The Monarch Understudy

Viceroy butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Butterflies and Blooms Habitat in Eatonton, GA

I have always recoiled when I hear that Viceroy butterflies ‘mimic’ Monarch butterflies. It’s true that Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, and the glycosides that are highly concentrated in the milkweed remain inert (unchanged) in the Monarch caterpillars, and the Monarch butterflies that eclose from Monarch chrysalises are fully stocked with those very same, disgustingly bitter glycosides. We are taught that this adaptation of the Monarchs provides them with excellent protection from predators.

It may or it may not be true that selection has caused the Viceroy butterfly to closely resemble Monarchs. Either way, birds learn early that this look signals, “Leave alone, don’t even try to eat!” Experience has convinced that Viceroys like this one, show zero wing damage from birds (bird-struck), because the birds’ mommies taught them early, avoid that sort of butterfly, or retch uncontrollably should you forget that lesson!

That band of black, across the middle of the hindwing of this Viceroy, enables you to ID as a Viceroy. Time in the field also teaches, Monarchs fly high, with elegant wing strokes, while Viceroys fly more like jet fighters, fast and with much diving and soaring, yet always some 8 feet or so above the ground. Monarchs Love to nectar on flowers, Viceroys rarely are seen upon flowers.

Viceroy butterflies do not treat us with one of our biggest life mysteries, that is, How do Monarch butterflies, that have never been to central Mexico, fly from Maine, New York and Ohio, thousands of miles, to the mountains of central Mexico??

Viceroys have their own charm. They are less commonly seen than Monarchs. They prefer to be close to their hostplants, Willow trees and shrubs, which puts them in the neighborhood of wetlands (marshes, swamps, ponds & lakes, and wet meadows (fens)). That fascinating habitat includes cattails, red-wing blackbirds, Baltimore checkerspot butterflies, aquatic turtles, muskrat and beaver, birders seeking sightings of egrets, herons, rails, storks and ducks. Poetic places that when found, protected from billionaires and developers, tickle our imagination and treat our eyes. It also puts Viceroys, here in the Southern USA, at home with alligators, as we saw in Laura’s Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia) and in Neel’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (Florida).

This Viceroy here, seen in the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in my Eatonton, Georgia, affirms what some Butterfly field guide authors share, that the southeastern Viceroys are especially handsome, decked out in the stronger, more vivid oranges, black and white.

Understudy, the Viceroy? Nope. An authentic American Idol, no doubt about it.

Jeff

That Uplifting Giant

Giant swallowtail butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

She flew in yesterday. I spotted her as she spent alot of time first inspecting one of our Hercules Club plants. Satisfied, it seemed, with the vitality of our 2nd year in the ground Hercules Club, she spent several minutes deposits eggs on it, one at a time. It looked like our friendly Giant, Giant Swallowtail butterfly set 3 eggs on this plant.

Planted safely away from her, about 10 feet away, I smiled big time, for it was April 12, and here in middle Georgia, Eatonton, a healthy Giant was in our own yard, entrusting us with her precious eggs!

Did she leave right then? Nope. She spent more than an hour in our yard, searching and finding our other Hercules Club and Hop tree young plants. I think that she left her eggs on all of them. Friday sunset was approaching, so I couldn’t check them all for eggs.

Last year we set several Giant caterpillars in our newly purchased ‘cube,’ and managed to feed them all. I think all eclosed, and were released, to our significant joy and satisfaction.

This whole business of fostering the success of swallowtails leaves you with a very pleased sense. Seeing Mrs. Giant get the process going in the 2nd week of April, here in the Deep South . . . icing on the cake!

Our young Sassafras trees are off to a good start, our Rue is looking strong, Tulip Poplar trees are leafing well, Native Black Cherry look fine, Pipevine are strong, Willows are amazing, Spicebush are making up for a slow start their first year, milkweeds look happy, Plums are reaching for the sky, Passionflower are just now beginning to grow, Pussyfeet putting out good flower, Hackberry trees appear to be healthy . . .  Pawpaw adding inches. Might be that we’ll need to order that 2nd ‘cube.’ Wouldn’t that be fun?

Jeff

Red Banded Red Banner Day

Red-Banded Hairstreak butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

Yesterday it was that heroic Monarch that came to my Georgia garden. Imagine the rush for me, my garden, mostly planted with Georgia natives themselves hostplants for butterflies, is just beginning its 2nd year. She flew in, and spent more than one hour selecting milkweeds to deposit her eggs. When she had to couple will remain unknown.

Today, my eyes began their butterfly search work, when they spotted a tiny form flitting from one tiny yard bloom to the next. It didn’t fly like a diminutive moth, and when I approached, what did I see? It was a very tiny Red-Banded Hairstreak. Daddah! Its red band was not as showy as the one you see here, but today’s Red-Banded was fresh and not birdstruck.

Glassberg has them appearing “early spring.” That sure applies to the Red-Banded I saw today, April 3rd.

Another Red Banner day for my new Georgia garden, gifting me again with sweet butterflies months ahead of when I might have seen them 700 miles north, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The food in Georgia supermarkets is 27% cheaper. The clerks in local Post Offices greet you with a smile . . . and butterflies charm you, from February to late November. Just sayin.’

Jeff

I rubbed my eyes and it was real!

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

I went into my backyard today, and my right eye caught a glimpse of a large butterfly. I purposefully working the plants in the ‘shed bed.’ OMG! She was . . . a Monarch. April 1, 2019 and this big Monarch female was, and here again I was incredulous, she was examining my just budding out Asclepias.

I made a very slow, very robotic approach and she fled. I  saw her. She was not birdstruck, but she had lost many scales, and her orange was very dull.

I went to examine my other garden beds, and maybe 5 minutes later I went back to the shed bed. Just then she flew back to the shed bed, and began depositing eggs on my milkweed (Asclepias).

Minutes later she left.

Happily rocked, I smiled, for I had just met a female Monarch butterfly, who had flown all the way from Mexico to my yard in Eatonton, Georgia. A heroic Monarch, who rewarded me with her eggs, in my garden of all places. The eggs of a Joan of Arc, or Margaret Thatcher, or Golda Meier, or Christie Brinkley.

If she’d waited a bit more, I was tempted to practice my waining Spanish on her. But nope, she left, on April 1, believe it or not.

Jeff

The Eastern Comma’s Black Form?

Question Mark Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Jeff photographs thousands of butterflies, and every now and again his youthful curiosity is raised. Every so often he sees something, and wants to know why?

This Eastern Commas butterfly was seen at the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat in town, in Eatonton, Georgia. It was spotted with its wings were fully extended, early on a summer morning, while it rested on a flat leaf. I looked, and looked and wondered. Why was this Comma, just now out of its chrysalis, so heavily black on much of its hindwings? Why?

One guess, of mine, is that when it flies amidst summer greenery, the black areas of its wings hide it well, in the reduced light of the deep forest, that forest much darkened by the many leaves of the trees above. The ‘red form’ Commas fly when there are few leaves on trees, and a blackened rump area would only make them more easily spotted by predators.

And what do you think?

Jeff