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.


Silver-Spotted Skipper Butterfly Amidst the Bricks

Gray-spotted skipper butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek S.P., PA

When I was teaching at South Vo-Tech High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (for our international friends, that is west of the state of New York), we… introduced a new Laboratory. My Biology students enjoyed this Lab each Friday. What Lab? I called it ‘Slide lab.’ Some 80% of my students were from low-income city neighborhoods. When I met them each September, they (97% of them) could not name or recognize a single local bird (robin, house sparrow, crow, blue jay…) or butterfly. They were children of brick, asphalt and concrete. This struck me as sadder than dirt!

I love to photograph wildlife. They were studying Biology. Thanks to my background (the streets of Brooklyn, National Guard Artillery, OCS and years as a Dean (Discipline) in a NYCity high school) we were getting alot done, and they were enjoying it. Honest. So… I invented Slide lab. If you have taught for a living, you will not be surprised to learn that school administrators were not happy about this Slide lab. It didn’t matter that the kids were learning about their own communities…this initiative did not come down from…. Cut! When June arrived, my students identified many, many local birds, butterflies, insects and wildflowers by name. This made me….

When my wife Frieda was spending so much time in Shadyside Hospital, I would occasionally encounter some of these students. Almost none of them went on to university, but there they were as custodial, techs and nurse assistants. They would see me, Up comes a big smile, then “Mr. Zablow?” Then, they would proudly rattle off the names of our local fauna & flora. Me? My heart, broken upstairs on that sad, sad 7W stem cell transplant wing…would suddenly Surge with HAPPINESS. Grown now, these men and woman were surely introducing their own children to the now familiar wildlife living right next door to them. City parks and empty lots no longer remained invisible.

Now to this Epargyreus clarus. That silver patch set in a field of dark brown enables all of us to recognize this butterfly immediately. They were ideal for my kids. Ideal. They saw them in their neighborhoods, They saw them in their playgrounds and they saw them as they walked home from the bus stop each afternoon. They averted their eyes from the many disappointing sights that summed up their surroundings…But they looked for and saw Silver-spotted skippers, and Cabbage whites and Orange sulphurs…and searched, searched those empty lots for the elusive Monarch or Red Admiral.

Slide Lab? What happened to Slide Lab?



Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

OMG! Bingo! Score! Thank YOU! September 14th along the front walk to world known Phipps Conservatory, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the middle of the city, 1/4 mile from the University of Pittsburgh…1/4 mile from Carnegie Mellon University, half of whose students have travelled thousands of miles to study there. There, surrounded by hundred of acres of verdant Schenley Park, our Nymphalis milberti hungrily sips the nectar produced by planted Tall Verbena.

I was there too, right time right place. What a rush! when a Milbert’s tortoiseshell flies in to a flower bed that you have staked out. This one tolerated the safe distance that I kept from it. My challenge was to avoid entry into the spacious flower bed, and, capture macro- images of the exquisite butterfly. It worked the verbena slowly and methodically. I had to be especially patient, as it seemed like hours went by, as it collected at each and every flower on the verbena flowerhead. My teeth grinding caution paid off, as it flew to these verbena, closer to where I was waiting. Pop! pop! pop! Pop! I shot away (slide film…Yes, slide film) and re-loaded several rolls of Fuji ASA 50.

I am pleased with this and a couple of other images. This is a beautiful butterfly. Enjoy the extraordinary upper wing colors, and contrast them with the stark ventral wing design. Yay! to the Craftsman who fashioned this gem of a creature. And Congrats! to these Milbert’s, who have straddled the 20th and now the 21st centuries, seemingly unaffected by all that we say and do.

Yesterday I picked up Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road for a second read. Now, that was a good decision. Joy in reading. Ah, if he would find this post and make Comment. Right place, right time, right share?


#1 for Posts that . . .

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

We have posted more than 240 Images of butterflies, wildflowers and habitat over these last 23 months. This photo of a nectaring Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly has distinguished itself by having been the most:

  • Viewed image?
  • Commented upon image?
  • Visited image in the Republic of China? Trinidad & Tobago? The Netherlands? in Canada? in the United States? Australia?

No. None of these is correct. This image has been the Most Shared of those more than 240 images.

It is a butterfly of great beauty. It is unpredictable and has frustrated many who seek to capture drop dead gorgeous images of it. You cannot wait for it at a chosen spot, because it may appear there tomorrow or not for the next 10 years. Certainly the teasel flowerhead has not been the pied piper here.

Please help us understand why it has been shared more times than any of the other images that are posted on