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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Monarch and the Pipevine Swallowtail on a Thistle

There was a time when I suspected I had seen a Monarch butterfly on my property. and it flew circles around me very fast, so it was impossible to take its picture. In those days, all varieties of milkweed were flourishing on my property, and Great Spangled Fritillaries were quite common and accessible. But the Monarch was rare and elusive.

Yesterday, standing out in the field, in an area I like to call the meadow, where a variety of wildflowers bloom, I had no trouble at all spotting and filming and even taking still photos of a Monarch butterfly.

There were no Great Spangled Fritillaries in sight, and also no milkweed. In fact, the milkweed flowers this year were all eaten by deer, so that even when an expert on milkweed asked me to help him by gathering seed, I could not. The flowers were never given a chance to become seedpods. If milkweed is to continue to grow here, it will have to propagate from the root and not from seeds. This is the reality when the deer are this plentiful. But the side benefit is that there is relatively little poison ivy growing in the meadow, because the deer appear to have eaten it down, and they also left generous trails around the flowers, which allow me to walk unmolested among the flowers.

Yesterday, standing in the field and texting to a far away friend in California, I was able to see not only a Monarch, but also a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly feeding side by side on a thistle plant.

The Pipevine Swallowtail was more flighty than the Monarch.

But when Swallowtail flew off, the friendly Monarch came and joined him, and the two continued feeding close together.

I have held Pipevine Swallowtails in my hand before. This is soon after they emerge as butterflies, when their wings are not yet dry, or after an injury. But when they are in their prime, they flutter so much that it is hard to get a good picture, because they are constantly flapping their wings.

They flap their wings so much even when hovering over a flower, that the closeups are a little blurry.

In any event, if there had been any doubt whatever that there are both Monarchs and Pipevine Swallowtails coexisting in my meadow, then this should set those doubts to rest. But sometimes it's not that no one believes you. Sometimes it's that they just don't care.

When I showed Bow my butterfly pictures yesterday, he quickly scrolled away from them, looking for pictures of himself, instead. In the same way, I don't actually believe any longer that if I could only "prove" that Bow can spell, it would make a big difference. Mankind is so transfixed by its own marvelous image, that most people, and especially those in the scientific community, would not look at proof that takes away from our stunning image.

But just when I thought that nobody was paying any  attention to my butterfly images, I got a comment from Scotland, about the thistle flower. "Wow! I didn't know that Scottish thistle grew in the USA!"

There was in fact another person locally who told me the thistle was an "invasive".  If so, good for it! Here is a song about the thistle that I like to listen to in my spare time.


  1. We have some indigenous thistles in Southern California. I always love the thistles, and so what if it is invasive. The Spanish broom plants were brought from Spain, and became invasive here in SoCal. However, the yellow flowers are fragrant, and the bushes are beautiful. A few years back some groups with influence with the state government got it in their idea we needed to return California to the way it looked before the Spaniards arrived, so they hired some firm and spent thousands of dollars spraying the Spanish broom plants on the main highway up the mountain. The bushes came back the next season, and I am glad they did.

    1. Hi, Julia. I agree. I am glad the Spanish broom was resilient, and I have no intention of doing anything to stamp out my Scottish thistle.