Scudder, Leach & Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

This morning I was 1/2 way through William Leach’s Butterfly People, which has been captivating me quite a few times. Many of those especially interesting parts discuss what it was like to have been in the field in the last half of the nineteenth century, roughly from 1850 through the 1890’s. OMG!

Just as I sometimes daydream about what Pittsburgh homes must have been like in that timeframe (many have been razed over time), so have I wondered about how trips into the field could have been then?

Leach shares the experiences of Samuel Scudder, whom I have been introduced to for the first time, Scudder is largely responsible for having introduced the first exhaustive butterfly field guides, pioneering the examination of the life histories of many, many north american and international species.

The passage that buzzed me?

Scudder, in Every-Day Butterflies: A Group of Biographies (1899), ” The tiger swallowtail collecting literally by the thousands, and when startled, filling the air with a yellow cloud (clouded sulphur bursting forth) on meadow-bordered highways after rain, coloring the ground as they sit by the thousands with erect wing (pipe-vine swallowtail) particularly fond of flowers and sometimes clustering on them in vast numbers (regal fritillaries) most abundant in the middle pastures of Nantucket.”

Wow! Wow! What have we (We?) done?


Wild Geranium Wildflowers

Wild Geranium Wildflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Just as the ancient sailors were fabled to sail onto the rocks, drawn by the haunting tunes of the sirens (Am I getting this right?), so the novice out to find butterflies often spends way too much time planted at Geranium maculatum awaiting the arrival of fantastic butterflies. She waits and waits and waits. Is it the wrong time, the wrong temperature or just the wrong dose of Luck. Butterflies rarely  visit these wildflowers. When they do, it seems as though they do so reluctantly, as if they hope to find suitable nectar, but know that it’s going to be a waste of flight.

Seen in a variety of habitat across much of the United States, they bloom  in mid- to late Spring. They are just plain pretty. What service they provide the fauna in their habitat remains a mystery to us. Here’s a prime example of wildflowers that you stand before, wondering why are they so eye-catching, yet  don’t attract winged beauties?

Homes in the northeastern U.S. often sport cultivated geraniums  in their gardens and flowerpots. They do look nice, and you know those red ones do catch my eye…but they seem so sterile to me. They don’t pitch in and engage the critters around them. The big-box stores promote them, and plant  nurseries do the same, but their contributions to garden diversity is soooo limited.

O.  E. Jennings, in his Wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin (University  of Pittsburgh Press, 1953) pitches in some spice, reporting that “At maturity the five parts of the fruit suddenly coil upwards and sling out the seeds with considerable force.” Which of you have witnessed that?


A Female Falcate Orangetip Butterfly

Falcate orange tip butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

A morning maker, for sure. Drive the 37 miles to Raccoon Creek State Park, park the truck and head straight to that spot near the Nichol farmhouse. This is the place where I’ve sometimes seen Anthocharis midea. It’s May 6th and getting kind of late for spotting these darlings. You see what I saw. There she is: a healthy female butterfly, happily sipping nectar. It’s good that there isn’t a male nearby, because they will harass a female without let-up, complicating our determination  to photograph these early Spring whites.

This is the only orangetip white east of the Mississippi River. Males appear first and fly crazily looking for non-existent females. When the female butterflies appear, the males go nuts, demanding their full, complete attention. Our heroine here has probably completed her courtship and is feeding to insure healthy egg development.

Finding them is a treat, and a rush, because at some point in morning, they leaves. Bye bye! They may or may not reappear the next day?

I’ve never seen a Desert Orangetip Caterpillar. Cech and Tudor report that the caterpillars eat at night.

Will  you be viewing our post of the Desert Orangetip? Just 2,000. miles to the west. What a rich orange. How exactly is that done?

I’m 1/3 through Butterfly People by William Leach. I envy (Oops! not a good choice of words) the butterfly enthusiasts of the 19th century. They had such a rich variety of species to see, and were, it seems, quite collegial.



10 Reasons for the absence of Monarchs in 2013

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA

What are 10 reasons for the absence of Monarchs (Danaus p.) in 2013?



Non Native Thistle in Canada

Canadian Thistle Wildflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

We meet this tallish thistle, Cirsium arvense in summer fields throughout much of the United States. Butterflies do nectar here, but it isn’t a popular destination, and those that visit spend very little time at Canadian thistle. So over the years we don’t post ourselves at the pretty blooms, because few if any good butterfly opportunities are had here. Here is Nichol field in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Native wildflower? No. It’s a migrant from somewhere in Europe. The National Audubon Society‘s Field Guide to Wildflowers – Eastern Region dismisses this plant with “pernicious weed” and “classified as noxious in most states.” It’s fitting then that Canadian thistle seemingly  plays a minor role in supporting our native butterflies. Not an acclimated native, it is not naturally woven into the fabric of our indigenous habitat.

Digging further, I searched for Canadian thistle in my prized edition of Wildfowers of Western Pennsylvania and The Upper Ohio Basin by O. E. Jennings (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1953). We purchased the 2-volume set some years ago at auction. Canadian thistle is totally absent from Jenning’s major work. It’s an alien plant. Period.

How many of the wildflowers that we see are non-native? When we walk out our door we see the alien vines that are strangling the trees and shrubs of Frick Park, our verdant neighbor.