Summoning a Little Boy’s Fascination with Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars

Monarch caterpillar on Asclepias leaf, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

Just as quickly as I just opened this image of a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, the Little Boy in me showed up, summoned by the Mystery of this phenomenon. At the Butterflies & Blooms Briar Patch Habitat, in Eatonton, Georgia.

We have photos in my archival photo albums, of Jeff as a boy, in Brooklyn, at the beach at Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York and at the other side of that Peninsula, at the water’s edge of the bay. I have photos of Jeff on Grand Bahama Island, turning over rocks, searching for living things. That has long been a family giggle, Jeff, Dad, examine, searching, following, studying living things, usually bent over, crouching.

This Danaus plexippus caterpillar and its chrysalis just mesmerizes me. The color, the body plan, those true and false legs, its slow, plodding movement, that slower, carefree feeding. How it’s goes through instars, how it seemed too big to exit from its tiny egg. I grew up in Brooklyn, on the streets, and it took several years, when I moved to Pittsburgh, for me to lessen the need to always know who was behind me . . . and this larva packs its own defenses, without need to carry cold steel just in case. How with so many predators in its neighborhood, it has reached this level of success?

I’m telling you, this image just summons the Little Boy in me. Forget the image of me you’ve seen, that Little Boy is just . . . .


An Orange Sulphur Butterfly Feeding at the Juice Bar in Raccoon Creek State Park

Orange sulfur Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow a Raccoon Creek State Park, PA. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at

One of the most difficult of the Eastern U.S. butterflies to photograph (macro-) this Colias eurytheme. Most of the time we cannot tippy-toe up to them–they speed away once you are 10 feet away from them. Their escape flight is usually just 2 feet above the ground and generally to a landing 40 feet away!

This one though is at the juice bar, sipping at Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). Red Clover must be especially tasty. It’s visited by such a variety of butterflies and bees. While this Orange Sulphur butterfly was feeding at Raccoon Creek State Park in September, our very careful approach was tolerated.

Funny about things . . . Orange sulphurs migrated eastward from western states in the 1920’s and red clover was an alien wildflower, introduced from Europe. Neither were found east of the Mississippi when George Washington became our first President.

During this past winter, which carried this species through to Spring? Adult, Larva or Pupa or Egg?