Gulfs?

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Thistle photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

How many Palamedes Swallowtails did we see those 5 days in Florida’s Big Bend Wildlife Management Area? I’d say 65 to 75 Palamedes. Spicebush Swallowtails? More than 5 Spicebush. Tiger Swallowtails? A good 10 or so. Georgia Satyrs? Some 15 or more. What I think were Zabulon Skippers? Probably 20 Zabulons. Viceroy Butterflies? About 20 Viceroys.

When I saw my first Gulf Fritillary, on our 4th day in the field, I was triggered. April 11, 2019, in the Florida Panhandle, and all we’ve seen was one (!) Gulf. When we climbed back into our truck the next day, April 12th, our Gulf Frit counted stood at that one Gulf Fritillary. Sunny, days, highs by 1:30 PM reaching 81F, and just that one Gulf.

I tossed that around in my head, and I’m still weighing the criteria. Passionflowers, the hostplant for Gulf Fritillaries were not seen anywhere that week, not in any of the diverse habitat that Big Bend boasts. Glassberg in his A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of North America cites them as “most common in late summer/fall.”

The Plan always impresses me. There is complex timing for all you’d see in such a destination as Big Bend WMArea. Regretably, the No-See-Ums (Sandflies ?) seem to resist such restraints.

This sweet Gulf here was seen in 2018 at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge along the Georgia coast in August, where there were then, legions like him, on the wing.

Jeff

Are You One Of The 54,000?

Regal Fritillary Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

Armed with my 90’s and 95’s in high school math, and my ‘D’ (Yep!) in college Calculus, I have endeavored to determine what fraction of Americans have ever seen this one in the wild. The results of my exhaustive research provide the shocker, some one in 54,000 of us have seen a Regal Fritillary Butterfly in its prairie habitat. That’s 0.000018 of us.

We had to take account of the extraordinary rarity of Regal Frits east of the Mississippi River, they found in just 2 different prairie/wet meadow habitats in Pennsylvania and Virginia. West of the Mississippi, their range is extensive, found from Oklahoma to  Dakotas, but know that their habitat west is very, very localized.

I saw this male in the extensive meadows at Ft. Indiantown Gap Military Reserve, not far from Penn State University. I registered for the annual 4-days in June summer Open House at Ft. Indiantown Gap, and it was so worth it. The sun shone all day, and the Regals put on a show, accompanied by Monarchs, Coral Hairstreaks, Great Spangled Frits and more.

I did not want to ever have to pack it in (cease my field work) without having introduced myself to these splendid butterflies. I am among the one In 54,000.

Jeff

Cliffs, Falling Rock, Arroyos & ‘Gators

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Pickerelweed blooms photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

This sure tantalizes, bringing vivid memory of that spectacular spot, with its pickerelweed growing in 4 inches of pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, on the Georgia coast. Stationed just away from the pond water, I was impressed with the diversity of butterflies that were visiting. Pickerelweed that must be pumping nectar, no doubt of that. This male Gulf Fritillary butterfly was fresh, complete (not bird struck) and hungry.

What’s the big deal? Harris Neck NW Refuge is loaded with alligators. At the time, the heavy traffic of beautiful butterflies to lush pickerelweed just could not be resisted. Even now, having survived the streets and all the rest, having taken guns from high schoolers back in Ozone Park, roaming the East Village before the East Village became what it’s now today, I sometimes (?) dissuade myself, internally arguing that risks are not as risky as they might be.

Might a 10 foot American alligator be near, just 15 feet from this spot? Isn’t it true that a ‘gator can accelerate, to cross 15 feet of pond’s edge in ‘x’ seconds?

Cliffs that give me the ‘Willies,’ Falling rock field where certain Satyr butterflies frequent, those Arroyos in Arizona and Israel where rain upstream can send a wall of water at you at what, 50 mph? Gators that are probably 5 times stronger than you think they could be?

Men who shoot butterflies are few and far between, and some of them devolve into 14-year-old -boy behavior when they see those certain butterflies, magnificent, exotic and challenging, no?

Jeff

Losing America: A Regal Retrospective

Mating Regal Fritillary Butterflies photographed by Jeff Zablow in Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, PA

The politicians here in the USA rage at one another. Put a TV or a video camera in front of them, and they fault all that the opposition is doing, no matter what the issue. Americans in this 2019 have become increasingly numb to the babbling of our politicians. We know that we can no longer hope for a lanky, young James Stewart to be elected, and go to Washington, D.C. to raise cane, all to improve life back home and across America.

We know, too, that over these last more than 100 years, all the bluster and speech making has had little effect on the overall quality of life here. Richie and Regina Rich continue to ‘fall in love’ with a pristine oceanfront lot, or a meadow with a sweeping view of a tony mountain or a forested area with high concentrations of Sassafras, Oak, Poplar, Walnut. Developers buy up land that supports amazing wildlife populations, and schools, shopping centers, industrial parks and myriad other uses distort sylvan land that beckons to them.

Regretably, the loss of wildlife continues. Those of us who care, cringe as we see evidence of this. We mostly feel voiceless, impotent, and we lack the powerful leaders who might sound the clarion call, but don’t.

These very rare Regal Fritillary butterflies are fine examples of how we, the esthetes, are losing America. If our elected leaders had noticed or recognized the slow march of death and destruction this last century, Regals would not have disappeared from at least 11 states east of the Mississippi River. Why? Their habitat is prairies and meadows. Prairies and meadows offer developers prime land, minimal expense for tree removal, excellent perc rates, together producing all the elements needed for good profit and few problems.

I found this mated couple of Regal Fritillaries at one the 2 last holdouts in the East, here at Ft. Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in central Pennsylvania. There is one other existing population in the eastern USA in Virginia. Both of these small colonies require the protection of the military, for their existence.

The male is seen below, and the larger female above. They are, drop dead gorgeous butterflies, and in our fancy schmancy America, they require the protection of the US Army and Air Force.

Irony, it ’tis, that so many march for ‘climate change’ and when a butterfly population faces imminent loss to development, . . . the sound of silence.

When will this be reckoned with?

Jeff

What Do Fritillary Caterpillars Eat?

Downy Yellow Violet photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Fritillary Butterfly are those Brushfoot butterflies that come in oranges, browns and black. Most of us know and love Gulf frits, Great Spangled frits, Variegates frits, Aphrodite frits, Silver bordered frits, Meadow frits and Regal frits, if you’re east of the Mississippi River.

Now that I’m relocated to Georgia, the fritillary butterflies here mostly deposit their eggs on Passionflower vines, easy to grow Southern garden favorites. Passionflower also attracts other butterflies, including Zebra heliconians.

The most common hostplant for Fritillary butterflies comes as something of a surprise, and are in most gardens. Fritillary butterflies mostly lay their eggs on violets. it still seems incongruous, that their caterpillar hatch on and feed upon these tiny little plants, present in the early Spring, and not so much as 4″ above the soil.

Shown here are Downy Yellow Violets, that I spotted in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Holli and Leslie would surely have me remind you, urge you, to please delay your annual leaf raking of your lawns, until mid-Spring. Why? Because Fritillary caterpillars spend the winter as chrysalises each with a rolled leaf around them, right there in the leaf drop sitting on your lawn. Rake your lawns in October/November, and you may be removing (killing) dozens of Fritillary cats, they, awaiting the onset of Spring weather.

Jeff