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.


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!



Eastern Comma Butterfly

Gray comma butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

It’s a HOT! morning at Raccoon Creek State Park. July 2nd and this Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) is patiently sipping a cool cocktail of trail moisture and minerals.

Meals feature scat (horses, raccoons, weasels, coyotes), tree sap drips and ripened fruit dropped from trees and shrubs. I can’t recall ever having seen a comma nectaring on flowers?

The ‘Comma’ in Eastern Comma? Examine the photo. Where is the marking that resembles a comma? Yes, you’ve found it.

You’ll find them on sunny morning along trails that are kept moist. Trails near streams and other moving water.

If you are like me and you favor the color brown, they are a treat to see with their waves of browns.

If you love Nature…Eastern Comma Butterflies are a treat because they are different…and remind us that there is more diversity out there and …we may never know it all.


Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly

Red-spotted purple butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Iridescence. Now there’s a word that we don’t run across to often. It’s the calling card of the Red-Spotted Purple butterfly. This is our 3rd post of one of them.

Those red marks on each forewing indicate that our subject is a female. Females are larger than males. Males are more usually seen sipping minerals from moist trails.

This trail, known as Nichol Road trail traverses Raccoon Creek State Park. A short distance from a small stream, a 15 minute pause here, say at about 10 A.M. on a sunny July morning will produce several species of beautiful butterflies. Try it!

Limenitis arthemis astyanax caterpillars overwinter. This means that at this very moment they are………………………………………………………


Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Eastern black swallowtail butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Magnificent jewelry on the wing! Fresh and resplendent.

Our 4th post of Eastern Black Swallowtails. This one with every single tiny scale in place, reflecting sunlight and refracting sunlight.

Take heart my friends, this gem was nectaring at Raccoon Creek State Park’s Nichol Road trail on May 24th.

Papilio polyxenes caterpillars feed on the leaves of members of the carrot family (parsley, dill, carrot & fennel) as well as Queen Ann’s Lace. This gives the larva some protection, as they become distasteful to predators.

Adults feed on flower nectar. They can be approached while nectaring… but the featured image was appreciated because they flutter their wings at a furious rate and it’s very difficult to capture the beauty of the ventral (below) wing surface.

One of those butterflies that sends my heartbeat racing when first spotted. What can I say? The big W. Wow!