Giant Cats

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

You may travel to Paris, Nepal, New Zealand, and revel. Me, I bonkers! to travel to Putnam County, and well, revel! Maybe its those 12 or so years working in Manhattan, first from my East Village office on E. 6th, near Cooper Square, then on the 23rd floor on E. 43rd and 3rd Avenue, and finally uptown on E.87th, near the Mayor’s Gracie Mansion. Why, because when you’re in those locales, Paris, New Zealand and Nepal, are the guy 2 doors down, or the woman across the street. It’s that cosmopolitan thing, me thinks.

I never thought of caterpillars like this one back in those ’80’s. Those horizons were limited, growing my business then, and thriving my family and underpinnings were center stage for me. Then things changed, and our covered wagon headed to Pittsburgh. No more bricks/mortar, back to high school teaching (Biology) . . . and a probable progression to this pleasing pursuit, butterflies. No more street kid (with interesting friends), no more NYARNG with my cop buddies, no more AP Biology, no more H.S. Dean (Discipline) and those knives/guns, no more rising realtor headed to the stars, and with the kids almost grown, with Frieda A”H’s battle with Non-Hodgkins/Stem Cell transplant/Leukemia, I know I did a whole lot of thinking . . . retired and . . .

My horizons shot out in all directions, and conversely, to one direction. I wanted to produce good or better images of butterflies, in the wild. Not in France’s outlying places, or in the mountains of Nepal/rain forests or in everyone-loves New Zealand.

I am accused of getting giddy when Stanley Lines or Virginia C Linch lead me over to a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar in the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat, in inviting Eatonton, Georgia. This one, like the others, looks like bird Poop! Why does it look so much like a blob of digestive waste/uric acid lumps? How do they survive, as they remain in place, sessile, with predators available and nearby? Moult? Eclose? Fly?

This me, is so Thankful that my horizons are so rolled out, way out. In one year, this 2016, Giant cats, Eastern Pygmy Blue butterflies, Little Metalmark butterflies, Bog Coppers, Juniper Hairstreak butterflies, Zebra Heliconian butterflies, and a slew of new acquaintances, who demand that they are “friends.” I Love the ring of that. And the siren call of Texas, western North Carolina, Vancouver Island, and Maine, very northern Maine???

Giant cats? I just stand there and look at them. Stare. Most mornings in the field, I stop and I look up a bit, think of such as Giant cats, and whisper, Thank Y-o.


Caterpillars at Home in Pittsburgh!

Monarch butterfly caterpillar photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

See this? While watering my front garden in Pittsburgh this afternoon, for the umpteenth time I thought: Why are there no Monarch caterpillars on the gorgeous front patch of Common milkweed? Milkweed with a solid pedigree, purchased from Monarch Watch, no less. Six and seven foot tall plants, looking lush and strong, and watered whenever there is no rain.

Whoa! What is that on that leaf? Battle stations! Quick dash to get closer. Datta! Da! Dah! A monarch caterpillar, under a large leaf, about 4 feet above the ground. What an antidote to what was a day of way too much challenge. Then the search. There. There. On an adjacent milkweed, another caterpillar, again probably 3rd instar.

Just like y’all in Georgia, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Virginia and Massachusetts, Jeffrey now has Monarch “cats” on Jeffrey’s milkweed. I’ve seen only a single Monarch this year in Pittsburgh, and that was a female, flying in the side yard four days ago, late in the afternoon. Others have reported that they have caterpillars on their lots, but have barely seen adults. Explain that would you?

A happy camper, I.


NB, Soon will be posting butterflies from Georgia, Israel (including rare Parnassians), northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York.

Monarchs, Come Home!

Monarch caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park
What made me stop here? Well, awaiting my 67 new images, shot in Israel in March of this year, I just reviewed my Media library of images. Had to stop at this one. Why?

Like tens of thousands of you, I have, right this very moment, a spectacular stand of common milkweed (Asclepius Syriaca) in my front garden. It has a very good pedigree, having been nurtured by Monarch Watch.  The plants are 5-footers, and the flower heads are just a day or two away from opening. Lush is the operative word.

Every morning, afternoon and evening I take Petra for her exercise time. We stop, I lean over the fence and examine, looking here and there, just as they taught us to at Fort Dix, New Jersey: Scan, scan, scan.

Not a monarch have I seen here. I saw one much farther north, at the Jamestown Audubon Center in New York some weeks ago, and I saw a couple at the Briar Patch Habitat in beautiful Eatonton, Georgia, last week. But none yet in my native US plants garden or in the adjoining Frick  Park (900 acres+).

Yes I am anxious to see them and watch them eating my milkweed, some of the best Monarch caterpillar food there is. Would seeing their caterpillars excite me? Yuuup!

Monarchs, come home. We need you. Need you to reaffirm that all is good, or almost good.


A Tree Full of Them

Moth Caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania
They just don’t appear when I’m in the field. I want to come upon butterfly caterpillars, and I regret that I don’t have a treasure trove of images of this unique stage of butterfly metamorphosis. They remain in the shadows, or hidden from view, high up in trees, or unseen resting on the underside of ground hugging plants.

Those who have amassed field guides to butterfly caterpillars have earned my respect. Hard to do, for sure.

That explains my excitement when on September 27th I discovered a tree in Doak field, and on it were dozens of these chewing machines. Striking coloration, a pair of horn-like extensions just back of the heads, butterfly caterpillars? How could they not be? Which?

Checked my field guides for butterflies. No, no, no. These are moth caterpillars. Amazing critters they are, but . . . moth caterpillars. Back to square one, where, oh, where . . . why, oh why does my butterfly caterpillar cache not grow? ‘Tis not easy.


Caterpillar Common to 1/4 of the World (2)

Caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mt. Meron, Israel

June 2014 and I’m spending way too much time with this caterpillar and its buddy. No not in southwestern Pennsylvania. We’re on Mt. Meron in the upper Galillee region of Israel. Sure, almost all of you associate Israel with strife and bitter feelings. Nope. Most of Israel is serene, purposeful, and for sure, beautiful.

An earlier post here, entitled Fascinating caterpillars ID’d introduced all to the Mullein moth caterpillar, Charaxes Jasius. They remained on that same Verbascum Sinuatum plant for 2 days, at least. Munching and then resting, munching and resting. After that, I don’t know? Nothing and no one bothered them. Fat, juicy prey? Quien sabe? There was an endless number of potential predators nearby, but they remained unscathed. Protective toxins within? Coloration that mimicked toxic species?

Once Oz Ben Yehuda provided identification of this species, I was fascinated to learn that naturalists and the rest of us encounter them in North Africa, most of Europe and here in the Middle East. That is a whole lot of geography.