Empress Leilia Butterfly on a Spiny Hackberry Hostplant

Empress Leila Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Tanks Mountains, AZ. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

The rock strewn arroyo bed was as dry as the proverbial bone. It was September 12th at White Tank Mountain Regional Park west of Phoenix, Arizona, and Nectaring plants were very hard to find. Though 9:40 in the morning and of course with full Arizona sun, Empress Leila butterflies were here and there, flying and perching, flying and perching. Their host plant is spiny hackberry.

Astercocampa leilia are similar to, and closely related to Hackberry butterflies (see our Hackbery Emperor posts). Photographing here was difficult. When we spotted the butterfly, our approach had to overcome huge rocks. How these rocks were randomly placed in that arroyo is a tantalizing exercise in Physics.

As they are territorial like the Tawny and Hackberry Emperors, persistence with Empress Leila butterflies paid off. That is if it fled my approach, I knew it wouldn’t fly much beyond a definable perimeter.

Heat, boulders, and nearly unapproachable Leilias made for good memories, and a fair enough photo.

The heat, the heat, the heat.


Buckeye Butterfly Resting in Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Gardens

Buckeye Butterfly at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

It’s as though the paintbrush has not yet dried. This seeming work of a brilliant contemporary painter is on the Junonia coenia, the Buckeye. He’s briefly resting in the Outdoors Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, steps away from some of America’s finest museums and universities. Bands, bars and eyespots whose colors have been meticulously chosen. You see that when a fresh Buckeye flies in, a smile crosses my face.

This is the one and only look that we get when we meet Junonia c.. This is usually the best view that we’re able to get. Though when Buckeyes are nectaring, it’s often easier to move closer. Buckeyes, like Monarchs and Ladies, migrate north in the Spring and fly south in the Fall. I’ve never seen what are described as mass migrations? Have you?

Florida enjoys 2 other species of Buckeyes, the Tropical Buckeye and the Mangrove Buckeye. Those are treats that I have not yet photographed. So much to be done, so much to be done.


Aphrodite Fritillary Butterfly with Little to No Wing Damage

Aphrodite Fritillary at Raccoon Creek State Park

They fly in the same fields as do Great Spangled Fritillaries. Much fewer in number and smaller than the sizable Great Spangleds, I’m always happy to find an Aphrodite Fritillary. Those we’ve photographed are less skittish than Great Spangleds and easier to approach. When we get the opportunity, those solitary forewing markings closer to the body clinch the ID.

A very purposeful flier, Speyeria aphrodite’s flight is from flower to flower with little wasted motion. Our example here is quite stunning, with little or no wing damage. Like the Great Spangleds, their hindwings quickly show rips and tears caused by predators. They’re alight now. We’ve had a mild winter here east of the Mississippi, and our butterflies have made early appearances. So find a field with milkweed, dogbane, butterflyweed, thistle and teasel and look forward to the possibility of enjoying an Aphrodite.

If you own a large lot with trees, you probably also have little violets growing near the trees. Aphrodites and other Frits lay their eggs on or near these violets. When Fall arrives, Frit caterpillars spend the winter hidden in the leaf litter under your trees. So if you rake away your leaves when winter ebbs/ends, you are robbing your neighborhood/habitat of future Frit butterflies. Alternative? Wait a bit later to rake the leaf litter in your patch of trees.


Spring Azure Butterfly Displaying its Dorsal Wings

Spring Azure Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

It’s not every day that you encounter a Spring Azure butterfly displaying its dorsal(upper) wings. It was that productive early morning sun-basking time. The forest is still quite cold on a May 16th night, and the warmth of the sun is needed to get those wings moving fast enough to evade dangers. Once they can fly at full-speed, they are off to nectar and consider other options. They’re seen on trails, where disturbed ground meets treed habitat. They’re those tiny little ones that fly up as you approach and either advance up trail or zip into nearby vegetation. As Spring ebbs, they are replaced by the closely related Summer Azures.

Here we see again tiny dainties that fly with intact wings despite the perils all around them. Fascinating, no?

Academically, how much do we know about the population dynamics of Spring Azures, their future or their habitat pressures?


A Male Cabbage White Butterfly Bobbing from One Zinnia to the Next

Cabbage White Butterfly at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

For many of us this is the first and last butterfly that we see each year. We watch them fly in our neighbor’s yards, across ballfields and along the storefronts downtown. Do you ever wonder how those first 2 or 3 (200 or 300?) first came aground in these United States? Was that event in Massassachusetts? Virginia? South Carolina? Rhode Island or New York?

Our male has been bobbing from one Zinnia flower to the next, enjoying the nectars of the Outdoor Gardens at the Phipps Conservatory. Given little attention by most naturalists, these white and black beauties come to grow on you. Focused, hardy and seemingly unpalatable as their wings are often intact–how do this petite butterflies manage to so deftly handle their business?

Tomorrow and the next day you’ll likely see several in flight. Perhaps they are worth giving some thought to.