Saturday, July 12, 2008

Holy Cow!!

Beth Bergman wrote those words in the subject line of the e-mail she sent on July 8, with pictures of a creature she'd seen and photographed on the new Moth Tree near the Carousel. I published a small version of it here on July 9th. Here's the big version:

So what is it? It's a Nessus Sphinx, a moth in a family of large-bodied moths called Sphinx Moths. Unlike the Underwing Moths that are strictly nocturnal, coming out only as night falls, the Nessus Sphinx is crepuscular, active in the late afternoon and mainly at dusk. It vanishes for the night just before the Underwings start arriving.

Meanwhile, the Underwings are coming, the Underwings are coming. Two days ago at the Moth Tree near the Boathouse we saw our first Ilia Underwing of the season.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Just in case some of you don't know about the new page of this website dedicated to book news, here's the latest posting there:

The Arsenal - entrance from Fifth Avenue

There's a reading from and signing of Central Park in the Dark,
next Tuesday -- July 15 --between 6:30 and 8 pm-- at the Arsenal. This is the big castle-like building just off 5th Ave, at the Zoo entrance, around 64th St. This event is sponsored jointly by the New York City Audubon and the Parks Department. There will be a Question and Answer period.

And on Tuesday, July 29 at 7 pm, I'll be reading and signing at Barnes & Noble, the Upper West side store at Broadway and 83rd St [right near Zabars].

[more news on the new page]

Why the butterflies were fighting

Please note: News about my book can now be found on

Rosemarie Bria has sent in an explanation for why the sulphur butterflies in yesterday's post were attacking a Yellow Swallowtail on a flower. To read the entire article, here's a link:

Butterfly Territorial Contest DynamicsRed Admiral perching

People are often surprised to learn that some butterflies are territorial. This may be due to the common view of butterflies as being carefree, fluttery creatures. Yet some male butterflies, including some in the genus Vanessa, are capable of maintaining and aggressively defending territories through purposive behaviors such as patrolling flights and complex interactions in flight with intruders of their own species (Bitzer and Shaw 1979).

One reason that territorial behavior was slow to be recognized and studied in insects was that physical aggression in defense of resources is often less overt than it is for birds and mammals (Baker, 1983). Butterflies especially might seem at first thought to have little capacity for physical aggression. Thus Scott (1974) and Suzuki (1976) insisted that what seemed to be a perching male butterfly's "defense" of an area could alternatively be interpreted as the male's merely investigating passers-by to determine their species and sex. Intruders' so-called "evasive" response could likewise be interpreted as an attempt to avoid a possible predator (Scott, 1974). Scott (1974) also proposed three criteria that a butterfly's perching behavior would need to meet before the behavior could be considered truly "territorial." These were: 1) many males must remain at the same spot for several days, 2) males must be able to quickly distinguish males from females, and 3) males must "by intent" drive other males from the area.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A butterfly drama--photos and story by Murray Head

Hi Marie,

Yesterday whilst photographing butterflies in the park I noticed some interesting behavior. Here was this Yellow Swallowtail calmly sipping some sweet flower nectar ...

...when all of sudden a pair of Sulphurs started dive-bombing her.

She was unfazed... but I was curious as to why they did that... Jealousy? There were plenty of other flowers around if they were thirsty.

Murray Head

PS from Marie:

From the color, I would guess the species is the Orange Sulphur [
Colias eurytheme].
Confirmation of the ID and possible explanations
of the odd behavior of these butterflies are welcome.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

First cicadas!!!

Cicada just emerged from nymph case
photo: M. Winn August 2007

Rebekah Creshk0ff writes today:

Heard my first cicada of the year this a.m., at about the level of the 97th St. transverse.

Butterflies and Moths in Central Park

Beth Bergmann, a NYC photographer, has been photographing moths and butterflies at a new "Moth Tree" she discovered near the Carousel [around 62nd St in mid-park].If you are not a regular mother [rhymes with author] you may be surprised to hear that the insect above is a moth. It is a NESSUS SPHINX, a daytime and crepuscular moth, which explains why Beth found it between 3 and 4 pm on 7/8/08.
Below, two butterflies Beth Bergmann saw and photographed at the same tree and the same time of day one day earlier -- 7/7/08
Red Admiral Butterly

Question Mark Butterfly

All photos by BETH BERGMANN