(Here’s a “lost” blog post from Jeff’s Alaska trip (he didn’t lose it, I did), enjoy! Pictured above is a Jutta Arctic. – Ed)
Day 5. June 12, 2019
Thinking that it still may be too early for Astarte Fritillary, I decide to take a run for an arctic that has been recently described as a full species. Although not yet evaluated by the NABA Names Committee, I, and most taxonomists, think that it probably best treated as a subspecies of Chryxus Arctic, ‘Tanana’ Chryxus Arctic. It’s essentially identical but has slightly different mitochondrial DNA. The population is known only from the Tanana River Valley of Alaska, just entering adjacent Canada. Reportedly, it inhabits open grassy areas in boreal forest. So, even though, currently, I’d vote against species-hood for Tanana, being so close (relatively) to its very limited range, I think its worth the effort to chase it – maybe it will prove to be a real species, and plus, I don’t really have anything else to do today.
In the paper describing the taxon, most of the individuals examined had been collected close to Tok, Alaska – about 200 miles from Fairbanks. One individual was collected closer to Fairbanks – on Spruce Road south of Delta Junction, along a power line cut – about 100 miles from Fairbanks. So, off to Spruce Road I go, driving down the Alaska Highway.
I get to Spruce Road and the weather is beautiful, lots of sun and reasonably warm. I drive up and down the length of Spruce Road. No power line cut that I can see. Worse, the habitat along the road doesn’t look good at all, mainly low shrubs, not really grassy. I spend an hour looking. Not only don’t I find any ‘Tanana’ Arctics, I don’t see any butterflies. Disappointing. I decide to head out and look around the general area. I drive aimlessly, something that I’m particularly good at. About 8 miles away, I notice some telephone poles heading perpendicularly away from the Alaska Highway. I take a U-turn and pull off the road. I park, get my gear, get out of the car, and almost immediately see an arctic! It’s a Jutta Arctic. Justa Jutta Arctic.
Unlike Spruce Road, there were quite a few butterflies – I ended up seeing 14 species. And, after going through a couple more Jutta Arctics, ‘Tanana’ Arctics showed up – at least 7 of them! So, a good day in the Tanana River Valley. On the way back, another moose showed up.