Danaus gilippus bernice

Harry Legrand harry.legrand at ncmail.net
Tue Sep 4 09:08:07 EDT 2001

As record keeper of butterfly records for North Carolina, I wish to
weigh in on the recent reports of Queens in DC. In NC, the Queen is a
rare species. Nearly all of our recent records are from the immediate
southern coast. There is actually a semi-resident population at Fort
Fisher, where the hostplant -- Cynanchum palustris -- is present. (This
plant is present along most of the coastal marshes and thickets of the
state). We see fresh Queens at Fort Fisher in summer and fall, but
hurricanes perhaps knock back or knock out the population. This is the
only place in NC I have seen Queens, and I have covered the state for 11
years. For most other active folks, the same can be said, though there
are some other recent coastal sightings.

I do not believe there are any sightings/specimens of Queen for
Virginia. I would personally suspect fresh Queen(s) in DC, at the
Arboretum, no less, to likely have been reared on-site, such as from
plants at the arboretum. I say this for the following reasons: 1)
relative lack of recent far-inland records in the mid-Atlantic, 2)
complete lack of records from Virginia, I believe, 3) the fresh
condition of the individuals reported on the NABA sightings page, and 4)
the specific location -- a garden/arboretum.  Note that if the sightings
been made from along the immediate coast, I would be more likely to
believe that the butterflies came from wild stock farther south. Of
course, Queens breed in TX and the individuals could have come to DC
from the SW or west.

I have had to deal with the same sort of thing with Zebra Heliconians
(Heliconius charitonius) in NC. There are a few coastal records, which
are almost certainly legitimate strays, as it is regular along the SC
coast in small numbers. But, we have a cluster of records from the
Durham/Triangle area, where there is a butterfly house, many nurseries,
etc. This is clearly a bimodal distribution, and an unlikely one at
that. No one knows for sure the origin of these Piedmont records, but I
really wonder if they are legit, as some coastal folks have never seen
one in NC, nor have I (living in the Triangle).

Yes, strays do occur -- Marine Blues in the n.e., Dainty Sulphur in many
areas, etc. We even had a photograph of a Soldier at Fort Fisher a few
years ago, perched on the Cynanchum!

Harry LeGrand
NC Natural Heritage Program

Ron Gatrelle wrote:
> Rob, Alex & all,
>     In the recent thread on "Queens" in the DC area I mentioned remembering
> an article by John Burns (USNM) on this butterfly in the Carolinas.  Well,
> since the thread is still alive on leps-l, I decided to dig for it. Not
> only did I find the reprint of it but another reprint of a paper on this
> taxon in Mississippi by Bryant Mather.  First let me say that those who
> don't ever look at research papers or subscribe to things like the Journal
> of the Lepidopterists' Society or The Taxonomic Report that you are missing
> a lot of fascinating information.
>     Burns' paper was published in 1983 in Proclamations of the
> Entomological Society of Washington. The title is "Queen of the Carolinas
> (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Danainae: Danus Gilippus).  It gives the
> intriguing history of probably all records of Danaus gilippus bernice in
> North and South Carolina.
>     Mather's paper does the same for Mississippi. It was published in the
> Lepidopterists' News in 1955. That paper is titled "Danaus Gilippus in
> Mississippi".
>     I wish I could just relay everything in these two papers - they are
> that jam packed and interesting. But...  Just some highlights. Burns
> uncovered records from 1899 to 1982 in SC and from 1904 to 1982 in NC.
> Burns also found a record for Martha's Vineyard, Mass 8 July 1934. Mather's
> Mississippi records are from 198? to 1953.
>     The earliest Miss. record is 12 May 1952. The earliest SC record is 19
> April 1934. The earliest NC record is 4 May 1908 Moore County. Burns
> concludes, "I believe that the Queen is neither the casual visitor some
> think it is nor a potential endangered species now 'Rare in S.C.' though
> 'common in S.C. to the 1930's ' (Brooks et.al., 1979:51) but, instead, a
> species that actually breeds in the coastal Carolinas in most years."
> Also, "...possibility of overwintering in sheltered situations on the
> Carolina coast itself in the mildest years."
>     Burns records finding larvae and pupae on Cynanchum palustre in beach
> environs in N. and S. Carolina.  He also laments - as I continue to
> lament - the widespread destruction of the unique flora and fauna of the
> Carolinas' coast to make way for expensive resorts and housing. He found
> this to be wiping out the breeding habitat of both D. gilippus and D.
> plexippus along the coastal islands.
>     In relation to plexippus, he noted that in his many personal visits to
> the coastal areas of N. and S. Carolina he found gilippus bernice more
> frequent. The historical records from Brimley, 1923 also state the same for
> NC.  Sharpe 1914 found the Queen "common" in Charleston in 1912 and 13.
>     The Martha's Vineyard specimens was in fresh condition indicating it
> had not traveled a great distance. Burns stated that the Queen is a very
> "mobile species" - contrary to various published reports to it not being a
> "wanderer".  This makes sense to me too as its host plants are of disturbed
> and changing environs dictating that the species continually be in movement
> to locate and colonize new areas or perish.
>     Well, there is more but this is email. One does not find this kind of
> info in the shallow field guides of current sales. One has to get out of
> print books like Clark and Clark's Butterflies of Virginia, Forbes'
> Butterflies of New York and Neighboring States, or back to Scudder or
> Edwards.
> Ron
> PS   Yes, those were the days when there were loads of real lepidopterists.
> State books like Gochfeld's on NJ, Allen's on WVA, Harris' Butterflies of
> Gerogia and other such books have good information - which is why I do not
> need (own) many of the "popular" guides.
> PPS  I just cringe every time I see D. g. bernice and D. g. strigosus both
> called "Queen".  This is like calling all your kids (boys and girls) "Ed"
> just because they are all in your family. Evolutionally and biologically
> strigosus and bernice are greatly different - and of EQUAL RANK. If people
> insist on common names then please use them correctly. Bernice is the
> "Queen" and strigosus is "Striated Queen".  The Queen does not occur in
> California!!!!!!!!!!

Harry LeGrand
NC Natural Heritage Program
1615 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699-1615
(919) 715-8687 (work)
FAX: 919-715-3085
e-mail: harry.legrand at ncmail.net


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