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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

I was thrilled this morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge to see that there are still quite a few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in our area, including this beauty that I was able to photograph as it was feeding on a thistle plant.

monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This spectacular Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) spread its wings wide and seemed to be posing for fellow wildlife enthusiast Walter Sanford and for me as we explored Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past weekend. We have a number of different dark-colored swallowtail butterflies in our region, including the black morph of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, and the Spicebush Swallowtail, but this is the only place that I have encountered the Black Swallowtail.

Whenever I photograph a swallowtail that is black, I will usually refer to a very helpful blog posting by Louisiana Naturalist that compares some of the identification features of the four different dark swallowtails.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A clump of what I think is Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnataseemed irresistible to a trio of Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele) on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. For a brief moment they coexisted peacefully, until one of them encroached into the territory of another and they all began to jostle each other for the prime spots.

I quickly snapped off a series of photos before the butterflies flew away. As is the case with almost any group, it was almost impossible to capture an image in which all of the subjects were more or less facing the camera and had interesting poses. It was roughly equivalent to trying to photograph a group of wiggly little children—single subjects seem easy by comparison.

Great Spangled Fritillary

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The beautiful Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is often featured in conservation efforts that focus on its dwindling numbers and shrinking habitat. It was therefore a little disconcerting to stumble upon a Monarch that had been ensnared in the web of a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) during a visit this past weekend to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have no idea how long the butterfly had been in the web, but it appeared to be totally immobilized. Spiders like this one, known also as Yellow Garden Spiders or Writing Spiders, kill their prey by injecting venom and often wrap them up in web material for later consumption.

I considered cropping this image to focus more attention on the spider and the butterfly, but ultimately decided that I liked the context provided by the elements of the spider’s web and the murky, out-of-focus background.

 

spider and Monarch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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One of the coolest looking butterflies in our area is the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). In addition to having beautiful coloration, it has amazingly long “tails” that flutter when it is in flight. It is not a species that I see very often, so I will spend a lot of time chasing after one when I spot it, hoping, often in vain, that it will perch long enough for me to get a shot.

This Zebra Swallowtail, which I chased this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, was reasonably cooperative, though it refused to open its wings to give me a view of its entire wingspan.

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I tend to associate Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) with milkweed, this Monarch was hungrily feeding on Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park. I am not sure why, but I have seen significantly more Monarch butterflies this summer than in the past few years.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was exploring at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend, I was thrilled to stumble upon this beautiful Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), a species that I have not seen in several years. In the field, I couldn’t remember the differences between a Painted Lady and the similar-looking American Lady. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on-line, including this helpful comparison page on bugguide.net that shows the differences between the two types. On the basis of the pattern of the eye spots, I concluded that this is almost certainly a Painted Lady.

Painted Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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