Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘butterflies’

The Butterfly of Doom

Or so it was named by the late 19th-century Russians — leave it to them to label a butterfly as such. It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever heard Butterfly and Doom used in the same phrase; there has to be heavy-metal band with this name out there somewhere.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Everglades

A Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) rests in the Florida Everglades

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius)

Florida’s abundant all-year blooms provide enough butterfly chasing, even for me. The most common encounter is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), found throughout the hardwood hammocks, swamps, and Everglades — and designated the official state butterfly of Florida.

Found in North America, Asia, and Europe, territorial male Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) can be found in the same location day-to-day — and as a testament, the images below were shot on separate days, in the same clump of foliage. Red Admirals are dark brown, with brick-red bars and white markings on the tips of the forewings. Although known to be quick fliers, they’re considered a perfect companion for gardens, being very people-friendly, and known to perch on humans.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

The Butterfly of Doom terrifies all

The Red Admiral is considered the favorite butterfly of author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977); it’s mentioned throughout his writings, taking a prominent role in the 1962 novel Pale Fire. When scholar Alfred Appel, Jr. asked why he was so fond of Vanessa atalanta, Nabokov replied: “Its coloring is quite splendid and I liked it very much in my youth. Great numbers of them migrated from Africa to Northern Russia, where it was called ‘The Butterfly of Doom’ because it first appeared in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and the markings on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read ‘1881’. There is something interesting in the Red Admirable’s ability to travel so far” (Strong Opinions, p. 170).

According to Pale Fire‘s character — poet John Shade — the original Old English name for the butterfly was actually Red Admirable, which was later degraded to The Red Admiral. In the novel, Vanessa atalanta appears as Shade’s heraldic butterfly, as seen in the verses:

Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,
My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest
My Admirable butterfly… (lines 269–271, p. 42–43)

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

Nabokov’s favorite in the Florida wetlands

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Florida Wetlands

A Red Admirable kindly displaying for the butterfly-chaser

For More Information:

Helping the Monarchs, and Florida’s Monarch Mimics

 Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster

Monarch Watch Conservation Campaign Poster, courtesy of Monarch Watch

In mid-March, news of the severe decline in Monarch colonies was released — a record low. Their population has dropped 59% this year alone. That’s outstandingly sad. Although insect populations fluctuate, experts are concerned about the monarchs’ consistent downward trend. Their wintering colonies in Mexico, which once spanned 44 acres, now encompasses less than THREE mind-boggling acres. It was the topic of an NPR piece recently as well: Majestic Monarch Butterflies Under Threat.

Scientists suspect many factors contribute to the decline, including fluctuations in weather, habitat loss, pesticides on milkweed, and Round-up resistant crops — genetically engineered crops. Basically, the fault lies with us.

Monarchs NEED milkweed. During their long and arduous migration spanning several generations, the female lays her eggs on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae in turn feed on the plant. Without this basic necessity, the beautiful monarchs will continue to disappear. This year’s numbers are beyond troubling — but hopefully another eye-opening alert for the GMO industry using the herbicides.

Plant milkweed — it’s pretty! So are the butterflies that will visit…. I’ve planted lots of native butterfly plants, but I’ll be doing more for sure, especially since I don’t see many Monarchs down here in Southern Florida.

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Monarch Watch

Monarch Fall and Spring Migrations Map, Courtesy of Monarch Watch

But below are some mimics of the Monarch — the Viceroy and Queen butterflies. The Viceroy, a black-and-orange poisonous butterfly very similar in appearance, doesn’t feed on milkweed like the Monarch, but remains safe because of its similarity to the more noxious-tasting Monarch. Interestingly, the Viceroy has evolved from a tasty butterfly to predators — one that survived on mimicry alone — to one that has adapted further by eating toxic vegetation as well (including willows and poplars).

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The Queen butterflies also eat milkweed, and the toxins from the plants make them distasteful to predators. Scientists have noted that a bird eating a Monarch will learn and remember that the bright orange coloration and pattern is a signal of unpleasantness — and so a Queen butterfly, with its similar appearance, will be safe. Mimicry! Fascinating stuff.

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Hyplouxo Scrub Natural Area

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Riverbend Park

Be sure to also check out:

Monarch Watch Shop — Learn how to create a habitat for monarchs

Monarch Watch — LOTS of resources

Flight of the Butterflies in 3D — And how to plant a butterfly garden

Click here to look at the maps and other population graphs of the monarchs, and learn how you can help in their plight

Denise Dahn, artist/writer: An amazing nature artist and writer, here highlighting the history of milkweed and its importance to the Monarch

Flying Zebras: Florida’s State Butterfly

With Florida’s abundant all-year blooms, flurried butterfly activity is a welcome sight on hikes. The most common encounter is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), designated as the official state butterfly of Florida in 1996. No wonder it’s the state butterfly; it’s found throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, swamps, wetlands, meadows, and in the Everglades. And if you’re keen to plant native, butterfly-friendly plants in your garden, you’ll quickly be visited by these lovelies.

While Longwings can be seen throughout Florida, they’re most abundant in the southern half of the state.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Cypress swamp habitat

Despite its common presence, it’s always a wonderful sight — bright and bold in our swamps and marshes. As the name suggests, Zebra Longwings sport long, narrow wings, with light yellow and black stripes.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing in Fern Forest Nature Center: Oak hammock environment

Adults can mate immediately upon emerging from the chrysalis — I once witnessed a few Zebra Longwings crowding a poor lone Longwing, and feared they were attacking him/her. I now understand what was happening — the female was emerging from her chrysalis, as the males had been attracted to her scent through the chrysalis wall. They battle their way to mate with her, as she emerges. Hello, world?!

Another unusual sight I’ve witnessed (but haven’t been able to capture well) is their roosting behavior — Longwings will group together as dusk approaches, to keep warm through the night. They return to the same roost night after night….

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)

Zebra Longwing in Riverbend Park: Open meadow habitat

A tropical and subtropical species, the Zebra Longwing is unlike other butterfly species that live for only a few weeks: these guys can live for up to six months (6 months!), since they eat the pollen AND the nectar from flowers. They are the only butterfly to do this, and the energy from the pollen extends their lives. The caterpillar feeds on various varieties of the Passion Flower (Passiflora), which is another great reason to have this beautiful vine in the yard, if you live in the Southern parts of the U.S. (and South and Central America). They’re easy to grow, and oh-so-lovely — and their widespread health benefits have been respected for centuries.

Outside of passiflora tea, it’s been used  for more than two centuries by Native Americans as a sedative and relaxant — and traditional medical practitioners accept its help in alleviating pain and lowering blood pressure, among other things. Even WebMD acknowledges its use for seizures, withdrawal symptoms, asthma, fibromyalgia, burns, swelling, muscle spasms, and more. Passiflora was approved as an over-the-counter sedative and sleep aid in the U.S., only to be taken off the market in the ’70s, like so many other natural remedies.

Yet another example of the many gentle and beautiful ways in which Nature provides!

Passion Flower (Passiflora), "Lavender Lady"

Passion Flower (Passiflora): “Lavender Lady” example at Butterfly World

Passion Flower (Passiflora), "Inspiration"

Passion Flower (Passiflora): “Inspiration” example at Butterfly World

For more information on introducing butterfly-friendly plants to the garden, visit Butterfly World and its wealth of information. Butterfly World’s conservation efforts include the establishment of The Passiflora Society International, which was established at the site to encourage research on Passion Flowers, the source of food for many butterflies. A North American “Bring Back the Butterflies” campaign is also active here, with thousands of people across the country receiving free literature on butterfly gardening for their region. Check it out! Butterfly World also helped establish the Boender Endangered Species Laboratory at the University of Florida — instrumental in saving the endangered Schaus Swallowtail, and reintroducing the species to South Florida.

A Butterfly’s Kingdom

In light of recent events, smiles were in order… So we hiked, we walked our natural areas, and we visited the butterflies!! I’m a nut for butterflies — I often find myself plowing through beastly banana spider webs, or managing the swamp, to chase butterflies on our hikes. More than once I’ve nearly tripped over large, scaly, and silent objects at the water’s edge — quite unlike a butterfly — in my efforts to photograph these lovelies….

Butterfly World, located here in South Florida, opened in 1988. It’s the largest butterfly park in the world, and the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. At any given time, more than 3000 live butterflies are fluttering at the facility (and usually MORE), representing 50 different species (150 species over the course of an entire year). This is all thanks to Robert Boender, who raised butterflies and their food plants from his Florida home, post-retirement. In 1984, he was supplying farmed butterflies to zoos and universities with his own company. He met Clive Farrell — founder and owner of the London Butterfly House — in 1985, during a visit to England. Wanting to create a similar facility in Florida, Boender and Ferrell joined forces and began plans to create a combination public attraction / research facility and butterfly farm — and Butterfly World was born.

Visitors enter the spectacular Paradise Adventure Aviary, with fountains, ponds, lush vegetation, and of course thousands of butterflies — representing five continents. It’s a glorious shock to the human system, to be suddenly surrounded by thousands of fluttering brilliant colors. The Hanging Garden & Butterfly Emerging Area is next, where cases filled with pupa and emerging butterflies are displayed. Finally, the Tropical Rain Forest Aviary recreates a rain forest — complete with waterfall, thousands of tropical plants, and free-flying birds and butterflies.

Butterfly World also includes the largest free-flight hummingbird aviary in the United States — the Jewels of the Sky Aviary — as well as a Lorikeet Encounter, and an aviculture research center. At the butterfly laboratory, visitors can view — through a glass enclosure — where butterflies are raised, observing the different stages of formation including eggs, caterpillar, and pupa.

At the Museum/Insectarium, exhibits of mounted specimens of beetles, butterflies, moths, and other insects are displayed. The Bug Zoo features live insects, including spiders, walking sticks, and mantids. Not particularly my favorite part of the facility, having been raised on the Equator, on a tropical island where insects grew to gargantuan proportions — and there was little barrier between you and them.

Other features include Grace Gardens, offering examples of the world’s flowering tropical plants. The Wings of the World Secret Garden presents one of the largest collections of flowering Passion Flower vines (passiflora) in the world — beautiful beyond compare. Butterfly World’s conservation efforts include the establishment of The Passiflora Society International, which was established at the site to encourage research on passion flowers, the source of food for many butterflies. A North American “Bring Back the Butterflies” campaign is also active here, with thousands of people across the country receiving free literature on butterfly gardening for their region. Check it out! Butterfly World also helped establish the Boender Endangered Species Laboratory at the University of Florida — instrumental in saving the endangered Schaus Swallowtail, and reintroducing the species to South Florida.

Many pesticides kill butterflies (and bees, and…), so it’s important to be safe with their use — or, use ladybugs in their stead! Sadly, butterflies came up in the news recently with companies like genetically-modified foods giant Monsanto. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crops have been tied to the decrease in Monarch populations by killing the very plants that the butterflies rely on for habitat and food — milkweed. These plants are being destroyed by the heavy use of glyphosate-based pesticides on Roundup Ready crops. Over the past 17 years, the Monarch butterfly population in Central Mexico has declined, reaching an all-time low in 2009-2010. Obviously there’s a far bigger picture here, which many are aware — land destruction, farmers’ livelihoods, and our own health — but when the news was released that these companies and their crops were now ravaging the butterfly populations (for years, now)…. Honestly.

But thanks to the education and conservation campaigns of facilities like Butterfly World, perhaps there may be some sort of balance reached between the destruction caused by these companies, and a return to the natural order.

Piano Key Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly (Specifically, err…)

Clipper Butterfly

Madiera Butterfly

White Morpho Butterfly

Still trying to figure this one out…

…And on to the birds!

Nabokov’s “Butterfly of Doom”: The Red Admiral

Or so it was named by the late 19th-century Russians — leave it to them to label a butterfly as such. It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever heard Butterfly and Doom used in the same phrase….

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius)

On our hikes, we often stumble upon areas of flurried butterfly activity, due to Florida’s abundant all-year blooms. The most common encounter is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), found throughout the hardwood hammocks, swamps, and Everglades — and designated the official state butterfly of Florida in 1996. I rely on our natural environs for butterfly shots, and we’ve spied some lovelies — swallowtails, sulphurs, whites, milkweeds, and longwings — but more often than not, they don’t want to pose for the camera. I find myself plowing through beastly (but harmless) banana spider webs, or carefully winding through swamp, to chase butterflies.

But I was lucky with this guy, so much so that I thought he was a moth — especially when I observed his antennae from afar. Obviously they’re long enough to be classified as a butterfly, because that’s what he is — specifically, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Found in North America, Asia, and Europe, territorial males can be found in the same location day-to-day — and as a testament, the images below were shot on separate days, in the same clump of foliage. Red Admirals are dark brown, with brick-red bars and white markings on the tips of the forewings. Although known to be quick fliers, they’re also considered a docile butterfly — a perfect companion for gardens, being very people-friendly, and known to perch on humans. It would explain my ideal photographing opportunity (read: no spiderweb activity)….

The Red Admiral is considered the favorite butterfly of author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977); it’s mentioned throughout his writings, taking a prominent role in the 1962 novel Pale Fire. When scholar Alfred Appel, Jr., asked why he was so fond of Vanessa atalanta, Nabokov replied: “Its coloring is quite splendid and I liked it very much in my youth. Great numbers of them migrated from Africa to Northern Russia, where it was called ‘The Butterfly of Doom’ because it first appeared in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and the markings on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read ‘1881’. There is something interesting in the Red Admirable’s ability to travel so far” (Strong Opinions, p. 170).

According to Pale Fire‘s character — poet John Shade — the original Old English name for the butterfly was actually The Red Admirable, which was later degraded to The Red Admiral. In the novel, Vanessa atalanta appears as Shade’s heraldic butterfly, as seen in the verses:

Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,
My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest
My Admirable butterfly… (lines 269–271, p. 42–43)

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Posing in the Florida Wetlands — (DAY 1)

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Posing in the Florida Wetlands — (DAY 2)

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Posing in the Florida Wetlands — (DAY 3)

For More Information:

Love in the Florida Forest

Still not quite able to tackle the bigger hikes, we ventured to lovely Fern Forest, a magnificent conservation site and wildlife refuge located in Broward County. Encompassing 247 acres, researchers have characterized the site as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida.” This beautiful and diverse natural area represents the last remnant of the historical Cypress Creek floodway. Today, Fern Forest remains a significant refuge for wildlife in this highly urbanized region, and hosts many educational activities, conservation events, and nature programs. The park encompasses ten plant communities, including a tropical hardwood hammock, an open prairie, and a cypress-maple swamp. Visitors can investigate three main trails: The Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk); the Prairie Overlook Trail, which includes a 20-foot-tall observation platform; and the Maple Walk, winding through an often soggy red maple swamp.

During our weekend visit we hit the Prairie Overlook Trail and the expansive boardwalk; the butterflies were especially active after an unexpected Saturday monsoon. As always, I try to catch the swallowtails in action, but fail miserably and land in the oversized banana spiderwebs. But I did manage to snap a private moment between mating Viceroy Butterflies (Limenitis archippus) — cue the appropriate music; I was humming it for them at the time.

Deep in the darkness of the Prairie Overlook Trail, my guy spotted this sublime palm…a love tree! I’m only sorry I didn’t find it first; it was completely tucked away in a riot of Florida growth.

For More Information:

Arthur’s Butterflies

A brief hike within Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge — along a secluded section of cypress swamp bordering a sliver of meadow — yielded both heavy blossoms and lots of…BUTTERFLIES! While the human male was busy exploring, I was exceptionally careful not to trip over any large, scaly objects as I thrashed about the bushes at the water’s edge, chasing butterflies. I had nearly crossed paths with one particularly large and silent scaly object — quite unlike a butterfly — in my efforts to photograph these lovelies…. Last picture proof positive to always be aware of one’s surroundings when hiking near water in Florida, and to be fully respectful and knowledgeable of alligators’ behavior. This certainly isn’t the first close encounter with these interesting creatures in our years of Florida hiking, nor will it be the last.

My mother would *not* be happy….

For More Information:

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius)

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius), Arthur R. Marshall

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)? Julia?, Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

White Peacock Butterfly (Anartia jatrophae), Arthur R. Marshall

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)? Julia?, Arthur R. Marshall

White Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) (?), Arthur R. Marshall

Hullllo, Mr. Alligator. You’re not a butterfly.

%d bloggers like this: