Flying Jewels-Part 2

Who doesn’t like butterflies?! Lissome and lithe, their shiny, sparkling, shimmering bodies float from one nectar-filled goblet to the next on gossamer wings, sipping of the sweet life-sustaining syrup. Their habitat ranges from the mountains to the valleys, their sizes and shades cover a wide spectrum, and their metamorphosis from tiny egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult is almost too fantastic to believe. While I am one of many butterfly fans, I do not know much about these lovely insects, a shortcoming I hope to remedy.

One person who knows A LOT about these winged wonders is one of America’s foremost lepidopterists and conservationists, Robert Michael Pyle. I first learned about him by happenstance when I came across The Thunder Tree at a bookstore in Moab, Utah, in 2011. A memoir of his childhood in a still-wild suburb of Denver before it ballooned into the behemoth that supplanted vast, vibrant stretches of prairie with dead deserts of concrete, it elaborates on his burgeoning passion for butterflies. His style and passion for nature compelled me to buy Mariposa Road, the story of his Butterfly Big Year, but, alas, my good intentions were sidetracked by lesser pursuits, and his 550 page oeuvre has been staring at me accusingly from the shelf for the last seven years.

To avoid a similar scenario, when I recently noticed an advertisement for his latest publication, I did not waste any time, and devoured Magdalena Mountain, his first novel, in a few days. Set in Colorado and full of alluring descriptions of its high country and denizens, the narrative revolves around the amazing life cycle of the Magdalena Alpine butterfly (Erebia magdalena). Natural history is interspersed and contrasted with an account of the political, religious, and social changes that influenced this state and country, and the author’s affirmation of life and love (sexual descriptions are not limited to butterflies) runs through the suspenseful, lyrical narrative like a common thread. One of many possible conclusions I carried away: Only when we cease to look at life in an anthropocentric way will humankind have a chance to survive, and to leave behind a livable earth.

Inspired, I pulled the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies off the shelf where it had collected dust for even longer than Mariposa Road. My husband’s handwritten dedication indicated that this was a birthday present to me in 1998! It seems impossible that two decades have passed so swiftly, but I was equally as surprised to see that this tome was authored by none other than Robert Michael Pyle. Having come full circle, I finally leafed through its glossy pages and tried to identify some of the Colorado butterflies whose pictures I have taken throughout the years, Magdalena not (yet) among them. If I have erred, please correct me. I look forward to understanding more about these creatures who have been at the center of Mr. Pyle’s life, and long and luminous career.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)/Gemeiner Bläuling

Sulfur (Colias ?)/Gelbling

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui )/Amerikanischer Distelfalter

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui )/Amerikanischer Distelfalter

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)/Westlicher Tigerschwalbenschwanz

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)/Anis-Schwalbenschwanz

Phoebus Parnassian (Parnassius phoebus)/Alpenapollo

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)/Trauermantel

Western White (Pontia occidentalis)/? Westlicher Weißling

Callippe Fritillary, female (Speyeria callippe)/? Perlmutterfalter, weiblich

Callippe Fritillary, male (Speyeria callippe)/? Perlmutterfalter, männlich

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidermeyerii)/? W. Admiral

Click here for Flying Jewels-Part 1, my post about hummingbirds.

Click here for my post Monarchs and Milkweed, which shows the amazing life cycle of the butterfly shown in the topmost photo, and the many perils it faces.

52 thoughts on “Flying Jewels-Part 2

    • Es hat viel Spaß gemacht, liebe Brigitte, und frau lernt nie aus!
      Die Bläulinge suchen auf dem Boden nach Mineralien, wenn ich das recht verstehe. Ich habe sie schon öfter in Gruppen gesehen, und ich beobachte sie immer gerne.
      Vielen herzlichen Dank,

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I see from Wikipedia that “V. cardui is one of the most widespread of all butterflies, found on every continent except Antarctica and South America.” It’s interesting that what English calls a painted lady German calls a thistle butterfly. The species name cardui is Latin for ‘of the thistle.’ I see this butterfly on many kinds of flowers, not just thistles.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wonderful post! I think possibly the second fritillary might be the great spangled fritillary, going by the markings. I’m not even sure you have them in your area. Otherwise I think you nailed them all and I’m so impressed by your photos, and the different species you’ve found.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nur kurz, das Bett wartet und es ist schon spät, aber ich will noch sagen, traumhaft schöne Bilder hast du da gemacht. Wow! Und was für eine Vielfalt. Und so viele Bläulinge habe ich auch noch nicht auf einmal gesehen. Sehr sehr schön liebe Tanja! Liebe Grüße und Gute Nacht, Almuth

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dankeschön, liebe Christa. Ich kann mir vorstellen, daß es bei Euch einige andere Arten gibt, die ich leider noch nicht gesehen habe. Es gibt bestimmt einen Schmetterlingsführer für Eure Gegend, der würde Dir wahrscheinlich eher weiterhelfen.
      Herzliche Grüße zurück,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tanja, your narrative is once again a delightful excursion in English, so beautifully written. ❤
    This summer I got a macro les for my full frame camera. I didn't know how hard it is to capture those winged, flimsy wonders! Your gallery is most impressive, well done. Interesting to learn about the connection Nabokov – Pyle, the books are on my list now. 🙂
    Wishing you a wonderful Sunday,
    The Fab Four of Cley

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What joyful captures! Butterflies are one of the few insects people do not find repulsive and I think their variety of stunning wing color has something to do with this. Looking forward to hunting down “Mariposa Road” for a read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I actually think that many people are repulsed not by six-legged insects, but rather by eight-legged creatures. It is hard to find lovers of spiders, ticks, and mites…
      I hope you and I both will enjoy “Mariposa Road”.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Tanja – I confess that I know very little about butterflies. I think they are beautiful and enjoy seeing them when out hiking; but, had never given them much thought. Your post has encouraged me to take a closer look at them. Thank you so much for the inspiration! – Jill

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes me very happy, Jill. My experience has been that I appreciate animals and plants more if I know a little more about them. But, unlike Mr. Pyle, I will never become an expert on butterflies. My bird brain does not have sufficient space for both. 😊🐦🦆🦉

      Liked by 1 person

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