In the field, during those early years of seeking butterflies, I always became silent when I sought to make my approach. Silence ruled until I finished shooting, and only then would I talk. Some 10 years or so later, I abandoned that, and now I will speak to you, in normal voice, while I am at my usual 18″ away from a butterfly. One in 20 butterflies appear to flee when I begin talking to you. Nineteen of 20 do not react to my speaking.
This fresh, gorgeous American Lady butterfly riveted my attention, and on my approach, on that gravely road in Raccoon Creek State Park (southwestern Pennsylvania). I placed my feet down as gently as I could as I got closer to her (presuming this is a female), knowing that she could easily sense the vibrations I produced on the trail. She fled several times, alway flying in a lazy loop, to return within about 3-4 minutes. I was patient, and got this.
Some months ago, I recall reading something about butterflies, it sharing that they can hear. Can they?
We are a large enough group to expect that you can weigh in here, and share on whether or not butterflies can hear?
Why are so many southern butterflies so richly colored? We’ve already noted that with Viceroy butterflies, and I’ve noticed that, frequently, in my field work in the South. This American Lady butterfly flew into view at the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat (BBBPatch) in Eatonton, Georgia. Battle stations!, for this one was very sweet in its orange/brown, white spots, blue hindwing trailing spots and deep black markings.
Not a Painted Lady, that’s for sure. Why? See that isolated white spot on orange/brown field in the outer center of each forewing? That ID’s American Ladies.
This one fascinates too, for those light orange epaulets on the black fields at the front edge of each forewing.
You’ll forgive I hope for our being some distance from this baby, but on trails, American Ladies forbid approach. Honest.
Friends have posted their images of American Ladies recently on Facebook. One of those posts ( was it Kelly Sandefur’s? or Nancy Witthuhn’s? ) struck me, and I still remember that exceptional capture of the details of the Lady’s eye. I too enjoy the challenge of shooting out Ladies. They fly in at breakneck speed, nectar fiercely, and just as quickly as they arrived, are gone to a flowerhead not far away. You follow, they leave, and so on.
We’re here at the Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch, this my 2nd of 3 trips there this 2016. Painted Ladies ( Vanessa cardui ) were flying in good numbers, but this cousin of theirs, an American Lady ( Vanessa virginiensis ) was there also. I like the coincidence of this, Virginia pioneered this butterfly destination (irregardless of her modest protestations) and here we have this V. virginiensis reaping sugaries as a result.
Balanced on a Butterfly bush flowerhead, there was the challenge: Capture the busy colors of the ventral (lower) wing surfaces with the baby blue sky framing it all. I am mostly pleased with this, mostly. You?
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.