Readers’ wildlife photos

June 21, 2015 • 9:00 am

Reader Jacques Hausser from Switzerland sent some lovely photos of lepidopterans:

Pieris brassicae, the large white or European cabbage white. Family Pieridae. One of the most common species in Europe, but it was also observed recently in Michigan. USA, watch out for your cabbages !


Polyommatus icarus, the common blue. Family Lycaenidae. Their are zillions of species in this group, all rather similar to each other. [JAC: The underwing pattern differs considerably from that on the tops of the wings, which is what gives the insect its name. I’ve put another view of this species below.]


The common blue (dorsal view)

The small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae. Family Nymphalidae. This beautiful butterfly is becoming rarer and, according to Wikipedia, that is apparently due to global warming: the caterpillar lives on nettles (which are not disappearing!), but during severe summer droughts, nettle leaves don’t have a sufficient nitrogen and water content for the caterpillar’s needs.


Argynnis paphia (Nymphalidae), the silver-washed fritillary. Four males very interested in a female (the second from right). Males can be recognized by the four longitudinal blackish marks above the veins on the forewing. These are actually regions of modified scales called androconia, which emit male pheromones. I was surprised to learn that the caterpillar feeds on violets.


Zygaena transalpina (Zygenidae).  In english it could be called the transalpine burnet (Actually I didn’t find an english name for this species – which is NOT the six-spotted burnet). Moth or Butterfly ? I don’t care, that’s old taxonomy… and they are just beautiful!

JAC: Important biology lesson! Note that moths and butterflies are not “natural” groupings in that butterflies appear to be derived from one group of ancestral moths that is nested within other ancestral moths. Ergo, some moths are more closely related to the group known as “butterflies” than they are to other moths. In other words, the group “moths” is a paraphyletic one with respect to butterflies. While moths tend to have morphological features that group them together (e.g., clubbed antennae, like the one below), that doesn’t mean that all moths are more closely related to each other than to any butterfly.


Regular Stephen Barnard contributed three photos of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) with a note:

These are super spooky. As soon as they see you, they take off. They’re nearly tame in some urban settings, but not here. I think it’s because  some landowners shoot them because they eat fish. Highly illegal, of course — Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. I’ve noticed that they spook when I point the big camera lens at them like a firearm. I know with certainty that they’re discouraged from building rookeries by shotgunning the nests. I like seeing them because it means the creek has a healthy fish population.



28 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. I’ve often wondered about the butterfly/moth distinction. Thanks, JAC, for the “biology lesson.”

            1. The moth is also a collection of personal stories broadcast on NPR. But these are true stories, so the moth must be real.

      1. Beats my clumsy distinction which was “see it at night – moth. See it in the day – butterfly”. 😳

  2. Great pictures. The butterflies put me in the mood to go out and try my luck around here today. I should add that we have a zillion of the small white cabbage butterflies (Pieris rapae) in in Michigan, and I doubt anyone would notice some larger ones.
    I do see a lot of tortoiseshells, but where I live we also get a lot of rain.

  3. I experience the same regarding the Herons here at our place. Very spooky and hard to get close compared to other birds. The only way to get anything other than long telephoto distance is to stay indoors and catch them close to the house. Even then, if they see movement in the window, they are gone.

  4. Beautiful butterfly shots especially! There are lots of common blues at the Butterfly Pavilion at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

  5. I don’t normally pay too much attention to the wildlife photos (unless they contain bonus biology info!) but these are pretty amazing. The blue butterfly with the black and white fringe is absolutely gorgeous, and the red spotted moth is striking.

  6. Beautiful herons!
    I remember about 3 years ago someone with, I think, a fish farm of some sort shot numerous blue herons grazing on his fish. The DNR found out and fined him thousands of dollars. So, the law is enforced here on the Hudson River. This spring we see from several to dozens of the birds every time we go out on the river.
    Also worth noting, the bald eagle has made a terrific recovery here. About 10 years ago they were very rare. Birders would report a single nest to great local excitement. Now they are quite common.

  7. There is a large local pond near our theater, and a parapet for the humans to stand and enjoy the view. It is quite lovely, and I wish I had a good 300mm lens or so to take pictures. Lately there has been a blue heron hanging out in it, but it always stays on the far side, watching the watchers warily.
    Meanwhile the ducks and egrets and the always numerous Canadian geese pretty much ignore the humans gawking at them.

    1. My 300 f/4 prime L series lens is a good one. If you don’t want to spend on an L series prime, I recommend the 70-300mm tele. Mind you don’t get the 75-300, I’ve heard it is horrible. But my tele travelled the world with me and has been on many of my cameras.

      1. The 300 f/4 L IS is perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck of all Canon’s lenses — after, of course the “plastic fantastic,” the 50 f/1.8 (now in an upgraded version).

        It’s not quite as long or as fast as its bigger brothers, but it’s nowhere near as expensive, either. And its image quality is all but indistinguishable from the legends of the form.

        There’re lots of variations on the 70-ish to 300-ish theme, some of them unbelievably good (and expensive) like the 70-200 f/2.8 L IS II, some of them pure shit like certain third-party 75-300 f/5.6-8 coke bottles. One of the more prudent choices in that range would be a used non-IS original version of the 70-200 f/2.8 L, which can be had for about as much as the Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS if you’re not picky about the cosmetic condition of the paint. Image quality of the old L is still top notch and you’ve got a constant and big aperture. That it “only” goes to 200 at the long end isn’t a problem; if need be, it’ll take a teleconverter, but the L lens cropped to the same field of view as the 70-300 does at 300 is going to be a better image. Plus, it’s two stops faster at the telephoto range, meaning you can use much faster shutter speeds…in dim light the L is going to be hand-holdable with a 1/200s shutter, whereas the 70-300 is going to be an impressionistic blur with a 1/50s shutter.


        1. Yeah I was having focusing issues and thought it was the telextender. Long story short it was some dust on near the sensor screwing up the light for the focused causing the lens to hunt.

          Between troubleshooting, I thought about a bigger prime. Then I remembered the price. I either suck it up and spend the money (the cost of a decent used or cheap new car), get a tele I don’t really like the performance of at the long end or just accept what I have. I chose the last selection as the 300 f/4 with the 1.4x on my 5D MKIII is pretty good.

          1. What you’ve “settled” with is nothing to sneeze at! Not all that long ago, a Sports Illustrated photographer would have given her or his reproductive organs for that kit.


  8. It’s really an accomplishment to produce such a lovely photo of something as common and plain as the Cabbage White. The others are impressive, too.

    By the way, the Cabbage White is nectaring on the Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber. I don’t recognize any of the other flowers.

    1. I think the tortoiseshell is feeding on Satureja montana (an aromatic herb called “Donkey’s pepper” in Southern France, they are some in my garden), and the Fritillaries are on Eupatorium cannabinum (Hemp-agrimony according to Wikipedia). For the Zygaena I’m lost.

      1. Satureja montana — that looks right. Pretty flower.

        Eupatorium can certainly have that overall look, but I have to reject it. It has opposite leaves and longer flowers. I think the plant with the frits is in Apiaceae (the Carrot family) but I have no idea what.

        Jacques, You certainly took some lovely photos of butterflies — and their flowers. And moth or butterflies, that Zygaena is nice to see.

  9. my cattle dog frolicked for quite some time in the river close to a great blue heron, who didn’t seem bothered by her at all . . . only when I approached did it take off, with its marvelously prehistoric cat(!)erwauling.

  10. Regarding “…While moths tend to have morphological features that group them together (e.g., clubbed antennae, like the one below)…”
    I think it is the other way around. Butterflies have clubbed antennae and moths tend to have feathered antennae.
    The picture that was referenced does not have the area of question in focus or that would have been more clear (pun intended).
    I believe that male and female moths can often be distinguished by the antennae as well. Males tend to have a much greater surface area for detecting the females pheromones. Females have much simpler antennae.

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