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Florida Butterflies

Butterflies & Moths
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On this page - Zebra Longwing butterfly, Monarch butterfly, Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Queen Butterfly, Giant Swallowtail butterfly, Common Buckeye butterfly, White Peacock butterfly, Atala butterfly,
Great Southern White butterfly

Butterfly Gardening

Florida, with over 170 species of native butterflies is the perfect place to create a home butterfly garden where you can enjoy these beautiful creatures throughout the year. Butterflies, like all living things, require food, water and shelter.

Once you decide which butterflies you would like to attract, then find what plant or plants serve as their larval host (baby food) plants for that particular butterfly.

You should also know what plants the adults use for a food source (nectar), having food plants for both the adults and their offspring will keep many more butterflies around your garden, while adults will often feed from more than one type of plant, their caterpillars require a specific plant.

Although not absolutely necessary, you may want to provide a source of water as butterflies don't like to drink directly from an open body of water. One method to is to use a birdbath or other similarly sized container filled with either wet sand or small rocks and pebbles for them to land on when they drink.

In addition to the basics you can provide a butterfly house for shelter during bad weather and/or nectar feeder for the adults. Butterflies like to squeeze into tight spaces or get under dense vegetation or palm fronds during storms. Butterfly house(s) provide a suitable substitute for these natural shelters.

Nectar feeders or placing a piece or two of rotting fruit in the garden helps supplement the available flower nectar, though you really shouldn't need it.

Final notes - When choosing a location for your butterfly garden you will have more success if the spot is somewhat sheltered, at least from strong winds, & make sure your location gets the right amount of sunlight to support the plants you are using.

Click any image for a larger version

Zebra Longwing Butterfly -
Heliconius charitonius

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) Florida's state butterfly A Zebra longwing butterfly laying eggs on a Passionvine.

A Zebra longwing caterpillar on a passionvine.

The Zebra Longwing butterfly is unique in that it is able to feed on a flowers pollen as well as the nectar, this is an excellent source of protein and scientists attribute their long life span to this fact.

The designated Florida state butterfly, the Zebra longwing has long, narrow wings with distinctive black and pale yellow stripes, it flies in a slow graceful manner.

Found throughout Florida, being most abundant in South Florida. It is relatively long lived among butterflies having a life span of several months as compared to weeks for most butterfly species.

Zebra longwing begins laying eggs shortly after emerging from the chrysalis and will lay from 5 to 15 pinhead sized eggs on Passion vines, the larval host plant for this beautiful butterfly. Larvae absorb toxins from the vine, giving adults an unpleasant taste to predators.

Zebra longwing butterflies are fairly common throughout Florida and is most abundant in South Florida hardwood hammocks and thickets, they will often group together in a quiet spot.

Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus

A male Monarch butterfly nectars on Milkweed flowers. Underside of a Monarch butterfly on Sida acuta A Monarch caterpillar feeding on its host plant, Milkweed

The Monarch has a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, males, pictured at the top above, have a black dot on their hind wings above a vein, this releases pheromones to attract females.

The Monarch may be the most widely recognized butterfly in North America, this beautiful insect is known for its vivid orange and black markings as well as for its long distance migration. Each fall Monarchs head south to the mountains of central Mexico where they overwinter, the following summer (and 3 or 4 generations later) they return to North America.

Also called the Milkweed butterfly because they use only Milkweed plants as larval host plants, this butterfly stores the plants toxins in its body as a defense against predators. Adult Monarchs can live to be a ripe old age of 6 to 8 months during their migration to Mexico and subsequent hibernation, compare this to 2 to 6 weeks for an average butterflies lifespan.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly -
Eurytides marcellus

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

The Zebra Swallowtail has a wingspan of 2 1/2 - 4 inches and is Florida's only native kite swallowtail. Wings are white striped with black, hind wings have long tails.

Zebra swallowtails use only the young leaves of shrubs of the genus Asimina or Paw-paw for larval host plants, this makes them especially vulnerable to habitat loss or fragmentation. Can be seen from March through December in Florida. Uses moist, low lying woodlands for breeding, adults feed on a variety of wildflowers.

Gulf Fritillary - Agraulis vanillae

Found throughout South Florida the year round, the Gulf Fritillary is bright orange with black markings on the top side and 3 white dots at the leading edge of the forewings. The ventral surface of the wings is brownish orange with elongated iridescent silver spots.

This butterfly has a 2 1/2 to 3 3/4 inch,
(95 mm) wingspan, and uses Passiflora incarnata L and several other Passionflower vines as a larval host plants. The caterpillar is around 1 1/2 inches long and is orange with black, forked spines.

Adults feed on various flowers including Lantana and Sheppard's needle and frequent butterfly gardens, fields, roadsides and open woods.

Large numbers of Gulf Fritillary move from the northern reaches of their range into peninsular Florida in late summer and throughout the fall, returning northward in spring.

Queen Butterfly - Danaus gilippus

The upper side of the Queen butterfly is a chestnut brown color, forewings have black borders with two rows of white spots with a cluster of white spots at the wing tips. Males (photo at lower left) have a black spot on the hind wings,  this cluster of dark scales emit pheromones to help attract females. Wing span is from about 2 1/2 to 4 inches. 

Caterpillar host plants include the Milkweeds and Milkweed vines. These plants lend a heart and nervous system toxin to the larva and adult butterflies, any predator that tries to feed on a Queen butterfly is unlikely to try again.

Adults feed on a variety of flowers including milkweeds, frequenting the open sunny areas of woods and yards throughout Florida.

Giant Swallowtail - Papilio cresphontes

A Giant Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Pickerelweed nectar.

The Giant swallowtail butterfly has a wingspan of 4 to 6+ inches and is black on the upper surface, with a distinctive band of yellow spots across the forewings and the trailing edge of the hind wings, the tails are yellow with black edges.

Caterpillar host plants are members of the family Rutaceae including Citrus and Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum).

Larva are called "Orange dogs" and resemble bird droppings. The Giant swallowtail can be seen year round in Florida, adults feed on nectar from a variety of plants including Lantana, Azalea, Goldenrod and Swamp milkweed.

Common Buckeye - Junonia coenia

The Common Buckeye is brown on the dorsal side, the forewing has 2 orange bars and 2 eyespots, hindwing has 2 eyespots, the larger of the 2 has a magenta colored crescent shape within. Wing span is from 1 1/2 to just under 3 inches.

Host plants include Snapdragons, Toadflax and Plantains. Flights are produced throughout the year in Florida.

The Common Buckeye can be found in open, sunny areas like fields and pastures, adults often perch on low vegetation or bare ground.

White Peacock - Anartia jatrophae

White Peacock butterfly on Sheppards needle White Peacock butterfly, ventral view.

White dorsal (upper) surface with varying shades of brown markings, a double row of yellowish to orange-brown crescents along the outer and trailing edges of both wings. Forewing has one round, black spot, hindwing has two.

Winter form is larger and paler, summer form is smaller with darker colors.

Larval host plants include Water hyssop, Frogfruit, Verbena, and wild petunias. Adults use Sheppard's needles as a nectar source. Flights throughout the year in S. Florida, the White Peacock likes moist, open areas.

Atala - Eumaeus atala florida

This small butterfly, with a wingspan of
1 1/2 to just under 2 inches is rare and considered endangered within Florida.

The Atalas range also includes the Bahamas and Cuba. Wings are black with iridescent blue-green scaling, bright red, orange-red spot on hindwing and orange abdomen.

Larval host plant is the Coontie (Zamia pumila), a native Florida cycad. Several flights occur throughout the year in South Florida, adults feed on Lantana, Sheppards needle and Wild Coffee.

Habitat types include shady tropical Hammocks and surrounding areas, areas planted with Cycads in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and Monroe counties.

Great Southern White - Ascia monuste

 

Upper surface of male forewing white with black zigzag pattern on outer margin. Dry season female form resembles male with the black zigzag pattern and a small black spot on the wing cell. Wet-season female darker.

The Great Southern White's larval host plants are Peppergrass, Mustards (Brassica spp.), Saltwort, and Sea Rocket. Habitat includes coastal areas - Salt marshes, dunes and coastal scrub. Flights are year round in South Florida, summer in the northern part of the state. Adult Great Southern Whites drink nectar from many flowers including Saltwort, Lantana and Verbenas.

Butterflies & Moths
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