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!



Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

One of the Comments received asked where our post of a Mourning Cloak butterfly was? That was a fine question.

I remember several opportunities that I ‘ve had over these many years…in each case as I carefully, and I mean carefully set up/made my slow approach/check exposure/held my breath (for this may be my, shall I say favorite butterfly)…I would watch this magnificent butterfly fly away, leaving me with zero or surely too few images to hope to score a winning image.

Nymphalis antiopa is one of the most beautiful butterflies that I have ever seen, anywhere. When viewed up close in good morning light on one of those days when the sky is baby blue and the air is fresh, the blue, maroon and yellow of the dorsal (upper) surface are indescribable.

They are seen in March through June, vanish and then are seen again in late August through early November. Adults overwinter.

Shortly after my wife passed, I was on a trail in Raccoon Creek State Park and noticed a large butterfly flying about 30′ above the trail. I watched it go further down the trail, turn and fly back again…then it disappeared. I’ve gotten kind of good at following flight, so I was puzzled at how I had lost track of this one, which I now knew as a Mourning Cloak. Moments went by, I remain in place. I suddenly realized that it was on my hat. I remained transfixed. Frozen in place. Then…it flew up and up and up and went down the trail, turned, and came back again, still 30′ up…and continued on its way. I cried…….

I love Mourning Cloaks. This image is my best of a dorsal view. Enough.


Cabbage White Butterfly

Cabbage White Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

Pieris rapae nectaring on  Yellow hawkweed along the Nichol Road trail at Raccoon Creek State Park’s western boundary.

Why are so many of our posts photographed at this Pennsylvania state Park? It produces results, with an abundance of habitats, moisture, vast open fields all enabling me to identify more than 60 species within the park boundaries.

Our cabbage white has 2 black spots in the middle of each forewing, so we know he is a male. Females have a single black spot there.

Easily adapts to diverse environments, making this species a world traveler…encountered far and wide.

Many years ago we knew it as the European cabbage white. Only recently have I erased that first word from my lexicon.

One of the first butterflies to  be seen in very early Spring and one of the last to  be spotted in late Fall.