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

The Dog Days of August

Darner butterfly and grasshopper in spider web photographed by Jeff Zablow at Rector, PA, 8/22/05

What thoughts shoot through your mind when your trail brings you to this? It’s August in Powdermill Refuge in Rector, Pennsylvania (45 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh). You’ve already noted several large webs, all spun here by Black and Yellow Argiope spiders. Webs were notable for their composition. Each seemed to have its own unique design. Some held tiny insects, other webs, web strands, naked.

This web. Oh, look. Location. location, location, as your realtor will tell you. This female Argiope has the Laurel Highlands equivalent of New York’s Madison Avenue & East 57th Street or crossroads in London, Paris, San Francisco, Mumbai or Munich, the last 5 of which I do not yet know.

This early morning view is an eye full, and a little upsetting. Her strong protein fibers have captured and held an Elisa Skimmer (“widely distributed in northern states and Canada, but seldom becomes abundant” – National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders) and a grasshopper I am not able to identify. The grasshopper has been skillfully wrapped around in numerous web threads, the skimmer has not been wrapped. Both are still and surely gone.

Dreamers who aspire to piloting swift jets daydream of flying with the skill of Elisa skimmer. Field and track athletes certainly admire the feats of a grasshopper. All the soaring and jumping . . . stilled by those mighty threads.

What think you of this scene?

Jeff

NB, I thoroughly admire Argiopes and orb weaver spiders, complicated as these situations can be. Also, that morning, I saw no butterflies in webs. To be honest…Good.

18,000,000 Wait . . .

Monarch Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park 

April 20th, 2014, and 18 million Americans wait. Additional tens of millions of naturalists and esthetes around the world wait, too. They wait to see if this beautiful moment will again be seen in fields and flowery margins from the Rocky Mountains east to the Atlantic coast. Will Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) return from Mexico and decorate flowerheads, like these Wild Bergamots (Monarda fistulosa)?

My estimates may be too low. Almost every American child learns about the incredible migration of Monarch generations from the mountains of central Mexico to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Connecticut and Maine. When their schoolteachers assure that these seemingly delicate butterflies actually do make the trips, children internalize a lesson: Determination and sticking to the task lead to reward and success.

Critical trees continue to be illegally and legally cut on those Mexican mountains, genetically modified crops and other agricultural initiatives that reduce the milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars require, and untimely frosts and storms during the migration north all jeopardize the Monarchs of 2014.

I will also add Common  Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to my own garden, adding to the million of gardeners in the USA who are planting them to support Monarchs.

I just have to believe that they will return, and flourish, and return back to Mexico in September…and savor that moment, when at Raccoon Creek State Park I turn my head and Yes! A Monarch!!

Jeff

 

Wildlife and Not so- Wild Life on the Trails….

Cow photographed by Jeff Zablow on Northern Golan Trail, Israel, on 3/20/12

How well do you know your state’s cattle? She’s grazing in Texas? Louisiana? Kansas? New Mexico? Calgary? New Jersey? Montana? Baja California? Holding out for Colorado? Gotta be Utah? If you held out for more choices…you’re a gifted bovine identifier. She’s sampling tasties along  a trail in the northernmost Golan, at the extreme north of Israel.

Rachel and I found ourselves facing a bunch (?) of these behemoths, on our way back on a trail that had descended to a small river. An earlier blog described our nimble response to this challenge. Louise of Pittsburgh Commented that we had nothing to be concerned about…cattle want to do one thing and one thing only, eat. But you know, Louise wasn’t there on that remote hill with us. Nevertheless, city-dad and suburban-daughter did puzzle over this Excuse Me!

With winter gone, we look forward to getting back onto other wilderness trails. What wildlife will we meet up with? Record-breaking drought west of the Mississippi may well have skunked our plans to hike Colorado, or Arizona or California  or Washington mountains and valleys. Grizzlies, cougars, wolves, rattlers and much more may have to await another year for an encounter with Jeffrey.

I have shared trails, fields and forest with an assortment of macro-organisms. All that I can recall communicated about the same message – They were more than uncomfortable near me, and like the huge Israeli boar I startled last year, shot away from me at impressive speed. Others seen include species of wild dogs, alligators, white-tail deer, fox, marten, and a 40-pound long-tailed cat (in southwestern Pennsylvania, of all places). Rattlesnake in Rector, PA.

Which wildlife have made me wary and sent my hand down to the steel I bring along? Dogs. Domesticated dogs traveling in pairs. In Rector, PA two large dogs continued to advance on me with the wrong look on their faces, turning only  when I gave them my patented dog-warning wail and at the same time confronted them with shiny, pointy steel.

Out to see butterflies, delighted to see other wildlife…wary when the wildlife reminds me of guys I used to share those Brooklyn, NY sidewalks with…. But then, that’s me.

Jeff