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

 

Monarch Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

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 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, 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.

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.

Jeff
(posting again after 26 days abroad)

Summer Azure

Summer Azure Butterfly photographed in Phipps Conservatory Outdoor Gardens, PA

I try to be at the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory as early as 8:30 AM. When I succeed at doing that (its 2.3 miles from home), I park, prepare my camera, and ready myself. Film loaded (Fuji slide), blousing garters on (a precaution – the same ones issued to me by Uncle Sam = they are among the best made things ever), 5-6 rolls of slide film at the ready, I enter the gardens area.

All that done, off I go. Who are among the first greeters waiting for me? Celastrina Neglecta. These pookies, as Michal would call them, are like the sirens that drew sailors to the rocks, only to be crushed . . . Why? Because we already have lots of images of Spring Azures (Celastrina Laden) and Celastrina Neglecta. But . . . I want even better ones. So, for 0.05 seconds I debate the use of precious film to seek 10 to 20 shots of this darling. You see the result.

August 21st and here’s the best of that lot. Wingspan of 1″. Wherever I happen to photograph, there are never other people. When others do happen to come along, wherever I may be, Phipps, National Wildlife Refuges, Toronto, wherever, I watch to see if they have a look at the butterflies that flee from their path. They almost never do. Almost all people neglect to stop and examine these tiny Azures, so dainty and so finely marked. Nor do I see curiosity about the commas, red-spotted purples and other butterflies that also avoid giant soles of shoes as they come crashing down on trail. I am amazed to this day . . . that more folks don’t want to savor the beauty that is within reach.

Like the elderly street-minders in Chinese cities, the Azures insure that you pass their stretch of trail safely, and then pass you off to the next trail monitor. You’re not alone on the trail from as early as March, through September.

Jeff