Enjoying Caterpillars

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars photographed by Jeff Zablow at 303 Garden, GA

Doug Tallamy probably would have relieved my curiosity. He would have explained that I rarely saw caterpillars because I wasn’t searching in the right places. Pennsylvania and New York butterfly caterpillars live on their hostplants. Want to see them? Then you must search for them in the right time, on their hostplants. When Cathy at Sylvan Natives Nursery in Pittsburgh put me on to Tallamy’s book, my horizons busted open: Caterpillars live on and feed on their hostplants, e.g., Monarch caterpillars’ hostplants are the milkweed plants, and Red Admirals’ are nettles.

I just never saw many caterpillars up until July 2017. Butterfly numbers north of the Mason-Dixon Line never exceed a few here and a few there.

When I relocated to Georgia, I planted hostplants in my new garden. Milkweeds for Monarchs; Sassafrass for Swallowtails; Passionflower vines for Gulf fritillaries; Hercules club for Giant swallowtails; Hop trees for those same Giants; Hackberry for the Hackberry butterflies; Spicebush for Spicebush swallowtails; Parsley and Rue for Black swallowtails . . . and several I Hope! – I Hope! – I Hope! plantings of Alabama Crotons for Goatweed Leafwings; Atlantic White Cedar for specials Juniper hairstreaks; Pearly everlastings for Painted Ladies; Pawpaws for Zebra swallowtails and Black Willows for Viceroy butterflies.

What I am able to report now, is that caterpillar numbers can be high, dramatically high here in the Southern USA. I’ve had satisfying numbers of Gulf fritillary caterpillar cats ( shown here on passionflower ) as well as good numbers of Giant swallowtail and Monarch caterpillars. Others that showed include Spicebush swallowtails; Black swallowtails and a single Variegated fritillary caterpillar.

These Gulf fritillary caterpillars were seen by the dozens, and they strip the passionflowers vine until there’s not a single leaf left.

Caterpillars in the southeastern states thrive, and they just thrill this young butterfly fan, daily.

Jeff

24 Years of Adoring this Wildflower

Butterflyweed at Doak Field photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

I’d visit the same spots in Doak Field, often just at the right time! What was I checking for every year? I was hoping to find Butterflyweed in peak of bloom, in this more than 100 acre meadow in Raccoon Creek State Park, 45 minutes west off Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We went there in the last week of June 2018. I vividly remember leaving the Nichol Road Trail and entering Doak Field. A 5 minutes hike through the cut paths in the meadow, and I arrived at the main ‘spot.’ Look here what I saw! The Butterflyweed plants were numerous and lush. In those last 24 years, there, I cannot remember a finer, more beautiful population of this milkweed.

I adore these flowers, for they often attract squads of butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, Great Spangled Fritillaries, Monarchs, Silver Spotted Skippers, the hardly ever seen Aphrodite Fritillary, various Skippers and my favorite, the Coral Hairstreak.

I’ve come to understand this amazing Asclepias (milkweed). It took those decades for me to fathom its puzzling behavior. I only visit it in the morning, a total of some 24 years of observing Butterflyweed.

I’ve learned that it only ‘pumps’ nectar for a very brief time in the morning, perhaps for 45 minutes or less, and that applies to the 10 or 20 or more found in those 100+ acres. Butterflies visit much when it is producing nectar, and then, usually around 10-ish in the morning, they stop coming.

I’ve come to expect to not see my beloved Coral Hairstreaks, for they often completely skip a year, even a year with a rich crop of Butterflyweed. I love those Corals, for they remind me of those good times, when Frieda A”H was with us, and how she loved Coral, and scoured here and there to find jewelry with richly tinted coral, she explaining that wealthy Chinese love fine Coral, and will pay a premium to the market to acquire it (reminds me of those many visits to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, especially Christie’s).

What happened this day, here? Did the Corals fly in, the others? No. Nary a single butterfly was seen on any of the Butterflyweeds. I went here again the next day, with the same disappointing result.

So Butterflyweed’s Big Mystery remains. Full, lush, gorgeous flowerheads, peak. Peak, yet it is clear that they are not the sirens on the rocks those days, drawing few if any butterflies to their full flowerheads.

I had my grandson with me this morning, and on the drive to Doak Field, I told him how I hoped to see just such Butterflyweed, told him how when they pump they resemble Grand Central Station in NYNY, and I forewarned him that we might see Corals, and that would be Wowwww! It was kind of sad that we didn’t see our Corals, or most other butterflies, but we did see prize-winning Butterflyweed, albeit very lonely Butterflyweed.

Jeff

Gray Hairstreak Swoon

Gray Hairstreak photographed by Jeff Zablow at Fort Federica, Saint Simons Island, GA

This one’s surely near the top of the List. What List? The List of butterflies that still stop you in your tracks, slow you down, and somehow force you to retrace your steps and come gawk at them. Approaching impossible is passing up a handsome Gray Hairstreak Butterfly without doing that, stopping to get closer, have a good look.

Equally difficult to do is take a good look at this, and Not capture a few exposures of it, de$pite the high cost of film and that.

What’s also on my List? Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, Palamedes Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails, those legions of tiny Carolina Satrys, Viceroys, American Ladies and Silver-Spotted Skipper butterflies.

Glad I am that I stopped to oogle this one, at Ft. Federica on St. Simons Island, that destination suggested by Virginia.

Jeff

Cloudless Sulphur Blush?

Cloudless Sulphurs Coupled photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

Dogs mate, and I quickly turn my head. Video of African elephants mating . . . I turn away. Horses go at ‘it,’ and I turn. Even Turdus migratorius, the American robin, mating, and I prefer to watch scenery instead.

Not with butterflies though. This pair of Cloudless Sulphur butterflies found one another, actually he, at the top of the image, found her. Despite or because of my great fondness for butterflies, when I’ve seen Monarchs, Regal Fritillaries, Zebra Swallowtails and Eastern Black Swallowtails couple up, I do not feel that necessity to divert my eyes.

We were at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge’s Wood Pond, and it was a relief to finally have at butterflies that were not in constant motion or did not flee upon my approach.

So, why turn away when a bull mounts a cow but stare when Eastern Tailed Blues reproduce?

Jeff