Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Nature: Butterflies
With the warm climate, butterflies are often in flight year  round in Florida. From the Giant Swallowtail to the Little Metalmark, the state has a wealth of flittering, fluttering, flappers, and gliders brightening the landscape. There are more than 17,000s different species, or types, of butterflies. They come in many colors and live in very different types of climates. In Florida over 180 different butterflies have been recorded. Within that mix, some 40 are considered either unique to the state or occur mostly within its boundaries

All butterflies pass through a life cycle consisting of four developmental stages: egg,  larva, pupa, and adult. All butterflies begin life as a small egg. Once the egg hatches the tiny larva begins feeding almost immediately, and they essentially live to eat! Once it finishes eating the larva seeks a safe place to pupate. At the appropriate time the pupa splits open and a beautiful butterfly emerges! Adult butterflies share several common characteristics, including six jointed legs, two compound eyes, two antennae, a hard exoskeleton, and three main body segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. Along with moths, they comprise the Order Lepidoptera, a combination of Greek words meaning scale-winged. Their four wings, as well as body are typically covered with numerous tiny scales, Overlapping like shingles on a roof, they make up the color and pattern of a butterfly's wings.

Butterflies and moths are closely related and often difficult to tell apart. Generally butterflies fly during the day, have large colorful wings that are held vertical over the back when at rest, and bear distinctly clubbed antennae. In contrast most moths are nocturnal. They are usually  overall drabber in color and may often resemble dirty, hairy butterflies. At rest, moths tend to hold their wings to the sides, and have feathery or threadlike antennae. Butterflies are just one more living thing in the garden that brings happiness to young and old alike. For the older of us, they bring back sweet childhood memories. For the youngest of us, they encourage imagination and launch them into a ballet dance through the garden!

american painted lady butterflyAmerican Painted Lady -American Painted Lady is most easily distinguishable by its two large eyespots on the ventral side and also uniquely features a white dot within the forewing subapical field, set in pink on the underside and usually also in the dorsal side's orange field. American Lady has a wing span of 1 3/4 - 2 5/8 inches. During the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or on low vegetation if there are no hills. Females lay eggs singly on the top of host plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves tied with silk. Adults hibernate.

cloudless sulphur butterflyCloudless Sulphur - The Cloudless sulphur is a large yellow butterfly with a fast powerful flight. These bright yellow butterflies have a wingspan of 2.2 - 2.8 inches. Abundant throughout the Southeast, it is a common garden visitor and one of the most easily recognized butterflies in Florida. Adult butterflies have extremely long proboscis and can feed at many long, tubular flowers that are inaccessible to other butterflies. in the fall there is a massive southward migration to Florida of Cloudless Sulphurs. The annual event is one of Florida's most impressive natural phenomena!

common buckeye butterflyCommon Buckeye- The Common Buckeye is one of the most easily identified butterflies. It large target shaped eyespots help deflect predators away from its vulnerable body, and it has a wing span of 1.5-2.7 inches. The common Buckeye butterfly is fond of open, sunny locations with low growing vegetation. Male Buckeyes establish territories and actively investigate passing objects. This butterfly's flight is rapid and low to the ground. Unable to withstand freezing temperatures, the Common Buckeye annually undertakes a southward fall migration and overwinters in warmer Gulf Coast locations including Florida.

black swallowtail butterflyBlack Swallowtail- The Black Swallowtail is one of Florida's most common garden butterflies. Its plump, green larvae, often referred to as parsley worms,  feed on many cultivated herbs, and may even become a minor nuisance pest. With a wingspan of 2.5-4.2 inches, the Black Swallowtail is equally at home along country roads, urban gardens, and meadows. Male butterflies have a strong rapid flight and frequently perch on low vegetation. Both sexes of the Black Swallowtail are extremely fond of flowers and readily stop to feed on nectar. This butterfly is one of six different species that mimic the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail to gain protection from predators.

giant swallowtail butterflyGiant Swallowtail
- Living up to its name the Giant Swallowtail is Florida's largest butterfly with a wingspan of 4.5 - 5.5 inches. The impressive adults are strong fliers but readily stop at colorful flowering plants to feed and are regular garden visitors. When nectaring, adult Giant Swallowtails continue to flutter their wings, much like a hummingbird. This behavior, along with a long proboscis enables the butterfly to visit a wide range of not easily reached flowers, including flowers that may not be strong enough to support their weight. Giant Swallowtail larvae are often called "orange dogs" because of their fondness for citrus, and they occasionally  become a pest in orange orchards.

zebra longwing butterfly in FloridaZebra Longwing - The Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida! Aptly named this butterfly is quickly recognized by the yellow-white stripes, extremely elongated wings, and wingspan of 2.9 - 3.5 inches. The Zebra Longwing rarely spends long periods of  time in open, sunny locations, but is seen often in shady gardens and lawns. Adult Zebra Longwings have a slow elegant flight and are able to maneuver gracefully through dense vegetation. A tropical butterfly, the Zebra Longwing cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. Adults are extremely long lived and may survive for several months.
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