Currently viewing the category: "Nabokov"

Subject: Red admiral proboscis
Location: Troy, VA
June 24, 2016 10:25 am
I know that the red admiral is not a rare butterfly, but I thought I would submit this picture because you can see his proboscis fairly clearly and really, his antennae are lovely.
Signature: Grace Pedalino

Red Admiral Puddling

Red Admiral Puddling

Dear Grace,
Rarity is not a criterion for posting to our site.  Actually, if the truth be made known, the Red Admiral is one of our favorite butterflies.  Perhaps it is because they and Mourning Cloaks are so long lived that they seem to have so much more personality than other butterflies.  Famed author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov playfully referred to the Red Admiral as the Red Admirable.  Your individual appears to be puddling, taking moisture and also important minerals, from the mud.

Subject: Black and gray beetle on Mount Graham
Location: Mount Graham, Pinaleño Mountains, Graham County, Arizona, USA
April 9, 2014 11:54 am
Hi there!
I took a picture of this handsome fellow in mid-October at the Lower Twilight Campgrounds on Mount Graham in the Pinaleño Mountains in southeastern Arizona. He was about an inch and a half long. We were about 7,400 feet up, the temperature was 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit and the vegetation was medium-thick ponderosa pine.
Thanks so much for your help!
Signature: Kristin

Metallic Borer Beetle

Metallic Borer Beetle

Hi Kristin,
Thank you for being intelligent enough to indicate that this sighting did not happen this week.  You would be surprised at the number of folks who neglect to tell us that information because many times the actual month of a sighting is quite significant.  This is one of the Metallic Borer Beetles or Jewel Beetles from the family Buprestidae, and we believe it is the Western Sculptured Pine Borer,
Chalcophora angulicollis.  Though there are five member in the genus that look very similar, the only one that is reported from Arizona is the Western Sculptured Pine Borer.  According to BugGuide, it is found in “Coniferous forests” and its host trees include:  “hosts: various Pinaceae, incl. Abies concolor, A. grandis, Pinus ponderosa, Pseudotsuga menziesii(2); adults feed on leaves” which is very consistent with your sighting.  At least on BugGuide, sightings have been reported from May through July, so your October sighting is somewhat uncharacteristic, however BugGuide does offer the disclaimer that “Range and date information may be incomplete, overinclusive, or just plain wrong.” INaturalist also includes an August 26 sighting.  We suspect your altitude might have some bearing on the sighting occurring in October.

Awesome!!! Thanks so much for the quick reply and all of the excellent info.
My husband’s a Ph.D. student in evolutionary biology, and he’s done a little bit of collecting in Drosophila, Scaptomyza and Lycaenidae back before his current project. He’s given me a pretty good idea that more info is always better for an accurate ID.
Thanks again for your help!

What an interesting combination of insects to have been collected by your husband.  Is he aware of the book Nabokov’s Blues which covers the two authors’ expedition to South America to discover new species of Lycaenidae?  They then classified them based on some theoretical papers written by the novelist and amateur lepidopterist, Vladimir Nabokov, which had been lost for nearly fifty years.  As it turned out, Nabokov’s theories held true and many new species were named after characters from his books.

I’m sure he’s heard of “Nabokov’s Blues” at the very least — he worked with Naomi Pierce ( for a few years out of undergrad. But we don’t have a copy around the house! He’s got a birthday coming up … thanks so much for the idea! 🙂
Have a wonderful day.

Nabokov’s Blues is a highly entertaining read and we believe it will make an excellent birthday present.

Whilst researching Arctiids that might be found in Alaska, we stumbled upon A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths by Dieter E. Zimmer, our new favorite web site.  Though he was born in tsarist Russia, Vladimir Nabokov, most notoriously famous for penning the novel Lolita, probably had the best command of the English language of any native English speaking writer we can think of, on any side of the pond.  An amateur lepidopterist, Nabokov frequently made references to butterflies and moths in his work, and this site has an awesome catalog of all the members of the order Lepidoptera that appeared in his work.  The lovely Red Admiral Butterfly was playfully called the Red Admirable by Nabokov, and he also notes that in tsarist Russia, it was known as the Butterfly of Doom because large numbers of them were on wing the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.  We decided we finally needed a Nabokov category since we mention him so often.

Red Admiral from our archives

Red Admirable from our archives

Subject: Butterflies
Location: Eastern Tennessee
April 3, 2014 11:39 am
These beauties were in abundance on April 2nd in the Martha Sundquist State Forest, and I would love to know what they are.
Thank you for your time,
Signature: R.G. Marion

Puddling Lycaean Blues

Puddling Lycaean Blues

Dear R.G. Marion,
The best we can do at this moment is to provide a subfamily.  These are Lycaean Blues in the subfamily Polyommatinae, and according to BugGuide they might be considered as a tribe.
  There are many similar looking species and subspecies classified as Blues.  The Lycaean Blues were among author Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite butterflies, and he wrote about clouds of Blues gathering at puddles in the spring, exactly what your image documents.

Thank you so much for your timely reply; it is most appreciated.

Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Bethlehem, NH
June 13, 2012 8:08 pm
I found out this is a Greater Fritillary, but what kind? I love the photos since you can see the compound eyes, antennae, and proboscis. Photos taken 6/8/12 in Bethlehem, NH.
Signature: Dave

Greater Fritillary

Dear Dave,
We agree that these are gorgeous photographs, but alas, we don’t believe we are able to identify this Greater Fritillary in the genus
Speyeria to the species level.  We have never been confident with identifying most Greater Fritillaries to the species level.  After more than twenty years, we are currently rereading ADA by Vladimir Nabokov (see this 1969 NY Times book review), a noted author and amateur lepidopterist who frequently writes about butterflies in his novels and fiction.  ADA, the title character, has a fascination with Fritillaries and it is her fantasy to raise all of the known species, many of which use a single species of violet as the sole larval food, from egg through caterpillar through chrysalis to adult.  She dreams of documenting the life cycle and food plant of each species and once she has raised them to the adult stage, she plans to dissect their sexual organs because that is the only way to accurately identify them to the species level, at least that was the only way prior to DNA analysis.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults feed mostly on nectar and are avid visitors of flowers. They often gather in numbers on Composites (family Asteraceae). Occasionally they may visit moist mineral rich ground as well.”  Your individual appears to be drinking mineral rich moisture from the ground.

Greater Fritillary


Red Admiral population explosion
Location: St. Catharines (near Niagara Falls, Ontario)
May 3, 2012 10:13 am
I thought you might be interested to know we have a Red Admiral population explosion going on here! I understand it is in most of eastern North America. I have never, in my few years of butterfly-watching, seen Red Admirals in these numbers. They are everywhere, in the numbers one usually sees only with the Sulphers in August. I’m not sure what the reason for it is (perhaps you’ve heard?) but I am enjoying it. Seeing one butterfly always brightens my day, but seeing dozens on my way into work is simply stunning!
(I snapped this pic on my visit to a local wetlands Sunday. She/He was a very obliging butterfly!)
Signature: Alison

Red Admiral

Dear Allison,
The Red Admiral is surely a jaunty and cheerful butterfly, actually one of the Ladies in the genus
Vanessa in drag.  Vladimir Nabokov, the noted author of Pale Fire, referred to them as the Red Admirables in that playful way he had with words.  He also said in a 1970 interview that in Russia the Red Admiral is known as the Butterfly of Doom because in 1881 when Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, large numbers of them migrated.  We hope there is no ill wind behind you sighting. 

Ed. Note:  Please send us your Red Admiral photos and the locations of your spring 2012 sightings.

Another Ed. Note:  We just located this fun old posting.