Last week I received a phone call from Troy Shively, who hails from Wapakoneta in northwest Ohio. During the warm months, when he is not teaching math at Indian Lake High School, Troy spends much of his time exploring the Buckeye State in search of birds and butterflies. He had called to invite me to join him at a fen in Logan County to see and photograph a very rare butterfly, the swamp metalmark.
The swamp metalmark, Calephelis muticum, is a tiny butterfly that is found in a few isolated wetlands in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, southern Missouri and western Ohio. An Ohio rarity, the swamp metalmark had not been seen in Ohio since 1988, and was presumed to be extirpated from the Buckeye State. But in July, 2009 Troy Shively and his grandfather, Ralph, rediscovered a small population of swamp metalmarks, no more than a dozen butterflies, in a fen between West Liberty and DeGraff owned by the Shively family.
The swamp metalmark is a very small butterfly, with a wingspan of barely an inch, but its modest size is compensated for by its exquisite beauty. The upper, dorsal surface of the wings are a lustrous reddish brown, like burnished copper, marked with black spots and markings and a pair of silvery bands near the outer edges of the wings. The underside, or ventral, surface of the wings are a deep orange, patterned with black spots and bands. The antennae have black and white bands ending in a dark tip. The swamp metalmark lays its eggs on swamp thistle and is found only in alkaline fens and wet meadows.
Swamp metalmarks are hard to find but fairly easy to photograph. They flutter slowly among the fen grasses, pausing to nectar on dogbane, shrubby cinquefoil, butterfly weed and other flowering plants. Troy and I both prefer a digital SLR camera, a macro lens, and a ringlight for butterfly photography. In my case, a Nikon D7000 camera, a Sigma 180mm APO macro lens, and a Nikon SB29 ringlight are standard equipment for photographing butterflies and dragonflies in their native habitats. Depending on the size and distance of the butterfly from the camera, I use a full power or 1/4 power setting on the ringlight, a manual shutter speed of 1/250th second, an ISO setting of 100, and f/stops from f/8 to f/16 to maximize depth-of-field. As always, I use in-camera histograms to fine-tune exposures and all photographs are taken in raw file mode.
There were several other kinds of butterflies in the fen, including Delaware and mulberry wing skippers and coral hairstreaks. Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, was beginning to flower in mid-June and is a great nectar source for many butterflies, as well as providing an attractive background for insect photography.
Ohio is also home to the northern metalmark, Calephelis borealis, which is also rare in Ohio but more common and widely distributed than the swamp metalmark. Troy knew the location of a colony of northern metalmarks in Franklin County, south of Columbus, and we drove there later in the day to visit this cousin of the swamp metalmark.
The northern metalmark is very similar to the swamp metalmark in size and general coloration, but the upper surface of the wings are less reddish and have a broad, dark median band. The underside of the wings are orange, with black markings, much like the swamp metalmark. Unlike the latter, however, which are found only in fens and wet meadows, the northern metalmark prefers dry, open clearings in woodlands, and its host plant is roundleaf ragwort. We found several northern metalmarks along the woodland edges of a dry glade featuring red cedars, butterfly weed, oxeye daisies and black-eyed Susans, and a larger number of the butterflies in an old field near the edge of the woods.
My thanks to Troy Shively and his family for the opportunity to see these rare and beautiful swamp metalmarks, and for preserving their habitat for future generations. To view some of Troy’s excellent butterfly photographs visit his blog at: