Milkweed (Ascelepias syrica) is in full fragrant flower at the moment, and the heat drenched fields of the Two Hundred Acre Wood are full of butterflies. We've seen feeding Monarchs at a distance this week, but alas, there are no photos to tuck in here this morning. Spencer goes dancing through the fields ahead of me, and he scatters the butterflies like confetti as he moves. His ears fly; he kicks up his heels, and the white curl on the end of his tail waves back and forth like a flag - his delight in life and freedom and sunny summer days is something to see. So what if I must content myself with snippets and soupçons and fleeting vignettes because of his flying feet?
A female Aphrodite Fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite) was resting on the trail yesterday, and when she fluttered into a nearby stand of tall white clover, I did manage to capture a single photo of her. On arriving home, some long time was spent with a magnifying glass and various field references, trying to figure out whether she was an Aphrodite or a Great Spangled Fritillary, another of my favorite summer butterflies. The small black spot below the discal cell on my beautiful basking friend was so small, faded and indistinct that it could hardly be seen, but it was there, and no wide pale band could be seen on her hind wings in profile - the spaces between the markings on the underside of the wings were a bright coppery color.
The beautiful circular silvery markings on the undersides of the Aphrodite's wings are a phenomenon known in the science of chromatics as structural coloring (or in layman's terms as iridescence). Light reaching the wing spots is scattered or reflected by multiple layers of specialized scales, rather than being absorbed by the ordinary wing pigments between the spots. Structural coloring abounds in the Old Wild Mother's creations, and we see it in all sorts of wild places - various butterflies and beetles, blue jay and peacock feathers, the shells of oysters (where it is called mother-of-pearl or nacre) and cephalopods like the glorious Nautilus with its perfect spiral shell. Mama does such things better than we ever could, although we are always trying to go her one better.
A Monarch capture would have been grand, but yesterday's Aphrodite was in her glory and her element, and she was magnificent, utterly magnificent. Is it too late to go back to school and become an entomologist? I wonder...