Puddle Clubbing with Swallowtails!

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An exciting tangent to my annual camping and fishing trip in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania is the opportunity to witness butterfly “mud-puddling”.

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Prime habitat for a puddle club of swallowtails: a gravel parking area along a mountain road in a heavily forested area, with plenty of mud puddles and sun.

Many species of butterflies puddle, but aggregations of eastern tiger swallowtails in the endless deciduous forests of this region are spectacular. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the Northeast.

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A “puddle club” of eastern tiger swallowtails

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Most puddling butterflies are fresh males and the event lasts but a few days in late May and early June.

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Do butterflies puddle due to a scarcity of nutrients, as an alternative foraging strategy arising from competition, or a combination of factors? There is still much to learn about puddling, but the most convincing hypothesis supports resource scarcity.

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Sodium ions and amino acids ingested by puddling male butterflies are transferred to females during copulation, enhancing egg production and survival.

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Puddling behavior is well known in gardening circles and there are many published strategies for creating butterfly puddle-clubbing habitat in formal landscapes. Once you’ve been immersed in a wild, surreal scene like this, it makes sense. Totally!

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Photos by NB Hunter (late May and early June, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Swallowtail Delight

It wasn’t all that long ago that I walked late summer meadows, mesmerized by the colorful show of monarch orange on goldenrod yellow. The event was predictable, and I took it for granted. The monarchs are mostly gone now, the curtain nearly closed. In later years, I read of the threatened status of Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies in a more southern state but, this time around, I did not take my frequent personal encounters with the species for granted. I captured everything – food plants, caterpillars, perching adults, feeding adults, and mating adults. A lesson had been learned. Butterflies are indicators of environmental health, particularly habitat degradation and loss, and many species are vulnerable. I now feel a sense of urgency when observing butterflies, and am compelled to seize the moment with a visual recording.

Currently, Tiger Swallowtails, a common butterfly in areas with deciduous trees and shrubs, are actively feeding on the nectar of Dame’s Rocket, a garden escapee that has become very prominent and widespread in natural areas. I searched the bloom for butterfly activity in mid to late morning (prime time), trying to capture elements of the erratic, fluttering flight pattern and vibrant coloration of these beautiful butterflies.

Click on an image and let’s go nectaring!!!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.