Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Butterfly Watchers Count! by Elane Nuehring

Tropical Buckeye, photo by Linda Cooper

Mimosa Yellow, photo by Hank Poor

Florida Purplewing, photo by Ron Nuehring
Dingy Purplewing, photo by Ron Nuehring
Florida White, photo by Hank Poor

One of our Miami Blue Chapter’s centerpiece conservation projects looks like we’re having TOO MUCH FUN! After all, it’s a lot like going butterflying.  But with a purpose.  

We often go to little known places (be honest, how many of you really know where Rock Pit 39 in Miami-Dade County is?) and locations that require special access such as restricted federal and military properties.  We carry GPS units and cameras and carefully record numbers butterflies seen.  We sometimes do some bush-whacking, trying to find host plants that may be out of view off the trail.  (Yes, we wear long pants and protective foot gear and watch where we put our feet.)

So what are we up to?  The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI; is a state-funded project based in Tallahassee that aims to catalog Florida’s imperiled species of plants and animals.  Identifying populations of rare, endangered species is the basis for land management strategies that can ensure protection of the species; you can’t protect it if you don’t know it’s there.

FNAI has a butterfly component, which has listed 75 butterflies and moths as imperiled, based on their vulnerability to extinction due to natural and/or human-caused factors or highly restricted ranges.  Of the 75, over a third are South Florida species.  

Our task now is to locate populations of our 25+ imperiled South Florida species in order to promote their protection.

Some of our imperiled species are hammock and hammock-edge specialists such as the Schaus’ Swallowtail,  Florida White, Dina Yellow, Mimosa Yellow,  Dingy Purplewing, and Florida Purplewing. Some are pine rockland specialists such as the Florida Leafwing, Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak, and Florida Duskywing.  Some are declining wetland species such as Berry’s Skipper.  A full list of South Florida species considered to be in trouble can be found at

In 2010, FNAI received three years of funding to support imperiled butterfly surveys in South Florida and our local NABA chapters, Miami Blue Chapter (MBC), Broward Butterflies, and Itala Chapter of Palm Beach set to work. All our effort in the field involves volunteer NABA chapter members.

In Miami-Dade County FNAI listed over 150 parks, preserves and conservation lands with potential for protective management of imperiled butterflies.  Another approximately 43 such sites are in Monroe County. 
MBC first grouped our counties' identified sites into clusters to facilitate efficient travel. We next recruited several chapter members with good field skills, or the desire to develop them, and tried to link members with clusters of sites that would be convenient for them to visit, possibly multiple times.  While FNAI is seeking only to determine if a species is present or absent in a site, we find that some sites will require repeat visits; for example, we may find abundance of host plants but no butterflies at any life cycle stage, suggesting follow-up at a later time.

We then began to sharpen our field skills.  Most members who have volunteered are reliable identifiers of adult butterflies, but we need help spotting and identifying eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalids.  We held our first workshop to hone these abilities on April 23 2011 and are grateful to Dr. Marc Minno for spending a thoroughly productive day with us.

As a chapter, we expect to focus several of our customary field trips on our FNAI sites and to collaborate more frequently with our local Dade Native Plant Society on field trips.  Our friends in the DNPS have much to offer us in recognizing some of the more cryptic host plants used by some of our imperiled butterflies.

What about sightings in areas other than FNAI’s specified conservation areas?  For example, Dina Yellows show up in people’s yards where Bitterbush and Mexican Alvaradoa are cultivated.  Hence, butterfly gardeners can contribute records of rare butterflies seen on their own properties. In most cases, this means learning to recognize a small number of species, which you may already know well, and emailing simple reports to the chapter at

Some of us regularly patrol specific areas.  Maybe it’s a botanical garden where you volunteer. Maybe it’s a park near your home where you dog walk. Maybe you just go butterflying on a routine basis at a place you particularly enjoy. People who regularly visit a particular location can document rare species seen at their favorite site. Similar to yards, this usually means learning to recognize a few target species and emailing reports to

Some of us just have that “third eye” peeled for butterflies wherever we go. A Silver-banded Hairstreak has been seen and photographed on North Key Largo at the edge of a parking lot of a visitor center – seen by alert observers in an unlikely place. 
FNAI is interested in all these occurrences and MBC is encouraging anyone who can supply a photo (even a “bad” photo) and an address or clear description of the location to send their sighting to Didn’t get a photo?  Go ahead and email us anyway – perhaps your description will be helpful. Not sure what species to be looking for?  Check the list on our web site:

If you would like to learn more about our FNAI survey project, email and we will contact you with additional details about being part of a team, gas mileage reimbursement, etc.

Florida Duskywing by Linda Evans

Florida Duskywing, Navy Wells, male

Florida Duskywing, Navy Wells, female

Florida Duskywing caterpillar, Navy Wells
Florida Duskywing caterpillar, Navy Wells

Florida Duskywing chrysalis, very rarely seen

The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) is tracking butterflies in the state of Florida that have declining populations, including over 25 imperiled species of south Florida.  Our Miami Blue Chapter of NABA is taking part in a three-year survey of parks, preserves and other conservation areas in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, to determine if species listed by FNAI are present in local pinelands, hammocks and wetlands. 

One of our local target butterflies is the rarely seen Florida Duskywing, a pineland specialist, which relies on Locustberry, Byrsonima lucida, and Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, as its larval host plants.  Noted nectar plants are Spanish Needle, Bidens alba, and Wild Sage,  Lantana involucrate, found in our pine rocklands.  The Florida Duskywing’s range is the extreme southern tip of peninsular Florida and the Florida keys, in select places where pine rocklands have been spared from development. 

There are seven duskywing species  that occur in Florida, three of which are present in deep South Florida (Horace’s, Zarucco, and the Florida).  Horace’s host plants include many species of oak; the Zarucco uses a wide variety of legumes. Not surprisingly, the Florida Duskywing’s limited palate makes it a pine rockland specialist – and both the butterfly and the habitat are severely limited and threatened.

Our pineland surveys have located Florida Duskywings and recently, caterpillars on Locust Berry were found at one of our south Miami-Dade County sites by an FNAI survey team lead by Linda Evans. This information has been transmitted to FNAI for the statewide imperiled species database.

For more information on FNAI’s work to catalog imperiled species in Florida, search for in your browser and check the article, “Butterfly Watchers Count” in this blog site. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

We Count (Butterflies, That Is), by Elane Nuehring

Dina Yellow; photo by Hank Poor

December 1 was the deadline – on that day, all the NABA butterfly counts in North America (Canada, the US, and Mexico) for the year had to be submitted to NABA for publication in an annual report  of results.

NABA counts involve establishing 15-mile diameter circles that do NOT overlap with any other circles and, in teams of four or more observers, walking as many accessible routes within the circle as possible. Some counts with a large number of participants cover many miles and log many hours. In other circles, where just a few observers are available, only limited portions of the area can be surveyed.  Counters are provided with methods to keep their tallies as accurate as possible, to avoid “double-counting” the same individual butterflies, and to make estimates in situations where large aggregates of butterflies are seen.

Count numbers show a steady increase in  interest in butterflies. In 1993, when NABA was new, 211 counts were submitted.  In 2000, the year our Miami Blue Chapter was founded, a total of 421 North American  counts were submitted. To date, the all-time high, in 2006, was 508 counts – a record that we hope this year will top.

Prior to 1993, butterfly counts in North America were conducted by the Xerces Society, an organization focused on conservation of all invertebrates, but with a strong history of attention to lepidoptera.  In 1993, butterfly counts were transferred to the then-new organization, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).  The oldest Florida counts, begun as Xerces Society counts, were Homestead (1989) and Christmas (1991).

Under NABA, five more counts were instituted in 1994 and included Corkscrew Marsh, Kissimmee Prairie, North Palm Beach County, Sanibel Island, and Wekiva River.  In 1995, four more counts were added…and by 2000, 27 counts were held in Florida.  Topping any other state,  a total of 67 Florida counts were submitted for 2010, including three new circles.  In all, 59 Florida circles were counted at least once during the year. 

NABA chapters are vital engines behind the count program, and Florida has 11 (35%) of the country’s 31 chapters. We also have a cadre of dedicated butterfliers. Remarkably, several of these dedicated individuals around the state have been participating since the very beginning of the Florida counts: Linda & Buck Cooper, Alana Edwards, Mary Keim, Mark Salvato.

Statewide, in 2010, 36664 individual butterflies were recorded, representing 129 species (about 78% of established breeding butterflies for Florida). Of  the species seen, over a fifth are designated as rare and/or imperiled species: Florida White, Dina Yellow, Statira Sulphur, Lyside Sulphur,  Atala, Silver-banded Hairstreak, Martial and Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak, Banded, King’s, and Striped Hairstreak, Silvery Checkerspot, Texan Crescent, Cuban Crescent, Dingy Purplewing, Florida Purplewing, Appalachian Brown, Golden Banded-Skipper, Hoary Edge, Florida Duskywing, Neamathla, Dotted, Baracoa, Little Glasswing, Zabulon, Yehl, Broad-winged, and Berry’s Skippers.

Some of our rarest and/or most imperiled species were NOT observed this year; among those missing in action: Mimosa Yellow, Gray Ministreak, Miami Blue, Nickerbean Blue, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Tropical Buckeye, Malachite, and Florida Leafwing.

Miami Blue Chapter organizes three of the state’s  counts: Pinecrest/Tri-County (aka Loop Road), Shark Valley of Everglades National Park, and Coral Gables.  The Coral Gables circle encompasses Bill Baggs/Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Virginia Key, Simpson and Alice Wainwright Parks, Pinewood Cemetery (the circle’s center), University of Miami campus, the Kampong, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Matheson Hammock Park, R. Hardy Matheson Preserve, Ludlam Pineland, a USDA Experiment Station, Chapman Field Preserve, and the Deering Estate at Cutler. Although a large number of observers traditionally participate in the Coral Gables Count every June, we have never been able to cover all the sites that this park-rich area contains. 

Get on board and be part of a team if you are in South Florida in June (June and September are our two best butterfly months!!). Joining NABA counts is a great way to learn your butterflies, meet fellow butterfliers, and contribute to useful national data on butterfly populations.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Butterflying in North Carolina by Shelby Heeter

Black form of a female Eastern Tiger 
Swallowtail was new to us. 
See the article in the Summer 2010  
American Butterflies magazine for 
more information on this 
interesting mimicry.

Traveling butterfliers can get lots of help from NABA. Last August, in anticipation of some vacation time in North Carolina, we studied  the most recent NABA count publication as a guide to likely hotspots, annual counts that we might join, and local butterfliers who might give us some guidance. Indeed, we found ourselves out with a nice and knowledgeable man, Doug Johnston, who took us to three locations we'd never have found on our own, plus his own house, as part of the Buncombe County, NC annual NABA count. The three of us recorded 46 species, some of which were new ones for us. We were also given directions to specific locations for Diana Fritillaries and Green Commas, both of which we saw. We got some good photos, met some really nice people, and had loads of fun. 

Silvery Checkerspot

Male and Female Zabulon Skipper. 
A well marked skipper, common to the area, 
was also new to us.

A rare Creole Pearly-eye that we found 
in our cottage the first day in town.

Traveling Butterfliers by Elane Nuehring

Lyside Sulphur, rare in South Florida but common in Mission Texas; 
taken by traveler, Linda Cooper 

In recent months we've had several traveling butterfliers contact us for advice about where to find South Florida specialties, and it has been a pleasure to offer what help we could.  When the timing is right, we have been able to include a few out-of-towners in chapter activities in the field.  And what goes around comes around.  Some of our members have been welcomed, included, and advised in new communities they were visiting (read Shelby Heeter's post about North Carolina.). The ability to network among fellow and sister butterfliers is one of the percs of an organization like NABA and its local chapters.

We can go online and determine if there's a NABA chapter in an area -- and if so, contact can be made to learn what field trips, counts, etc. might be scheduled.  In almost all instances, visitors are welcome to be part of any NABA chapter outing or event.  Even if there's no NABA chapter in an area, we can check NABA's web for butterfly sightings that might inform our travels.

We can also study our copy (or a NABA  friend's copy) of the latest NABA count reports by state to see which counts, at what times of the year, have produced butterflies of interest.  Each count published will usually include an email contact for the count compiler...which can lead to communication with local butterfly watchers who might lend advice.

If learning, networking and butterflying with experts appeals to you, you can organize your travel to coincide with a national NABA meeting (they happen semi-annually with the most recent in October 2010 in Mission TX) or a local butterfly festival that will include field trips.There are LOTS of butterfly festivals; do a Google or Bing search for "Butterfly festival" and you will be surprised!

Let us hear about your butterflying travels -- where did you go, when did you go, what did you see -- and did you hook up with local butterfliers?

Friday, October 8, 2010

A New Wildlife Garden: Chapter Andrew Geist (August 2010)

It's done, it's in the ground! All the studying, planning, choosing and wondering "is this right?" "is this best? is behind us. What a journey and what an education for a new native plant-butterfly-bird gardener!

About eight months ago, during Miami's "winter" in January, I decided I wanted a butterfly garden in the back yard. To make a long story short, this idea transformed into wanting a very special butterfly and bird garden that would use all available sections of my 1/3 acre yard (front, back and both sides).

My family and I joined Miami Blue Chapter-NABA, and shortly afterward I was invited to go on a butterfly gardens tour of four private yards offered by Miami Blue Chapter (MBC). On the garden tour I was able to see how others had laid things out and what plants were doing well in what environments, how attractive they were to butterflies and birds, how big they got, how much maintenance they needed. I also met others with gardening interests and experience.

I also went on the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Butterfly Garden tour with Linda Evans, which I highly recommend. This walk is offered every Sunday at the garden, with Linda leading it every other Sunday. Linda, who is Vice-President of Miami Blue Chapter and a recent “Volunteer of the Year” at Fairchild, has a wealth of knowledge on butterfly plants.

I have never met a book I didn't like, and so I purchased a library of books on the subject. My favorite resources turned out to be:
Florida Butterfly Gardening: Marc and Maria Minno;
Florida Keys Wildflowers: Roger Hammer;
Everglades Wildflowers: Roger Hammer;
Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and Their Host Plants: Marc Minno, Jerry Butler, Donald Hall;
Butterflies through Binoculars: FLORIDA: Jeffrey Glassberg, Marc Minno, John Calhoun;
Native Trees and Shrubs of the Florida Keys: Paul Scurlock;
A Gardeners Guide to Florida's Native Plants: Rufino Osorio;
Native Florida Plants: Robert Haehle, Joan Brookwell;
The Shrubs and Woody Vines of Florida: Gil Nelson;
Butterfly Gardening with Florida's Native Plants: Craig Huegel;
Your Florida Guide to Butterfly Gardening: Jaret Daniels;
Attracting Birds to Your Garden (article): Roger Hammer;
Miami Blue Chapter's ONLINE list: Butterfly Host Plants for Southeast Florida (

I need to get a good book on Florida moths (any suggestions from anyone?). I see a lot of moths that look like baby hummingbirds and I am told they are “hummingbird moths” in the genus Hemaris of the sphinx moth or hawkmoth group and that are beneficial pollinators.

Reference materials in hand, I spent a long time drawing out the layout and researching plants waiting for our unusually cold winter to end. Initially I received a lot of help from Roger Hammer, calling him often and having several meetings with him mostly going over plant species. I feel very fortunate to have received help from Roger. During this time, my garden "philosophy" emerged.

One of my earliest goals was to have a garden as pretty and manicured as possible, but still attractive to as many birds and butterflies as possible. I also wanted to emphasize native plant species (currently over 80% of over 100 different trees/plant species in the yard are natives). A recent goal of mine is to have at least one host plant species for any butterfly with any reasonable chance of flying into the yard (currently I have over 60 different host plant species). Moreover, I confess to liking the idea of collecting as complete a native plant list in my yard as possible, given my soil conditions (I live in southwest Miami-Dade county in what probably was once rockland hammock).

Early in the process I decided to remove nearly all trees or plants in the yard that were not either bird or butterfly attracting species, or at least native species. Lucky for me my good friend, Scott Muggleston, owner of Scott's Tree Care, along with his crew, helped me with this very labor intensive task. This meant I was left with only my mature live oaks (one of the best bird attracting trees in south Florida and a host plant to the Horace's Duskywing), 1 pomegranate tree (hummingbirds really hit the flowers), 5 mango trees and 1 banana plant (for us to feed on!), and 1 ligustrum tree with white flowers that seem to attract nectaring butterflies.

In my selections, I also went by the plant zone (10b) and tried to stay away from wetlands plants not likely to thrive in my well-drained situation. A resource I learned about only recently would have been helpful in the beginning, and will be in the future: You can go on the website of the Institute for Regional Conservation (, find the "Natives for Your Neighborhood" page, enter your zip code, and learn what plants historically grew in, and are recommended for, the area.

Scott was also in charge of purchasing many of the plants/trees, trimming my remaining trees, planting, mulching, setting up bird nesting houses and bird feeders. After outlining the beds, Scott and his crew removed the grass and planted about a week later, mulching with Florimulch from Bernie's Rock And Garden, about 4" thick. The most common error in creating a butterfly garden, I had been warned, is spacing plants too close. I tried not to make this mistake, and I would advise spacing plants even further than the recommended distance. THEY GROW!!

Now, about 6 months in the ground, I have not yet spent much time trying to identify the different butterflies and moths in my yard. I am still trying to perfect my yard, which keeps me occupied with plants in my free time. Soon I will be able concentrate more on the butterflies, moths and birds. Of course I know the common easy to identify ones. I am hoping the more things start filling out, the more different species I will start seeing.

Our garden has been the best experience for myself, my wife Maria, and my two sons Nicholas (6), and Benjamin(4), to turn a sterile yard into one that is already teaming with life. Not to mention all the great people I have met throughout this process. I really feel like I'm watching a nature show when I look out my window on a sunny day lately. As I look out, I am already learning that a wildlife garden is a work in process, and I have more plans...but that will be another chapter of the story.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atala Update by Sandy Koi

Photo by Ron Nuehring
Some of you may know that I have been studying and monitoring the atala butterfly for six years in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Although I have not been able to visit as many sites lately as I could before, I do get updates from people who have atalas in their gardens, and from organizations, such as Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens. The atala populations in recent years have experienced  fairly low numbers, or have not yet made an appearance, even in areas that have had a stable colony in the past—and locations that, by this time in the summer, ‘should be’ irrupting with hundreds of individuals.

Unfortunately, some of the few extant sites have experienced suspected “robberies” of larvae and pupae from colonies that have not been stable to begin with, and that has caused some concern about the colonies’ survival.  It is quite a turn-around from previous years, when those same organizations were scrambling to find new release sites for the irrupting atala colonies numbering in the hundreds!

I am privileged to be working with Dean Jue and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and the Broward County NABA chapter, searching for and documenting imperiled butterfly species, including the atala. Since I am living in Miami for the summer, I’ve also had the opportunity to find a few atala sites in Miami-Dade County, and am looking forward to working more closely with Miami Blue. You can read more about FNAI and the atalas on my “Atala News” blog--dedicated to Butterfly Conservation!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Photo by Linda Evans
The Dina Yellow was spotted recently at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.  Absent for more than two years, this beauty is back.  It was seen in the area in front of the west Visitor Center parking lot as well as in the butterfly garden.  While extremely rare in south Florida, it is often found at the Deering Estate just inside the main gate, at Castellow Hammock in the hammock, at the Kampong and at Camp Owaissa Bauer.  Local gardeners have found that if they plant the host plant, Bitterbush (Pitcramnia pentandra) in their garden and are close to a known population, they too may see them in their garden.  The Dina also uses the native Mexican Alvaradoa (Alvaradoa amorphoides).
Dina Yellow male
   Photo by Hank Poor
Dina Yellow female
 Photo by Hank  Poor


South Florida has many varied habitats which support specific plants adapted to the varied plant environments. One of the best ways to learn your butterflies is to be aware of which butterflies live in each different ecosystem. One of these plant environments is the seashore where the soil is sandy, drains rapidly and salt air is prevalent. The leaves of the plants are likely small and the root systems of these plants are likely shallow. Some of the plants that support coastal butterflies are:

Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) - Mangrove Buckeye
Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) - Mangrove skipper
Seashore salt grass (Distichlis spicata) - Obscure skipper and
   Salt marsh skipper (rare)
Bay Cedar ( Suriana maritima) – Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak and Martial
Coinvine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum) – Statira Sulphur
Saltwort (Batis maritima) – Eastern Pygmy Blue
Perennial Glasswort (Salicornia perennis) – Eastern Pygmy Blue
Nickerbean (Caesalpinia bonduc) – Miami Blue (rare), Ceraunus Blue,
   Martial Scrub-Hairstreak, and Nickerbean Blue (Keys only)
Coastal Searocket (Cakile lanceolata) – Great Southern White
Fanpetals (Sida acuta) – Gray Hairstreak, Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak,
   Tropical Checkered Skipper, and  White Checkered Skipper
Saltmarsh Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) - Saltmarsh Skipper and
   Aaron’s Skipper
Silver Palm (Cocothrinax argentata) – Monk Skipper
Sleepy Morning (Waltheria indica) – Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak and
   Martial Scrub-Hairstreak
Coontie (Zamia pumila) – Atala
Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) - Mangrove Buckeye
  and Tropical Buckeye

A few coastal nectar plants are:
Wild Sage (Lantana involucrata)
Morinda (Morinda citrifolia)
Marsh fleabane (Pluchea odorata)
Seagrape (Cocoloba uvifera)
Sea ox-eye (Borrichia arborescens)

This is only an abbreviated list. When observing butterflies, note the plants they are using. For a list of butterfly plants found on Cape Florida, go to the Miami Blue website
A really great book to learn more about coastal plants is: Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean, A Guide to Knowing and Growing Drought and Salt-Tolerant Plants, David W. Nellis, Pineapple Press, Inc., copywrite 1994.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great Southern Whites by Linda Evans, Photos by Hank Poor

A newly emerged adult Great Southern White.

Often, when driving down to Everglades National Park or driving through south Miami-Dade County's agricultural area, the Redlands, you will see beautiful, white butterflies dancing in the air. 

In these areas, the Great Southern White uses the weed, Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) as its host plant. 

Great Southern White eggs
are laid in batches
They also use Saltwort (Batis Maritima), Coastal Searocket (Cakile lanceolata), Limber Caper (Capparis flexuosa), Arugula (Eruca sativa), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), and Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea var. acephala).
Caterpillars feed communally
- here feeding on Collard Greens

When recently doing a NABA count at the Kampong, David Fairchild’s former home in Coconut Grove, we noticed that these beautiful butterflies were using a vine which had been growing there for more than 30 years according to Larry Schockman, the former director.

A caterpillar & a chrysalis
side by side on a Collard
Ritchiea reflexa from W. Tropical Africa was hosting more than 50 caterpillars and 67 butterflies which were added to the count. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is planning to get cuttings of this vine in the Caper family from the Kampong to add to their Butterfly Garden.
Ritchiea reflexa at the Kampong
attracts Great Southern Whites

Hank and Mary Ann Poor attracted the Great Southern White by growing Collard Greens in their garden. Hank’s expert photography documented the life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly with his magnificent photos. 
A handsome male nectaring
on the all-time favorite,
Bidens alba,
or Spanish Needle.

Whether you choose weeds, flowers or vegetables, you too can have this magnificent butterfly in your yard.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nectar Plants for Bartram's Scrub-Hairstreak, by Linda Evans, with photos by Hank Poor

Photo by Linda Evans

Most butterfliers know that the Bartram's Scrub-Hairstreak is an unusual, scarce butterfly limited to disappearing pinelands in South Florida. Its host plant, Pineland Croton (Croton linearis), often has this small butterfly nectaring on its small, frilly flowers.

Pineland Croton
Photo by Linda Evans

The Bartram's also uses nectar plants that are close to its host plant. Several of them can be:

Spanish Needles
, Bidens alba var radiata

False Buttonweed
, Spermacoce verticillata
Photo by Hank Poor

Snow squarestem
, Melanthera nivea

Florida Whitetop
, Rhychospora floridensis
Photo by Hank Poor

Blodgett's Swallowwort
, Cynachum blodgettii
Photo by Hank Poor

Florida Privet
, Forestiera segregata
Photo by Linda Evans

Sometimes you have to look closely just as Dr. Robert M. Pyle is doing. He will be our keynote speaker for Butterfly Days at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in September 2010.

For more information on these pineland plants, read Roger M. Hammer's book, Florida Keys Wildflowers.

What plants have you seen the Bartram's nectaring on? Let us know.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How Could It Be? Someone Raises Doubt About Butterfly Gardening? by Elane Nuehring

Above, Mikania scandens attracts many butterflies, bees, wasps and other insects.

All in one week-end, I visited an extraordinary new butterfly garden in Kendall (check for a garden visit there in August) AND read a think-piece questioning butterfly gardening. Now, butterfly gardening is a little like "Mom and apple pie" -- right? Who would question its essential worth? Well...on the web of the Florida Native Plant Society, Steve Woodmansee, one of our own favorite Butterfly Days speakers, asks about the value of butterfly gardens. He points out their benefits -- but he also asks us to consider their limitations -- and think bigger. Think beyond big, macro butterflies....think beyond butterflies for that matter. Read it and see what you think: go to and scroll down to see Steve's article (it is in two parts).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chilly winds blew no harm, it seems! by Elane Nuehring

Dingy Purplewing

In 2009's winter and 2010's early spring, we saw unusual dips in temperature and we worried about the butterflies and their host plants. In a few cases, in natural areas, wild fires created even more damage to butterflies and plants. Then the rains came and summer's steamy heat ensured ... and WOW, the butterflies are back! Our butterfly gardens are buzzing. Rarities like Bartram's Scrub Hairstreak, which were nowhere to be found in April, are, for them, out and about in in good numbers. The NABA summer counts, held in June and July, have so far produced exceptionally good numbers of species. On June 26, 2010, the Deering Estate at Cutler was hopping with specialties such as Dina Yellows, Ruddy Daggerwings, and Dingy Purplewings. Earlier in the month, on June 19, Loop Road was great. Our Miami Blue Chapter monthly survey of Tamiami Pineland Addition has produced swarms of Southern Skipperlings and Ceraunus Blues, along with Variegated Fritillaries (not usual in heavily developed areas) and an American Lady.

So why all this abundance of butterflies after the severest winter in many a year in South Florida? Maybe the cold inhibited some problem predators and/or parasitoids? Maybe the cold somehow boosted plant production and lots of new growth once rain and heat returned. Whatever the reasons, 2010 seems to have been a banner year for many species....although the Atalas are still among the missing or near-missing in many of their usual haunts, Miami Blues at Bahia Honda State Park are not being seen, and the Florida Leafwing, holding out at Everglades National Park, continues to be scarce.

Let us know what you're seeing in your gardens and on your rambles!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milkweeds in Your Garden by Linda Evans

Above: Mexican Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

Many butterflies choose toxic host plants. When Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers eat the leaves of milkweeds, they eat some of the toxins as well. If a bird eats, for example, a Monarch caterpillar or butterfly, it spits it out and avoids the Monarch and similar looking butterflies as their tasty treat. This is one of the protective mechanisms nature has given the butterflies. It is also the reason that, in our gardens, if we plant milkweeds, we can enjoy Monarch caterpillars from their first instar to adulthood.

Here are a few thoughts on gardening with milkweeds. Although there are many different native milkweed plants, many require specific soil conditions and are not readily available for purchase. The most common milkweed used in butterfly gardening today is the form from Mexico, Asclepias curassavica. It grows year round and is suitable for both the caterpillars to eat and the butterflies for nectaring.

Right: a native milkweed, Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)

If you would like to try growing natives and can find them, a few are:

  • Asclepias verticillata, Horsetail milkweed. It is an erect, slender perennial that grows in dry, rocky soil with beautiful white flowers. The seeds look similar to the Mexican form.

  • A. lanceolata – Fewflower milkweed. The flowers are red to tangerine and grow in damp soil.

  • A. tuberosa – Butterfly weed. This is a pineland form of milkweed that requires acidic, well drained soil.

  • A longifoliaFlorida milkweed - Found in wet flatwoods.
Let us hear from you fellow gardeners. Tell us which native milkweed plants you have had luck with.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Have you ever seen a Schaus' Swallowtail? by Linda Evans

Have you ever seen a Schaus’ Swallowtail? One of Florida’s rarest butterflies emerges from mid May to mid June in Upper Key Largo and on the offshore keys of Biscayne National Park,  in the few remnant tropical hardwood hammocks left. Although once found in Miami and the Keys, this rare butterfly is limited to only a few sites today. Beautiful and graceful, the Schaus’ lives about two weeks in the wild. It was listed on the federal threatened list in April, 1976 and was moved to the endangered list in August of 1984. Droughts, hurricanes, loss of habitat and occasional freezes, among other possible threats, have reduced the population. Although it does have a flight range of 300 miles, it is seen only in tropical hardwood hammocks, much of which have been developed with the Schaus’ native habitat destroyed in the process. Mosquito spraying has been thought to reduce the population further in developed areas and some observers suspect exotic ant predators and possible parasitoids.

Left: Schaus' Swallowtail.
Right: Giant Swallowtail

The adult Schaus’ looks very similar to the Giant Swallowtail; smaller in size, more brown in color and with slight variation in its markings. One of the most obvious differences is the shape and markings on the tail.

The Schaus’ tail is bordered with pale yellow with no yellow spot in the center, whereas the Giant Swallowtail has a yellow center on the tail. Another obvious way to tell the difference is that the Schaus’ has a large orange patch on the underside (ventral side). Males have yellow tips on their antennae.

The primary host plant is torchwood (Amyris elemifera) found in tropical hardwood hammocks. Also used for food is wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara). Listed nectar plants include cheese shrub (Morinda royoc), guava (Psidium guajava), wild sage (Lantana involcrata), wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum), blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa), and snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea).

Eggs are laid on the tips of the leaves of host plants usually in April. The eggs hatch in April- May. The butterfly can stay in the pupal stage from one to two years, wait for ideal conditions, then emerge. Predators include birds, ants, wasps, and lizards.

The Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association annually joins Tropical Audubon Society on a Saturday in May for a joint field trip to permitted areas not accessible to most people. Included is a walk into the Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site and areas along State road 905. It is an opportunity for you to try and catch a sighting of this rare butterfly. See the Miami Blue web site calendar (  for details of our annual visit to North Key Largo with Tropical Audubon Society. Come join us.

We also participate in annual surveys for the Schaus' Swallowtail co-conducted by Florida's Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Biscayne National Park, and our South Florida NABA chapters.  Traveling NABA members might want to join us; if so, email us at 

Photos courtesy of Jaret Daniels, Ph.D., and Jerry Butler, Ph.D., the University of Florida.