New backyard butterfly: Dainty Sulphur

April's showers have brought an explosion of new insect life to the garden. This morning I went out to check on the new plantings (record heat yesterday had made me concerned despite the relatively frequent recent rains) and discovered at least a half dozen Halloween Pennant dragonflies:
Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

Three or four little blue dragonlets (yes, this one isn't blue; they aren't when they're relatively fresh males or, if they're females, they're this color throughout life):
Little blue dragonlet (Erythrodiplax minuscula). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

Little blue dragonlet (Erythrodiplax minuscula). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

And a new butterfly species for the yard. (I'm sure it's been here every spring; this is just the first time I've been able to document it.) It's a small yellow butterfly with a name that pretty much says the same thing: Dainty Sulphur.
Dainty Sulphur butterfly (Nathalis iole). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

Dainty Sulphur butterfly (Nathalis iole). Boca Raton, FL, April 27, 2015.

It's the smallest North American pierid (the term for butterflies in this family, "whites and yellows" or "whites and sulphurs"). They feed on low-growing plants in the Asteraceae, which basically means they feed on weeds. Around here they like Spanish Needles and perhaps other herbs in the genus Bidens, so there's very little reason to fear for the future of this weedeater. No one, and I mean no one, can get rid of Spanish Needles. (Glassberg, though, describes the status of this butterfly as "uncommon to abundant, decreasing immigrant northward and westward.") The taxonomic name is Nathalis iole, which translates roughly to "Nathalie's purple." I actually have no idea what the derivation of Nathalis is, so I speculate it honors someone Boisduval, who named the species, knew or fancied. The specific epithet, iole, though, comes from the Greek "ion" (ἰόν), which can mean either "violet," for the faint purple flush that is sometimes present on this butterfly (the caterpillar actually has two purple stripes on it), or "ion," the term Michael Faraday invented in 1834 to describe how something "goes" (from the Greek past participle of "to go," which is another meaning of ἰόν) from one electrode to another through an aqueous medium. (Boisduval names the species in 1836, so "ion" might have been in the current, so to speak.) References "Attributes of Nathalis iole." Butterflies and Moths of North America (website). http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Nathalis-iole Glassberg, J. (2012). A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America. Morristown, NJ: Sunstreak. Minno, M. Butler, J., and Hall, D. (2005). Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and their Host Plants. Gainesville: U of Florida P. The dreaded Wikipedia for Faraday's coining of the term "ion."  

Dragonflies and damselflies returning to the yard

After a dry beginning to March (and no rain since then, but at least the heat's moderated a bit for the past few days), the odonates have started returning to the yard, just in time for the equinox! One or two of them run into mishaps:
Watch where you fly! Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) served up for breakfast to a spiny-backed orb weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis). Boca Raton, FL, March 18, 2015.

Watch where you fly! Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) served up for breakfast to a spiny-backed orb weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis). Boca Raton, FL, March 18, 2015.

but by and large they are still the most formidable airborne insect predators out there. Most of them sprint to safety as I approach, although the Blue Dasher is often more docile,
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

as is a chilly Eastern Pondhawk in the early morning:
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). Boca Raton, FL, March 20, 2015.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). Boca Raton, FL, March 20, 2015.

The smaller and daintier damselflies are generally more approachable with a camera even after the sun has warmed them up a little; after the "chill" of the morning burns off, most of my dragonflies sprint away as I approach. Damselflies, on the other hand, sit still so you can sneak up on them. And, if you look at the bottom of the photo below, other creatures have little difficulty approaching as well.
Rambur's Forktail (Ischnura ramburii). Boca Raton, FL, March 20, 2015.

Rambur's Forktail (Ischnura ramburii). Boca Raton, FL, March 20, 2015.

Since I didn't notice the spider until after I'd come inside to view the photos on the screen, I have no idea what kind it is. Presumably a flower spider of some sort; it's quite small, given that the damselfly is no colossus itself. Happy first day of spring!

Backyard bug profile: Celithemis eponina

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant, close-up. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.
The beginning of spring, by which I mean the arrival of the rainy season, is one of my favorite times of year here in south Florida. The damselflies and dragonflies are out in significant numbers again, dotting the grasses and trees searching for food. Earlier this week there were dozens of dragonflies cruising the back yard, among them some pretty Needham's Skimmers and the eye-catching little pennant, Celithemis eponina, commonly known as the Halloween Pennant for its festive orange and black (well, a brown so dark that people call it black, like my dad's hair back before he became a silverback) colors.
<i>Celithemis eponina</i>, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

This is one of the smaller dragonflies around, though nowhere near as small as the diminutive Little Blue Dragonlet that is also rather common in our back yard at this time of year. It's also, like its cousin the Blue Dasher, rather confiding. It's not too difficult to sneak up rather close to one, which can result in some rather pretty photos:
<i>Celithemis eponina</i>, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 23, 2013.

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 23, 2013.

It has some characteristic poses, as well. It likes to perch with its head and abdomen well below its thorax, as you might be able to tell from the picture above (notice how the wings are in focus, the head is slightly out of focus, and the abdomen gets progressively blurrier as you look toward its tail?). The picture above also lets you know that this, like most of the dragonflies hanging out in a suburban back yard not on water suitable for reproduction, is a young dragonfly. If it's a male, that broad yellow stripe down its back will gradually turn reddish-orange as he ages; if it's a female, the dark sides of the abdomen will turn "pruinose" or powdery white. The characteristic "pennant" poses that give this dragonfly its name become even more obvious in other situations, though, such as when it has all of its wings compensating for the breeze attempting to shake it off the rather flimsy perches it affects:
<i>Celithemis eponina</i>, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

But what truly makes it a photographer's dream is its willingness to allow a close approach:
<i>Celithemis eponina</i>, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

The shot above was from about a foot away; such a close approach lets you crop and enlarge to your heart's content. So for those of you who just can't get enough of those cute little dragonfly faces, here's another one for you:
<i>Celithemis eponina</i>, Halloween Pennant, close-up. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

Celithemis eponina, Halloween Pennant. Boca Raton, FL, May 24, 2013.

Etymology The genus name, Celithemis, is a combination of the Greek words kelis, spotted (referring to the wing spots on most members of the genus), and themis, law, decree, order, presumably because this genus can be "ordered" or classified according to the pattern and number of spots on the wings, which are diagnostic. Eponina, the specific name, was the wife of Julius Sabinus, a Gaulish chief who attempted to overthrow the Roman occupation and was forced to flee, enduring a decade of privation and hardship, alleviated only by the devotion of his wife. When they were finally captured and sent to Rome, Vespasian executed Sabinus, and Eponina asked to be executed as well, a request that was granted. Plutarch called this the darkest deed of Vespasian's reign, "there was nothing during Vespasian's reign to match the horror of this atrocious deed, and that, in retribution for it, the vengeance of the gods fell upon Vespasian, and in a short time after wrought the extirpation of his entire family." The English name for this genus, the pennants, is also descriptive: it refers to their habit of perching, flag like, on vertical stems. And, if you'll recall, pennants are small flags, appropriate because most species in this genus are rather small. References Paulson, D. R., and S. W. Dunkle. (2012). A Checklist of North American Odonata, including English name, etymology, type locality, and distribution. Available online at http:odonata.bogfoot.net/docs/NA_OdonataChecklist_2012.pdf‎ Paulson, D. (2011). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. Princeton: Princeton UP.