Check Out These Checkerspots

June 22, 2018  |  by Bryan Pfeiffer  |  5 comments

Thaddeus William Harris might have liked this series of images. A Massachusetts entomologist and botanist, Harris (1765-1856) went on to become the librarian at Harvard. But he achieved a form of immortality when the noted lepidopterist and paleontologist Samuel Hubbard Scudder named this butterfly for him: Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii).

That’s a copulating pair above from Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge in Steuben, Maine, on June 30, 2017. And below is a female laying eggs yesterday on her host plant, Flat-topped Aster (Doellingeria umbellata), in Lincoln Plantation, Maine. Once she was done and flew off, I flipped over the leaf for a photo of her “clutch.” From those eggs will hatch outrageous black-and-orange caterpillars, which will feast on the asters until late summer, when they go dormant and overwinter in the leaf litter. Next spring the caterpillars will resume feeding, pupate, and the adults will emerge to continue the cycle. 

Watch for the checkerspots now, but don’t confuse them with the common and cosmopolitan Crescent (Phyciodes) species also now on the wing. That final shot below shows each one.

Steuben, Maine, on June 26, 2017

Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) on the left and the similar Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) on what appears to be coyote scat. Their wing positioning can be more more similar than what we’re seeing here, although note the more squarish forewing tips on the checkerspot.

5 comments
  1. STan Swaim says:

    for two days, after seeing the pictures and comments sent by my wife I was only barely able to avoid stepping on these beautiful butterflies, the pictures saved many lives!

  2. Carol Muth says:

    The side-by-side comparison is great, and the (wing)tip for comparing these two. Often I need to look through binoculars and hope for a peek at the underside of the wing to be sure. Thank you for the great photos!

  3. Sally Edwards says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Thank for sharing.
    Sally Edwards

  4. Diana Van Buren says:

    Thank you, Bryan! SO interesting! I wish I could follow you around up there while you’re out hunting down dragonflies, butterflies, and other flying things.

    I’ve been using the little Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that you suggested years ago for macro shots of bees and my attempts at capturing butterflies. Any additional or updated camera suggestions?

  5. Cindy Sprague says:

    Bryan,

    These are great photos – thanks! I saw some butterflies on some scat recently that looked like either checkerspots or crescents and I am having a hard time deciding which ones they are. Are there differences in the underwing pattern/coloration that could help me decide?

    Thanks,

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