Looking Back to Illinois

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Alturas, California, Looking back to Illinois

So this is the very stuff—the plant known as The Noble Hop (Humulus lupulus) — that serves as the principle bittering agent in beer.

But it is not only lepidopterists who take refreshment and sustenance from this handsome herb. My guide, friend, and colleague in Illinois, Jim Wiker, is the leading student of the pretty and fascinating moths of the genus Papaipema. The caterpillars of these moths bore into the roots of particular plants — ferns, grasses, wild indigo, spiderwort, or many others, depending upon their species. While we were in the field searching for Baltimore Checkerspots (which we saw — a great lifer for me!), he found a caterpillar in this very vine. He will rear it in his lab at home — he’s discovered that all the specialized “paps” will feed on
carrots in captivity!

(Left side text with arrow pointing to plant): Here’s where the larva was feeding in its cubbyhole:

(Bottom left text): Hop Azure butterflies lay their eggs on Humulus, and we encountered lots of Eastern Commas, foxy-hued butterflies whose old-fashioned and charming name is the Hop Merchant.

At this estimable brewpub-cum-alehouse in Rockford, I recuperated from a steamy, ticky, chiggery week afield — or was I preparing for it? — with a pint or two of an excellent bitter IPA actually named Humulus Lupulus. Thus bolstered, Jim and I explored native habitat remnants including dry hill prairies and wet sedge meadows. The latter appear to be holding their special skippers for now, but the former are losing theirs at a
tragic rate. For example, the large and striking Ottoe Skipper seems to be gone from Iowa, and at a reserve where it was formerly abundant, we found only one — Jim thinks it might be the last he’ll see there. Ditto for other prairie species. Suspected agents: overzealous burning, B.t. corn.

Pledge the Butterfly-a-thon! (All the women already have.)


  1. Bob, are you sure that all the women have pledged??? I know my sister hasn’t, she’s waiting for you to come back to Texas. Seems you’ve spent lots of time in Texas and California, Are you ever going to make it into the Mid-West (Ohio)???

  2. Thank you, Robert for another vivid and evocative report from your entomologically epic journey.

    You will know that, as girls, Harriet Reinhard and her sister had some renown in Portland, Oregon, for their collections of butterflies — the province of Harriet’s sister — and of moths (assigned to Harriet as the younger of the two girls, — and she said woolly bears were always her favourite caterpillars). That renown gained them the freedom of several capacious Portland gardens (and early in the 20th century, capacious meant acreage) where Harriet remembered Red Admirables and Satyr Anglewings (and their caterpillars) on hop vines, then often grown to decorate doorway arbors.

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