Zebra Swallowtails On The Beach

Zebra swallowtail butterflies photographed at Mason's Neck State Park, VA

I was amazed/shocked/ecstatic to find them. They were on a little sandy beach, at the edge of a small fresh water pond in Mason Neck State Park in Virginia. What’d I do? I approached them cautiously at a probable speed of .25 miles per hour. I kept thinking that I’d never seen such a sight before, and probably would never see Zebra coupled together like this again. My memory bank did an automatic audit, and I realized that I’d never seen Zebras like this. Those 13 summers spent with my grandparents in their tiny ‘bungalow’ in Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York left me with memories of couples loving on the beach, but no, no, these were Zebras Swallowtails.

My super-slow approach turned out not to be necessary. They did not acknowledge me at all, they entranced or whatever. I shoot Macro- so I had to get very close, that did not startle them. You ask how long they remained entwined? Nearly 45 full minutes, they barely moving. As we saw back in Rockaway Beach, on the Atlantic Ocean (Beach 65th to be exact), nothing bothered them that whole time, nothing intruded or saw them as vulnerable.

A Burt Lancaster and what’s her name, reliving splendor on the beach. To think that maybe none of you have ever seen such a scene before. Wow!


Zebras From Here To Eternity?

Zebra swallowtail butterflies photographed at Mason's Neck State Park, VA

Paw Paw bushes grew nearby. This tiny sandy beach encircle a tiny pond, all within view of majestic Chesapeake. The drive to Mason’s Neck State Park was lined with serious mansions owned by the DuPont family and friends, so I was told.

Zebra Swallowtail butterflies were new to me. That did not prepare me for this From Here To Eternity encounter. I was all agog, and I thought that they’d break that amorous embrace when I approached. Nope. They stayed as you see, intent on the ‘romance,’ for at least 40 minutes. My close approach, with apologies, did not startle them, not one bit.

This qualifies as a Caron 6. I’m trying to remember the actors in that movie? Can you help me, for this so evoked that long remembered scene.


Zebras Beached

Zebra swallowtail butterflies photographed at Mason's Neck State Park, VA

How many? I may well have shot between 50,000 and 75,000 slides of butterflies over these past few decades. Encouragement came from home, and that was enough fuel for years of fieldwork, taking me from Pittsburgh as far west as Arizona, and to the east to Ein Gedi, Israel, the HolyLand.

Butterflies seen? Countless. Memories? Wow! many. Cows menacing me, the city kid, who grew up “On the Streets,” and never knew a cow could glare. Then there was that Eastern timber rattlesnake that was such a cooperative subject in Rector, PA that this Brooklyner suddenly realized, Mwaw! was within easy striking distance of the 6-footer! There was the Yucca Giant Skipper that I did not see two days ago and then this beach scene on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, in Mason’s Neck State Park.

Butterflies flee your approach. These Zebra Swallowtail butterflies were so intent on their purposeful coupling that they disregarded my close approach with a macro lens, for more than a half hour shoot. I posted some time ago that this challenged my much earlier education in life, on the beach at Arverne, New York, and all those summers at Grandma’s summer bungalow. The unspoken common dignity then was to steer a wide berth around lovers entwined on the beach or under the boardwalk.

Funny then here, where I entertained this repeated unease at being intrusive; that I was not accommodating lovers on the ocean sand. They’re butterflies, but that’s what bothered me, Honest.

And yes, Virginia, there were Paw Paws growing there.


Splendor In The Sand

Zebra swallowtail butterflies photographed by Jeff Zablow at Mason's Neck State Park, VA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at http://www.wingedbeauty.com

With our recent focus on Zebras, Zebra heliconian butterflies, I’ve included Zebra swallowtail butterflies, but did not share images of those zebras. Let’s remedy that here.

At a small sandy beach at Mason Neck State Park in Virginia, on the shore of magnificent Chesepeake Bay, was where I happened onto this! Zebra Swallowtail butterflies, motionless and locked together in embrace. They were both very shmeksy! Zebras, with reds, blues, that hard to describe whitish-yellow and black framing all. Not ever seen such a coupled pair since.

Funny this. After spending 13 or so summers as a boy with my Grandparents, the Polisars in their very sweet little bungalow just one block from the beach at Beach 65th Street, Arverne, Queens, New York (AKA Rockaway Beach), the beach etiquette was unwritten but universal, leave couples locked in embrace alone. Steer the widest berth, and move on. The world was complicated then too, and I guess time away from life’s ying & yangs was understood.

This pair of Eurytides marcellus remained this way for more than ½ an hour, barely moving at all. The memory of Splendor on the Beach when I was a kid, made me feel a mite sheepish about moving as close as I had to with my Canon 2.8/100mm lens. Truth be told.

Predators left them, vulnerable as they are here, alone, for those Paw Paws they consume earlier in life make them toxic to the mouth of any fool bird or insect or lizard that might have the opportunity. Amazing, No?


Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly Exudes Elegance while Sipping Milkweed Nectar

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly at Mason Neck State Park, VA

Mason Neck State Park in Virginia and our Zebra swallowtail is contentedly nectaring on Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

A butterfly that exudes elegance. Elegance of form: It’s very easy on the eyes. Elegance of flight: It’s flight is direct and lofty, remaining well above the ground. Elegance of diet: Seen here taking milkweed nectar. Their preferred diet, Paw paw, is just 12 feet away.

Eurytides marcellus prefer habitat close to bodies of water, and our subject here is within sight of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Bald eagles were diving for fish nearby. What a beautiful sight that is. Picture it, baby blue sky, wildflower in full regalia, no wind, butterflies alight and Haliaeetus leucocephalus circling and diving for fish. Ummmm!

Just 1 hour from Washington, DC, much closer than that to the National Museum of the Marine Corps and reached by a road that is lined with gracious Virginia mansions, our Zebra swallowtail is in the right place at the right time.

Our other post of Zebras was also captured at Mason Neck. That post was serendipitous.