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


Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Compton Tortoiseshell Butterfly photographed in  Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Should I or shouldn’t I? This has been one among many debates that have been bouncing around in my cranium for some time. A Nymphalis vau-album once flew right past me and landed on a tree stump. OMG! It was gorgeous and about 10 feet ahead of me. Butterfly and I were at the Wildflower Reserve in Raccoon Creek State Park, southwestern Pennsylvania. I carefully made my approach, camera ready. I whispered a plea for Help from above (I did). I wanted this image sooo much. I began to lower my left knee. Then,……………it left at a very high speed, heading uptrail.

Several years have gone by, and several hundred trips into the field hadn’t found one Compton tortoiseshell. Here, on July 1, 2012 on Nichol Road trail in that same park, a Compton flew in. Another OMG! Cech and Tudor, in their superb field guide Butterflies of the East Coast, note that this species is “exceptionally skittish and hard to approach.” I knew that by now. So, I first took several pictures from a moderate distance and then began my approach (See the Technique feature found at the top of your screen). Yep. As I continued my approach this Compton sped away. Far, far away and out of sight.

So I do have an image of this northern U.S. species. Like other Comptons this one emerged from its chrysalis within the last handful of days, and would fly until late October or into November. They overwinter as adults, in trees or woodpiles. Come early Spring, they fly again, and seek mates. Eggs are laid, caterpillars feed upon willows, birches, aspens and cottonwoods. Adults emerge from their chrysalis in late June to early July.

You needn’t search for them in July and August. Why? Like other species of butterflies, they abhor the summer heat, and aestivate during those months. Aestivate? This means that they search for a hiding place, and in that safe place, begin a period of hibernation-like rest.

Quite a story, Huh? Of course you know a better image is very, very high on my list. Note: The further north that you go in the eastern U.S., the greater are your chances of spotting a Compton’s. But be nimble, because they are one cautious butterfly!


Milbert’s Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Butterfly at Raccoon Creek State Park

This our 2nd of 2 posts of Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly nectaring on  a Teasel flower in Raccoon Creek State Park.

As with our other post of a Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, my adrenalin started pumping when I saw this one. Truth be told, I’ve seen 3 in the past 13 years. There….I said it. When and where we we meet again? Quien sabe?

Would you just look at the stark contrast between the subdued colors/patterns of the wing undersurfaces (ventral) and the dorsal (upper) side, almost ablaze with reds and oranges!

Nymphalis milberti takes it’s name from a Mr. Milbert. He too must have been astounded when he first came upon this wing-on-fire treat.

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a heavy producer of nectar commonly seen along roadsides. It is a very popular nectar fountain. If you have considerable acreage, try and leave some stands of teasel undisturbed…it will summon winged beauties to your lot.