Why Are Zebras Dangerous?

Zebra Heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Wildlife Management Area, Kathleen, GA

Zebra Heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Wildlife Management Area, Kathleen, GA

True enough that Zebra Heliconian (Longwing) butterflies fly with the grace and balance of a top ballerina in the New York City Ballet. I can attest to that. I can also affirm that there’s little difference between the curtain coming up at the start of the ballet and that first moment when you spot a Zebra, as we did here in Kathleen, Georgia.

Their remarkable elegance draws you, and that’s why they are vamps, dangerous butterflies.

During morning hours, Zebras are almost unapproachable. They usually do not allow close approach. as they glide amongst Passionflower vines. For those who have never, or almost never seen one, their appearance rivets, and if they are some distance from you, this usually has them in heavy growth, some 8 – 10 feet off trail, lots of us moved to them, disregarding all of the precautions we know and precautions that have been offered to us, wisely.

We have done just that, seeing one, and anxious to score worthy exposures. The operative thought is that we may not see them again that day, that month or for the coming years. So, in we go.

That day in beautiful Kathleen, with seasoned Mike watching, I again and again buffaloed my way into thick growth. The worst of it was that fire ant hill I planted my left foot on, and . . . shot away at the Longwing, until moments later . . . Accch!!!!! I can’t remember if I ended up sitting in the Emergency Room that night or not. I probably did, ’cause fire ants cause my hands or feet to react strongly, blow up to 2x their normal size.

After those !^^#!* fire ants educated me, I dashed out to the trail, and Thanked G-d that they were fire ants, and not a Copperhead or Water Moccasin or Eastern Timber Rattlesnake. Me standing in unknown knee high growth off trail in Kathleen . . . ? Dumb! Careless!

Here then we have one of the most dangerous butterflies in the Southeastern USA, Zebras, whose siren song leads you to unknown risk, possible deadly risk!

Yes I shot with a Macro lens, and no I don’t plan to go long lens.

Jeff

Enjoying Caterpillars

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars photographed by Jeff Zablow at 303 Garden, GA

Doug Tallamy probably would have relieved my curiosity. He would have explained that I rarely saw caterpillars because I wasn’t searching in the right places. Pennsylvania and New York butterfly caterpillars live on their hostplants. Want to see them? Then you must search for them in the right time, on their hostplants. When Cathy at Sylvan Natives Nursery in Pittsburgh put me on to Tallamy’s book, my horizons busted open: Caterpillars live on and feed on their hostplants, e.g., Monarch caterpillars’ hostplants are the milkweed plants, and Red Admirals’ are nettles.

I just never saw many caterpillars up until July 2017. Butterfly numbers north of the Mason-Dixon Line never exceed a few here and a few there.

When I relocated to Georgia, I planted hostplants in my new garden. Milkweeds for Monarchs; Sassafrass for Swallowtails; Passionflower vines for Gulf fritillaries; Hercules club for Giant swallowtails; Hop trees for those same Giants; Hackberry for the Hackberry butterflies; Spicebush for Spicebush swallowtails; Parsley and Rue for Black swallowtails . . . and several I Hope! – I Hope! – I Hope! plantings of Alabama Crotons for Goatweed Leafwings; Atlantic White Cedar for specials Juniper hairstreaks; Pearly everlastings for Painted Ladies; Pawpaws for Zebra swallowtails and Black Willows for Viceroy butterflies.

What I am able to report now, is that caterpillar numbers can be high, dramatically high here in the Southern USA. I’ve had satisfying numbers of Gulf fritillary caterpillar cats ( shown here on passionflower ) as well as good numbers of Giant swallowtail and Monarch caterpillars. Others that showed include Spicebush swallowtails; Black swallowtails and a single Variegated fritillary caterpillar.

These Gulf fritillary caterpillars were seen by the dozens, and they strip the passionflowers vine until there’s not a single leaf left.

Caterpillars in the southeastern states thrive, and they just thrill this young butterfly fan, daily.

Jeff

Who Knows Shrimp Plants?

Shrimp Plant photographed by Jeff Zablow in Eatonton Georgia

I waited, and my time arrived. For years, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I’d heard of the great magnet for butterflies, the southern Shrimp Plant. It a native wild flowering shrub that pumps nectar, I was told, and well, Jeff, you won’t be able to cultivate it in your Pittsburgh yard, for it’s a southeastern wildflower.

With the annual icing of Pittsburgh, that year (was it 2014 ?) when the thermometer did not rise above 0 degrees F for an entire week, and those 2 or 3 bad falls when I was walking Petra on icy sidewalks, and Oh No! a dog or a squirrel appeared, and she abandoned the heel position, and her 96 pound heft left me sprawled on the sidewalk of Squirrel Hill. Yes, the very same Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh where Bowers slaughtered 11 innocent Jews just 2 days ago.

Friends had become ‘snow-birds’ and split their year between “Boca [Raton]” and Pittsburgh. Me? I’d been traveling to Georgia to photograph butterflies, and the Georgia Piedmont beckoned me. The thought of gardening in February/March/September/October & 1/2 of November was an elixir, it was.

I had long dreamed of southern natives gardening, those Shrimp plants, Mistflower plants, Passionflower vines, Hibiscus, Pawpaw, Hercules Club, Mountainmint, Hoptree, Pipevine and more, all growing robust and strong in the affirmative Georgia soil.

One year in, I have that garden and more on a fenced in lot, and Petra is ecstatic.

Remains the question . . . this, my Shrimp plant. It’s strong, luxuriant and always bears flowers. Virginia gifted it to me (Thank you! Virginia). After 3 months of fine production, I have not yet to see a butterfly on this, my Shrimp plant. Friends in Shellman Bluff told me of its butterfly prowess. Mine? Zero.

Who knows Shrimp plants? Phil, Kelly, Ellen, Melanie, Heather, Virginia, Cathy, Mike, Jill, Lisa, Marcie and Debbi?

Jeff

 

The Ballerinas of Kathleen

Zebra heliconian butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Kathleen GA

Just one week ago, Virginia and Bartow invited me to follow them from Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge (central Georgia) to Mike Barwick’s home in Kathleen, also Georgia. Deflated ’cause of the sudden fail of my long trustworthy Canon 100mm/2.8 macro- lens, I thanked them but instead headed back to Eatonton.

I did so much mixed feelings, for last year I made the drive south on I75 to Kathleen, and was . . . well transformed back to a time ago when we had orchestra seats at the American Ballet in Lincoln Center. Mike’s home led to a trail that took us to a magical spot. Mike assured me that Zebra heliconian butterflies were flying, right there, amongst all of those passionflower vines. We waited, and they appeared. Oh My Goodness. They fly with the grace and beauty of accomplished ballerinas, or should I reverse it and paint the picture of prima ballerinas crowding around a Zebra heliconian, studying its every move? Only the flight of a Monarch, in my experience, rivals this sensuous and effortless flight.

When I returned to Eatonton later that day, my hunch was correct, Mike’s small population of Zebras was just about where Cech & Tudor (Butterflies of the East Coast) showed “isolated colonies.”

When I chanced it, and went repeatedly into the thick growth to capture closer images of the Zebras, I suddenly felt, “OUCH!!” I rushed out of that spot, and enjoyed my first PaInFuL experience with fire ants. Tiny Mike Pescis, they.

Last week Virginia and Bartow did get to Kathleen, met Mike, but discovered that it was a  bit too early for the Zebras to be flying.

Heliconius charitonius. They who evoked such Sweet memories, with Frieda A”H . . . .

Jeff

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, GA

It’s August and this Agraulis vanillae caterpillar is right on schedule. Satiated and secure in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. No stresses to manage. No family tensions, no TV, no texting, no horrendous news of the bloody battles going on in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. This one is just doing what Gulf frit caterpillars have done since who knows when?

Their hostplants are abundant here. Passionflower vines are found along the many canals of this one-time  rice farm, now National Wildlife Refuge. At the South Carolina – Georgia line.

Me, I was covered. Yep, covered in OFF insect repellant! It was a fresh batch of OFF! the woodland variety, and I was like an aircraft carrier during the Pacific campaign in WWII. Swarms of enemy above me, in this case, more than one species of mosquito. You don’t see our friend here being stalked, because not a single arthropod could be seen harassing it. Does anyone out there know why Gulf fritillary caterpillars possess such protecia? 

What pleasure it must afford these caterpillars, knowing that more than likely they will survive the metamorphosis to adulthood and they will be among the most beautiful winged beauties of all.

Jeff

N.B., I did once see an adult Gulf fritillary in Pittsburgh, in the Outdoor Gardens of the Phipps Conservatory. You just never know!