Mississippi Sun and a change of heart - 6/11

Mark Walker MWalker at gensym.com
Sat Jun 16 05:06:18 EDT 2001

Part 2:

When I awoke in my cozy motel room on Monday, the heaviest of the rain had
arrived in Hattiesburg.  Slidell, LA - my pit stop the day before - had
taken the full brunt of the storm, with most of it's roads flooded and
residents heading for high ground.  I thought of my two new friends - and
hoped that they hadn't floated out to sea.

I drove to Jackson, MS, and further on west until the skies began looking
somewhat more hospitable.  I decided to aim for the Delta National Forest,
near the SE corner of Arkansas - and just east of the Mississippi River, in
Sharkey County.  This forest is mostly surrounded by farmland, but the
forest itself is as equally thick as the De Soto.  I don't quite know what
the difference between the two pockets of habitat are - they aren't more
than 150 miles apart - but the leps were not the same.

On this day I experienced one of those experiences that probably comes only
once every two years or so.  An explosion of butterflies so vast and
numerous as to cause one to drop the net and giggle like a school child at
the circus.  At any given time during my four hours walking in the hot,
humid Mississippi woods I had four or five hitchhiking leps joining me for
the ride.  If you've ever chased after an individual of Polygonia
interrogationis (Question Mark), and you appreciate how skittish and
difficult they can be to put into a net, then you'll equally appreciate the
overwhelming sensation I received when two and three immaculate individuals
(form umbrosa) simultaneously landed about my head and shoulders.  Perhaps
the most numerous (and most likely to ride along) were the Asterocampa
celtis (Hackberry Emperors).  From the forest edges to the thickest portions
of inner forest, these butterflies could be found zipping and flitting about
by the hundreds.  It's cousin, Asterocampa clyton (Tawny Emperor) could also
be found - mostly in the deepest portions of forest, sunning on higher
sunlit leaves.

I was pleased to find a different swallowtail - Papilio polyxenes (Black
Swallowtail) - common at nectar, and enjoying the sunlit paths through the
forest.  Another deepest forest dweller (and another huge surprise) were two
individuals of Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst's Scallopwing).  This
butterfly made it's showing only briefly - flitting to a sunlit leaf for
only but a few seconds after which it disappeared back into the thicket.  

As I drove deeper into the woods along the wide dirt access road, I began to
see more and more leps clustering in the middle of the road.  Soon, large
parties of leps with numbers in the hundreds could be seen.  It quickly
became difficult to drive, and it was all I could do to avoid hitting them -
even while driving at exceptionally slow speeds.  I would stop occasionally
to get closer looks, and after a very short time I began loosing complete
interest in catching them.  This was what I lived for, and yet I had no
desire whatsoever to collect them.  Instead I got on my hands and knees, and
got up close to watch the Red Spotted Purples, the Hackberrys, the Spring
Azures, the Pearl Crescentspots, the Question Marks, and the American Snouts
living mostly in harmony - and enjoying whatever they were getting from the
dry dirt.  I saw many a squished bug - salvaging a few to papered envelopes
- these the victims of the occasional vehicle that visited this part of
Mississippi.  I thought of the collecting debate, and how many leps could be
wiped out by a single trip to the Piggly Wiggly.  I know for a fact that I,
in spite of my dodging and degree of care, killed ten times more bugs with
my car than I did with my jars.  All in all I probably took thirty insects -
including a nice Amphion floridensis (Nexxus Sphinx), several Anania
funebris (check Covell, pg. 398), and a number of crazy wasps that I haven't
identified yet.

The day couldn't have been more perfect, in spite of the fact that I drove
nearly 400 miles to avoid a storm that had pretty much left Louisiana by
noon.  I was finished by two in any case - the sun, heat, and humidity takes
a toll on this California boy.  I drove for New Orleans, anxious to get to
work and in to the nearest Cajun restaurant I could find.  I love Jambalaya
- though it might be tough to beat the meal I had the night before.

The list:

Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)

Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur)

Calycopis cecrops (Red Banded Hairstreak)
Celastrina ladon (Spring Azure - Harry?)
Everes comyntas (Eastern Tailed Blue)

Libytheana carinenta (American Snout)
Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescentspot)
Polygonia interrogationis (Question Mark)
Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral)
Junonia coenia (Buckeye)
Limenitis arthemis (Red Spotted Purple)
Limenitis archippus (Viceroy)
Asterocampa celtis (Hackberry Emperor)
Asterocampa clyton (Tawny Emperor)
Hermeuptychia sosybius (Carolina Satyr)
Megisto cymela (Little Wood Satyr)

Epargyreus clarus (Silver Spotted Skipper)
Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst's Scallopwing)
Erynnis martialis (Mottled Duskywing)
Lerema accius (Clouded Skipper)
and a few yet to be determined grass skippers

Mark Walker
back in Oceanside, CA


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