Upsetting . . . Very Upsetting . . .

Leonard's Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

March 27th and the USPS letter carrier delivers our latest issue of NABA’s American Butterflies (Vol. 21: Numbers ¾). Titled The Conservation Issue . . . I looked forward to reading about the successes that butterflies were enjoying across the United States That did not happen. Most of the articles left me upset and saddened.

Ann B. Swengel writes of the challenges that grass skippers were encountering in their tall grass prairie habitats . . . but soon she was examining the status of Regal Fritillaries in those same grasslands. I’ve wanted to photograph regal Frits for years now, knowing how limited they are in my home state of Pennsylvania. For various reasons, that has not been accomplished, yet. Jeffrey Glassberg reports in that same issue of American Butterflies, “Regal Fritillaries [were last recorded in Westchester County, NY] in 1975.”

Then Jeffrey Glassberg discussed the disappearance of Leonard’s Skippers from Westchester County. “The last individuals were seen in 1988.”  The last 2 colonies known were decimated by 1)a musical festival that apparently pounded them into the ground and 2) the construction of townhouses that destroyed their habitat.

I will never forget my encounter with Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus) in 2006. We’ve posted that experience earlier, so you are welcome to have a look. It was September 4th, sooo late in the season to meet something 100% new . . . and she was stunning! She flew onto the trail cut through the 100 acre meadow at Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania. She posed with her lush wings fully spread. After lots of exposures, she fled.

These reports are very upsetting. Have the small populations at Raccoon Creek State Park . . . undergone . . . I don’t want to think about it.

The American Butterflies articles go on to discuss the absence of Silver-bordered Fritillaries, Meadow Fritillaries, Coral Hairstreaks . . . can we not anchor the butterflies that we have, and guard their habitat?

Jeff

Which are the Southerners? The Northerners?

Red-Spotted Purple butterflies photographed by Jeff Zablow

Two of what you see were photographed in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Two were taken in Leroy Percy State Park in Hollandale, Mississippi. 980 miles separate these 2 parks.

Ok. Try this. Which images are the Southern (Mississippi) butterflies? Which are the Northern (Pennsylvania butterflies)?

Red-Spotted Purple butterflies (Basilarchia astyanax) are familiar to us through most of the United States, generally from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic Ocean. A huge expanse of territory.

Millions of square miles apart from one another. Surely that much separation produces lots of difference.

The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies (North America) (Knopf, 2012) advises that “Eastern populations have some red in FW [forewing] tips above. Butterflies of the East Coast by Cech and Tudor (Princeton University Press, 2005) notes that a “series off red-orange marks near the FW [forewing] apex is more prominent in the female.” Is that helpful?

Answer: The top 2 images are Pennsylvania red-spotteds . . . the bottom 2 images are Mississippi fliers.

Jeff

Yesterday’s Story . . . Demise of . . .

Darner butterfly in spider web photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rector, PA, 8/22/05

The morning at Powdermill Nature Reserve was happily beautiful. This birding research station, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, spans several thousand acres in the lush Laurel highlands of Pennsylvania.

The summer night had been humid, and dew covered almost everything. I had come to photograph butterflies, but I knew that spiders were now present in good numbers, and the expansive webs of argiopes were numerous.

This was a sad sight, though. An Elisa Skimmer (Celithemis elisa) had flown into an argiope web the day before, and this morning remained very much dead, covered with dew, and as with so many things, gave me pause, and made me sad. Why the demise of this magnificent creature saddened me? Beauty and grace on the wing…no more. Just it’s name, Elisa. Such an aptly named darner (dragonfly, if you wish). Once you’ve experienced death within your personal circle, death becomes ….

My copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders notes that Elisa skimmers are “widely distributed…but seldom becomes abundant.” Here we are reminded that wild populations have many outside forces that insure that they rarely become too numerous. Those childhood concerns that this spider or that silverfish or those flies will take over the world overlook the complexity of this amazing planet.

Jeff

Heinz Ketchup and the Phipps Conservatory

Gray Hairstreak butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA, 8/25/10

Here we are 3 days into Spring, and Pittsburgh thermometers read 38 degrees F, plus or minus. Most of the U.S. shares the same mood, popularized by those Heinz TV commercials, not long ago. A..N..T..I..C..I..P..A..T..I..O..N, there awaiting the tasty ketchup, born in this city and consumed nationally, and here, the retreat of wintry cold weather, and replacing that, beautiful moments like this one, Gray Hairstreak butterflies, nectaring peacefully on tall verbena perennials, Outdoor Gardens of Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory…one of the greatest botanical destinations in the world.

Verbenas are native to the U.S., though I’ll need feedback as to the origin of tall verbena. We’ve pictured this garden favorite several times before, noting how it is so easy to grow, produces flowers from June to October, and PUMPS nectar for just about that whole time span. Oh, and it is pretty, quietly, elegantly  pretty.

Strymon melinus is also a native butterfly, and it’s found across most of the United States. When fresh, like this instant one is, it is a gem, offering any who will lean in to examine it, a richly red patch with built-in black spot, against a fashionable gray fedora colored background, complemented by that tri-colored post median dash line, and those tails, those tails that often are moved this way and that.

The tail thing is fascinating. We see hairstreaks like this Gray, with birdstruck hindwings. Birdstruck? Some time in the last several days, a bird or mantid or lizard has attacked the butterfly. Concluding that the tails and red patches (with black dot = eyeball?), twitching this way and that, are the nutritious head, thorax and abdomen, the bird strikes! What does it often get? Just the posterior ends of the hindwings. The butterfly loses a bit of hindwing, but retains 90% of its ability to fly…so it goes on to live…

Heinz Ketchup, Yummy. The Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, Yummy. Gray Hairstreaks, Yummy. Spring and all of the above? Right, around, the corner.

Jeff