Speyeria hydaspe “Hydaspe Fritillary” Nymphalidae
on Agastache urticifolia “Nettle-leaf Giant Hyssop” Lamiaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Fritillaries are a common, large butterfly here in the PNW east of the Cascades. There are several species that are regularly found in our area. Learn more about them here. This particular fritillary is feeding on the nectar of a very interesting and quite common local plant. Its Latin name, Agastache, is Greek for “many spikes” and, as you might guess, its inflorescence looks like a giant spike ball. Like many other members of the mint family, giant hyssop is commonly used in herbal teas and poultices for a variety of medicinal purposes. In particular, the leaves can be used to induce sweating and as a vasodilator. This particular species is quite abundant in the PNW east of the Cascades and is a favorite food source for many ungulates like deer, elk, cows, and moose.

Aconitum columbianum “Columbian Monkshood” Ranunculaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

 

Also known as Wolf’s Bane, Aconite, and Queen of all Poisons, members of the monkshood genus are world famous for the toxins they produce. The name Aconitum is believed to come from a Greek phrase that means “without struggle,” which is, of course, a reference to its swift lethality. Throughout the millennia, aconite has been utilized in countless murders, including the murder of Ptolemy XIV by his sister, Cleopatra. The poisons produced by this plant are so potent that simply brushing up against them can reportedly cause death. Here in the PNW, some native peoples once coated their spears and arrows in monkshood poisons to paralyze large game such as bears, wolves, and even whales.

Mimulus lewisii “Purple Monkeyflower” Phrymaceae (Scrophulariaceae)

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of monkeyflower was named after the naturalist and explorer, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), who discovered it in Montana, at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Although Lewis was not formally trained as a botanist, he collected and described hundreds of plant species, many of which were completely new to science at the time. Specimens of this particular plant, however, were lost in a flood and never made it back to Washington DC where they would have been cataloged, named, and formally described by Frederick Pursh. Instead, using only Lewis’s descriptions in his journal, Pursh was able to define this plant as a new species!

Spiraea densiflora (splendens) “Subalpine Spiraea” Rosaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

 

This species of Spiraea is a popular garden plant thanks to beautiful, fragrant pom-pom inflorescences. In the wild, it commonly inhabits moist, rocky slopes throughout the PNW. If you’d like to propagate your own, check out these instructions for collecting and germinating seeds.

Speyeria hydaspe “Hydaspe Fritillary” Nymphalidae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

 

Fritillaries are common residents of moist meadows throughout North America. They lay their eggs on a variety of violet species. Upon hatching, the larvae immediately burrow into the ground (before eating) and hibernate until spring when they emerge and munch on the violet leaves.

Chamerion (Epilobium) angustifolium “Fireweed” Onagraceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

 

Unlike its name suggests, Fireweed is hardly a weed! One of the PNW’s most abundant wildflowers, Fireweed holds an important role in nearly every native culture. Its young shoots and leaves are a delicacy to some, and medicinally important to others. Many peoples used fibers torn from its shoots to make rope, and, still today, folks throughout the northern hemisphere use its fluffy seeds as a natural stuffing for pillows.

Malacosoma californica “Western Tent Caterpillar” Lasiocampidae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Tent caterpillars are really fascinating critters! In some years, populations of tent caterpillars explode and entire forests can be defoliated by these voracious animals. Fortunately, this extensive herbivory does will not kill most trees, although some eastern forests have experienced large-scale tree deaths when tent caterpillar outbreaks coincided with drought. This year, tent caterpillars have been in relatively low numbers. Learn more about these awesome moths here!

Happy National Moth Week!

Gnophaela vermiculata “Police-car Moth” Arctiidae (now Erebidae)

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Here’s another intimate moment between two Police-car Moths from my backpacking trip the other weekend. They really were copulating everywhere. The males will carry their partners through the forest as they both continue to feed on nectar. Eventually they will detach and the female will seek out a Bluebells plant (Mertensia) or some other member of Boraginaceae to lay her eggs.

Happy National Moth Week!

Gnophaela vermiculata “Police-car Moth” Arctiidae (now Erebidae)

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

The Police-car Moth had a really big year this summer. During our weekend backpacking trip, we must have seen 30 or 40 individuals! These day-flying moths are found in the Northwest, south to Nevada and New Mexico. They tend to be found at mid- to high-elevations in the middle of summer when meadow plants are in full bloom. The adults feed on nectar and copulate for their month-long lives before laying their eggs on any number of Boraginaceae plants (bluebells, houndstongue, Lithospermum, etc.). The larvae will then hatch and eat like crazy until they hibernate as caterpillars, waiting for snows to melt. These two individuals were just hanging out and happily permitted me to photograph their – ahem – intimate moment.

Happy National Moth Week!