What is Your Favorite Thanksgiving Butterfly this Year?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

Zebra heliconian butterfly sipping nectar, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Kathleen, GATiger Swallowtail butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
My wife is at this very moment cooking and baking, all for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Dinner, here in North Macon, Georgia. Cherry pie, Linzer tarts and Stuffed cabbage. Me, I’m warmly thinking of the next days, tomorrow Thanksgiving Day in our Blessed USA. Saturday, my Birthday Day. The last weeks have drained me some, for I long for civility in our Blessed United States of America.

Thinking of good things, my mind went to a fascinating question. Which of the butterflies rates, deserves the honor of being the 2020 Thanksgiving Butterfly? I’ll tell you mine, and await you telling me yours. OK?

My candidates here are the Zebra Heliconian butterfly (shown in Kathleen, Georgia), the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (seen in Raccoon Creek State Park nectaring on Butterflyweed blooms) and the Monarch butterfly (seen in Raccoon Creek State Park, enjoying Joe Pye blooms).

My choice.? Today, I made many trips into the backyard garden, to water the newly set-in native plants (Blackgum, Sourweed, Asters, Irises, Sassafras’s, Nutmeg Hickory, Swamp Titi and more and more. It’s the day before Thanksgiving. the Monarchs and the Tigers are no longer seen, the Monarchs are gone to Mexico and the Tigers, hmmm. The whole time I was moving the watering hose (rubber) around, Zebra Heliconians were gracefully flying around me, sometimes within. 2-feet of me. I not once seemed to startle them, they probably males, seriously seeking females (?). I though about this much, Thanksgiving hours away here, and on November 25th, Zebras ballet-flying in our garden.

To the question, which rates section as my Thanksgiving butterfly for 2020. Zebra Heliconian butterflies.

May I ask which might be your Thanksgiving butterfly for this memorable 2020?

Jeff

Erato Heliconian Butterfly at the National Butterfly Center near Mission Texas

Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

This one sure has difficulty trying to hide in the near dark National Butterfly Center grass. Those bold, bright red stripes blare out at you. Makes you wonder why this rare butterfly, that occasionally visits there, wonder why it has those red stripes.

When it did finally fly, it flew down the trail, some nearly 150 feet, always in sight and it followed a straight-line path, some 4 feet above the ground. I watched, transfixed, for I saw something that intrigued me. During that straight-line flight, those red stripes were always visible, they actually were always easily seen.

My hypothesis? This butterfly must be toxic to predators that would prey on it. Those red stripes may signal habitat predators that this butterfly is toxic (poisonous), and should not be captured.

Do you concur with this opinion?

Jeff

Which One For 2021?

Zebra Heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Wildlife Management Area, Kathleen, GA

That’s what we love about butterflies, each year brings its own surprises and disappointments. Butterflies you looked forward to seeing in any given year sometimes don’t show up, and each year butterflies you have given up thinking about visit and bring a smile.

This year, just 6 months in our new home, in North Macon, Georgia, we aggressively planted perrenials, trees and shrubs in our back garden. The list is fun for us to recall: Hackberry trees, Swamp milkweed, Linden trees, Bear oak trees, Passionflower, Coneflower, Oak trees (post oak), Hercules Club bushes/trees, Liatris, Brickellia ( rare, rare), Hickory trees (Pignut, Shagbark, Nutmeg (rare, rare), Cardinal flower, Cosmos, Hibiscus, Iris (Blue flag), Spicebush, Crocosmia (Lucifer), Joe Pye, Ironweed, Lobelia, Basil, Black & Blue salvia, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Asters (Several Varieties), Buttonbush, Turtlehead, Atlantic White Cedar, Sassafras,  . . .  and more. Really, more.

The payoff for all the work that we did? Excellent butterfly visits and fulfilling caterpillar numbers. The Big Surprise? This 2020 season brought lots of Zebra Heliconian butterflies to our 800 Garden. Lots. Heliconius charithonia flies with the flight of a ballerina, and just stops you in your tracks, you watching that graceful flight with awe, me thinking where are we in the Amazon or in tropical Africa? Then I smile, thankful that no, we are here in Georgia, and this butterfly is real and inspiring.

So for us, 2020 brought Zebra Longwings. What butterflies will be plentiful in 2021? Ma’am, I have no idea.

Which butterflies would you like to see more of in 2021?

(This one was seen in the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, Georgia).

Jeff

We Ask Once More for Your Input

Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

We recently posted this image, of a very rare butterfly seen in Texas’ National Butterfly Center near the border wall. Seeing this Erato Heliconian butterfly was a Rush! for me, its stark beauty adding to the excitement. It hung around this gully-like area for more than 30 minutes, resting. It did change when it rested, but it did not leave the area you see here.

Several folks saw it, then then left to investigate other places in the NBC. Me? I returned to again enjoy this special treat. Soon after I returned to watch it, the Erato began to fly, and alone, with no one else there, I watched it fly away. How did it fly? It flew in a straight line, some 4-5 feet above the gully path. You could not miss it. All the time it flew those what? 180 feet, those bright red patches shone. There was never a moment when the red could not be seen.

That interested me alot. When cop cars speed to an accident or to a call, their flashing lights shine all the time, can be seen all the time. Same for fire engines, as well as for airplanes taxiing on a runaway. When my wife, late in the 9th month told me that suddenly her contraction were 1-2 minutes apart, that our 4th was coming, coming, I remember speeding through red lights, with our flashing emergency lights going, non-stop.

In that recent post, I urged all to consider this query, and share what they thought. Why did the Erato Heliconian butterfly flash its siren reds 100% of the time it flew?

Pyle, Pavulaan, Kaufman, Lehman, Zirlin, Cech, Tudor, Rickard, Linch, Delestrez, Glassberg, Childs . . . My shout out earned no hypothesis from any, be they expert or enthusiast.

So, again I ask, why do you think those big, bright red patches on the dorsal (upper) wing surface show 100% of the time that the Erato flies?

Jeff . . . Waits

26 Months of Waiting for Our Butterfly Cogniscenti Is Enough, No?

Erato heliconian butterfly (Dorsal view) photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

On March 22, 2018 we posted this image, the post’s title was Erato Heliconian at the National Butterfly Center in Mission Texas. There we described, with much gusto! my excitement when I met this rare butterfly.

I told of how I watched the Erato fly away, fly in a straight line, as a projectile might, not rising or descending, for what I gauge was no less than 150 feet or more beyond where I stood. I saw something that triggered my knowledge of butterfly flight.

That Erato’s bright red flashes were visible 100% of the time I observed it fly. It was as if the Erato had ultra bright red lights on its wings. My conclusion was that that non-stop display of bright, rich red must be an adaptation that broadcast to predators: Stay away, for I am highly toxic. To this day I am told that I walk with a certain how do you call it, going way back to my growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, that a message that it’s best to leave this kid alone, and enjoy your . . . teeth for another day. It worked for me, and I suspected it works for this Erato Heliconian butterfly.

I posed this question to all, and 26 months later, I can admit that I’m beyond disappointed at the lack of response from the leaders of NABA, the Xerces, The Audubon folks.

We all want to conserve our Butterflies, expand habitat, protect vital habitat, and increase the home planting of hostplants by a gazillion percent. Why don’t those who profess to be at the forefront of this good work have the presence of mind to support any and all who seek to also do so.

Yes, I no longer am a member of Xerces and now am no longer making good-sized contributions to the North American Butterfly Association. Such clubbiness is often counter-productive.

Jeff

I continue to await your opinions . . .