Posted tagged ‘monarch butterfly’

NYC October Animal Round-up

October 27, 2012

In early October, a cat and a man dressed in shades of green emerged out of the still-green leaves along Riverside Park.

walking the cat

Just out walking the cat.

The cat was completely calm and walked well on its long leash, unfazed by Esau the dog and other fascinated canines.

cat on leash

Walking the wall with kitty.

The man said he had started leash-training when the cat was still a kitten. He would head to Riverside Drive at 3 in the morning when the streets were quiet. Days passed, and they stayed out later and later into the morning as the city woke up, until the cat gradually became accustomed to the hustle and bustle of traffic, dogs, people and the rest of the urban hubbub. They are an impressive pair.

The man tries to get the cat to pose for a picture, but it has other plans.

Also on Riverside Drive, well-camouflaged sparrows filled the branches of a baby tree.

sparrows nyc

A sparrow tree.

Here’s a closer look.

A gathering of sparrows.

We paid a quick visit to the “Forever Wild” section of the park, where migrating warblers and nuthatches abounded.

dog and forever wild sign

Esau is forever wild.

Leaving the park, we crossed one of the islands, or medians, of Broadway, where we discovered a tiny corpse.

monarch butterfly corpse

A tiny corpse on Broadway

We bent to take a closer look. It was a monarch butterfly, looking as beautiful as ever, but with a strange yellow substance coming out of its underside. Are monarch guts bright yellow? I was not able to find any answers to this question, so, my trusty reader, please tell me, if you know.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly on Broadway.

Further down Broadway, a man sat on a barbershop pony, while talking with a friend.

NYC barbershop

Just another bit of Broadway.

Over at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, a squirrel hung upside down to gorge on berries.

squirrel hanging upside down

Upside down at the Cathedral.

We watched the little animal for at least five minutes, during which it remained upside down, calmly reaching for berries with its paws and nibbling away, as if this was its usual position in the world.

Eating berries behind the Cathedral.

  Two brightly colored animals walked the grounds of the Cathedral.

pink and blue

Two lovely creatures (well, four, counting the pigeons at the left).

We went back to Riverside Park at dusk, this time descending the steps into the park.  A raccoon lounged in the mouth of its den high in the retaining wall.

raccoon at its den

Raccoon gets ready to start its day at dusk.

A mother gazed at the raccoon, while her child gazed at Esau, tied to the chain link fence.

Raccoons high on the wall; mother and child below.

The sun went down, and the raccoon began its nocturnal prowl with a walk on the wall. Raccoons sometimes walk the wall on all fours.

Riverside Park raccoon

A walk on the wild side of the wall.

At other times they stand erect, looking like bulky little mannikins edging along a high ledge.

Raccoon does its “man on a ledge” impression.

When it got too dark to follow the raccoon’s progress easily, we went home where Esau took his stuffed dog to bed.

dog and his toy

Good-night.

The King is Dead: Appreciating a Monarch Corpse

September 30, 2012
still life with monarch butterfly

Late-summer still life: monarch butterfly with flowers and tomato

I’m still seeing monarchs here at the East End of Long Island, but the big wave of migrating monarchs seems to have passed.

In response to my earlier post on monarchs, Philadelphia nature blogger Donna Long of In Season wrote that the monarchs I saw flying southwest were probably heading to a well-known gathering spot at Cape May, New Jersey, where they rest before continuing south. And British blogger Mark Wilkinson of The Badger’s Eye, wrote from England to say that a monarch, apparently blown off course on its way to Mexico, had crossed the Atlantic and turned up in England. There it caused a stir among British birders, who trekked from far and wide to view the (to them) exotic creature.

Monarchs may not be exotic here on the eastern coast of the United States. They may even be ordinary. But as Julian Hoffman writes in a lovely post called “The Wonder of Ordinary Places,” there is a mode of perception whereby “the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary.”

Last week, after a night of fierce winds and some rain, I found a beautiful male monarch butterfly dead on the grass.

dead monarch butterfly

Lower body is coming through the top of the wings. (The legs are on the other side.)

The monarch is an extraordinary combination of fragility and strength. In the photo below, you can clearly see on the right one of the places where the wing has torn. (Note also the heavily furred body and the small bulb at the end of the antennae.)

Torn butterfly wing

Worn wings.

Yet this tiny animal is capable of flying thousands of miles to migrate to its winter hibernation spot in Mexico. In fact, scientists have reported that by the time monarchs reach their winter habitat, the wings are often torn and worn, sometimes severely.

Looking closely at the little corpse, I first wondered if it was deformed. The legs seemed to be located above the wings, as if on top of the body.

The rest of the butterfly’s body has slipped through the wings to the upper side.

A deformed monarch put me in mind of Shakespeare’s King Richard III, attacked by Lady Anne as a “foul lump of deformity.”  But in fact, the butterfly’s lower body has simply slipped through the opening between the wings and emerged at the upper side of the wings.  In other words, the legs are where they should be, but the lower body has moved.  According to my research, this is not an uncommon death position for a butterfly.

Deformities in butterflies are not uncommon and most often involve the wings. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it must dry its wings and allow them to “set.” If the animal falls from its perch or doesn’t have space to freely open the wings, the wings can crumple or bend.  In addition, if the chrysalis has been damaged during metamorphosis, the adult butterfly’s body will reflect that damage.

You may wonder how I can so confidently assert that this butterfly is a male.  Male monarchs can be identified by  tiny scent glands. Look for a small black spot on a vein of the hind wings, clearly visible below.

Scent spot on wing of male monarch butterfly

Scent gland visible on hind wing of male monarch butterfly

Scent glands, found on many butterfly species, emit female-attracting chemicals during courtship. Had this butterfly survived to complete a successful migration, he might have used these spots to court and reproduce next spring.

Instead, he’s part of a late-summer still life.

late summer colors

Late-summer still life 2.


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