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Expert discusses butterflies and moths native to East Brunswick

David Moskowitz recommends books on butterflies to attendees

EAST BRUNSWICK – Environmental Commission Chairman David Moskowitz discussed “East Brunswick’s Butterflies: From Azure to Zabulon” to showcase some of nature’s most famous four-winged insects.

Moskowitz holds a Ph.D. in entomology from the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and works as an environmental consultant. He is chairman of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission and president of the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, according to a statement provided by the library.

Moskowitz was instrumental in the creation of the township’s Butterfly Park and co-founded National Moth Week, which is now an international citizen science project, according to a prepared statement.

“Butterflies are so approachable. … You can attract them to you by planting things and they are just beautiful. How can you not be inspired by butterflies/ They’re peaceful, they’re harmless, they don’t bite [and] they are just the perfect wildlife,” Moskowitz said.

Using PowerPoint slides, books and numerous photos during a presentation on March 29, Moskowitz showed residents different types of butterflies that live in East Brunswick and where residents can find them, including Jamesburg Park Conversation Area, Heavenly Farms Park, Ireland Brook Park Conservation Area, the East Brunswick Butterfly Park, Frost Woods Park and Great Oaks Park.

Moskowitz said hibernator butterflies “are the ones that hibernate all winter long in a hollow tree or under some bark. They actually have antifreeze in their blood, so that their blood does not freeze and crystalize. In the fall, they will go up into a small hollow or into a tree trunk [and] they will be protected from the snow and the wind. Then on nice spring days, or late winter days even, they’ll come out, fly around, mate and start again.”

Moskowitz said the mourning cloak hibernator butterfly can be found at Frost Woods Park and is the first butterfly of late winter early spring. They are colorful, but when they land on the ground they blend in with the dead leaves, he said.

Two other hibernator butterflies are the eastern comma and the question mark, according to Moskowitz.

“Butterflies don’t just visit flowers, they take nectar or salts [and] amino acids from all different kinds of things – sap, dung, pavement – anything where they can get those essential nutrients that they need,” Moskowitz said.

The early riser butterflies during the winter will become a chrysalis and then emerge really early in the year. The azures are early risers, a complex species where five or six look alike; however, each butterfly has a distinct fly period, according to Moskowitz.

Moskowitz showed photos of a spring azure, blueberry azure and an eastern pine elfin.

“[The] eastern pine elfin, it’s one of my favorites and … it has this really beautiful little pattern. It is about the size of a nickel and I didn’t know we had these in East Brunswick until last year when we did the townwide butterfly survey,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz said he saw some eastern pine elfin at the Jamesburg Park Conservation Area. They are early April butterflies and only fly for two weeks.

While showing photos of a monarch butterfly egg and a spice bush swallowtail butterfly, Moskowitz said all butterflies lay eggs.

“If you watch a female monarch or other butterflies, you will see them stop on the plants. They will bounce around on the plants [and] they’re actually tasting the plants with their feet. They have chemoreceptors so that they can determine, is that really the right plant I want to lay my egg on?” Moskowitz said.

In New Jersey, there are about 120 different butterflies. In a good year in East Brunswick, you can find 50 or 60 species, according to Moskowitz.


Moskowitz said the variegated fritillary is a late season butterfly. Residents can find them at Heavenly Farms Park or the East Brunswick Butterfly Park. The pearl crescent is about the size of a quarter and can be found at the same locations.

The tiniest butterfly a resident will come across is the eastern tailed blue butterfly, according to Moskowitz.

“It is extraordinarily common. I get it on clovers in our backyard. … If you are not looking for this little butterfly you are just not even going to notice it. [The eastern tailed blue] is tinier than a dime. It’s just incredibly small and an incredibly weak flyer,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz said common buckeye butterflies have an eye spot design on their wings to protect them from predators.

Skipper butterflies are a species that are a link between butterflies and moths. In New Jersey, there are about 25 to 30 species of skippers. Some examples include the Zabulon and sliver spotted, according to Moskowitz.

Moskowitz then spoke of different types of moths that can be in the township.

“Everybody says, ‘What is the different between a moth and a butterfly?’ There are technical differences, but all butterflies are moths, that is the best way to think about it. On the evolutionary tree, moths were the ancestors and then the butterflies are the branch of the moth,” Moskowitz said. “The neat thing about moths is their diversity is well beyond butterflies; it’s probably 15-to-1 moths vs. butterflies.”

Moskowitz showed photos of several moths, including the rosy maple, regal, luna, Cecropia, eight-spotted forester moth, hummingbird clearwing and the orange micro.

To protect butterflies and moths that reside in the township, Moskowitz said residents should never use pesticide-based products on their grass and flowers and to plant native wild flowers.

For more information about the East Brunswick, Friends of the Environmental Commission, visit www.friendsebec.com/home/board-of-trustees.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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