The growing month of June is upon us. Long days, including the summer solstice, with moisture (statistically, June is our wettest month) and warm temperatures cause quite a response of growth with plants.
We witnessed the greening of the woods during May. What began as a time of bare branches and twigs on trees ended with an intense green foliage. Spring ephemerals on the forest floor succeeded in grabbing available sunlight at about mid-month, giving quite a floral display. These were followed by ones that tolerate the shade of the leafing trees.
Despite the present shady woods, the forest floor remains green. Many other plants now flower at the woods' edge. Soon, flowering will be in open spaces. We observed the avian migration during May.
May was migration; June is nesting. The region now has many diverse daily choruses as the feathered residents sing their territorial proclamations.
This amazing month has much more happening. June is also the month of insects. Anyone spending time in the Northland is well aware of the “bugs of June." But besides black flies and mosquitoes, June is also when we see dragonflies emerging from their aquatic youth.
The diversity of these fast-flying insect predators continues in these weeks. In addition to the diurnal dragonfly dazzling display of flight, we can see more after dark, when fireflies make their appearance. Often these living lights will begin in May and continue into July.
Colorful “flying flowers" — the butterflies — show their diversity of size and color at this time, too. Two of our largest kinds flutter about now: tiger swallowtails and monarchs. While the latter migrates, the former wintered in its chrysalis here. Both take nectar from the many flowers of June. But other large insects are here as well.
June is the time of the biggest moths. Four types of silkworm months — family Saturniidae — can be seen in the region now. They are mostly nocturnal, resting in the daytime. Each has wingspan of at least 4 inches, far beyond other moths. Three of these — promethea, polyphemus and cecropia — are brown to reddish-brown, with “eye spots” on wings. And the other large moth, the luna, is green.
During a woods walk in June, I wandered on a trail that had a thick growth of leafy shrubs along the edge. As I looked, I noticed that not all the green was leaves. I was seeing a luna moth with pale-green wings and long hindwing “tails." Eyespots are on both forewings and hindwings. On the underside, the stout white body can be seen.
Like many other moths, antennae are feathery. It may be hard to see the connection between this moth and the moon, luna, except for night flying. Supposedly, they are called "luna" because someone noted that the arc made by the long hindwing “tails” were in the same shape as the waxing and waning crescent phases of the moon.
The adult state is short. They mate and lay eggs at this time, not even eating meals. The plump green caterpillars with light lines and red dots feed on leaves of birch. When ready to form a cocoon, they drop to the ground and make a brown papery cocoon, where the pupa winters.
Though we may not see the caterpillar or the cocoon, now in June, we may be fortunate enough to find the green adult as it rests on leaves in the daytime, as I did during a June woods walk.