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Sunday, July 29, 2012

The American Snout Butterfly

American snout butterfly, Libytheana carinenta. Click to enlarge. 
I saw this American snout butterfly drinking flower nectar in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Its "snout" is really elongated mouthparts. Along with its brown and gray colors, and its ability to sit very still upside down, the butterfly sometimes convincingly mimics a dangling dead leaf. Its snout looks remarkably like a leaf stalk when it's pressed up against a twig. The message to butterfly-eating birds: Nothing to see here but dry leaves! Move along!

Female snout butterflies lay their eggs on plants in the hackberry family, where the caterpillars hatch and eat the leaves. Snouts, also called millers, are common in the northeastern United States and across the southern states into South America.

They are famous for mass migrations of biblical proportion in the southern and southwestern states. The biggest we know of was in September of 1921 when an estimated six billion snouts flew over Texas; the front stretched for 250 miles, and the flight lasted 18 days. In June of 2012, clouds of snouts suddenly appeared in Brownsville, Texas in numbers that warranted press coverage. You can read the report from the Brownsville Herald by clicking here. 

The butterfly in the picture was far from Texas and seemed to be the only one of its kind enjoying the Brooklyn flowers that day. Here's a thought for all the butterflies that live in New York City:

"Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one. It got on at 42nd, and off at 59th, where, I assume it was going to Bloomingdales to buy a hat that will turn out to be a mistake -- as almost all hats are." -- Nikolaus Laszlo, Nora Ephron, and Delia Ephron, from You've Got Mail. 

When the butterfly raises its upper wings, it reveals a bright orange and white pattern. And get a load of that curly proboscis! 


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