Are Monarchs Safe?

Monarch Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at

We’ve fretted for years, concerned that the numbers of Monarch butterflies was plummeting to crisis numbers. Up and down they went, and all of us kept our eyes and hearts peeled, awaiting credible reports back from the mysterious mountains in central Mexico. Just the realization, so recent for so many of us, that Monarchs had to travel to the east most USA from that far! made us cringe!

So here we are in September 2018. Many of us are sharing rich, beautiful images of Monarchs seen in our gardens, parks and roadsides, just these last weeks. Seeing them as if their numbers are good, strong.

Here in central Georgia, I’ve seen multiple Monarchs flying in my garden at the same time. That’s a whole lot better than I saw in this area in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Females have been laying eggs on my Asclepias (milkweeds) by the dozens. Several dozen have enclosed (safely left chrysalis and flown) these last weeks. Yippee!

This male on Joe Pye in Raccoon Creek State Park in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Can we rest assured that for the meantime, Monarchs are safe? Virginia? Monarchmama? Curt? Phil? Marcie? Jeff (Jamestown, NY)?


Miracle at Jamestown NY

Monarch Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania

Hadn’t seen a Monarch any of those several days spent in the Jamestown, New York area. Some east of Erie, New York, these July ’16 days were sunny and comfortably hot. Petra and I were happily housed in a neat cabin in Frewsburg, surrounded by hundreds of blueberry bushes in full, glorious fruit. Horses across the road, farm field abutting us, and birds about, galore.

That week we visited that hidden, basically secret acid bog, and were greeted by a flying squad of rare Bog Copper butterflies, amidst pitcher plants, sundew and native wild cranberry. We went to other wildlife hotspots, but the crown jewel of them all was the reserve at Jamestown Audubon Center. The wildlife greet you there and if that’s not enough, the friendliest , most helpful nature center staff existent, make it a . . . destination.

Working the trails at the Jamestown AC. I saw Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies, Eyed Brown Butterflies, Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillaries and much more, but . . . not a Monarch to be seen.

When I followed a Jamestown AC trail through a wetland, I looked down to the swampy habitat, and set my sights on a Swamp Milkweed plant, looking lush and in full, luxuriant bloom. Then, Battlestations! A Monarch flew in, and went straight, straight to the milkweed. A FEMALE!

I practically dived over the low rail bordering the trail, and fought gravity, which . . . sought to make me tumble over!! Brooklyn boy kept his balance (grad of OCS! too), and that whole ¾ of a second, I was praying internally, don’t fly, don’t fly!!

It was dark there, and I had no time to adjust my manual settings. OMG!!! She was not nectaring . . . . She was fresh, Shmeksy! and she was laying an egg, Ovipositing. Totally excited for a guy who has seen so much in his life, totally. Would she allow me to shoot her out, would she stay, would I have enough light, Oh, so many “would she’s!”

So please, give me a little license here to share, a not exactly perfect shot. Understand how much drama and suspense this image retains for me. Who said doing this is not FuN???


10 Reasons for the absence of Monarchs in 2013

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA

What are 10 reasons for the absence of Monarchs (Danaus p.) in 2013?



Identifying Male Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

You will always be asked, “How can you tell whether a Monarch Butterfly is a male or a female?” It is asked each and every time I show photographs before groups of adults and children.

It’s August 17th and this butterfly is resting on a Common milkweed leaf (Asclepias Syriaca) at Raccoon Creek State Park in Hookstown,  Pennsylvania.

This powerfully built butterfly demonstrates how to discern the sex of male and female Monarchs. Do you see that black patch on his left hindwing vein? Only males have these scent glands, one on each hindwing. If you see a Monarch and it doesn’t have two black scent patches, it’s a female. If it does have a black scent patch on each hindwing, it’s a male.

2013 has got to be a bummer for male Monarchs. With so few females about in the 48 continental U.S. states, males have more than the usual patrolling to do to find a mate, and begin the Monarch butterfly life cycle all over again. No time to waste!


How Does a Monarch Butterfly Keep its Wings Intact?

Monarch butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

The Monarch is the butterfly that almost everyone can identify. They earn the broad recognition and respect that we give them for the monarch caterpillar and chrysalis life cycle.

This female Monarch is nectaring on Joe Pye weed flowers and she is in full regalia. The orange that she is showing us confirms that she is ‘fresh’ and it’s an important means of quickly identifying her as a Monarch. No less striking are the bright white splashes found on her head, thorax and abdomen.

It’s no surprise that we’ve included several photos of Monarchs along with caterpillar and pupae. Their beauty and pluck fascinate us.

They are strong fliers and not easily approached…unless they are hungry. This one was and that’s why I was able to capture so much of its striking detail.

How has she been able to keep her wings intact, despite all of the the predators and dangers of her surroundings?