White M Hairstreak Butterflies are Infrequent Visitors to Southwestern Pennsylvania

Skipper Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

September 27th at Raccoon Creek State Park. Another example of why go out in late September to photograph butterflies? Aren’t they ‘done’ for the year? What’s left to see but a few raggedy left-overs from the summer months?

Compounding that, goldenrod was just about the only wildflower in bloom. It covered Doak field like a yellow comforter!

Obviously I did drive the 36.9 miles. If you’ve already viewed our post of Leonard’s Skipper butterfly, then you know what’s coming.

What was it, nectaring on goldenrod at the very edge of a cut trail? It was a little large for hairstreaks, this butterfly was clearly not a Gray, nor a Striped, nor a Banded, nor a Coral. What was this unexpected beauty?

Daddah! A White ‘M’ Hairstreak! Parrhasius m-album is an infrequent visitor to western Pennsylvania.

So you’ll have to forgive the photograph. I’ve only seen White ‘M’s’ twice in 12 years.

Elegant in its usual pose, with wings closed. It is spectacular when it briefly opens those wings. The bright iridescent blue radiates from those wings, as if meant to broadcast out to all.

I’ve seen one 2 years later, within several feet of this one. That’s it for my sightings in or about Pittsburgh.

This summer has brought reports of Giant Swallowtail sightings in Canada! You just never know.


Coming Up on August 12th: Butterflies of Raccoon Creek at Wildflower Reserve Interpretive Center on US 30

Butterflies of Raccoon Creek
Raccoon Creek State Park
Wildflower Reserve Interpretive Center on US 30
Sunday, August 12, 2012 • 1pm – 3pm

Pennsylvania is home to many species of butterflies. Join Jeffrey Zablow, a biologist with a passion for photographing butterflies, on a delightful tour of these jewel-winged insects. Jeffrey will highlight his butterfly photography in the park, and give a guided tour, allowing participants to see the park’s butterflies. Butterfly identification via field guides and how to bring these lovely visitors to your home gardens will be discussed. You can preview Jeffrey’s photographs at https://wingedbeauty.com/

This program is sponsored by Raccoon Creek State Park, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. For further information contact the park at (724) 899-3611.

If you need an accommodation to participate in this park activity due to a disability, please contact Raccoon Creek State Park at 724-899-2200 or the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks at:
888-PA-PARKS (voice)
888-537-7294 (TTY)
800-654-5984 (PA AT&T Relay Service)

Imagine how Much Energy Goes into Flapping Butterfly Wings for 20 Minutes at a Time

American Lady Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

June 18th and our American Lady is patiently sipping moisture from the trail at the period farmhouse in Raccoon Creek State Park.

Fresh, healthy and probably a male. Our approach was as it had to be, robotic, staged and uniform.

Vanessa virginiensis males, like those of other species that we’ve posted, spend much of the day flying. They search for suitable females, and their flight is relentless.

Why then is he taking up the water and its minerals? Water is essential for all of the work that flying non-stop requires. Minerals are critical for replenishing spent iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium and other metal elements. Imagine how much effort goes into flapping those wings for 20 minutes at a time…most of the morning and late afternoon. The muscles of the 4 wings experience degradation of the molecules that produce energy and of the proteins that power those magnificent wings. So our flying marvel busily synthesizes new energy coenzymes and new muscle proteins on the wing. Pretty impressive, no?

Before you leave this post, take a second look at those left wings. Pretty, pretty, pretty.


Pearl Crescent Butterflies Rank Among the Under-appreciated

Pearl Crescent Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

Pearl Crescents are smallish butterflies that we see at clearings along trails, in cut areas in public parks and in our home gardens.

In the Eastern U.S., Commas, Red spotted-purples, Emperors and Pearl Crescents are the dependable butterflies that monitor and escort you as you hike trails.

Phyciodes tharos ranks as an under-appreciated butterfly, more often than not registering disappointment when it is firmly identified and forecloses the possibility that you’ve seen something ‘special.’

Our female is nectaring on an Oxeye Daisy flower. Pearl Crescents are categorized as generalists because they will sip at a wide variety of flower species. Our female verifies this, feeding on Oxeye daisies. When such nectar pumpers as Milkweed, Teasel, Dogbane and Butterflyweed are in bloom, she is at this Oxeye Daisy. The other wildflowers have heavy traffic coming and going. Oxeye Daisies can go 30 or more minutes without a butterfly, bee or fly setting down to feed. Does she visit there to avoid the crowd?

Her wings are intact. She lacks the damage that many butterflies endure to the trailing edges of their wings. Believe it or not, the academics are yet unable to explain what if anything causes them to suffer little or no abuse from predators.

At August 12th at Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve on Rte. 30, two miles north of Janoski’s Farmstand, please join us from 1:00 to 3:00 Pm for our 7th Annual Butterflies of Western Pennsylvania presentation/field walk? We know that our friends in Canada, the U.K., India, Israel and Australia won’t be able to make it, but we hope you will join us. Swim at the Park lake, get your picked this morning produce, and enjoy our visual menu of winged beauties.


Did You Know that Teasel Serves as a Solitary Sentry During Winter?

Teasel Wildflowers at Raccoon Creek State Park

Correct. You don’t see any butterflies in this photograph. What you do see is a wildflower that nurtures butterflies across most of the continental United States.

This ‘weedy’ plant is now in bloom here in Pennsylvania and its siren scent draws many, many species of butterflies to its tiny pinkish flowers.

I’ve always been fascinated by why some perfectly attractive species of wildflowers draw few if any butterflies, bees and flies. By comparison other gnarly-looking wildflowers are packed with hungry fliers!

Dipsacus fullonum is not that easy on the eye, I think. It’s nectar must be hard to resist, though. From 8:30 in the morning and for the next 2 hours, teasel is heavily visited.

It’s not native to this continent, but it sure has made itself at home here, growing along roadsides and in fields.

Teasel serves as a solitary sentry during winter, prickly stem with dried flowerhead enduring the severest of frozen winter wind.

So teasel nourishes our winged beauties across there U.S….and is here to stay. Teasel.