Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, GA

It’s August and this Agraulis vanillae caterpillar is right on schedule. Satiated and secure in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. No stresses to manage. No family tensions, no TV, no texting, no horrendous news of the bloody battles going on in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. This one is just doing what Gulf frit caterpillars have done since who knows when?

Their hostplants are abundant here. Passionflower vines are found along the many canals of this one-time  rice farm, now National Wildlife Refuge. At the South Carolina – Georgia line.

Me, I was covered. Yep, covered in OFF insect repellant! It was a fresh batch of OFF! the woodland variety, and I was like an aircraft carrier during the Pacific campaign in WWII. Swarms of enemy above me, in this case, more than one species of mosquito. You don’t see our friend here being stalked, because not a single arthropod could be seen harassing it. Does anyone out there know why Gulf fritillary caterpillars possess such protecia? 

What pleasure it must afford these caterpillars, knowing that more than likely they will survive the metamorphosis to adulthood and they will be among the most beautiful winged beauties of all.


N.B., I did once see an adult Gulf fritillary in Pittsburgh, in the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory. You just never know!

Indian Pipe Wildflowers

Indian Pipe Wildflowers photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Are you among the .001 people who know this wildflower? A real head turner, this one. It’s early, you’ve managed to get out, without doing morning chores. The black russian,  Petra has been fed and walked (Success!) and traffic has been blesssedly light.

So you’ve parked the truck, gotten your gear ready, lens cleaned and you’re on Nichol Road trail. It’s just 8 A.M. and all you can complain about are those nuisance spider silks that dangle across the trail and gently envelope our face. Lens cover is off, so your Canon has to be held lens down or it’ll get silked, too.

Then there it is. Monotropa uniflora. Are we on Mars? you ask. What is this thing? Is is a plant? Where’s the green? Are those things flowers? Answers = No. A saprophytic plant. Yes. No green. Yes.

This woodland plant thrives in moist, mostly shady habitat. Yes, the National Audubon Society‘s Field Guide to Wildflowers identifies it as bearing flowers. Ever seen one like that before?

Does it attract butterflies? I want to say no. No. Does it attract esthetes who hike by, seeking butterflies? I must say Yes! June to September, folks.

A Zombie plant. Paula, you Like?



Monarch Butterfly on Tall Verbena

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

A perfect match! Here’s a perennial that strongly produces high quality nectar paired with a Danaus plexxipus who needs that high energy jet fuel to power its flight from Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens to West Virginia, then Kentucky, onto Tennessee, Mississippi or Louisiana. This monarch’s flight will be powered by a total of 1,000,000 full wing movements.’

Who originated this royal name, Monarch? According to Butterfly People by William Leach, this name was decided by Carolus Linnaeus. You know him as the naturalist who developed the binomial nomenclature system of naming species. So Danaus is the genus that includes Monarchs, Queens,  Soldiers and a host of similar species around the globe. The second word, plexxipus is specific to the species. Danaus plexxipus became the scientific name for this North American species of butterflies.

Royal she is here, with a ‘cape’ of rich orangeish red accompanied by borders and expanses expensively decorated with patterns of whites and oranges with full black hems.

Taken yesterday? Nope. September 22, 2010. The dramatic absence of Monarchs this year has startled those of us who keep a keen eye on butterflies.

Will President Obama cut short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to meet with the President of Mexico to find ways to buck up the Monarchs? 100,000,000 Americans would support that.



Wildflowers in the Arroyo

Arroyo Wildflowers, photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Mountains Regional Park, AZ

How do these wildflowers flourish in the Arroyo? Yes, we already discussed that these March blooms followed an unusually wet western Arizona winter. Yet the 90 degree temperature that will broil the Arroyo this very afternoon will heat the huge rock lying inches from the wildflower plant, causing that rock to radiate much heat toward our seemingly delicate plants.

It many not rain for many weeks, and such rains last just a few minutes. No rain again for many weeks.

The theme continues. How in the world do the butterflies, other fauna and flora of the Arroyo overcome these challenges?

OK. They have developed adaptations that enable them to survive, but they’ve adapted to conditions that are almost unbearable. Yes? Remarkable.

Is there anything that we can learn from this?


Hedge Bindweed Wildflower

Hedge Bindweed Wildflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

There it is again. It was August 16th and Calystegia sepium hosted an Eastern black swallowtail. She flew in quickly and as they do, nectared furiously at this pinkish flower with its five white stripes. After all of these years in the field,  I still didn’t know anything about these blooms. I did know that of the thousands of acres that Raccoon  Creek State Park includes, I only remember seeing these pinkies here and there. This one was in Nichol field in Raccoon Creek State Park. Thirty seven miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the home of Mellon, Frick and Carnegie and now the university destination  of hundreds of Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern young people.

A species of Morning Glory, these vines are found in small groups. The flowers do not appear to be a primary or secondary destination for butterflies. I think they are an optional destination. I have also noticed that their “tank” seems to be small, because after a handful of visits, they remain untouched for the rest of the morning.

I’ve just begun William  Leach’s Butterfly People (copyright 2013). This reading makes me wonder, if they had had blogs in the latter part of the 19th century . . Wow! what Comments I might have gotten from Great Britain, the U.S., France, Germany.

Note: I have never collected insects. Didn’t take at all to the idea of it. I have also come to have a distaste for zoos. I understand the persuasion that we all benefit from seeing animal diversity, but seeing those big cats, elephants, rhinoceroses and sedentary veldt grazers caged . . .