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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Here’s a glimpse of a pretty little Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) that I spotted last Friday while visiting Riverbend Park on the Potomac River in Virginia. The Eastern Comma is one of a pair of woodland butterflies sometimes referred to as the punctuation butterflies—the other butterfly is the Question Mark butterfly.

The easiest way to distinguish between the two butterflies is to look at the white markings in the middle of the hind wings. If, as is the case here, there is a single curved line, then it is an Eastern Comma butterfly. If, on the other hand, there is a curved line and a dot, it is a Question Mark butterfly. (Check out my September 2020 posting Question Mark in September if you are interested in comparing the two sets of markings.)

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was thrilled to spot this cool-looking Crusader Moth last week during a visit to Occoquan Regional Park. The distinctive pattern on the wings of this moth, technically a Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene), brings to mind the shields used by knights during the Crusades.

Although the context is completely different, it somehow brought to mind the opening word of one of the hymns that I grew up singing at a small Baptist church in Massachusetts—”Onward Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” My personal beliefs grew more tolerant as I grew up and the words of that hymn today seem overly militaristic and strident, just as the cartoons of my childhood now seem incredibly violent.

Crusader Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most of the time the photos in my postings were taking during a single trip to a particular location, but today I decided to mix things up a little. There is really nothing that links these three photos together, except perhaps the fact that they are all simple graphic images.

The first image shows a Banded Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis fasciata) perched on a curved piece of vegetation. Some Facebook viewers stated that they thought of the golden arches of McDonald’s, while others thought of the enormous Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I had no such thoughts and simply liked the curved shape of the vegetation as well as the rest of the compositional elements in the shot.

The second image shows a Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) with proboscis extended as it feeds on a plant that I think is Queen Anne’s Lace. I really like the minimal range of colors in the image and the way that the veins of the butterfly mirror the structure of the plant.

The final image is perhaps the most simple and the most abstract. A damselfly was perched on a leaf just above eye-level, its shape clearly evident in the shadow that it was casting. I was seized with an irresistible impulse to photograph the semi-hidden insect. If you click on the image, you will discover that one of the damselfly’s eyes was curiously peering over the edge of the leave and one tiny foot was sticking out too.

Banded Pennnant

Cabbage White

damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I was really happy to be able to photograph this Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus) last week in Prince William County as I was exploring a small pond with fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford. Quite often when I see one of these butterflies, it flits about and refuses to perch, but this one was quite cooperative.

Out of all of the different swallowtail butterflies in our area, the Zebra Swallowtails probably have the longest “tails.” Although this butterfly is in almost perfect condition, I couldn’t help but notice that one of its tails is already damaged and is shorter than the other one.

What is the purpose of these tails? According to the website bugunderglass.com, the tails are an “evolutionary feature. Birds love to eat butterflies and when they attack butterflies they go for the neck or body, which would be a clear-cut kill instead of a piece of wing. In response to this, swallowtails have evolved tail extensions that resemble their necks and body. Therefore, a bird will see these extensions as a “body or neck” and be directed away from the butterfly’s vital organs and fly away with a piece of wing, leaving the butterfly with its life.”

 

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted on Monday to see that Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is now flowering at Huntley Meadows Park, a local marshland refuge. Butterflies really seem to like all varieties of milkweed and I was thrilled to photograph several different species that were feeding on these fabulous flowers, including a Spicebush Swallowtail(Papilio troilus) in the first image; an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) in the second image; and in the final image, a Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus), a smaller skipper that I cannot identify, and a bee.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this beautiful American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) yesterday morning as I was exploring one of the trails at Occoquan Regional Park. There is a similar-looking butterfly called a Painted Lady and I had to wait until I got home to figure out which one I had photographed. The American Lady has two large eye spots on each hind wing, while the Painted Lady has four. The second image below, I believe, shows only two eye spots.

I love to try to time my butterfly photos to get shots when the wings are fully opened, revealing the butterfly’s inner beauty. In this case, though, I think that the American Lady butterfly is even more stunning when its wings are closed. Alas, I couldn’t move fast enough to get a good side shot before she flew away. The second shot at least gives you a general sense of how pretty she is.

American Lady

American Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Yesterday I spotted this beautiful little Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus) while I was wandering about at Occoquan Regional Park. There are more than 3500 species of skippers worldwide, but fortunately this one is pretty easy to identify. Many of the other skippers in our area are similar in appearance, with only slight differences in the patterns on their wings.

When I was doing a little research on this species, I came across this curious comment on the Butterflies and Moths of North America website, “The Silver-spotted Skipper almost never visits yellow flowers but favors blue, red, pink, purple, and sometimes white and cream-colored ones.” I am not sure whether the fact that this butterfly species has a color preference surprises me more or the fact that some scientist obviously studied and catalogued its behavior.

Silver-spotted Skipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Beauty can often be found in small things in ordinary situations. On Thursday I captured this image of a beautiful Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) feeding on a dandelion while I was exploring in Prince William County with fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. Although we were focused on searching for dragonflies, most of you know that I am an opportunistic photographer and will take a photo of almost anything that catches my eye.

I am not completely certain about the identification of this butterfly—I have trouble distinguishing between a Silvery Checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis) and a Pearl Crescent butterfly. In fact, I am not really sure if this is a dandelion or one of a number of small flowers that are similar in appearance.

The funny thing is, though, that I am totally unconcerned about the accuracy of my identification in this case. This image is more about art than it is about science. It is about light and color and patterns and details. I encourage you to click on the image and immerse yourself in the enlarged image. You will be amazed to see the speckles in the butterfly’s eyes and the flecks of pollen on its extended proboscis.

Beauty can often be found in small things in ordinary situations.

Pearl Crescent

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Tuesday I was excited to spot this pretty Red-banded Hairstreak butterfly (Calycopis cecrops) while visiting Occoquan Regional Park. These tiny butterflies are only about an inch (25mm) in length, so I had to get pretty close to photograph one. Fortunately this butterfly seemed preoccupied with feeding, so it tolerated my presence pretty well.

My macro lens allowed me to capture an image that reveals many of the butterfly’s wonderful colors and patterns. It is also nice to be able to see the little “tails” protruding from the hind wings that are responsible for the name “hairstreak” and the pattern of colors on the antennae.

Red-banded Hairstreak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Life can be rough when you have fragile wings. I spotted this Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) last Friday at Occoquan Regional Park and could not help but notice the significant damage to its wings. The damage might have actually happened last fall, given that this species overwinters with us as adults, awakens in the spring, and has a lifespan of 11-12 months, one of the longest lifespans for any butterfly.

As I poked about on the internet, I was intrigued to learn that this species is known as the Camberwell Beauty in the United Kingdom. I do not see Mourning Cloak butterflies very often—most of the time it is only when I am in a wooded area, rather than in a marsh or open field. When I do spot one, it is usually hyperactive and I rarely have the chance to capture an image.

The second photo below is the only other photo that I have managed to take of one this spring, and I took it from quite a distance away. Still, I like the way that it shows some of the butterfly’s habitat. I always have to remind myself of the value of these kind of environmental portraits—my normal tendency is to get close with either a macro or a telephoto lens and isolate the subject from its background.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was pleasantly surprised last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to spot a few Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Eurytides marcellus), including this one that posed momentarily for me. Generally this butterfly species is associated with the pawpaw tree, on which its larvae feed exclusively, but this one apparently spotted something of interest in the dry vegetation at the edge of the trail and decided to investigate it.

It is so exciting to see familiar spring species begin to reappear one-by-one.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is nearly impossible to miss the ostentatious displays of brilliant color as a succession of flowers and trees burst onto the springtime scene. Sometimes, though, they overwhelm my senses and I find myself more drawn to the delicate beauty of the tiny wildflowers that pop up in fields and forests.

Yesterday I was happy to photograph a skittish Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas) as it moved about in a small patch of Spring Beauty wildflowers (Claytonia virginica) in a forested area of Prince William County. With my macro lens, I was able to capture the distinctive “tail” and orange chevrons that help in identifying this tiny butterfly that has a wingspan of only ¾ – 1¾ inches (22 – 29 mm). I also managed to capture the beautiful pink markings of the spring beauties, including the anthers at the tips of the stamens.

It is easy to lose myself in this magical tiny world or perhaps it might be more correct to say that I find myself there.

Eastern-tailed Blue

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What do you call a group of butterflies? There are apparently many collective nouns for butterflies in English, but my absolute favorite is “kaleidoscope.” The word combination “kaleidoscope of butterflies” captures well for me the magical and fanciful nature of these colorful creatures.

I was excited yesterday when I spotted an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) fluttering about near a stream at Prince William Forest Park—it was my first “big” butterfly of the spring season. I was even more thrilled later in the day when a spotted this kaleidoscope of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails clustered together on a rocky ledge at water’s edge, engaged in what is often referred to as “puddling.” Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling”, drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles or even from animal droppings.

According to a posting by Westborough Land Trust, “When tiger swallowtails emerge from their chrysalises, one of the first things they do – especially if they’re male – is to head for a mud puddle. There they fill up on water and get minerals needed for reproduction. They suck water and dissolved minerals up through their long “tongue” or proboscis, which they also use to drink nectar.”

It is really early in the season and all of the butterflies were in perfect condition, with fully intact wings and vibrant  colors. I am always energized to see the emergence of new life in the spring in plants and in all of the small and large creatures that I love to photograph.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring day and I finally managed to photograph my first butterfly of the year, a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) that I spotted in the underbrush at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Within the past two weeks I have had several sightings of larger butterflies that overwinter as adults, including the Mourning Cloak and the Question Mark/Eastern Comma butterflies, but was unable to capture images of them.

This little butterfly almost certainly emerged recently from a chrysalis and is a female, judging from the two black spots on each of the forewings (males have a single spot on each forewing). Cabbage White butterflies, known by many different names, originated in Europe and have now spread to many parts of the world including Australia and New Zealand, according to Wikipedia.

I look at the butterfly as a beautiful little creature, but in its caterpillar form it is considered to be a dangerous agricultural pest that is responsible for large-scale damage to the cruciferous plants on which it voraciously feeds. As adults, however, Cabbage Whites butterflies feed on nectar from many flowers, including dandelions, red clover, asters, mint, and strawberries and do not cause any damage.

 

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It is now rare for me to spot an insect when I am walking about in nature with my camera. There is still a chance that I might spot a dragonfly—a few Autumn Meadowhawks are normally around in late November—or maybe a butterfly. I held off posting this image of a butterfly that I spotted a couple of weeks ago at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the hope that I would continue to see more.

Now I accept the distinct possibility that this beautiful little Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) may be the last butterfly of the season for me. Fortunately there will be new photographic opportunities for me in the coming months as I turn my attention and my long telephoto zoom lens almost exclusively to birds.

Pearl Crescent butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are still a few butterflies flying around, like this beautiful Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike most other butterflies that I have seen late in the season that were faded and tattered, this one seemed to be in perfect condition. As several of my Facebook friends noted, there is nothing “common” about the beauty of this butterfly.

Common Buckeye

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Flowers are slowing giving up their colors and fewer insects are flying as we move deeper into fall. It lifts my spirits to see the survivors, like this Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae) that I spotted during a trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the end of September. The Cabbage White may appear to be completely monochromatic, but if you double-click on the image, you can get a look at its beautiful speckled green eyes.

Cabbage White

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) are quite common in my area, but for some unknown reason I have not seen very many of them this year. I was therefore quite happy to spot this one during a recent visit to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In this image, the red leaf in the bottom of the frame helps to remind us that we are well into autumn and more and more of the foliage is changing colors or dropping to the ground—after a recent heavy rainstorm, the grown was covered with fallen leaves.

Red Admiral

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As many of you know, I am always excited to see a Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This season started slowly and after a few months I feared that I would not see any of them at all. However, late in the season I began to spot them at multiple locations. Often they were by themselves and only occasionally did I see two of them in the same location.

Imagine my joy when I managed to capture three of them in a single shot on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, long after I expected them to have migrated out of our area. The butterflies were feverishly feeding on some thistles that were flowering, probably packing in energy for the long migratory journey south.

I suspect that this will be my last sighting of this colorful butterfly species this year. I bid these three monarchs farewell and wish them a safe onward journey.

Monarch butterflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How long do butterflies live? According to most sources, Mourning Cloak butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa), which can live for 10-11 months, are thought to be the longest living butterflies in their range. I am always thrilled to see these darkly colored butterflies, which are known as “Camberwell beauties” in Great Britain, in the early spring and in the autumn.

Where are they the rest of the time? Mourning Cloaks spend part of the summer in aestivation, a hibernation-like state of inactivity to avoid the heat and lack of water. They are active in the fall, eating voraciously to fatten up and then overwinter as adults in another state of dormancy, often on the underside of fallen trees. In the spring, they reawaken to eat, mate, and die. In the north, there is often only a single brood annually, but in the south there may be two or more.

I spotted this butterfly on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It looked to me like the butterfly was getting nutrients from the soil or possibly from animal droppings—unlike some butterflies, Mourning Cloaks do not rely on nectar from flowers as a primary source of nutrition.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Have Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) started their migration southward? I thought that they were already gone from my area, but was delighted to spot this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in a newly blooming patch of goldenrod.

Is this butterfly a bit behind schedule? Perhaps this is a butterfly that started its migration journey from a point farther north and stopped in for a snack. Whatever the reason for its presence, my spotting of this beautiful butterfly added a colorful highlight to my day.

Keep your eyes open and look expectantly for colorful highlights in your own daily lives. That sense of joyful expectation will have a positive influence on your entire day.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The weather has turned cooler, but traces of summer still remain, like this tiny Summer Azure butterfly (Celastrina neglecta) that I spotted last Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Azure butterflies are among the smallest butterflies in our area, with a wing span of just over one inch (25 mm). My current approach is to shoot any insect that I can find—it won’t be long before they are all gone and I will change to a longer lens and focus primarily on birds.

Summer Azure

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This year has been full of question marks as our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic and so many of those questions have gone unanswered. Somehow, then, it seemed appropriate that I spotted this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) on Tuesday when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At this time of the year, when the leaves are turning brown and falling to the ground, this butterfly blends in well with its surroundings. This butterfly, however, did not seem interested in blending in and chose instead a rocky surface to help highlight the irregular shape of its wings. Normally Question Marks are more opaque in their brown coloration, but the sun was illuminating the wings from behind and gave us a hint of the beautiful orange interior and distinctive markings of this butterfly—I love it when internal beauty shines through.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the butterflies that I have photographed this season have been in sunny fields, where they are attracted to wildflowers or other blooming vegetation. Last week while photowalking in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I was thrilled to spot a butterfly that prefers a marshy woodland and captured this image of an Appalachian Brown butterfly (Satyrodes appalachia).

The colors of this butterfly species are quite subdued, when compared with those of a Monarch or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, but I love the beautiful brown-on-brown patterns on the wings and the distinctive-looking series of eye spots. There are several similar butterflies with slightly different arrangements of eyespots. I am relatively confident that this one is an Appalachian Brown butterfly, but there is a chance that it is an Eyed Brown butterfly (Satyrodes eurydice).

As always, I defer to those with greater expertise in identification—I have been humbled multiple times when I have confidently made an identification and have been absolutely wrong.

Appalachian Brown

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the years I have developed the habit of checking milkweed plants carefully whenever I spot them. Milkweed plants host an extensive cast of colorful characters including ladybugs, milkweed beetles, and Monarch butterfly caterpillars (Danaus plexippus). Though I have been keeping an eye out for them for the last couple of months, I was unsuccessful in spotting a Monarch caterpillar until this past Sunday when I finally spotted one at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This Monarch appears to be in one of its final phases of development as a caterpillar, when fattening up seems to be a priority before forming a chrysalis. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the edges of the leaves in this photo have been gnawed on by the caterpillar. This caterpillar seems to be a little late calendar-wise in its path to becoming a butterfly, but I did spot several Monarchs yesterday, so it seems that the Monarch migration has not yet taken place, or at least not in its entirety.

 

Monarch caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spotted this beautiful Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) last Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. When I first saw it flying around, I thought it might be one of the many dark swallowtail species that we have in our area. When the butterfly finally landed, however, I could see that it had no “tails,” not because it was damaged, but simply because it is not a swallowtail butterfly.

The name of this species has always confused me a bit. When I look at the image below I can see some red spots, but for the life of me I don’t see anything that looks purple. Nonetheless, I love the varying shades of blue on the butterfly’s body and the little red accents.

Red-spotted Purple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this pretty little sulphur butterfly last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Several sulphur species in our area are similar, but I think this one is a Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae). I was hoping that the butterfly would perch in a more photogenic spot, but it kept landing on a gravel road and appeared to be taking in salts or other minerals from the soil.

Cloudless Sulphur

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted this Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (Speyeria cybele) on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, because it was the first one that I managed to photograph this year. Great Spangled Fritillaries are generally quite common where I live, but somehow I missed them, probably because my photography forays have been sharply limited by the corona virus restrictions.

The butterfly was gathering nectar from a flowering thistle, whose specific species I cannot identify. I initially thought that the orange of the butterfly and the pink of the flower would not work together, but the more that I look at the image, the more I like the color combination. What do you think?

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I am pretty old, but I was not born in 1669. However, a Dutch painter, Maria van Oosterwijck, was fascinated by dragonflies and butterflies, as I am, and included them in a floral painting called Flower Still Life that she completed in 1669. Molly Lin Dutina, one of my faithful subscribers, thought of me when she saw the painting in a museum recently and wrote this delightful blog posting. Be sure to check out her blog Treasures in Plain Sight for more of her postings that are thoughtful, inspirational, and always a joy to read.

Treasures in Plain Sight

He seems to follow me everywhere! His interest in dragonflies, butterflies, flowers and nature in general keep me intrigued with his blog. Until he gets to the snakes. Then I tune him out. Yuck. https://michaelqpowell.com/2020/09/04/dragonfly-and-duckweed/

Because of him I am exponentially aware of dragonflies, though I cannot identify hardly any of them. As my oldest friends are aware I love butterflies, but Mike researches his and posts details about them. I merely admire. Well, except for the monarchs and especially their caterpillars. My husband and I garden milkweed especially for those!

Recently Bob and I made a trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum, wearing our masks and social distancing in the almost deserted museum. One exhibit was called “Women Breaking Boundaries” and this painting was done by Maria van Oosterwijck in 1669 entitled Flower Still Life. I was admiring the flowers: nasturtium, peony, tulip, lily of the valley, carnation or…

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Although I did a posting fairly recently featuring a Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), I like this image so much that I decided to give you another look at this striking species. I spotted this beautiful butterfly last Sunday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was gather nectar from some kind of thistle flower. As I mentioned in the previous posting, you can distinguish this butterfly from similar species by the orange dot on the lower wing with a black dot inside of it.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Zebra Swallowtail butterflies (Protographium marcellus) are usually in constant motion, so I was excited on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when the one that I was chasing landed. My initial shot was the second one below that shows the pattern on this butterfly that is responsible for its name. I was then able to circle around and capture an eye-to-eye shot, one of my favorite shooting angles for insects, and it was a bonus that the butterfly had its wings fully extended.

If you look closely at the second shot, you will see that this butterfly is a survivor. Both of the “swallowtails” and the lower portion of one of the wings appear to be missing. As I have noted in recent postings, butterflies somehow manage to fly and do most of their normal activities despite significant wing damage. If you are interested in viewing an image of an intact Zebra Swallowtail, check out this 2017 posting that was entitled “Zebra Swallowtail.”

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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