From the yearly archives: "2012"

Subject: Beautiful butterfly or moth?
Location: Bellevue NE
September 8, 2012 7:01 am
This was taken in my son’s garden. It’s an 18’x13’ heart shape dedicated to his heart donor.
We live in Bellevue, Nebraska (Omaha) just one mile from the Missouri River.
Never seen it again.
Signature: Eric Zeitner

Female Orange Sulphur

Dear Eric,
What a marvelous idea for a garden dedication.  Congratulations on your son receiving a donor heart.  This lovely butterfly is a female Sulphur, most likely an Orange Sulphur,
Colias eurytheme, also known as the Alfalfa Sulphur.  Because or the light shining through the wings, the distinctive orange color is visible which is a clue to the species, and the lighter spots in the black wing borders indicates that she is a female.  You can read more about the Orange Sulphur on BugGuide.

Subject: Rescused a curious Mourning Cloak
Location: Seattle, WA
September 7, 2012 5:50 pm
We’ve been having a hot late summer here in Seattle, WA, so we’ve been leaving the back door open a bit during the day. Yesterday afternoon we were startled to see a sizable butterfly flit into the kitchen, then flutter around the ceiling somewhat haphazardly.
Wanting to set it free as soon as possible before it hurt itself or the dog caught wind, we grabbed a mixing bowl and a magazine to trap it and let it back outside. After setting it on the porch rail, the gorgeous creature sat calmly in the bowl for a minute, stretching its wings. I managed to snap a few shots.
Love your site!
Signature: Smiling in Seattle

Mourning Cloak in a Bowl

Dear Smiling in Seattle,
We love your letter and your photo of a gorgeous Mourning Cloak is breathtakingly beautiful.  Do you by chance have an elm or willow tree near the kitchen?  We can’t help but to wonder if a Spiny Elm Caterpillar, as the larval Mourning Cloak is called, decided to metamorphose into a chrysalis in the eaves of your back porch.  That could explain how such a perfect specimen came to be in your home.

You have a kind heart.  We love your technique of removing large butterflies from the home and we are tagging your submission with the Bug Humanitarian Award.

Subject: Has beautiful web pattern
Location: Costa Rica, Limon, Purto Viejo
September 6, 2012 5:41 pm
I have this in my back yard in Costa Rica. Can’t find a match online.
Signature: John L.

Writing Spider in genus Argiope

Dear John L.,
Writing Spider is our favorite common name for members of the Orbweaving genus
Argiope, a name that refers to the elaborate stabilimentum that the Silver Argiope weaves into its web.  This type of web is indicative of the immature Silver Argiope and it is distinct from the web of the mature Silver ArgiopeWe have never quite figured out why the Silver Argiope, Argiope argentata, is so named, until we saw your Costa Rican adolescent female.

Correction:  Argiope savignyi
December 15, 2012
We just received a comment from Rose indicating a correction in this identification.  The correct species,
Argiope savignyi, can be found on Nature Photo as well as on American Arachnology.  The Minibeast Wildlife website refers to this species as the Silverback Cross Spider and entomologist Piotr Naskrecki calls it the Tiger Spider.

September 7, 2012
Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California

Gentle Readers,

I spoke of this wildly imagined theory to Julian this evening and I want to spread the word to you cat owners.

This morning, as the sky was dark and moonless and the stars abounded, around 5:30 AM, I took out the compost pile from the kitchen and heard a cat in the treehouse.  I heard a cat, but it wasn’t quite like a cat.  It sounded vaguely birdlike, but definitely like a cat.  I sat in the Adirondack chair in my robe and listened over the course of several minuets.  During that time, the sound of the cat slowly evolved into a more birdlike raptor sound.  Eventually as the call came to sound like a lone owl, a large bird flew off into the lightening sky, neatly silhouetted and bigger than a raven.  I believe the bird was a Great Horned OWL.

Several weeks ago when my mother was visiting, we heard a pair of owls calling from the large pine over the roof.  When I went out, I also heard a cat mewling on the ground, but I couldn’t see it.  One owl flew into another tree and they had the forlorn cat between them.  Later the owls were in the neighboring ash tree with the tree house where I heard the lone cat cry this morning.  Below was the now pathetic meow of a harried cat.
I believe that owls have adapted to attack cats at night by attracting them through imitation.

Julian, upon hearing this, reported that he read that in an owl vomitorium, where pellets are deposited, there was a pile of cat collars.  Julian did not say if that pile was in Mount Washington.

Domestic Shorthair on London Roads quilt

First, better classify your conjecture as a hypothesis rather than a theory–the latter being based on a set of facts, the former a supposition of a possible outcome.

Although I couldn’t find a specific documented instance of Great Horned Owls killing domestic cats, there are plenty of mentions of the possibility of owls killing small cats–but I could not find anyone who spoke from personal experience or observation (and I don’t want to spend more time searching on Daniel’s behalf).

There is a documented instance of an owl attacking a 4-pound Chihuahua (who escaped) at:

And, Daniel, you should check out the owl sound recordings at:
to see if any of them sound like what you heard.

An alternative hypothesis is that you really heard an actual cat and an actual owl, and saw one or more owls depart the scene and did not see the cat. The fact that you didn’t see a cat doesn’t mean that a cat was not present (Schrodinger, anyone??).

If we want to investigate this further, I suggest that we look for owl roosts and search the ground underneath for owl pellets and remains that might belong to cats, including cat collars (no, I couldn’t find the original source for that tale, and it wasn’t on Mt. Washington anyway).

Be safe out there,

Thanks Julian,
During the first instance several weeks ago with two owls, there was definitely a cat involved.  The morning call from Friday morning was definitely the call of a bird that sounded like a cat and eventually evolved into sounding like an owl.  I did see the owl fly away and the call stopped.

Subject: Cucullia caterpillars?
Location: Idledale, Colorado
September 6, 2012 10:23 am
Greetings! One of our park visitors recently shared these photos with us, and asked for help identifying these caterpillars. These photos were taken at a park in the foothills of Colorado, along a riparian corridor. The caterpillars were 2 inches long, and all seemed to be on the purple asters. After doing some research, I think I’ve narrowed it down to Cucullia… could you let me know if that’s correct, and also if you might have any additional information or even a species identification? Many thanks!
Signature: Amanda Peterson, Jefferson County Open Space

Hooded Owlet Moth Caterpillar

Hi Amanda,
We are in perfect agreement with your identification of this very distinctive caterpillar.  This is a Hooded Owlet Caterpillar in the genus
Cucullia, and we believe the species is Cucullia dorsalis, based on the photos posted to BugGuide which lists the range as ” western Rocky Rountains and the Great Basin.”

Hooded Owlet Caterpillars

Subject: Mourning Cloak butterfly on hydrangea paniculata ’tardiva’
Location: Naperville, IL
September 6, 2012 10:50 pm
Hi Daniel~
These hydrangeas attract all sorts of butterflies and dragonflies, not to mention bees, wasps, ants, and beetles in late summer. And they provide a nice afternoon backdrop for photographing insects, too. I hope you have a lovely weekend.
Signature: -Dori Eldridge

Mourning Cloak

Hi Dori,
It is nice to see your photo of a Mourning Cloak nectaring from a hydrangea.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults feed primarily on tree sap (oaks preferred) and rotting fruit; only occasionally on flower nectar.”
  This individual will most likely overwinter in some hollow tree or other protected spot, and if you are lucky, you will see it flying about on a sunny spring day when there is still snow on the ground.  Since they hibernate as adults, Mourning Cloaks are among the longest lived butterflies.