Last Thursday was an auspicious day in the garden, made pleasant by sightings of three stately monarch butterflies and made thrilling by a truly rare visitor: Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis).
A week ago on October 3, the hottest day on record in North Carolina for the month of October (100 degrees) I ran out into the garden at midday (it was only 98°F. then) to greet and photograph a trio of monarchs nectaring at the zinnias. The butterflies scattered as I approached. I followed one to the large perennial lantana shrub, where it settled at the back, at the fence side where I would not be able to get close enough for a good photo.
Biding my time, I turned my camera to a dark butterfly that settled just at front left of me. Its hindwing was edged with white fringe.
The monarch I’d been following lifted up and resettled, unfortunately still keeping its distance. No good pictures there.
With one eye on the monarch I turned back to snap a few more images of the other butterfly.
The monarch floated upward and alit again well out of reach of my camera. Okay, then…
I turned attention back to the more cooperative butterfly. By now I had the sense there might be more than one. I can’t be sure of that now, but did I make a mental note of the sequence of pictures so as not to confuse individuals. Subconsciously I was already thinking of posting an image on iNaturalist. This one was to my right slightly deep in the shadows.
As I moved in the camera sensors adjusted and the butterfly started coming into focus.
Ah, there it opened its wings.
By this time it was feeling like the hottest day ever and I ran indoors. When I had time to check out the pictures, I first googled “black skipper 4 white spots” followed by “black skipper 4 white spots and white edging.” Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis) came up quickly but I dismissed it after seeing its range as Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas south to Argentina.
Soon I turned to iNaturalist which compares an uploaded photograph to its vast database of images and makes its top ten species suggestions. Usually the top choice will be labelled “visually similar” and “seen nearby.” I normally accept the top suggestion and then wait and hope for the iNaturalist community to verify. Same as my google search, Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis) came up in iNaturalist as the top recommendation but it was missing the “seen nearby” designation.
After a couple days, no one on iNaturalist had responded. (Sometimes it takes only a couple minutes, but not this time. The entry remains unconfirmed there.) Barely about to contain my curiosity I turned to a new Facebook group I had just joined, Carolina Leps (Butterflies and Moths). As I was a brand new member I hesitated for a couple days before getting up the confidence to post an inquiry and photos for such an unlikely find.
But I should not have worried. One of the group members, Richard Stickney, soon answered it sure looked like one to him. Stickney is, it turns out, Butterfly House Curator at the NC Museum of Life and Science, an 84-acre science museum in nearby Durham. I was so grateful for his response. He confirmed the species is very rare in the eastern US and he indicated he would like to stop by to see it. By the time Richard came by on Monday, of course the butterfly was not to be found. I have not observed the butterfly again since those few minutes when I distractedly photographed it while waiting for the monarchs to pose. Stickney pointed out the dustywing could be well out of the area by now continuing on its path or even snapped up by a bird. I keep looking out for it though.
Another butterfly expert in the Carolina Leps group, Jeff Pippen, also replied:
Yes, this looks excellent for Funereal Duskywing — a great record for NC! There are only about 2 previous reports for NC, both along the southeast coast. Very glad you got good photos!
Now Funereal Duskywing, rarely seen along the eastern US, is documented in Piedmont region of NC. How cool is that! I am glad I got up the nerve to share the pictures and ask for help with the identification. Thanks for Richard and Jeff for their responses. I am very excited to have contributed this observation.
Wow! You were lucky to spot the butterfly and get a good shot. Congratulations on your sighting.
Thanks. I love a bit of serendipity in the garden. So thrilled the duskywing and I showed up in those same few minutes.
Awesome! I am constantly chasing butterflies around my yard and have the Atalas, which are rare here.
Wow, that’s very cool too!
Wow, how lucky you were to see it. And how exciting to have its ID confirmed by such experts too. It sounds like it is still awfully hot. Hope it cools down soon and you can spot a few more Monarchs. 🙂
I am really excited Cathy! Still no rain but it is cooler—72 degrees F this afternoon and sunny. There have been a few monarchs every day now along with a lot of painted ladies.
How exciting! A little reward for such a miserable summer. So glad it is cooler this week.
It has made my week! Thanks Marian!
Exciting times in your garden. 🙂
Great fun as the garden winds down for another year.
How fantastic to see something so rare in your garden, congratulations on photographing it so well! I can imagine your excitement when you first saw it, a wonder you could focus the camera!
Thanks Pauline, it’s very exciting, although I certainly didn’t know what a cool discovery I’d made at the time. The camera is an iPhone so it focuses automatically. I’ve been using it for years–was never good at manual settings.
Congratulations! That’s thrilling. Your garden seems to be a magnet for butterflies. Sadly, with the exception of the short-term influx of painted ladies from Mexico a few months ago, butterflies have been in short supply here this year.
They’re special little creatures. It’s been a good year for seeing a lot of different species. There were some painted ladiies in the garden when the butterfly curator visited. He said this has been a particularly good year for painted ladies.
Congratulations, Susie. What a wonderful and enlightening experience. Keep that camera ready.
Wow! What an amazing experience, I have never seen this butterfly in my garden. I understand why you are so excited because this specie is quite unique. But also it is an effect of your job in garden. There are plants that butterflies (and also bees) like more like for example marigolds, heliotropes, bluestars or coneflowers. I see that phlox is also the one that attracts them. I have a pink one (https://gardenseedsmarket.com/phlox-pink-1-bulb.html) and monarch butterflies are loving it. Do you pay attention for plants friendly for butterflies and other insects or is it just a coincidence?
Where do you live? Would it be in range for you? Lots of insects enjoy the lantana where I photographed the duskywing. They find Zinnias attractive also.
Good for you, Susie! What a find!
Take care, Corinna
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks Corinna! It’s pretty neat!
Now that is a truly exciting sighting. You’re a bona fide citizen scientist! So maybe those flighty Monarchs were a good thing? 😉 (I’ve read that Monarchs have excellent eyesight, sensitive to movement and can be hard to get close to. )
Thanks Eliza. If the monarchs had been more cooperative I probably would have missed this observation. Interesting characteristics you describe relating to the monarchs—they seem right from my experience.
That must have been a huge thrill, it’s amazing what our gardens can turn up.
Yes, I it’s been amazing. Thanks for commenting.
What a thrill to have an unusual butterfly in your garden. Well done on capturing such great photos.
Thanks. It’s been a fun twist in my gardening saga!
Oh, now that IS exciting! Apparently someone saw one here in S. WI a couple of years ago, but that is quite rare. Congrats on your sighting, and great photos!
Thanks Beth. A good experience. Makes me more alert to everything in the garden.
How exciting, it is like being a nature detective!
It’s interesting to live in times where we have only to wait a day or two, often minutes, for someone to answer our questions or corroborate a butterfly’s identity. I suppose otherwise I’d be drafting letters and making little watercolor drawings to try to learn about this creature.
Very cool! And the Funereal Duskywing is aptly named!
Yes, it’s been exciting. Name’s a bit maudlin.