of many sorts are in bloom or coming into bloom. Although many are white, some of the asters have vivid colors and are very beautiful. Look for sea lavender plants actually blooming and thriving when completely covered by the tide.

Watch for common terns flying in our local harbors. These birds are slimmer than gulls and more swallow-like in flight. A full adult common tern has a black cap and an orange-red bill tipped in black. Otherwise, the adult bird is a gray bird with white undertail covets. Common terns are much smaller than the herring gulls and generally more graceful and swallow-like in the air. They are fun to watch in our harbors.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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