What is this Butterfly Doing?

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

You’re hiking a trail, like this one, and you come upon a damp stretch of the trail, like this one. You pause, and see several butterflies ahead of you, all doing what this one is doing. One here, another there, all doing just about the same thing. Get closer and you see what they are doing. They are focused, and some of them have lowered their usual hysteria thresholds, enabling you to get really close to them. That’s weird, because most of the time, these same butterflies won’t allow you within 20 feet of them.

Comes the Question? What is this Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly doing? Resist saying that it is drinking water. There is a small stream just 18 feet from it, and that water is cool, clear and abundant. Don’t go with the butterfly is eating. Butterflies eat nectar and some consume scat (animal feces). There’s none of that there. No, there is no social aspect to this behavior. Let’s offer a hint:

Butterflies spend a good deal of time flying. Males often fly for hours, with short periods of rest. The Super Bowl is days away (The US football grand season finale). During the Super Bowl, if one of the players participates in play after play after play, his coach may take him out of the game for several minutes, to allow his body to rest, to intake liquids, and permit his body to do some quick internal repair. He is working like an overworked machine, and needs some equivalent of preventative maintenance. Back into the game he goes . . .

This male butterfly has been flying from about 8:45 A.M. until this photo was taken at 10:50 A.M.. This sustained flying time causes some muscle stress. That muscle stress results in damage to protein in those muscle cells. Ready to remove and replace those damaged proteins, the butterfly’s life systems realize that they need the minerals that are critical parts of muscle cell proteins. They don’t spend a millisecond stymied by how to find the mineral elements. They always get them from the same place, from the moisture  from wet trails. Equipped anew with iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, etc., they again have the ingredients to construct fresh, new protein molecules; to rebuild overexercised wing muscle and to fly again. Fly to find food, find mates, find shelter, and to flee when Jeff comes hurtling down the trail, whistling loudly, thanking G-d for all.

Limenitis arthemis astyanax. Beautiful, No?

Jeff

Celebrating 34 Days

Mourning Cloak Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Yesterday we posted here, seeking to encourage all that though it was -4F outside our windows, hang in there folks, because February 26th is coming, and with it snow drops and multi-hued crocuses. We enjoyed a fairly strong response to that message. Tens of millions of northeastern Americans are anxious to see this super-frigid weather vamoose.

This morning, on our drive to Chatham University, the outside temperature hovered between zero F and 2F. Out we trot further evidence that our doggedness will soon pay off. March 4th is a reasonable target date for finding Mourning Cloak butterflies on trails. They are often the very first butterfly to fly each year. I haven’t, but others have seen them flying with snow still covering its territory. They are heroic fliers, because most other butterflies will not take to the air unless the thermometer registers at least 60F. Our Nymphalis antiopa here goes through a shivering-like burst of activity, and that produces the raised body temperature needed to fly.

Last September we planted 8 pussy willow bushes, to attract Mourning cloak females. Willows are their preferred host plants. Wouldn’t it be great if they laid their eggs on those 8 willows? Whether or not pussy willows will attract them will remain to be seen, but I’d enjoy that alot!

So, March 4th, 2014 is just 34 days away. What a terrific harbinger of Spring that would be. Hike along your local trail, snowy spots left here and there…and OMG! isn’t that a…Mourning cloak butterfly, resplendent in not too worn mahogany, yellows and to top it off, sky blue spots!

Jeff

At – 4 Farenheit, How Can they Survive?

Jeff Zablow and his dog, Petra photographed by Jenny Jean Photography

Just awoke to find out that it is true. Here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the outside temperature is minus 4 degrees Farenheit! Does this frozen blanket of air cover all of the U.S. east of the Mississippi  river? Thankfully, our furnaces continue to keep our home comfortable.

How, how does the wildlife that we love so dearly, survive in this subfreezing weather? With a degree in Biology and a lifetime of reading much of what is available out there, I still struggle to understand how butterflies maintain their spark of life and keep their body parts healthy in this ice ball of an existence. Some are out there as eggs, delicate, teeny tiny eggs, hidden. Other butterflies await Spring in  their chrysalis or as caterpillars, in the leaf litter in your yard or at the edge of your tree line. Mourning cloaks and others remain hidden in holes and openings in trees. All of these timeless strategies confront – 4 Farenheit. How? Yes, intellectually I understand how they physiologically adapt (glycerols, etc.) but at the same time, it is near impossible to . . .

February is days away. That encourages me enormously. February 26th is my target day, for you see I have noticed that  for many a year, February 26th is the day that we here in northeastern U.S., first notice that the snowdrops have opened, and almost within minutes, the sweet, sweet crocuses will be opening too. Good, good.

Will I get to Afton, the Keys, Mt. Meron, Sandy Hook and Karner in 2014? Ahh to dream-

Jeff

A Man Can Dream….

Arizona arroyo habitat photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Tank Mountains Regional Park, AZ

Forgive me, but at this very moment it is +/- 14F here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with flurries occurring here and there. The cars moving outside my windows are doing so tentatively, and many of those drivers are driving through the snowy boulevard with much apprehension.

Skipping through our images poised for posting here, I HAD to stop and soak in the warmth, or actually the heat shooting out from this enticing scene, in an arroyo in the White Mountains Regional Park, 25  minutes or so southwest of Sun City West, Arizona. Umm, umm, umm! We are observing this spot at 9:30 in the morning during the first week of March, in 2008. The winter that had just ended was an unusually wet one, and in the 90 degree morning, the wildflowers blanketed the Park.

It was a good morning for observing butterflies, a good morning for drinking in the diversity and beauty of this wonderfully arid region, and it was personally a very good morning for me…very recently widowed.

Very soon, we and much of the rest of the United States will see this frigid blast end, and we will dream of arroyos, and bogs, and trails through sylvan woods, and just as we see here, wildflowers…everywhere.

Jeff