My Heart Beat Jumps when I see a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Ventral View of a Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly on a Teasel Flowerhead photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Your heart beat jumps when a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly flies in! Mine does. You just never see them in pairs or threes, and do you expect to see one? No. East of the Mississippi River, they are a northern butterfly.

When this one flew in, and set on this Teasel flowerhead, I was so Thankful for being there, being there then. Add to that the Milbert’s slowly worked the Teasel flowers, one by one, methodically. Better yet, it did not flee when I made my long, protected Macro- lens approach. Icing on the tiramisu cake was that the one was . . . gorgeous. Just look at that flash of nourishing orange on the dorsal surface of that right forewing.

I’m humbled by such limited experiences. I expect that few of you have been so fortunate as I’ve been, to have met and spent many minutes with Milbert’s (this one went to several Teasel flowerheads before it flew).

Raccoon Creek State Park, Nichol Road trail, southwestern Pennsylvania, about an 8-hour drive from the Statue of Liberty boat landing.

(Teasel is an alien plant, FYI, although truth be told, many, many butterflies adore its nectar (as do bees, such as the one shown on the far side of the Teasel)).


Non Native Thistle in Canada

Canadian Thistle Wildflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

We meet this tallish thistle, Cirsium arvense in summer fields throughout much of the United States. Butterflies do nectar here, but it isn’t a popular destination, and those that visit spend very little time at Canadian thistle. So over the years we don’t post ourselves at the pretty blooms, because few if any good butterfly opportunities are had here. Here is Nichol field in Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Native wildflower? No. It’s a migrant from somewhere in Europe. The National Audubon Society‘s Field Guide to Wildflowers – Eastern Region dismisses this plant with “pernicious weed” and “classified as noxious in most states.” It’s fitting then that Canadian thistle seemingly  plays a minor role in supporting our native butterflies. Not an acclimated native, it is not naturally woven into the fabric of our indigenous habitat.

Digging further, I searched for Canadian thistle in my prized edition of Wildfowers of Western Pennsylvania and The Upper Ohio Basin by O. E. Jennings (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1953). We purchased the 2-volume set some years ago at auction. Canadian thistle is totally absent from Jenning’s major work. It’s an alien plant. Period.

How many of the wildflowers that we see are non-native? When we walk out our door we see the alien vines that are strangling the trees and shrubs of Frick Park, our verdant neighbor.