Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 12, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

On this partly cloudy November morning in Transect A, we observed many of our frequently seen butterflies including Phaon Crescents, Salt Marsh Skippers, Common Buckeyes, Gulf Fritillaries, and Cassius and Ceraunus blues.  
White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)
But the star of the day was the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) of the family Nymphalidae. Most of us had seen only one or two of these in the past, or never before.  This beautiful butterfly is pictured on the cover of our butterfly monitoring bible - "Butterflies Through Binoculars" by Jeffrey Glassberg, Marc Minno and John Calhoun.
The White Peacock has a wingspan of 2 to 2.75  inches.  The caterpillar of the white peacock butterfly eats water hyssop so that is where the adult female lays her eggs. Adult White Peacock Butterflies like Plumbago flower nectar. Their favorite habitat is is wide open land. 

The GTM NERR butterfly monitoring expedition was followed by a lunchtime program in the auditorium about butterfly ecology and gardening in Florida. Presented by Mike Boulware, Living Exhibit Specialist and Outreach Co-coordinator from the University of Florida's Butterfly Rainforest, all volunteers and staff were invited to attend. 
For more information about the Butterfly Rainforest visit their website at

Renee Stambaugh of Native Plant consulting brought native plants that are not only attractive to look at, but will also attract butterflies to your garden.  Remember that butterflies need both larval host plants and nectar sources to survive.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 15, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

The water along the marsh was extremely high on this somewhat hazy morning, and the butterflies were plentiful in the grasses that were not standing in water.   
We observed numerous wading birds, and a wood stork drying its wings perched high in a tree.  

Large stalks of muhly grass were blooming along the shoreline.
The spanish needle (Bidens pilosa) were blooming throughout the transect A.

We observed Salt marsh skippers, (Panoquina panoquin), almost too many to count (but we did our best).  We saw Ocola and Whirlabout skippers too.  All are of the family Hesperiidae.

Ocola Skipper
The Ocola skipper (Panoquina ocola) has forewings projecting far beyond the hindwings when the butterfly is at rest. The upperside of their wings is dark brown;  the underside of the hindwing is brown with no markings; the female has a blue-purple iridescent sheen. Adults nectar from  lantana, spanish needle, milkweed, and buttonbush. The Salt Marsh Skipper has a similar shape to the Ocola Skipper, but the hindwing undersides have pale veins and a prominent white streak. They nectar from flowers including sweet pepperbush, red clover, salt marsh fleabane, thistle, and verbena. 
Salt Marsh Skipper
The Whirlabout skipper (Polites vibex) is named for the speed and direction in which it flies. Their larval host plants include 
Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass , and Thin Paspalum grass.

Whirlabout Skipper
Common Buckeye
The Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) in the family Nymphalidae, soars like and eagle.   We observed this behavior today along our transect.  Several mating pairs were seen. 

Among the larger orange and black butterflies in the family Nymphalidae, the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), Florida Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) with wingspans from 2.5-3.0" were seen today. The subtle physical differences between these species can be seen in the photos.
Viceroy Butterfly
Willows serve as hostplants for the adult Viceroy.  They feed on manure and carrion. 
Female Monarch
Monarchs are strong fliers. They often flap slowly and then glide. They rest with their wings folded, but bask with them open.  
Male Monarch
Gulf Frittilary
Gulf fritillaries prefer the nectar of red and white flowers, such as Spanish needles and Lantana.
The small Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) is often seen on frog fruit (Phyla nodiflora)  a nectar plant in the Verbena Family, and we saw several today. This species has a wingspan of 1-1.5"
Fog Fruit and Phaon Crescent 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 17, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

It was a warm and sunny morning. The grasses along the marsh were tall and green.  
The spanish needle (Bidens pilosa) were blooming near the water, and where there were flowers, there were butterflies.

This was the first time in three months that our group was able to reach our trail transects C and D, as they had been submerged after heavy rains.  
We were thrilled to report the sighting of a new species, the Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva).   Their caterpillars eat leaves of mangrove trees.  
Mangrove Buckeye
We have black mangroves along our GTM NERR waterways. Black mangrove  contributes to the ecological community by trapping in the root system debris and detritus brought in by tides. The community is valued for its protection and stabilization of low-lying coastal lands and its importance in estuarine and coastal fishery food chains.  Black mangroves can be easily identified by the numerous pencil-like breathing tubes, called pneumatophores, which grow vertically from the mud to just above the highest sustained water level.

More frequently seen is the Common Buckeye, but we saw only one today in the Dam transect (Transect A).  Both Buckeye butterflies are in the family Nymphalidae.
Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia)
We observed the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), finally coming to rest after its erratic, rapid flight. They are in the family Nymphalidae. Caterpillar host plants include stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Red Admiral Butterfly
We marveled at the size, color and shape of the Giant Swallowtail as they glided past and to the treetops near the lake. They are in the family Papilionidae.  
Adult giant swallowtails have a forewing span of 4.6 to 7.4 inches (avg. 5.7 inches);  the females are larger. Caterpillars eat leaves of citrus trees.
Giant Swallowtail
Giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes with wings closed.
A healthy brood, we counted thirty three Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies in the Dam transect.  This species is in the family Nymphalidae. 
Painted Lady Butterfly

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 13, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

We went out for our monthly Butterfly Monitoring in our Guana Dam transect (Transect A) on a warm sunny morning.  We have recently seen daily late afternoon downpours, and the rain has helped our groundcover plants along the marsh and lake to bloom.  The small butterflies like this habitat, and we saw many different species.  Dainty Sulphurs, (Nathalis iole) of the family Pieridae, were flying characteristically low to the ground.  A Least Skipper, (Ancyloxypha numitor) of the family Hesperiidae, was resting on a blade of grass.

Least Skipper

Dainty Sulphur

We compared the subtle differences between Tropical and Common Checkered Skippers - we observed both species along the marsh.  We also spotted Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaonPalamedes Swallowtail, (Papilio palamedes), Horace's Duskywing (Erynnis horatius),Salt Marsh Skippers (Panoquina panoquin) on Sea Oxeye Daisy, and one Eastern Pygmy Blue(Brephidium pseudofea) - the smallest butterfly.

A Southern Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia otho) was spotted in the blooming frog fruit Frog fruit also called fog fruit Phyla nodiflorawas) also known as Carpetweed.
Southern broken-dash

Cloudless Sulphur

The Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) butterfly is commonly seen through spring and summer, and today was no exception; they were flying near the tree line at the edge of the lake. The Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus) of the Hesperiidae family is spotted at this time of year and was seen several times, resting on the leaves of wax myrtle.
We always notice other creatures as we search for butterflies; a Six-lined Racerunner lizard (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus) slithered by.

Long-tailed Skipper

Due to flooding of the GTM NERR upland hammock trails,  the team in the ATV was not able to traverse sections that we use to reach our transects C and D. We attempted to reschedule each week.  As of August 27, significant sections of these trails are still flooded.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

May 28, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

The 2012 Memorial Day holiday followed tropical storm Beryl in our area, and that's when we went out for our monthly Butterfly Monitoring survey on May 28.  There was very little blooming in the Guana Dam transect (Transect A), but we did see a variety of butterfly species including the Horace's Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) (Hesperiidae family), Cassius (Leptotes cassius) and Ceraunus Blues (Hemiargus ceraunus) (Lycaenidae familyand Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) (Papilionidae Family). 
Ceraunus Blue

Horace's Duskywing

Palamedes Swallowtail 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 16, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

The winds were calm and the sun was bright with clear skies.  We have had extremely dry weather the past month. Without the rain, there is very little flora blooming.  The freshwater marsh appeared very dry - no water was visible behind the tall grasses.  
Few butterfiles were spotted this morning, but among them were the Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) nectaring on the few gallardia blooms that are planted near the kiosk overlooking the freshwater marsh along the yellow trail, in our Transect B.  
We usually see the Gulf Fritillary, (Agraulis vanillae) not the Variegated. 
Variegated Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary
Eastern Pygmy Blues (Brephidium pseudofeawere seen at the Salicornia Transect C.   
This is our smallest butterfly.  One of the blues with a wing span less than one inch.
Eastern Pygmy Blue
The Miami Blue Butterfly (Hemiargus [Cyclargus] thomasi bethunebakerihas), reduced to a few hundred survivors on isolated islands off Key West, was formally declared a federally endangered species on April 6, 2012.
We have not seen a Miami Blue within the GTM NERR Butterfly Monitoring transects, in the three years of our surveys.  
Once common in the southern coastal areas of Florida, the Miami Blue butterfly was eliminated from much of its former range due to ever-expanding urbanization and the associated loss of coastal habitat. In the years following Hurricane Andrew, researchers feared that the butterfly may have become extinct as no verified sightings were recorded. Fortunately, the Miami Blue was rediscovered on November 29, 1999, as part of a small population of less than 100 individuals within the boundaries of Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Florida Keys. 
Miami Blue
Miami Blue
The Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) has been plentiful this week in the Coastal strand and dunes; and a few of them were also here by the Estuary and the Upland hammock in our four transects.  The Great Southern White has distinctive turquoise antennae clubs.  Spanish needleis a favorite nectar plant 

Great Southern White

Saturday, April 14, 2012

March 19, 2012 Butterfly Monitoring

On March 19, 2012 on a warm day with calm breezes, after a weekend of similar weather, the first butterfly spotted on the trail transect B was a Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades) sitting on the ground and so well camouflaged against the brown leaves. This species is in the Skipper Family (Hesperiidae).

The hammock was full of fluttering Viola's Wood-Satyrs, Megisto viola. This is typical for April, but March is early for them. This butterfly is in the Brush-foot Family (Nymphalidae). Adults have a slow bouncing flight and will rise as far as the tops of tall trees. Males patrol in the shade to find females. Eggs are laid singly on grass blades, which the caterpillars eat. Adults nectar on wood sap, rarely flower nectar.  We counted 88 of this species in our transects, but there were hundreds more along the trails outside the boundaries of our transects.

We discussed other "bugs" along the way.  
Did you know: A bee is an herbivore, a wasp is a carnivore.

We saw two Eastern Pygmy Blues (Brephidium pseudofeain) in the glasswort (salicornia) transect C.  This is their preferred habitat, near saltwater in coastal marshes and tidal flats, and the glasswort is a host plant.  Our transect is not soaking wet this year, as it was last year.  We did not count any of the species last year.  Today they were observed resting with their wings closed on the glasswort, tiny and looking brown in color, but when they open their wings the blue highlights are visible. Males patrol low over the host plants in search of females. Flight is weak and slow. Adults nectar on palmetto palm and saltwort (Batis maritima) flowers.  This species is of the Blues and Hairstreaks Family (Lycaenidae).

We also counted salt marsh skippers in this transect. Skipper Family (Hesperiidae).
This species is more commonly seen in Transect A at the water's edge.

In transect D, the Red Bay transect, we again observed many Viola's Wood Satyrs.  

We also counted more than 20 Palamedes (Papilio palamedes) in transects B and D.  This butterfly is in the Swallowtail Family (Papilionidae). They nectar on the thistle which was plentiful today, especially in Transect B.  
We also saw a resurgence of Red Bay (Persea borbonia) saplings; this species of tree is a host plant for the Palamedes.  We have wathced the red bay trees dying in this transect over the last few years, due to the fungus left by the invasive ambrosia beetle.