Monarch Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwest Pennsylvania

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

We share with you one of the most fascinating butterfly images that I have ever photographed. In real terms, this is one of the 50,000+ slides we’ve processed.  It is one among the most enigmatic in the collection.

This Danaus plexippus female Monarch butterfly was resting on a wilted flowerhead in Nichol field in Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania. There may have been a bit of damage to the margin of her hindwings, an indication of the butterfly’s lifespan, but she was otherwise intact and beautiful. It was 10:20 A.M. on a sunny morning, and I decided to attempt to photograph her. I made my patented,  methodical approach.  Take a look at the Technique feature for more details.

I was within excellent range for my macro lens– just 12″ away from the butterfly. She remained in place and did not flee. What happened next continues to puzzle me. Why? Because I have approached several hundred thousand butterflies over the years and I have never seen a butterfly do exactly what this one did. I recently attended an international Congress of lepidopterists and when a researcher presented his study of butterflies and their ability to respond to visual stimuli, I noted this experience during the Q and A interaction – but without much response from the panelists.

What happened? She turned her head to her right, and looked at me. She paused. She fled.

I have never seen a butterfly turn its head before or since. I didn’t know that their heads could move to the right or to the left.

When she had flown away, I stood up and truth be told, puzzled over it.

(posting again after 26 days abroad)

Gray Hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

It’s July 29th in the Outdoor Gardens of our world famous Phipps Conservatory. In the middle of Pittsburgh, within view of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, our Strymon Melinus has spent the night, comfortably nestled nearby, asleep. Now it’s morning and time to eat! So, like most Pittsburghers, the butterfly’s shopping is done nearby, in the neighborhood.

This isn’t just any butterfly haven. The Outdoor Gardens at Phipps are closely managed. Each year they offer abundant, healthy perrenials and annuals for the enjoyment of their visitors as well as for the nourishment of the fauna who flourish there. This female is doing just that. The butterfly pictured here is actively feeding for the carbs, proteins and other nutrients available in the nectar, at the base of the flower.

When the butterfly backs out of the flower, the morning sun will spotlight her lipstick red patch at the margin of her hindwing. She uses the same visual pheromones as Mae West once did when she famously said, “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime.”

In the northeastern Unite States, Gray hairstreaks fly from late April through September, if not longer. Grays, and other hairsteaks, fly short distances, close to the ground, and usually are solitary. As noted in our earlier posts, spotting one is a Treat!