Monarch Caterpillar on Asclepias Incarnata milkweed plant

Monarch caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at at Raccoon Creek State Park

It’s  a good time to share this image of Danaus Plexxipus feeding on a healthy leaf of swamp milkweed  more formally known as Asclepias Incarnata. Why? you might be asking yourself.  As we review reports from NABA-CHAT contributors across the country, it has become apparent that Monarch caterpillars are scarce, verifiably scarce this year. Some people are so excited to find Monarch eggs and they are reporting their finds with much urgency.  For Monarch butterflies and caterpillars, it’s an unusual year for sure here in the U.S..

We do not know the gender of the caterpillar in this photograph. We do know that it was not a 2013 caterpillar and that it is an one of striking beauty. Central casting could not have produced a more handsome actor. All this in Nichol field at Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.

We’ve posted quite a few Monarch butterflies and caterpillars, as well as a Monarch chrysalis, illustrating an important point in the Monarch Caterpillar life cycle. All would have presented a great challenge to Tiffany or Van Cleef and Arpels or Cartier or David Webb, if their jewelry makers were assigned to replicate them.


Photographing Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies is a Challenge

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly at Rector, PA

The time is now. Spicebush Swallowtails are feasting on Swamp Milkweed, also called Asclepias incarnata flower clusters. Wings fluttering furiously. Raccoon Creek State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Number of butterfly species seen there to date? 62.

Photographing Spicebush butterflies on wildflowers is a challenge. They move incessantly. We must wait for good positioning, prepare fast shutter speeds as I was shooting manually, using slide film. Then I make that slow-mo approach. Once the left knee rests safely on the ground, less than 3′ from the butterfly. We’ve not lost the opportunity, then it’s shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. If it’s a fresh one, like this one, we may shoot 40-50 exposures.

Papilio troilus is a fast flier and most often seen flying 7′ – 10′ above the ground, often along trails or through forest. Less well know then other swallowtails, Spicebush deserve more, for they are flying gems. Flying gems.

I saw one this morning as I was watering the petunias, day lilies and roses in our front garden. How beautiful are they?


Gorgeous Coral Spots on this Hairstreak Butterfly

Coral Hairstreak Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

June 27th and the 2nd day in a row that I’d seen Coral Hairstreak butterflies. Ah those coral spots! This one is nectaring on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and will tolerate my close approach. Coral Hairstreaks are only found when the plants in the Milkweed family are in bloom; that would be Common, Orange and Swamp.My experience from over more than a decade is that they visit these flowers at mid-morning and disappear by late morning. If they reappear later in the day, I’d be surprised.

Satyrium titus differs from other Hairstreaks in many ways: It’s without a tail; is not found standing motionless on the shrub leaves; and lacks a blueish spot on its hindwings. Corals appear for not more than 3 weeks at a time. When you meet one, at first your eyes shoot right to those gorgeous coral spots and then, you value the sighting because you know that you may not see one again for a year. Some years they can’t be found at all! So a chance encounter with a Coral may be the last one that you see for 2 or 3 or more years.