Crescent Craziness

Crescent Butterfly (Pearl or Phaon ?), photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rock Hawk, Georgia

I’ve lived in New York City and I’ve worked in the heart of it, Manhattan. Before 9:00 A.M., at lunch time, and after 5 P.M. the sidewalks are packed with tens of thousand of people. Before 9:00 in the morning and after 5 in the afternoon, the subways too are packed, moving hundreds of thousands of folks each and every minute. Examining this image of a Crescent butterfly, I was reminded that when I was back in New York, everyone looked different to me. That was helpful when I taught, when I managed real estate and when I served in the New York National Guard.

This tiny little Crescent butterfly chose to stop and rest in front of me, on the nature trail at Rock Hawk Effigy and Trails in Eatonton, Georgia. Named for the rock formation that was revered by ancient Native Americans, the trail takes you through mixed woods, in the Piedmont region of central Georgia.

When I compare this with the images and descriptions in field guides, that’s when Crescent craziness challenges. We’re in the Deep South, so that creamy yellow forewing band on each wing suggests Phaon Crescent. Other upper wing patterns, and the orange club tip of the antennae remind that Pearl Crescents can vary widely in appearance. I want to say that this is a Phaon, but my cautious side says female, Pearl.

Didn’t have such dilemmas in the Big Apple. Could always tell one person from the next. Butterflies vex, offering a wide spectrum of nuanced color, pattern and detail variations.


Crescent Menu Please?

Pearl Crescent butterfly, (Full dorsal view), photographed by Jeff Zablow at Jamestown Audubon Center, NY
I know to give alot of room, when identifying Crescents in the field. Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes Tharos) vary from individual to individual, and can give you fits, because some are so variable, enough to tempt you to think that you have found a unique one.

Have a look at this female. She was nectaring in the reserve meadow at the Jamestown Audubon Center in Jamestown, New York. It’s those mid-forewing bands that triggered my curiosity. Yellower than I’ve ever seen, they reminded me of Phaon crescents, though I know that they fly hundreds of miles south of Western New York.

Some of the mystery slipped away after referring to Cech and Tudor’s Butterflies of the East Coast. They caution: “Female mid-FW [forewing] band often slightly yellow-toned (but less so than in Phaon [crescent]).”

When I turn the page in Butterflies of the East Coast, our girl starts looking a bit like a female Tawny Crescent, at least to me. Well Jamestown was once their range, but Cech and Tudor sadly note that Tawnys have disappeared from western New York post-1970’s.

So there you have it, Crescents are very handsome butterflies, but one must allow for a great deal of variation, and it’s a whole lot easier if you are well-schooled in identifying these winged beauties.


Butterflies Have Wings, Yes?

Pearl Crescent Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, August 2014No, not 5 minutes. You’ve got . . . 5 seconds. There in almost a blink of the eye, you set yourself down on your knee (my left) and check your aperture and shutter speed, via your built-in light meter. Look up. Good it’s still there.

Fast. Focus for eyes, abdomen, antennae, are you positioned correctly, with lens and butterfly properly aligned? A cloud comes from Huh? and reduces the available light. Readjust shutter speed. Still there, yes, Thank Y-u.

Lightning quick thought. Do I have the wings? Are the 4 wings focused? It is a butterfly, and you want all who see your image to think: What a beautiful butterfly. What kind is he? It’s almost always “he.” Save that bubbling question for another time.

The wings of butterflies are all exquisite. All of them. How do I know? I see them in real-time, usually from a distance of 18 inches to 24 inches from my lens. Who amongst us have viewed magnificent jewelry at Christies New York and Sotheby’s New York’s pre-sale exhibitions of magnificent jewelry? I have, many times. The wings of butterflies must give the craftspeople of Cartiers, David Webb, Van Cleef & Arpels, etc. fits, because they have never outdone H-s craftsmanship.

If the wings don’t sing to you and I, then the image didn’t deliver. It’s the wings, for butterflies. This Pearl Crescent flew in Raccoon Creek State Park, 37 miles west of Pittsburgh.


No, I’m Not a Monarch!


Pearl Crescent Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania, August 2014

Each day we learn more about animals. Dogs, we are now told, think. Cats do too. Those of us who spend considerable time amongst butterflies often wonder, do they, can they think? Problem solve? Do they flee because of instinct, or do they decide when and if to go?

Butterflies certainly might, if they can reason at all, exasperate, because we lavish so much attention upon Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Coral hairstreaks, Giant Swallowtails, and pay little or no attention to the likes of this stunner, a shmeksy female Pearl Crescent butterfly  (Phyciodes Tharos). She was warming up her wings on a sunny August morning along a trail in Doak Field,  Raccoon Creek State Park, on the western side of Pennsylvania.

If she thinks, then she must puzzle over why she sets there, very attractively lounging on a verdant leaf, while anyone who goes by asks, ‘Hey, have you seen any Monarchs yet this morning?’


Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Pearl Crescent Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

Pearl Crescents are smallish butterflies that we see at clearings along trails, in cut areas in public parks and in our home gardens.

In the Eastern U.S., Commas, Red spotted-purples, Emperors and Pearl Crescents are the dependable butterflies that monitor and escort you as you hike trails.

Phyciodes tharos ranks as an under-appreciated butterfly, more often than not registering disappointment when it is firmly identified and forecloses the possibility that you’ve seen something ‘special.’

Our female is nectaring on an Oxeye Daisy flower. Pearl Crescents are categorized as generalists because they will sip at a wide variety of flower species. Our female verifies this, feeding on Oxeye daisies. When such nectar pumpers as Milkweed, Teasel, Dogbane and Butterflyweed are in bloom, she is at this Oxeye Daisy. The other wildflowers have heavy traffic coming and going. Oxeye Daisies can go 30 or more minutes without a butterfly, bee or fly setting down to feed. Does she visit there to avoid the crowd?

Her wings are intact. She lacks the damage that many butterflies endure to the trailing edges of their wings. Believe it or not, the academics are yet unable to explain what if anything causes them to suffer little or no abuse from predators.

At August 12th at Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve on Rte. 30, two miles north of Janoski’s Farmstand, please join us from 1:00 to 3:00 Pm for our 7th Annual Butterflies of Western Pennsylvania presentation/field walk? We know that our friends in Canada, the U.K., India, Israel and Australia won’t be able to make it, but we hope you will join us. Swim at the Park lake, get your picked this morning produce, and enjoy our visual menu of winged beauties.