Yes to Both Questions . . .

Tawny Hackberry butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA
We see fewer and fewer Tawny Emperor butterflies at Raccoon Creek State Park. A recent email from someone who monitors the insects of Pennsylvlania included the Tawny amongst the rare and uncommon butterflies. I hope this is not the future for this brown masterpiece. Most encouraging is the abundance of its hostplant, Hackberries, tree and bushes.

I’ve shared this image with many groups of adults and children. Question #1 usually is, “Is this a moth?” No, it is a butterfly. Prominent head, relatively slender body and antennae (the plural) consisting of a pair of long stems with a club at its end.

Question #2 often expresses curiosity about those antennae. We have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils. Our Tawny has those 2 antennae. What do they do? Robert Michael Pyle’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies ( Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) writes that “Antennae are probably used for smelling as well as for touching and orientation.” The antennae seen here are quite long, each with a whitish club. Looking at these antennae, see how their length enables them be aware of what is going on around them.

So ‘Yes’ to both questions. If you have an additional question, “A female or a male?” The answer to that one is . . . it is difficult to tell the sex of a Tawny, unless of course you are another Tawny.

Jeff

Male Monarch Butterfly

Monarch caterpillar 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. No time to waste!

Jeff

 

Teasel

Teasel Wildflowers at Raccoon Creek State Park

Correct. You don’t see any butterflies in this photograph. What you do see is a wildflower that nurtures butterflies across most of the continental United States.

This ‘weedy’ plant is now in bloom here in Pennsylvania and its siren scent draws many, many species of butterflies to its tiny pinkish flowers.

I’ve always been fascinated by why some perfectly attractive species of wildflowers draw few if any butterflies, bees and flies…while other gnarly-looking wildflowers are packed with hungry fliers!

Dipsacus fullonum is not that easy on the eye, I think. It’s nectar must be hard to resist, though. From 8:30 in the morning and for the next 2 hours, teasel is heavily visited.

It’s not native to this continent. It sure has made itself at home here, growing along roadsides and in fields.

Teasel serves as a solitary sentry during winter, prickly stem with dried flowerhead enduring the severest of frozen winter wind.

So teasel nourishes our winged beauties across there U.S….and is here to stay. Teasel.

Jeffrey

Spring Azure Butterflies

Spring Azure Butterflys at Raccoon Creek State Park

May 17th on Raccoon Creek State Park’s Lake trail. A departure from almost all of our other posts, some will recognize what they see here and it will take a moment more for the majority of you?

Celastrina ladon is a tiny butterfly that flies early in the Spring (so its name) and is one of several Azure species found in the eastern tier of U.S. states.

On the trails that they prefer, it is easy to overlook them, as the fly away ahead of your approach. You will also encounter them as they fly over cut meadows, searching for clover and other small flowering plants. Overlook them and you are missing an intriguing butterfly, whose caterpillars, for example, are ant-tended. “Ant-tended?” Yep, their caterpillars are watched over by ants. Now why would ants do that? Azure caterpillars exude a sugary material…the ants value this unique source of nutrition, and so guard the caterpillars from harm’s way. And just how and when did that relationship get started?

That white material that these 3 are taking in through their proboscises? The uric acid in the waste dropped by a large bird. Huh? These butterflies that we see here are more than likely 3 males. Male Spring Azures spend most of their time flying. This extreme activity burns a great quantity of energy and causes much wear and tear of the proteins in their flight muscles. To replenish that energy and to replace those spend proteins…such butterflies need ready sources of the elements nitrogen, sulfur, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus,etc. So now you complete the puzzle. Why are these butterflies so focused on consuming the uric acid left by a bird? Neat huh?

In May and June Spring Azures begin to disappear from their habitat and the closely related Summer Azures take flight. Year after year after year.

So much to be learned about such a tiny, tiny winged beauty!

Jeffrey