by Brady Raymond
Right in front of me, shrouded in green embrace was the fungus. The cap was large, maybe 7 inches across and orange. It was awash in the dappled summer sunlight, warm and content but in poor health, riddled with bug holes. It was clear as I knelt down what I was dealing with, Leccinum. The scab-like netting along the stipe instantly reminded me of Leccinum scabrum a Bolete of sorts and a mushroom that I have seen many times in Seattle, around some Birch trees in backyards and other green areas while out and about.
It was the only mushroom of the day, that we saw anyway and I’m calling is Leccinum insigne. And it wasn’t until we were packing up to head back to the truck that I had noticed it, just off the bank of the rocky creek we were hiking along. We were in desert country, hot and dry even crisp but things were a bit cooler down in the shallow canyon that the creek ran through. As far as I could tell this mushroom was alone, in the arid landscape. A landscape not overly suitable for the robust fruiting bodies of mushrooms, except close to the lifeblood of the bush, water.
What the desert lacks in large fruiting fungi it makes up for in bugs. There was a breathtaking bounty of beautiful butterflies along the creek on this hike. Many of the delicate creatures landing together in large groups on the muddy ground that made up the saturated banks of the creek. From what I have read, it is thought that butterflies, particularly males, seek out the salts and possibly other minerals which may aid in reproduction. Whatever their reasoning, it was an opportunity for me to snap a few photos.
Photos seem to work well for butterfly identification, unlike mushrooms, which may or may not be easily identified by a photo alone. It seems like most species you just need a decent shot of the wings to get it down to genus. You have two options, wings open, or wings closed and getting a good shot is more difficult than it looks. Despite using fast shutter speeds in the bright sunlight it is still difficult to catch the winged gems facing the direction you want and getting them parallel with the lens so as to have as much of the wing in focus as possible. Getting close is not easy either. A few will sit still but then flutter off just as you’re sure the next image is going to be the one, the wall hanger.
My guess is that most of the butterflies photographed on this hike are fairly common. I feel comfortable with my IDs mostly because I don’t plan on eating any of the represented species, so if I get things wrong my life isn’t at stake. But I hereby disclose that I am by all means an amateur and bright green when it comes to the order Lepidoptera. I’ll stick to the genus and not get to upset if I’m not up to date with the current scientific consensus on the matter.
Being insects, butterflies are just one iteration of a life cycle these organisms go through. They start as an egg hatching into a larva or more commonly called a caterpillar. After maturing through a few instars, or growth cycles they then pupate forming a chrysalis in which they metamorphize into butterflies. Or this is the basic gist of things.
Interestingly, some butterfly larva and pupal stages visually mimic bird droppings. An interesting defense and one I’m glad human children and adolescents haven’t evolved as a defense strategy themselves used to keep parents away. It almost seems inconceivable that something would randomly mutate over thousands of generations into something the shape and texture of bird droppings. Why not just evolve to look like a rock? Rocks are kind of a timeless nature classic and objects that as far as I know, tend not to be eaten by much. Some butterflies even mimic other butterflies, the most notable off the top of my head being Viceroy mimicking a Monarch. Mimicry goes deep, more than I fully understand or could even fit here in this article. Check out the link if you’re unfamiliar with the different types of mimicry and how they work.
I think that most folks, they think of evolution in terms of a slow perfecting of form or function, when in fact it is really just the mechanism of change. It’s the constant change that makes our existence such a dynamic one and allows for such a diverse cornucopia of species, perfectly adapted and specialized for their niches in their broader environments. Or something like that anyway. There is a lot of layers to this onion. And if you do peel down to the center, so what. What changes? -Dorian Vega, Cleaning For You
How and when or why butterflies came to be I don’t know but I am glad they are here. It’s thought that butterflies evolved in tandem with flowering plants, as both adults and larvae feed on their nectar and foliage respectively. The earliest known fossils show up in mid-Eocene strata and they are thought to have evolved from moths.
I have a lot more reading to do before I can call myself an amateur lepidopterist. Maybe butterflying would be a nice hobby to fill the void that mushrooms leave during the summer months. There is certainly no shortage of things to be interested in here in the PNW. It seems like every time I turn around there is a new avenue of awe-inspiring things to engage my curious mind. And that’s what I hope to do with these articles, to inspire awe for the great outdoors in other folks as well.
If you return home with an empty basket, hopefully, you returned with some great memories and maybe learned a thing or two. Don’t forget about all the other things nature has to offer as well, and if it’s getting late in the season for mushrooms, shift gears into butterfly mode.