Parnassius clodius

Small white butterfly with a red spot on the center of its wing

Parnassius clodius 

Parnassians belong to the swallowtail family, and can be found in some parts of WY, MT, WA, CA, OR, ID, and UT, as well as some parts of British Columbia.  Parnassius smintheus, another species of Parnassian, also has a range found in Wyoming. At first glance, these two species are very similar in appearance, but take a closer look! An easy way to distinguish each species is by checking their antennae. On P. clodius, the antennae are entirely black, but P. smintheus have banded antennae that are alternating black and white (Brock & Kaufman, 2003, p.44). 

During the mating season for these butterflies, males patrol areas in search of females. Once they mate, males attach a sphragum, a plug to prevent a female from mating with other males. The larger the sphragum, the less likely a different male will attempt to mate with the female (Wedell, 2005). Females then lay their eggs on host plants that will become a resource for the larva. In the Grand Tetons, P. clodius eggs can be found on Dicentra uniflora. 

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Logan Crees

Glover’s silkmoth (Hyalophora gloveri)

large red, black, and grey moth, taking up the entire palm of someone's hand

Glover’s silkmoth (Hyalophora gloveri)

Glover’s silkmoth has a documented range within the Western United States as well as some areas of Canada. They are found in montane shrubland and riparian habitats. Glover’s silkmoth is one of the two largest moths in its family, Saturniidae. Depending on the region, the life cycle of these moths, from egg to adult, takes place during the months of April through September. Larvae are found feeding on leaves of birch trees, bitterbrush, and willows, and once they mature, they will feed on different types of woody plants and shrubs, including willows and Prunus species. As adults, these moths can grow up to 51-67 mm in length.

In Asia, some moths of the family Saturniidae are used in silk production. Silkmoth larvae do all the work in producing silk. When silkworms are ready to metamorphose, they spin their cocoon with raw silk. In another species of Hyalophora, the larvae (or caterpillar) take the summer months to mature, and as fall approaches, they spin their cocoons and spend the winter months in diapause during the pupal stage.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

Clumps of yellow flowers cover a field with blurred mountains in the background

Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata

Arrowleaf Balsamroot is abundant here at the UW-NPS Research Station during the months of May through July. Their leaves are distinct compared to the Mule’s ear plant (Wyethia sp.), which is commonly misidentified. Arrowleaf Balsamroot have arrow shaped leaves, hence the common name, and are also fuzzy and matte-looking, with shiny leaves. Arrowleaf Balsamroot also grows in clumps, with several flower heads blooming from the clump. 

This beautiful sunflower is a food source for not only pollinators, but also some of our larger ungulates, including elk, sheep and deer. Native Americans also used much of the plant for medicinal purposes. The roots were used to help with insect bites, headaches and coughs, and the seeds were typically eaten as well for nutrition. As you can see, Arrowleaf Balsamroot serves a large audience, from tiny sweat bees to human beings. 

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Wild Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis)

soft, light pink flowers

Wild Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis)

Wild or mountain hollyhock is a perennial plant that flowers during the months of June through August these plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, with pale pink lobed shaped petals. When comparing wild hollyhock and domestic hollyhock, their genus differs as well as the flower itself. Wild hollyhock has much smaller flower petals and usually blooms at the end of the stem, whereas domestic hollyhock has flowers blooming throughout the whole length of the stem. Wild hollyhock blooms along roadsides, creeks, and trails. In the park, check out Shadow Mountain, it will give you breathtaking views of the Grand Tetons, with the chance to get amazing photos of some bison and other beautiful flowers in the park.

For wild hollyhock seeds to germinate, they must endure some sort of environmental stress, such as fire or scarring from streams. Without such disturbances, the seeds can remain viable underneath the ground for several decades!

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)

someone holding their hands together, full of wrinkley mushrooms

False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)

The False Morel may look like a true, edible morel that many people forage for in burnsites, but it is a deadly, poisonous mushroom, unless parboiled correctly, however, preparation is still dangerous, as fumes can be inhaled, causing some side effects. But first, let’s break down its scientific name. Focusing on the species, “esculenta” means “edible” in Greek, which can be misleading to some. There are several species of False Morels so be careful!

This species of mushrooms does contain a highly toxic chemical, gyromitrin, which is where the genus is derived from. Gyromitrin can be broken down by hydroxylation to form monomethylhydrazine (MMH) which is the principal toxin in false morel species. In other species of False Morels, like Verpa bohemica, they have toxin chemical compositions very similar to jet fuels (Parker, 2015). False Morels are considered saprotrophs. Saprotrophs feed on decaying matter as a way to get their nutrients.

To learn more about the chemistry of the False Morel, check out https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/methylhydrazine

The Michigan Department of Health wrote a simple but informational guide on the False Morel versus the real Morel. This can be found at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/Morel_mushroom_fact_sheet_353691_7.pdf.

DISCLAIMER: This post should NOT be used as an identification guide! Please do thorough research before doing some morel hunting!

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

large grey and white owl staring straight into the camera from his perch in a gnarled pine tree

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Most people have probably heard of the Great Horned Owl, but have you ever heard of the Great Grey Owl? Great Grey Owls (Strix nebulosa) are less common in the GYE than Great Horned Owls, but they still inhabit the area so if you see them it is a treat! Compared to other owl species, Great Grey Owls are quite large; their wingspan reaches 5 ft in length, but they only weigh about 2-3 pounds. Novice birders can identify Great Grey Owls from other owls in the GYE because their face is surrounded by a large darker colored ring with a distinct “X” shape between their eyes. They have white, grey, and brown feather patterns with yellow eyes.

Great Grey Owls prefer mountainous areas with pine and fir forests that are usually 2,500-7,500 feet in elevation. Jackson Hole photographer and author, Daryl Hunter, suggests looking in trees around Spalding Bay Road, Moose/Wilson Road, and Spring Gulch Road by the Gros Ventre River for Great Grey Owls. If you are near a meadow or a clearing at dawn or dusk, you will have even greater luck seeing these guys roaming the treetops. They like open areas surrounded by trees because they will swoop down low with their silent feathers to grab small mammals in clearings, while being able to perch on trees as needed. Great Grey Owls are skilled at hunting small prey because their ears are in different spots. Uneven ear heights allow owls to hear sounds at different times which helps them locate prey accurately—they can hear and pinpoint tiny animals under snow!

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo

Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)

a stalk of purple flowers, backlit by sunlight coming through the forest canopy

Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)

Lupine, specifically, Silvery Lupine is typically found in Grand Teton National Park during the months of June through August. These flowers belong to the pea family and each flower has 5 petals: one keel, two wings, and two banners. A great diagram of these parts and more facts about flowers within the pea family can be found at https://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/Plant_Families/Fabaceae.htm.

Because their petals are so discrete, it is quite easy to tell what plants belong to Family Fabaceae once you learn what the petals look like! If you want to find some Silvery Lupine and observe on your own, keep an eye out on the meadows and mountain slopes for these gorgeous flowers. Once the lupine blooms, they are easy to spot, even while passing by on the road. But, even before the flowers do bloom, they have recognizable leaves. They are a compound leaf with anywhere from five to nine leaflets that have a crease that runs down the middle of them.

Aside from being pretty plants, Lupine species keep soils fertile by fixing nitrogen, thus aiding other plants as well. Lupine was cultivated in different cultures like in Egypt, areas in the Mediterranean, Rome, and Native Americans to keep their soils rich. The Native Americans also used the leaves in a col tea for some medicinal uses.  Do you know any fun facts about these plants?

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Fine-spotted Snake River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii behnkei)

small silvery fish with black spots

Fine-spotted Snake River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii behnkei)

One of the five native species of cutthroat trout to Wyoming, these feisty fish are a popular target for anglers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Their native range is actually quite small, only consisting of the Upper Snake River between Jackson Lake and Palisades Reservoir, including the Gros Ventre River. These trout can be distinguished from the other subspecies primarily based on the spotting pattern.  They are close relatives of the infamous Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and they look very similar aside from a small color difference and the size and color of the spots.  They are not distinguishable genetically, and this has led to some debate about whether they are a separate subspecies or not! Snake River cutthroats can grow to over 20 inches and 3 pounds and are known for putting up a vicious fight. This combination of size and spirit makes them a prized sport fish, and they are often stocked outside their native range for the enjoyment of anglers.  Learn more about these spectacular salmonids here: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=892 and https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Fishing-and-Boating/Cutt-Slam#howto

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: Bryant Olsen on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/bryanto/4721942263/

Coyote (Canis Latrans)

A coyote at the edge of the forest next to a fallen tree, in a field dotted with wildflowers

Coyote (Canis Latrans)

They are so common in the US that they have earned many nicknames for themselves—song dog, American jackal, prairie wolf, brush wolf—but most people refer to them as coyotes (Canis Latrans). You may have noticed that coyotes don’t usually run around in packs and are typically alone or with one other coyote. You can hear their piercing howl at both dawn and dusk. In areas with less people, they will usually hunt during the day; in more populated areas, they tend to hunt more at night. They hunt small rodents, occasionally elk calves, birds—even large swans—and feed off dead carcasses. Adult coyotes reach a maximum height of 2 ft tall usually weighing 30-40 lbs—this stature allows them to run up to 40 mph! Their coat colors vary based on location and may be a combination of grey, tan, and reddish hues. Coyotes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) have grown used to humans because of the high visitor rate to the parks, which have become places they can get food scraps or even handouts. Park rangers urge tourists not to feed wildlife because it fosters a reliance on humans and can initiate animal aggression.

Coyote populations declined by about 50% after wildlife officials reintroduced wolves to the GYE in 1995. However, GYE coyotes are now beginning to adapt to life with wolves. Coyotes inhabit a much greater area than wolves, they are all over the US—including cities. The state of Wyoming considers coyotes vermin, and they can be shot or captured without any restriction. Evidence suggests that this negatively affects the ecosystems they are a part of. Coyotes are fun animals to watch roam the parks and maybe you can see them pounce for prey!

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo

Low Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum)

Deep blue flowers growing up from the forest floor

Low Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum)

Low Larkspur is a native plant that can be found in Grand Teton National Park through spring and early summer. Although different species of larkspur can take on different color variations, like pink and white, the low larkspurs found in Wyoming typically are a dark shade of purple. In the Grand Tetons, be sure to check out the Grand View Point hike to get spectacular views of the mountains and see these beautiful flowers in bloom, as well as the myriad of other species of flora. Also keep an eye out for low larkspur in the sagebrush and grassy shrub land areas throughout the park.

Every part of it is toxic. The levels of alkaloids within the make them toxic, but these levels vary within each geographic location. Cattle are highly susceptible to the toxicity of these plants. You can read more on the USDA’s website to learn about the signs of poison in cattle and how you can reduce your losses.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman